Chicago's Efforts To Recruit Teachers Pay Off
By spending more money on smarter recruiting strategies here and abroad, Chicago school officials have hired a record number of teachers to lead classrooms this year in the Windy City.
The Chicago school system, the nation's third largest, hired 2,236 new teachers for the 2000-01 school year—up by more than 300 from last year, according to data released this month.
While some 664 teacher vacancies remain, leaders of the 430,000-student district said that last year's successful, $5.1 million recruiting drive helped avert a major teacher crisis.
"In the past, there wasn't much discipline or data kept on how we recruited," said Gery Chico, the school board president. "It was pretty much laissez faire."
These days, Chicago targets students at Big Ten universities and other top regional colleges. Recruiters also meet more often with officials on those campuses to bolster relationships and form partnerships.
The district is trying to sell recruits as well on the amenities of living in a major city, Mr. Chico said, while portraying the school district as moving forward.
"We are intriguing to people more than ever," he said. "It's no secret that we have put resources in schools that were not here before."
The backyard strategy appears to be paying off. The number of new teachers from Big Ten schools such as Northwestern and Purdue universities has more than doubled in recent years, from 119 in 1996-97 to 242 in 1999-2000.
Chicago, which has 26,000 teachers, has hired a total of 888 graduates of top regional schools in the past five years.
After establishing its first student-teacher program with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago nearly doubled the number of Fighting Illini hires, from 53 in 1998-99 to 103 last year.
"In the past, we weren't even on their radar screen," Mr. Chico said.
Chicago officials expect to spend $5.7 million to hire 3,000 new teachers for next year. They're using the same strategies as those in other big districts that also face high teacher turnover and waves of retirements.
"What's happening in Chicago is pretty common. Cities are concentrating on their back yard," said Mildred J. Hudson, the chief executive officer of Recruiting New Teachers, a Belmont, Mass.-based nonprofit clearinghouse on teacher recruitment. "You'd think it's always been true, but it has not."
Chicago has also joined other city districts, such as Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York, in looking overseas to meet the growing demand for teachers.
As part of its new Global Educators Outreach Program, Chicago recruited and hired 36 teachers from more than 20 countries to teach in high-need areas, such as mathematics and science.
By the end of this school year, that number could reach 150.
The first crop of those teachers spent last summer in orientations at DePaul University. They must earn master's degrees in education within three years.
Nigerian-born Florence Onubogu heard about the program through friends in Chicago. She left her job as a foreign-language secretary for an international-development firm in Austria to come to Chicago with her 11-year- old daughter.
Ms. Onubogu, who has a doctorate in German, teaches that subject at Lindblom Technical High School.
Among her first impressions, she said, is that while "kids are kids" wherever you are, "American children have less discipline." Chicago's cost of living and her paperwork load were also surprises, Ms. Onubogu said.
The teachers in the program are in the United States on six-year work visas. If all goes well, the district eventually will sponsor their requests for permanent visas.
'Call to Arms'
Ms. Hudson of Recruiting New Teachers cautioned that recruiting internationally, while not uncommon, is hardly a long-term fix for teacher shortages.
"We've not seen one study about how long they stay, or how well students gain," she said of the teachers from overseas.
Districts must be more creative about tapping substitute-teacher pools for full-time teachers, she said, and about ways of lowering the attrition rate for new teachers, which is about 50 percent in their first three to five years.
While pointing out that Chicago offers teachers opportunities to make more money through summer school and after- school jobs, Mr. Chico acknowledged that more money must be pumped into teacher salaries. They average about $48,800 in Chicago, and just more than $40,000 nationally.
Vol. 20, Issue 9, Page 3