Despite widespread predictions of a nationwide teacher shortage, school systems in the Washington area and across the country report "more than enough applicants" to fill available teaching jobs for the fall term, according to a survey released yesterday.
The unexpected surplus of applicants, running as high as 19 for every job in Fairfax County schools, has been caused by rising salaries and the "responsiveness" of qualified college graduates to teacher recruitment efforts, said Emily Feistritzer, director of the National Center for Education Information, a private group that conducted the survey.
Even in the District, where officials said last winter they were fearful of not being able to find enough qualified applicants, Merle Bush, the recruitment coordinator, said she was "very optimistic" that all job vacancies would be filled. So far the District has hired about 375 new teachers for the fall. It needs about 125 more, Bush said, and has received more than 2,000 applications.
"With all the articles in the paper" about a teacher shortage, Bush said, "everybody seems to think this is the year to apply."
In two days of mass interviews and hiring last week, the school system hired 108 teachers, including 15 in mathematics with "all the credentials," Bush said. For the past few years, the D.C. school system, along with many others, has had difficulty finding math teachers.
The NCEI telephone survey, conducted during the first three weeks of June, contains data from 93 school systems, including the 16 largest in the country. In the Washington area, the survey said, the number of job seekers exceed the number of teaching jobs by 8 to 1 in Montgomery County, 10 to 1 in Arlington, 14 to 1 in Charles County and 16 to 1 in Howard County.
In Prince George's County last week, 1,100 prospective teachers participated in a day of interviews, tests and tours -- up from 800 who participated in a similar program last year. The school system expects about 4,000 applications for 450 jobs, compared with just 1,000 applications before it began a nationwide recruiting effort two years ago.
"The whole idea is not just to find the bodies," said public information director Brian Porter. "That's relatively easy. To us it's a matter of quality. Now we have our choice of the best and the brightest people to put in the classroom."
Besides advertising, recruiting trips and incentives from county businesses, Prince George's has attracted applicants by raising its starting salary to $21,000 next fall. The beginning salary for teachers in Prince George's was $19,000 this past year and $15,700 in 1985-86. Similar increases have taken place in most area school systems, as teacher pay has risen substantially throughout the country in response to nationwide concern over school quality.
Meanwhile, the number of teaching jobs has increased throughout the area as enrollments have begun to pick up after a long decline, and class size has been reduced. However, several school officials said fewer teachers than expected will retire this year because of higher pay.
The number of new teacher college graduates has not been enough to meet demand, but Feistritzer said the gap is being filled by the large number of people who graduated with teaching degrees in the 1970s and 1980s and couldn't get classroom jobs. In addition, she said teaching is attracting many college graduates from other professions, though schools are reluctant to hire them.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, is planning to release a report on teacher supply and demand at its convention in Los Angeles on Saturday. A spokeswoman for the organization, which previously has said there is a major teacher shortage, declined to comment on the new survey.
In the past, NEA has charged that school districts have "masked" a teacher shortage by filling vacancies with unqualified persons or assigning teachers outside their fields of expertise.
Feistritzer said most of these "not-fully-credentialed" people lack "a few education courses," which they take during their first year or two on the job. She said studies in California and New Jersey indicate that these teachers perform as well as those who go through the regular teacher training programs.