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Higher Pay Urged to Fight Dearth of Math and Science Teachers

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Higher starting salaries, more rigorous teacher training programs and additional support for first year teachers are just a few of the incentives needed to deal with a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers across the country by 2015, according to a group of business, foundation and higher education leaders.

The recommendations were included in a report released yesterday by the Business-Higher Education Forum, a Washington-based group organized to increase U.S. competitiveness. Its release was timed to coincide with the national debate on teacher quality and pay as Congress prepares to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the Higher Education Act and the budget for the National Science Foundation.

The group's goal is to double the number of graduates in science, math, engineering and technology fields during the next 10 years. "But we can make little progress without tackling the teacher problem," said Brian K. Fitzgerald, president and chief executive of the forum, while describing the report at the National Press Club yesterday.

According to the report, the quality of math and science teachers is the most influential variable in determining the success of a student in those subjects, but fewer talented math and science graduates are becoming teachers because they have many higher paying professional opportunities.

To make teaching a viable career choice, the report proposed a package of financial incentives, including scholarships, signing bonuses, loan forgiveness, housing subsidies and differential pay to teachers who work in high-demand subjects or those willing to work in high-poverty school systems, where shortages are being felt most acutely.

Offering higher pay in some subjects would depart from the existing system, which is based on experience and educational credits. The proposal has been controversial, with some teachers unions worried that different pay scales would encourage discord on faculties.

But John E. Deasy, superintendent for the Prince George's County school system, said he favors such incentives. He will announce a $17 million federal grant today that the county will use to give extra compensation to teachers who work in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools. He said math and science teachers are particularly in demand, and as many as 40 percent of those jobs are filled each year by teachers who are not certified in their subject area.

"We have come to a point in our history . . . where we are going to have to find alternatives to the single salary schedule where everyone gets the same pay," he said.

The report also calls for comprehensive measures to retain new teachers, citing statistics that as many as 33 percent of new teachers leave the field within three years. In addition to calling for better pay, the study advocates more mentoring and a reduced course load in the first year of teaching.

"We know that every year across America, we lose people in the teaching profession because they get off to a bad start," said Edgar B. Hatrick III, superintendent of Loudoun County school system.

The suburban school system has a good track record of filling math and science positions through year-round recruiting efforts, Hatrick said. Once new teachers start, administrators try to provide mentors, but they usually cannot afford to offer a lighter teaching load. "When you come into teaching, there is an expectation that you are . . . fully ready to be a regular teacher," he said.

The business and higher education forum also advocated emphasizing effectiveness over seniority, tapping into another national debate. The report proposes changing licensure standards so they are based on teacher effectiveness rather than on vague professional development coursework and proposed that each state create a database that monitors student achievement as one measure of teacher quality.

Carl F. Kohrt, president and chief executive of the multi-billion dollar science and technology company Battelle, said during the news conference that such reforms are critical to inspire the next generation of scientists. He recalled looking up to the sky and seeing Sputnik when he was young and the three teachers who encouraged him to pursue a career in science.

He said today's students look up and see the "Sputnik of our age" -- greenhouse gases and climate change. He asked, "Who are the teachers that will inspire them?"

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