Recruiting The Best And Brightest

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The state of Massachusetts wants its brightest college students to go into the classroom and teach, so much so that it is willing to help pay back their student loans--if, that is, they graduate in the top quarter of their class. "This is a way for the state to bring more bright students into teaching,'' says Michael Sentance, the state secretary of education. "We have to do whatever we can to make the compensation better so students will choose teaching instead of other professions.''

While about 30 other states have loan-payback programs for teachers, Massachusetts is among the first to require eligible students to get high grades in college to qualify.

Most new teachers in Massachusetts graduate in the bottom half of their high school and college classes and score about 40 to 50 points below the state and national averages on the Scholastic Assessment Test, according to Ted Frier, a special assistant to Sentance. "It was important,'' Frier says, "to put in an incentive to attract the best students to teaching.''

The legislature created the payback program as part of its 1993 Education Reform Act. But the state only recently provided funds to implement it--$150,000 in July. That initial allocation will be used to pay back some of the loans for eligible graduates who became teachers after July 1994.

Under the program, the state will pay back a maximum of $1,800 a year, or $7,299 over four years, for students who attended public or private colleges in the state. Students will make their regular loan payments and then receive a check from the state each June. The program will give preference to students who plan to teach in low-income districts.

Several other states have similar programs. Georgia's HOPE Scholarship Program, for example, provides forgivable loans to students who are enrolled in an education program at a Georgia college or university or who seek an advanced degree in education. One component of the program offers loans of up to $3,000 a year to students who want to teach in Georgia's public schools. To have their loans forgiven, students must have a 3.6 grade-point average by the end of their sophomore year and teach in Georgia public schools for four years.

Besides being an effort to attract top students to teaching, the Massachusetts program to pay off college loans is also geared toward warding off an impending teacher shortage in that state. Massachusetts has the second-oldest teaching staff in the country--the average age is 47--and officials worry that the impending retirement surge could leave the schools shorthanded. The program, Frier says, "was not a response to a teacher shortage as much as a response to a need we know will exist in the near future.''

John Conley, director of human resources for the 63,000-student Boston public schools, says the program is a good idea but alone isn't enough to attract talented students. "It needs to be combined with other programs to make teaching attractive,'' he says. "As part of a larger program, it could be very helpful.''

--Leslie Harris

Vol. 07, Issue 04, Page 1-24

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