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Phila. Teachers To Be Retrained in Mathematics

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In an effort to ease two problems with one solution, the School District of Philadelphia last week announced a program that will alleviate the district's critical shortage of junior-high mathematics teachers.

The added benefit is that it will also lessen the number of teachers in other disciplines who will be laid off due to declining enrollments.

Under a special arrangement with local colleges and universities, the district will encourage teachers to take the mathematics courses necessary to be recertified as instructors of mathematics at the junior-high and middle-school level. In return, the teachers will be guaranteed jobs in the school system.

Currently, the district is short about 35 qualified junior-high-school mathematics teachers--approximately five percent of its 700 or so secondary-level mathematics teachers, according to David E. Williams, acting assistant director of mathematics education for the district.

Both the shortage of qualified mathematics teachers and the need for teacher layoffs have been acknowledged as serious problems by district administrators. Some 6,000 junior-high and middle-school students--of a total of almost 41,000 in the district-- are currently being taught mathematics by teachers who are not certified in the field, according to district officials.

Central Strike Issue

And the threatened layoff of 3,500 teachers was a central issue in the 50-day strike by the 22,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (pft) last fall. The program to retrain and recertify teachers was developed in cooperation with the the pft

The critical shortage of mathematics teach-ers is a nationwide problem, according to a recent survey conducted by James N. Akin of the Career Planning and Placement Center at Kansas State University. (See Education Week, February 17.) All regions of the country reported "considerable shortages" of mathematics teachers, with the problem being particularly acute in the South Central, Southeast, and Great Lakes states.

In Philadelphia, Mr. Williams said, mathematics teachers prefer teaching senior-high students; when a vacancy opens up for a senior-high mathematics teacher, it is quickly filled by a junior-high mathematics teacher, thus concentrating the district's shortage at the junior-high-school level.

Moreover, as in other districts, many mathematics teachers have abandoned the classroom in favor of higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

Innovative Solution

Philadelphia officials believe that their twofold solution is an innovative one. "This may be one of the most realistic approaches to the whole problem--to work with people who have already established themselves as teachers. I don't know of any other systems that have this program," Mr. Williams said.

The new recertification program is open to teachers who are already certified to teach in Pennsylvania and have taught for at least three years in the Philadelphia public schools, Mr. Williams said. In addition, they must have six semester-hours of mathematics or mathematics education prior to enrolling in the program, a requirement that most teachers in the system now meet, Mr. Williams said.

The program will be plugged into an established "university in-service network," Mr. Williams said, in which seven area higher-education institutions cooperate to provide in-service credits at reduced rates to the city's teachers. Participants in the mathematics program will receive a 30-percent tuition reduction, Mr. Williams noted.

Universities Participate

So far, two of the seven institutions that participate in the in-service network--Temple University and Beaver College--have each agreed to enroll between 25 and 30 teachers in their mathematics programs. District officials are hopeful that other institutions will follow suit.

The participating teachers will take nine semester hours of mathematics during the summer, at night, or on weekends for each of the next three years to earn a total of 27 semester-hours.

All participating teachers will go through normal admissions channels of the colleges and universities, Mr. Williams said. One selection criterion will be the teachers' scores on the Mathematics Aptitude Test, a standardized test that will be administered by the universities.

The certification process will typically take three years. But since the need for math teachers is acute, district officials plan to issue "emergency" certification.

Alexander Tobin, the district's director of mathematics education, is also working with state officials to develop a new "limited certificate" for mathematics instructors in grades 5 through 12, Mr. Williams said. To teach at those grade levels, he added, a teacher may not really need as many advanced mathematics courses as are necessary to teach mathematics at the senior-high level.

So far, the response from Philadelphia teachers has been enthusiastic, Mr. Williams reported. District officials hope to start a new group of teachers in the program each year if the first year goes well, he said.

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