Drive To Improve Schools Sparks Hunt For Teachers

 

WASHINGTON - States and school districts across the nation might be headed for a bidding war as they compete with each other and private industry for men and women who have a flair for teaching.

The first shot was fired by Massachusetts, which in the past month has gone hunting for people with outstanding instuctional skills with $20,000 signing bonuses.

The Bay State is averaging 300 hits a day on a web site promoting the offer, and has had 5,000 applications for the 50 teaching positions it wants to fill. Those selected will be paid a $20,000 bonus over four years to work in urban schools.

Recruiters have interviewed candidates in California, Georgia, New York, Maine, Pennsylvania, Florida and have scheduled visits to Texas and Illinois.

"People are intrigued that a state values teaching and is willing to indicate that by being involved in a very aggressive marketing campaign to attract people," Driscoll said.

In his State of the Union address last year, President Clinton proposed hiring 100,000 new teachers across America. Congress funded an amended version of Clinton's plan for one year at $1.2 billion. About 70 percent of the money went to the local school districts to hire teachers. It was awarded based on need and the district population. The rest of the money went to retention, training and other needs.

"Even with all the money in the program, the most (teachers) you could hire was 30,000," said Bill McCarthy, spokesman for the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Responding to a shortage of teachers last year, New York City school officials went to Austria to find science teachers. California dipped into its substitute pools and recruited in Mexico to staff its classrooms. And districts in Maryland have offered to pay up to $5,000 to cover home-closing costs to lure teachers to work for them.

"We have heard about school districts actively recruiting and flying people in for interviews. That's something we've never heard of before," said Jamie Horwitz, an official of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teachers' union.

In 1997, the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future ranked North Carolina and Connecticut as the top two states in teacher training, compensation and retention.

North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said his state is trying to make the teaching profession more attractive by raising pay "dramatically," providing on-going support, and offering added salary incentives for teachers who get national certification.

Hunt applauded the Massachusetts initiative. "We are looking at that (signing bonus) here in North Carolina. I would encourage school districts across America to get teachers more pay and more incentives," The Tarheel State Democrat told stateline.org.

Some states are not happy with the assertive Massachusetts campaign. When the state's recruiters visited Maine last week, University of Maine Education Dean Bob Cobb told local reporters that he feared the recruiters "will drain away teachers" needed in Maine.

"I don't know that 50 teachers is going to drain all the brains out of Maine," Driscoll responded. This isn't about us taking teachers from other states. We have to raise the bar for teachers."

Because of the exploding school population and the fact that members of the Baby Boom generation will soon start retiring, the U.S. Department of Education forecasts that the country will need two million new teachers over the next 10 years.

The drive to draw the best candidates into the field could place the profession on new ground. Maybe one day, said the AFT's Horwitz, top teachers will be courted the same way big law firms court lawyers.

"It would be a nice dream wouldn't it?" the spokesman said.

"I don't think it will go that far," Horwitz added. "People don't go into teaching because they want to be millionaires, and we won't ever charge hourly fees lawyers make."

 
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