Hot Market For Teachers

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When Angela Harvey accepted a job teaching choral music in Dallas this fall, she pocketed a $1,500 signing bonus. And Harvey wasn't the only one. The Dallas district doled out similar up-front money to each of its 900 new teachers. Given the stiff competition for teachers, district officials figured they'd better get aggressive. "We decided to take the gloves off and put our money where our mouth was," says Linda Davis, an employment official for the Dallas schools.

Across the nation, schools will need to hire 2 million new teachers over the next decade. Given the demand, states and districts are scrambling to staff their schools. Recruitment strategies include bonuses, housing assistance, and higher starting salaries. "It was a great incentive," says Harvey, 24, who had considered teaching in Houston but was lured to Benjamin Franklin Middle School by the bonus and a starting salary of $28,500.

Enrollment growth, increased retirements, smaller classes, and high turnover are fueling the market for teachers. In some regions, the booming economy has produced so many attractive private-sector jobs that it's tough for districts to recruit and keep good teachers, especially in the hard-to-fill areas of mathematics and science. "It's just so competitive now," says R. Douglas Pretty, director of human resources for the 16,000-student Dearborn, Michigan, district, which hired more than 100 teachers this year. "We're all out at the same job fairs, after the same good candidates. We're very concerned about what the next few years are going to bring for us."

In Nicholasville, Kentucky, it wasn't until August 11-the day before school started-that Thomas Welch, principal of East Jessamine High School, finally found a teacher for Advanced Placement chemistry. But the person would only accept the job for a semester. "I had very few serious candidates," Welch says. "You get desperate. You want your students to have high-quality faculty. I'm not content to just hire anybody who has a certificate."

The Baltimore school system wasn't so lucky. When the 107,000-student district opened this year, it had to dispatch 29 central-office administrators and a cadre of master educators to cover classes while officials hustled to hire another 104 teachers. With a teaching force of 7,000, Baltimore had already hired 700 teachers to start the school year.

As part of an incentive package that includes on-the-job mentoring, new teachers in Baltimore can receive $5,000 toward closing costs on a home in the city and $1,200 for relocation expenses. The district also raised starting salaries by $3,000, to $27,300, to be more competitive with surrounding systems.

Some urban districts are looking far outside their borders for teachers. New York City hired 25 Austrians over the summer to teach math and science and seven teachers from Spain to teach middle school Spanish.

The European recruitment is just part of an effort by the nation's biggest school district to overhaul its personnel practices to meet the demand for nearly 30,000 new teachers over the next five years. This year, the city will hire between 4,500 and 5,000 new teachers, bringing its teaching force to 72,000.

For the first time, the city's community school districts received their budgets before the end of last school year, so they could estimate more accurately how many teachers to hire. As a result, New York had signed up nearly 2,800 teachers by April, obviating its traditional late August rush.

Though most urban districts have to compete hard for teachers, Miami-Dade County is turning them away. Competitive salaries and benefits and a relatively inexpensive housing market-combined with Florida sunshine-draw many applicants. "We have so many teachers, we wish we could place them all," says Henry Fraind, deputy superintendent of the 351,000-student district. "If someone's looking to hire teachers, they may contact our personnel department."

The supply problem is particularly troubling to those with an eye to raising teacher quality. In the past, policymakers have lowered standards to fill classrooms, but reformers are hopeful that the current interest in quality will avert such actions this time around. "The challenge is really not one specifically of bodies but of quality, of preparation, and of availability in selected fields and locations," says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, an organization that advocates better school-hiring practices.

After a summer of bitter wrangling over teacher candidates' poor showing on a state test, Massachusetts lawmakers created a $60 million pool that will generate money to pay $20,000 signing bonuses to about 100 highly qualified new teachers each year. The money would be paid out over four years. "By and large, we are not getting the cream of the crop going into the teaching profession," says state Senator Thomas Birmingham, sponsor of the legislation. The Democrat called the 59 percent failure rate on the first administration of the state test "a very poor showing."

Other states are trying to address teacher supply and quality simultaneously. California-which will need between 260,000 and 300,000 new teachers in the next decade-is spending money on teacher preparation, recruitment, and mentoring programs at a record rate. Still, the state's public schools currently employ some 29,000 uncertified teachers, according to Haselkorn.

In Maryland, state schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick plans to propose a 10 percent state income-tax break for teachers. The education department's legislative package also proposes making expenditures for professional- development materials and membership dues for professional organizations tax deductible. Maryland will need 11,000 more teachers by 2001 to keep pace with a booming student enrollment and teacher retirements. "We have a looming crisis in terms of teacher shortages," Grasmick says. "We have to start thinking out of the box."

-Ann Bradley

Vol. 10, Issue 2, Pages 10-11

Published in Print: October 1, 1998, as Hot Market For Teachers
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