America must drastically overhaul the way it recruits, trains and pays its classroom teachers if it is to cope with a shrinking teacher pool and increased economic and technological competition abroad, according to a comprehensive report.
The report, by a task force of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, lays out an ambitious eight-point program for restructuring the teaching force, including elimination of the undergraduate degree in education; a national board to certify new teachers; creation of a special group of experienced and better-paid "lead teachers," and a merit-pay plan under which schools receive bonuses based on how well their students perform.
Past merit-pay proposals have focused on rewarding individual teachers, not entire schools, and have rarely been linked to student performance. Such plans have traditionally been opposed by teachers' unions.
The report -- "A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century" is due to be released today in San Diego. The 14-member task force included the presidents of the nation's two largest teacher unions, New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean (R), former North Carolina governor James B. Hunt (D) and others.
In a statement accompanying the report, Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the 1.7 million-member National Education Association, expressed doubts about basing teacher rewards on student performance and said the "lead teacher" idea "is not adequately differentiated from the flawed and failed merit-pay and job-ladder plans."
Futrell's "reservations" sounded an early and significant note of discord over two of the key recommendations in the report. None of the major recommendations is likely to be implemented without the support of the politically active NEA.
The task force members also decry the declining number of minority teachers and called for a major national effort, including new scholarships and better counseling as early as high school, to increase the number of blacks and Hispanics choosing teaching as a career.
"We cannot tolerate a future in which both white and minority children are confronted with almost exclusively white authority figures in the schools," their report said.
Another proposal calls for restructuring teacher pay to take into account their level of responsibility, how well their students perform and the level of certification the teacher receives from a national board that would be able to award teaching certificates and "advanced certificates" for those with higher qualifications.
Teacher pay should be raised across-the-board to make the field more attractive, it says.
Acknowledging that teacher pay scales are set at the local level, the task force suggested that lead teachers who work year-round should earn salaries averaging $65,500; that advanced certificate holders should earn $42,000 for 10 months work and that certified teachers -- the majority -- should earn $35,500. The average teacher salary now is about $25,000.
The report makes little mention of a role for the federal government in implementing the restructuring of the teaching force. Task force members said this could be attributed to a realization that states control the budgets for America's schools.
The task force recommends adopting a "market approach" to the arena of public education, suggesting, for example, that "lead teachers" be allowed to move from school to school offering their expertise on contract, or that students be allowed to take federal and state money across district lines to enroll in schools, forcing the public schools to compete for the best children.
That "market approach" closely resembles the Reagan administration's controversial voucher proposal, which would extend the "open enrollment" policy to private schools as well.
The recommendations for a merit-pay plan and the replacement of the undergraduate education major with a bachelors degree in arts won praise from the administration.
"This report challenges the commonplace practice of American education," said Education Secretary William J. Bennett. "It holds the potential for much good: increased parental choice, and teachers with a liberal arts education paid on the basis of merit and held to rigorous standards."
Many conservatives have long been critical of specialized schools of education. The report recommends that prospective teachers receive an undergraduate B.A. degree, then receive a Masters of Teaching degree after a professional curriculum that includes internships in classrooms.
Bennett said, "Many of these recommendations should be put into effect by states and localities right away. Other recommendations of this far-reaching report are like the many moving parts of a delicately balanced watch -- all must move in synch for improvement to occur."
Panel members estimated that it would cost at least $47 billion to implement all of their recommendations, although a few, such as the stepped-up effort for recruiting minority teachers, could be instituted quickly and at little cost.
Other proposals, such as restructuring the teacher education program, creating a national board to certify teachers and instituting merit pay, are more costly and more politically charged -- and thus likely to be implemented more slowly, if at all.