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Published in Print: June 20, 2007, as California Could Tap Industry for Teachers

California Could Tap Industry for Teachers

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Hoping to plug gaps in California’s teacher workforce—which are expected only to get worse over the next decade—Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing a $12 million proposal to recruit professionals from the fields of math, science, and technology into teaching positions.

Called EnCorps, and pronounced “encore,” the program is a partnership between the state and some of the nation’s leading corporations. Companies such as IBM, General Motors’ Chevrolet division, East West Bank, and Qualcomm will take part by helping to recruit candidates into teaching jobs and supporting them with $15,000 stipends for expenses such as books, tuition, and certification tests.

The program is also a next step for IBM’s Transition to Teaching program, which began in New York and North Carolina two years ago. Currently, 85 veteran International Business Machines Corp. employees in 17 states are taking coursework at 30 universities under that program, with the goal of finding classroom positions in technical fields. ("Companies Unveil Projects to Improve Math, Science Learning," Sept. 28, 2005.)

“It’s critical that we take action now and get enough qualified and experienced teachers into our classrooms as soon as possible,” the governor said June 8 at a press conference held to announce the details of the initiative.

Call for Recruits

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is seeking midcareer professionals and retirees—with expertise in math, science, and technology—to help reduce the shortage of well-qualified teachers in California schools. So far, seven companies are participating in the new EnCorps program by pledging $15,000 for each teacher candidate, to cover books, tuition, and other education expenses.

IBM

Qualcomm

Edison International

Chevrolet

Ares Management

City National Bank

East West Bank

Earlier this year, the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, along with the California Council on Science and Technology—a nonprofit organization created by state law to advise policymakers—produced a report warning that the state “lacks an adequate supply of fully prepared and effective science and mathematics teachers at the middle and high school levels.”

According to experts, more than 100,000 California teachers are expected to retire over the next 10 years, and more than 33,000 new mathematics and science teachers will be needed.

The report also recommended that state leaders do exactly what the governor is proposing.

Over the next two years, EnCorps will seek to recruit 2,000 candidates into the program. They will need to be certified and pass the California Basic Education Skills Test, just like any other teachers. In addition, the money from the state will provide training in classroom management, and help place the recruits in jobs.

The initiative is also a response to the concerns that many business leaders have expressed over a lack of graduates who are prepared for employment in the information age.

Retirees from the corporate sector are the ones “who can show the relevancy of math and science,” said Clint Roswell, a spokesman for Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM.

A Growing Program

To be eligible for IBM’s Transition to Teaching program, employees must have at least 10 years with the company and experience as volunteers in schools or other programs for children.

Some of the 85 participating employees are completing online courses, while others are attending traditional classes at the same time they are working. The company provides online mentoring and other expertise for the recruits. Employees receive four months off to meet student-teaching requirements.

Some of the first graduates are expected to take teaching jobs in the fall, Mr. Roswell said.

For example, Robert A. Lee of Brewster, N.Y., has worked for IBM for 32 years, and designs interactive marketing programs for the company’s Web site. He holds degrees in both electrical engineering and computer science.

He will retire this summer and is slated to begin teaching math to middle and high school students this fall in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York.

As was the case for its program in New York and North Carolina, IBM in California expects to work with universities in the state to speed up the training process and provide those entering a second career with the kind of support they need.

‘Attract and Retain’

Experts on teaching say that while programs like these are promising, an emphasis must be placed on keeping the new recruits in the profession.

“Tapping the knowledge and interest of retirees is a great way to increase the number of highly effective teachers,” said Ben Schaefer, a program manager at the Washington-based National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “The key is that schools need to attract and retain quality teachers in order to raise student achievement. If the transition candidates are not well prepared and supported, they will leave the classroom, and the program will be costly and ineffective.”

Some observers question whether such efforts are necessary, given that other alternative pathways for career-changers already exist.

“Not many people have really entered the field through” such programs, said C. Emily Feistritzer, the head of the Washington-based National Center for Alternative Education. “It’s really hard to match people with the jobs that are needed.”

She agrees that the need for well-qualified math and science teachers is real, and that people with experience in the business world have something to offer schools. But she said that such early retirees might be more suited to part-time teaching jobs.

“I think California has mechanisms already in place to transition those people into teaching without going to state or corporate expense,” she said.

She also said she thinks it’s wrong to lure someone into a training program without “the guarantee of employment.”

In many alternative teacher-preparation programs, the candidates begin working at the same time they are completing their course requirements. Under such arrangements, Ms. Feistritzer said, career-changers can determine whether they are suited for teaching.

Margaret J. Gaston, the executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, said that anecdotal reports show that career-switchers are unlikely to remain in teaching after the first couple of years.

But she said EnCorps has the potential to be successful because of newly signed state legislation, which offers teachers who enter the field through the state’s intern program more support, and which more evenly distributes them across school districts.

The new law is meant to correct heavy concentrations of inexperienced teachers in high-need schools.

“These retirees,” Ms. Gaston said, “stand a better chance of not being loaded into a school that is heavily impacted with novice teachers.”

Vol. 26, Issue 42, Pages 26,28

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