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Published in Print: December 4, 2002, as Mass. Bonus Program To Favor Ed. Schools

Mass. Bonus Program To Favor Ed. Schools

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Massachusetts has decided to offer its $20,000 signing bonuses to teacher- candidates in education schools, and not to aspiring educators who learn to teach in a seven-week summer training course.

The new eligibility criteria represent a significant shift for the state's influential teacher-recruitment initiative. By initially reserving the eye- popping incentives only for recruits who went through the state's accelerated- training regime—known as the Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers, or MINT— the effort was seen by some as a vote of no confidence in more traditional, college-based teacher education.

"The idea of the bonus program was that the problem with teacher quality was the schools of education, and now they're going back to schools of education," argued R. Clarke Fowler, an education professor at Salem State College, in Salem, Mass., who has studied and criticized the bonus program.

The change represents a complete change of direction, he added.

But state education officials contend they still support the fast-track model, which will continue to operate each summer. However, they say they believe the money for the bonuses could be better spent, based on recent surveys that revealed that most participants in the crash course would have applied to the program even without the promise of the stipends.

"I don't see this as coming down in favor of one type of program over another," said Orin Gutlerner, who coordinates MINT for the Massachusetts Department of Education. "It's just a better use of our resources."

Teacher- preparation programs in Massachusetts now have until the end of next week to submit proposals to be included in the revised bonus initiative. All of the state's public and private education schools are eligible to apply, as are a half dozen yearlong training programs in the state run by schools and districts.

By Dec. 20, the education department plans to choose at least three of the institutions to participate in the program. Each will be allowed to nominate up to 20 members of its incoming class next fall as potential recipients of the bonuses, which are paid out over four years.

Winners of the bonuses won't receive the first installments until after they've completed their training programs and gotten jobs as teachers.

Largess for the Few?

Although eager to take part in the bonus program, some education school deans questioned how far the incentives would go to address the state's teacher-recruitment challenges.

James W. Fraser, the dean of the school of education at Northeastern University in Boston, said the money could go further if spent on tuition aid and student loans spread out among more candidates.

"Giving large bonuses to a few people doesn't seem like the way to solve the issues we're dealing with," Mr. Fraser said.

In announcing the change to the bonus program last month, Massachusetts education officials also outlined a planned overhaul of the summer training course. Since its launch in 1999, MINT has raised concerns because of its attrition rate and because many of its participants have taken jobs in suburban districts, rather than in the high-need school systems the program was intended to serve.

According to Mr. Fowler, 45 percent of the first class of MINT participants have left the profession after three years. His research also has shown that, in some years, only about 35 percent of the participants in the program went on to work in a high-needs district.

Part of the problem, said the state's Mr. Gutlerner, is that the state-sponsored training program did not have close ties with the school systems in which its graduates went on to teach.

To address the problem, he said, MINT will forge new partnerships with districts serving large numbers of needy children. The new arrangements will ensure that prospective teachers have jobs lined up ahead of time, and allow for better coordination of support for MINT graduates once they're in the classroom.

The improvements come at a cost, however. By investing in more mentoring and on-the-job professional development for those who go through MINT, the state won't be able to pay for as many slots in the program.

As a result, MINT next year will train about 125 new teachers, down from roughly 220 last year. Said Mr. Gutlerner: "We're going to be putting a lot more into every participant."

Vol. 22, Issue 14, Page 3

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