• from The Columbus Dispatch - "NYC Offers Subsidy to Specialty Teachers"

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NYC Offers Subsidy to Specialty Teachers

Saturday, May 06, 2006

By William L. Bainbridge

Many schools that have large numbers of students with low test scores also have a teaching staff that is ill-prepared and lacks college course work to teach subjects such as chemistry, calculus and special education.

Anyone who types marketplace pay and teachers into Google can review a sampling of the numerous articles and speeches my colleagues and I have developed to advocate reformed compensation systems. Differentiated-compensation structures hold the most promise to provide students with the subject-qualified teachers they need to improve learning.

We have backed differentiated compensation for teachers in documented areas of chronic critical shortages. Many students in inner-city and rural schools are in classrooms with underqualified teachers in high-demand subject and content areas, largely because so few teachers come out of graduate schools certificated to teach higher-level mathematics, physical sciences and special education.

Critics will cry that public-school systems are too large, bureaucratic and unionized to consider any form of differentiated pay. Many school leaders believe the current, almost universal teacher-compensation scheme based on seniority and education level alone is here to stay.

Suddenly, however, a major breakthrough has occurred in one of the least expected and most challenging of U.S. public-education environments. In mid-April, the nation's largest school system, the nearly 1-million-student New York City Schools, announced housing subsidies of up to $14,600 to entice math, science and special-education teachers to work in the Big Apple's most challenging schools.

This is one of the most aggressive incentive programs in the nation to address a chronic shortage of qualified educators in these specialties. School officials hope the program will lead immediately to the hiring of an extra 100 teachers next fall and, with other recruitment efforts, ultimately help fill as many as 600 positions now held by teachers who do not have appropriate licenses for the subjects they teach.

Negotiated with the city teachers union, the program will pay as much $5,000 upfront for housing expenses to recruits with two years' experience in other schools. The expenses can include the cost of moving to New York City, a down payment on a home, or broker fees and security deposits for renters. The program also will pay a $400 monthly housing stipend for two years. Teachers receiving this assistance must sign a contract requiring them to repay part of the money if they fail to serve three years in a low-performing school. The announcement specified that teachers can live anywhere within the metropolitan region but must commit to work for three years in one of New York City's toughest middle schools or high schools.

"What you are starting to see is a very different compensation structure for teachers in the city of New York, different from the traditional lock step thinking on teacher pay and seniority . . . based on system need and performance," said school system Chancellor Joel I. Klein. He also cited a provision in the latest city teachers contract, approved this fall, that created a master-teacher position with additional compensation of $10,000 a year. "The differentials will have power to attract people and give our city a competitive advantage," Klein said.

The city believes the housing assistance will cost about $15,000 per teacher hired. The housing incentives appear to be directed at experienced teachers from other school systems and those who have left the profession.

The shortage of higher-math and physical-science teachers has moved to the top of the nation's education agenda. According to recent studies, nearly 60 percent of middle-school students are taught math by teachers who neither majored in mathematics nor studied math to pass a certification exam. The shortage of qualified math, science and special-education teachers also has become a much more urgent problem for states because of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which punishes systems that fail to make sufficient annual progress in certain subjects.

It makes no sense that teaching professionals in public schools are employed on the same salary schedule, regardless of the market for their specialties. Private businesses, health-care institutions, universities and even the post office consider specialized education and training in determining compensation.

The educational leaders in New York City are to be commended. Hopefully, the program's success will jump-start a national movement.

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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