THE SHORTAGE of mathematics teachers in the schools is deepening, and that, in turn, impedes the attempts to raise standards in math. Maryland provides an illuminating example. Last year, about 50,000 children in Maryland's secondary schools were being taught math by teachers with no certification in the subject. By next year, high school seniors will be required to pass a math competence test to graduate in Maryland, and the state is now considering raising its math requirements. But how can it proceed without more teachers?
An advisory committee recently recommended to the State Board of Education several possible, if partial, remedies. The state might offer special student loans to future math teachers, with the loans to be forgiven in return for service in the schools. In addition, teachers in other fields might be retrained. Or the schools might simply pay higher salaries to science and math teachers.
That last suggestion is, of course, bitterly opposed by all the teachers' organizations, which argue that an English teacher's contribution is worth as much as a math teacher's. That's quite true, in any cultural and moral sense, but it's irrelevant. Salaries do not measure moral worth. The reality is that people well trained in mathematics can make much more money in private industry, for work that is far easier than trying to steer large classes of high school kids through trigonometry in preparation for their college board exams.
Another possibility is to ask large companies with technical resources--the same companies that complain about inadequate standards in the schools--to help by releasing some of their people part-time to teach, in particular, advanced math and computer science classes. The teachers' unions resist that one as well.
But all of these things are worth trying, despite the opposition. David W. Hornbeck, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, sums it up by saying that the real question is "whether we want trained math teachers in our classrooms." He's right. To get them will take more than the present inducements, with an average salary of about $13,500 for beginning teachers in Maryland.
Unless schools can find gifted and well-trained people to teach math and science, their students are unlikely to be able to enter the enormously promising technical fields that are now opening. Passing resolutions to raise standards will be futile if adequate teachers cannot be found. Since the conventional methods of recruiting are producing hardly any candidates, it's time to turn to the unconventional.