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Published in Print: January 10, 2001, as Reports in 3 States Urge Policies To Boost Teacher Supply, Quality

Reports in 3 States Urge Policies To Boost Teacher Supply, Quality

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With problems of teacher quality and supply continuing to loom large around the country, policymakers in Arkansas, Illinois, and Nebraska are reviewing new reports that recommend steps for tackling those issues.

In Arkansas, state school board members endorsed recommendations last month set forth by a teacher-quality task force to match regional salaries in four years and establish an office for teacher recruitment.

"We are not only behind, but we are losing ground," said Luke Gordy, the chairman of the state school board as well as the head of the Arkansas Teacher Quality Task Force. The group of educators and legislators was formed to make recommendations for improving the caliber of Arkansas' teaching force.

Issues addressed in the task force's early-December report include raising teacher salaries to meet the average among the 16 states that make up the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board. Arkansas' average teacher salary in 1999 stood at $32,400, compared with $35,800 for SREB states and $40,600 nationwide. Gov. Mike Huckabee, Republican, has proposed raising pay by $3,000 over two years in the legislative session that was slated to begin Jan. 8.

The state board also agreed to ease requirements for some retired teachers, allowing them to go back to the classroom without having to retake teacher-certification tests. At the start of this school year, hundreds of Arkansas classrooms were without teachers.

Linda Poindexter, the president of the Arkansas Education Association, said she was pleased that the governor and the legislature support pay raises, but argued that more than Mr. Huckabee's proposal was needed. The AEA will push for pay increases of $3,000 each year for the next two years.

"It is going to be a tough nut to crack," Ms. Poindexter said. "But we have been sounding the clarion for a long time about this, and we were treated like Chicken Little screaming, 'The sky is falling.' "

Meanwhile, a report from the Illinois board of education says that state's public schools may face a "substantial" teacher shortage in three years.

Crunch to Crisis?

State schools Superintendent Glenn W. "Max" McGee said the expected crunch could turn into a crisis, owing mainly to the large number of teachers hired during the baby-boom era who will become eligible to retire in 2003. Nearly 8,700 teachers statewide are expected to leave then, an 11 percent increase from 2000.

Already, Illinois public schools have 2,637 unfilled teaching jobs, according to the report. Nearly a quarter of those are located in Chicago; many more are in rural areas.

Still, the expected teacher shortage may not last long, predicts the report issued last month. It forecasts a "significant decline" by 2002 in the number of teachers age 50 or older. A teacher in Illinois who has at least 20 years' experience can retire at 55.

The report calls for a slew of measures to enlarge the teaching ranks, including raising the salaries of educators in fields with shortages. It also recommends new efforts to get more of those holding teaching certificates in front of classrooms, noting that the state certifies two people for every first- year teacher who is hired.

Nebraska Eyes '3-Rs'

A report issued by a task force of top Nebraska education officials and politicians, meanwhile, recommends changing the certification requirements for out-of-state teachers seeking employment in the state's schools.

That recommendation, along with three others, is an attempt to ensure a "qualified and quality" teacher for every Nebraska classroom. The "3-R" task force, so called because of its charge to examine teachers' "recruitment, retention, and renewal," was formed about a year ago by the state school board.

The state board accepted the report last month, and this month plans to consider endorsing draft legislation or adopting state regulations based on the recommendations. State legislators also may consider funding supplements to locally negotiated teacher salaries to increase pay, along with other measures recommended in a separate task force report on teacher salaries.

Marge Harouff, a state education department administrator who supervises teacher certification, said that while half the state's 23,000 teachers would be eligible to retire over the next 10 years, it was unclear how many would actually leave.

Ms. Harouff said requirements that out-of-state teachers pass a basic-skills competency test and take courses in special education and multicultural education hamper the recruitment of such teachers. The report recommends waiving those requirements, and calls for the state to fund a scholarship program that was devised last year by the legislature to encourage college students to teach in Nebraska.

Staff Writer Mark Stircherz contributed to this report.

Vol. 20, Issue 16, Page 22

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