Hiring of Untrained in Shortage 'Crisis' Makes Sham of Reform, Futrell Warns

Say Policy Shifts Needed To Avert Educational 'Disaster'

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Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, warned last week that teacher shortages occurring across the nation represent a “major crisis.”

And she charged that some school districts and states are making “a mockery” of education reform by easing certification requirements and other standards to fill vacancies.

“The hiring of untrained teachers makes a sham out of efforts to improve the teaching profession,” Ms. Futrell said at a “back-to-school” press conference at the N.E.A.’s national headquarters here.

“We will not accept any relaxation of standards that will open the floodgates for toning down other educational standards,” she said.

Past experience and present evidence, she said, suggest that during teacher shortages administrators will hire people with bachelor’s degrees but no teacher training to fill vacancies, and often combine classes and allow teachers to teach courses outside of their subject areas.

Find Trained Teachers

State education officials should make a greater effort to identify and bring back to the classroom trained teachers who retired early, or lost their jobs because of budget cuts, or could not find positions in the past because of teacher surpluses, said Ms. Futrell, who was recently elected to her second term as head of the 1.6-million-member union.

“These certified teachers can help to fill today’s shortages,” she said.

To deal with what she called the “shortage-certification problem,” Ms. Futrell also urged that:

  • Parents demand that school officials tell them how many uncertified teachers are employed in their district and in which schools they are teaching.
  • State lawmakers prohibit the hiring of uncertified teachers and consider “interstate reciprocity agreements” that would enable qualified teachers to move from state to state without losing credit for their years of teaching.
  • The U.S. Education Department establish a “national clearinghouse” to help states experiencing shortages locate trained teachers.

In addition, the union president encouraged all certified teachers to frame and post their credentials in their classrooms, “like doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.” This, she said, will “let the public know who is qualified to teach.”

According to the N.E.A., about 27 states are currently experiencing teacher shortages. Some 35 states have lowered, or are considering lowering, certification standards, the union reports.

“These so-called emergency and alternative certification policies make a mockery of the education-reform movement,” Ms. Futrell said in a prepared statement. “The politicians have called for stronger teacher standards; now they want to soften them.”

Ms. Futrell identified New Jersey and Texas as two states that have altered certification requirements to allow any college graduate to teach after a short period of training. She cited the Los Angeles, New York City, and Houston public schools as example of large systems that have eased their hiring standards for teachers.

Criticizes Los Angeles

The N.E.A. president was particularly critical of teacher-recruitment efforts by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has advertised for teachers using a poster that reads: “Want to teach but have no credentials? Relax. We can help you get your teaching credentials while you work full time as a junior- or senior-high-school teacher.”

Said Ms. Futrell: “How does a person who has not received training know what lessons to use or how to design a program that will address the particular needs of the children in that classroom? The students are suffering while this person learns on the job."

Minority Impact Feared

In Houston and several other large cities, Ms. Futrell said, reports she has received indicate the majority of the noncertified teachers hired are being placed in predominantly minority schools.

Students in such schools "deserve to be taught by certified teachers, just like the kids who live in the suburbs," she said. "We can't allow ourselves to fall into the trap of saying, 'Let's just put a warm, breathing body in front of these kids.'”

While saying she felt sympathy for school boards and administrators now faced with a shortage of teachers, Ms. Futrell also charged such officials with a lack of foresight in not preparing adequately for the demographic changes that have produced the crisis. "We've heard about these shifts for several years," she said.

Vol. 05, Issue 01, Page 1, 34

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