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A Survey of State Initiatives

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Texas faces a severe shortage of mathematics and physical-science teachers that state officials expect to grow even worse. Last year, the state granted approximately 500 emergency permits to unqualified teachers to fill vacancies in those subjects.

A newly completed Teacher Availability Study projects that an average of 660 new science and mathematics teachers--510 of them in math--will be needed each year in the near future, according to Wesley Robinson, one of the state officials who drafted the study.

At the same time, the supply of math and science teachers coming out of Texas education programs has nearly dried up. Only 20 certified mathematics teachers graduated last year and probably half of these will not go into teaching, according to Alice Kidd, the state education agency's director of mathematics. The problem could be compounded in 1984 when a recommendation by the state board of education to increase the graduation requirement in mathematics and science from two to three years is expected to go into effect, she said. Final statewide hearings on that proposal are being held this summer.

In the physical sciences, state colleges are only producing one of every four or five teachers needed, said B.T. Slater Jr., the state's science specialist. He said districts are resorting to remedies "that you would not believe" to cope with the shortage. "There's difficulty in obtaining even partially qualified people," he added.

The fact that fewer 11th- and 12th-grade students are taking physics and chemistry eases the crisis somewhat, according to Mr. Slater. In the last 20 years, enrollment in chemistry has fallen off 40 percent. Most students now complete their one-year state science requirement with the less advanced 9th-grade physical science, for which there is also a "dire" shortage of teachers, he said.

The teacher shortage has mainly hit the state's farming areas and inner-city schools, officials noted; many of these areas offer the state's minimum base salary of $11,000 for certified teachers. Other energy-rich districts in East Texas and some cities are offering differential pay to lure science and math teachers and are not experiencing shortages.

Despite the shortage, the state's biennial legislature during the first five months of this year rejected three bills aimed at easing the problem. Throughout the session, most media attention was focused on Gov. Mark White's highly-publicized proposal for an across-the-board salary increase for teachers of about 24 percent. That proposal failed in the final days of May because House leaders balked at the tax increase needed to fund it.

Two of the defeated bills were initiated by the Texas Education Agency, the state's education department. One would have offered free tuition to students at state colleges and universities who had 3.0 averages and were in the top 15 percent of their classes when they started education training. The bill was actively opposed by lobbyists from the state's private colleges who feared it would cut their enrollments, said Alice Myers, a deputy education commissioner. The second bill would have offered low-interest loans to education students in science and math.

Another bill that would have allowed districts to hire math and science teachers from industry if there were no certified applicants for the openings was also rejected. A bill that would allow districts to run summer programs for retraining math and science teachers passed in both houses of the legislature, but the funding provision in the bill was removed before passage.

The legislators did create an 18-member committee, the Select Committee on Public Education, to make recommendations on reforms in teacher salaries and the financing of education in general. Most of the committee members are from industry; they will study the shortage of math and science teachers, said Larry Yawn, an assistant to the Governor. The first meetings were scheduled for early this month, he said.

Some universities have initiated programs to help counter the shortages. The Stephen F. Austin State University sends teams of its physics teachers out to local school districts for summer programs for teachers who want to upgrade their training. And two faculty members from the University of Texas at Austin will offer classes in the instructional use of computers free of charge for the first time this summer.

The concept of providing televised instruction for mathematics teachers is being explored by the Southern Education Communications Association. The association has canvassed 11 southern and southwestern state education agencies to see if they would be interested in participating in the service, which would be offered in Texas through Houston's public television station kuht, said Annette Mouton of kuht. A state official said he strongly favored the idea because it offered a chance for inservice training to isolated rural teachers.

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