Over the last few weeks, the difficulties of meeting the No Child Left Behind-mandate to place a high-quality teacher in every classroom by the 2004-2005 have become more evident to school districts across the country. From California to New York, states are struggling to balance their budgets without firing qualified teachers while simultaneously trying to lure highly qualified teachers, especially in math, science, and special education.
Realizing that the state will have to make deep cuts in education spending to close its projected $35 billion budget deficit, California school administrators last month notified approximately 20,000 primary and secondary school teachers (20 percent of the total workforce) that they might be out of work after this school year. The state has yet to give school districts any inkling of how much their budgets might be cut. Consequently, class sizes, which were successfully reduced during the economic boom of the 1990s to as low as 20 per class, are now very likely to grow, with some scenarios suggesting as many as 40 students per class.
In Los Angeles, rather than implementing lower class sizes across-the-board, district officials are focusing on specific grade levels and overcrowded classes in core subjects. A year ago, the school board voted to increase class size by an average of two students in order to save $65.6 million. Now some classes which previously had 32 to 34 students have between 32 and 38 students.
On the other side of the country, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said earlier this month that he planned to lay off over 3,000 school employees. While the plan is not likely to affect teachers, it will mean the release of many teacher’s aides. The layoffs are expected to save about $180 million, or about 3.5 percent of the budget, according to the New York Times. In related news, the city announced that the four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2002 slipped to 50 percent, down 1 percent from the previous year.
Later the same day, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced two new programs to recruit new teachers to the city’s classrooms and to convince former teachers to return. The efforts will focus on math, science, and special education teachers in order to fill the expected need for 11,000 fully licensed teachers at the start of the next school year.
Palm Beach County Schools Streamline Certification Process for Math and Science Teachers
Because of growing enrollment, as well as a voter-approved constitutional amendment to reduce class size, Florida is expected to hire 22,000 teachers by August. Palm Beach County schools alone will have to hire about 1,400 new teachers to keep up with enrollment growth, and an additional 600 to meet the class-size requirement. This demand, along with an acute shortage of math and science teachers, has forced many districts to consider nontraditional methods that lead to teacher certification. In Palm Beach County, school officials have started an online fast-track teacher certification program, according to the Palm Beach Post. The program is meant for second-career professionals who want to move into the teaching field.
Previously, a person without a teaching certification had to earn 20 college credits and pass a state teaching exam in order to teach. Under the new program, participants complete online reading assignments and are assigned a mentor to help with classroom management and lesson planning. They must also pass the state teaching exam. This whole process is designed to take one year. Only about 20 teachers in three middle schools are currently enrolled in the program, but enrollment is expected to grow as the program expands.
Meanwhile, another teacher recruitment initiative underway in Palm Beach County has not been as successful as school officials had hoped. Last year, the school district offered a $10,000 bonus to lure the area’s top teachers into F-rated schools. (Although it was advertised as a $10,000 bonus, $2,500 of the total was contingent on the teacher significantly raising student achievement). This year, the district stuck with the incentive and sent letters to 86 teachers, asking them to make the switch. As of April 4, only five had agreed to do so.
Interviews with eligible teachers indicate that considerations other than pay prevented many teachers from transferring. Some eligible teachers told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that they were reluctant because they were unfamiliar with the principal at the new school, or because they would face a much longer commute. Others turned down the proposal because they were only given a few days to make such an important decision and could not leave because of the strong loyalty they felt to their current school. For those who have agreed to transfer, the most attractive incentive, other than the bonus, is the challenge of teaching in such a difficult environment.
Pennsylvania Plan Would Restructure Teacher Payment Scale
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell has developed a new method to reward excellent teachers that would include performance bonuses as teachers move up a new career ladder. The plan is part of Rendell’s $1.25 billion school reform proposal and proposes shrinking the current 16-step salary scale for teachers to six steps.
The new career ladder would include six rungs, ranging from a non-tenured level for beginning teachers to the highest level, national board certification. National board certification requires up to 400 hours of preparation and course work. Currently only about 80 teachers in Pennsylvania hold a national certification, compared to over 5,000 in North Carolina. Individual teacher unions and school boards will work out their own contracts and salary amounts for each rung.