The Teacher-Recruiting Trail

By Sean Cavanagh — June 16, 2009 2 min read
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States have a message for career-changers thinking of math and science teaching careers: We want you!

A number of states have launched or are planning initiatives aimed at loosening state certification requirements and drawing people who haven’t gone through the traditional teacher-college route into the profession. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell says he will ask state lawmakers to establish a “residency teaching certificate” in subject areas where the state’s education secretary determines there’s a state or regional shortage.

To get that certification, candidates must have either a bachelor’s degree with five years of relevant work experience, a master’s with two years’ relevant experience, or a doctoral degree in a subject field. They would also have to complete a four-month training program that covers areas ranging from instructional strategies to using tests to child development.

The residency certificate would be good for three years under Rendell’s plan. The governor argues that the proposal would not only put more math and science teachers in schools; it would also potentially make Pennsylvania eligible for more federal “Race to the Top” funding, the pool of money the feds have set aside for school innovation.

At the risk of stoking border-state antipathy, I have to wonder if the Pennsylvanians were motivated at least in part by what’s going on in neighboring New Jersey. Last month, state lawmakers in Trenton approved an 18-month pilot program to allow individuals with bachelor’s degrees in math and science to become certified as teachers. In an economy where a lot of qualified people are out of work, what state leader would want to see math and science talent migrate to classrooms out of state? New Jersey’s program would require candidates to pass a state subject-matter test, among other steps, for eligibility, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

But these kinds of fast-track programs for teachers sometimes draw objections from teacher colleges, and that’s what appears to be happening in Michigan. A proposal from the Michigan Department of Education aims to give out-of-work professionals the opportunity to get into the classroom within 15 months, according to this story in the Detroit Free Press.

In a state with lots of out-of-work engineers and others with tech skills, guiding them into the classroom would seem to make sense. The Michigan plan comes not long after the state’s adoption of tougher math and science graduation requirements, which many predicted would create the need for new teachers. Yet the story quotes a number of teacher college officials who worry about a dilution of quality in math and science classrooms. One of the skeptics even questions whether the state has a math and science teacher shortage, given the numbers of educators being churned out in the state. One ed college dean says a more targeted program, focused on cultivating teachers for high-need districts, would be a better way to go.

Even so, the momentum for these fast-track efforts clearly has grown. State and business leaders are fixated on math and science education, believing it will drive the future economy (and improve test scores).

What I’m less clear about is this: Will the dour economy lead more math-and-science- oriented career-changers into the classroom? Will the flow of federal stimulus money create a more stable job market for them? And perhaps most importantly: Will these people sink or swim in the classroom, and will students benefit?

Image of Uncle Sam courtesy of Library of Congress.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.