• from The Columbus Dispatch - "Adjust Pay to Stem Teacher Shortage"

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Adjust Pay to Stem Teacher Shortage

March 18, 2004

By William L. Bainbridge

At a time when state and national tests are pressing public-school students to perform better in science and math, teachers qualified in those areas are in short supply.

Conversely, there are surpluses of teachers certificated to teach kindergarten, primary grades, social studies, driver education, health education and physical education.

These findings come from the most recent annual report, "Educator Supply and Demand in the USA," by the 70-year-old American Association for Employment in Education, which focuses on enhancing and promoting the supply of teachers.

The report says "the continuing downward trend in demand for educators (in some fields) is most likely a reflection of the state-budget crises that are reported almost daily across the country." It also points out that economic conditions often affect education later than they do other sectors of the economy; if tax revenues increase because of an upturn in the economy, vacant private-sector positions could be filled, thus worsening teacher shortages.

The researchers conclude that, as student enrollments continue to increase, school administrators will continue hiring teachers out of their fields of certificated expertise.

Employing teachers with "temporary" licensure and/or limited academic preparation in the fields they teach presents a significant concern that school officials and parents should monitor. Yet some teacher unions and school administrators are resistant to "marketplace pay" in academic areas critically short of qualified or experienced teachers. With so many underqualified people teaching physical sciences, mathematics and special-education areas, it seems logical that school systems would explore the employment practices of universities, health-care institutions, public service agencies and even the Postal Service. None of these organizations recruit and remunerate employees using the lock-step salary schedule currently practiced by virtually all K-12 public-school systems in this country.

Our public- and parochial-school systems might be the only institutions in the industrialized world that disregard academic subject areas of expertise and training in their salary considerations.

Private-sector businesses do not simply take social-science majors, business majors, engineering majors, accounting majors and science majors and pay them all on the same wage scale. Such organizations make efforts to pay individuals based upon marketplace demands.

Many administrators say that, at the height of the teacher-hiring season, they have zero applications for chemistry teachers and hundreds or even thousands for teachers in the social studies and elementary grades. In addition, 50 percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years, and young people studying to be teachers generally score in the bottom quartile of the standard college-entrance examinations. A number of recent studies indicate that substandard salaries and benefits deter individuals with scientific and technical educational backgrounds from entering careers in teaching.

Employing high-quality teachers in the areas where shortages exist is necessary to improve the academic achievement of students and to narrow the performance gap between high and low socioeconomic students.

It is critical that the number of individuals choosing to become teachers be expanded, the number of beginning teachers choosing to remain in classrooms be increased and the number of teachers available in current areas of critical need be bolstered.

The time has come to re-think the remuneration practices of the 20th century and develop an improved salary model for teacher employment. Policy leaders and teacher unions need to join to produce pay scales that are more sensitive to marketplace demands and the needs of our children.

is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data firm.

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