WASHINGTON — Worried about filling a projected 2 million new teaching jobs in the coming decade, the Clinton administration and Congress are considering new financial incentives to lure graduates to staff the nation’s public classrooms.
The administration will give high priority to teacher recruiting in its next budget proposal. Democrats and Republicans alike have proposed using federal dollars to recruit new teachers through grants and forgiveness of student loans.
The proposals will force a debate over who is qualified to teach and whether graduates of teacher colleges are really prepared for the classroom. Others question the extent of the projected shortages and whether the traditional education college will supply the teachers of the future.
Finding qualified teachers is the next step in improving public schools now that states have begun imposing academic standards, says Marshall S. Smith, acting deputy secretary of education.
“Now it’s beginning to penetrate down into the classrooms,” he said. “So you need better teacher training in order to help that happen. You need some focus where it is most difficult, like the cities and poor rural areas.”
Maine, one of only a handful of states in the country which expect to see a decline in student enrollment in the next decade, is not faced with an impending teacher shortage. A report by the U.S. Department of Education last year predicted that overall school enrollment in Maine will drop nearly 8 percent in the next 10 years, the largest drop in the country. While some districts in growing southern Maine will see an increase in enrollment, schools in economically depressed northern and eastern Maine will see up to 10 percent fewer students in their classrooms, the report predicted.
Overall, that means teaching jobs for University of Maine College of Education graduates will remain hard to come by. Dean Bob Cobb said he advises his students to look outside Maine, to growing parts of the United States, for teaching jobs.
On the other hand, Maine does have an aging teaching force which means job openings are on the horizon. Nearly a quarter of the state’s teachers are 50 or older, which means many teachers will retire and need to be replaced in the next decade.
At the NAACP convention last summer, Clinton proposed spending $350 million for scholarships and other aid to colleges for 35,000 new teachers willing to serve in poor urban and rural classrooms. The proposal and others will be debated when Congress rewrites the law this year governing student aid and other higher education programs.
The administration has also been discussing a larger proposal for its 1999 budget to help tens of thousands of people to become teachers by forgiving their student loans. In a National Press Club speech last month, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., floated the idea. He proposed recruiting 100,000 new teachers a year for 10 years.
The Education Department projects that 2 million teachers will be needed in the coming decade because of booming enrollment, an aging teacher work force and a recent California law reducing class size.
Legislation has been readied or already introduced by Kennedy, senior Democrat on the Labor and Human Resources Committee; Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn. and chairman of a Budget Committee task force on education; Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; and from Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Dale Kildee, D-Mich.
Frist’s bill would set up a $250 million grant program for state teacher preparation institutions and partnerships between those colleges and school districts. The programs could include ways to attract former military personnel or midlife career changers to the profession.
Bingaman’s measure would include loan forgiveness and provide grants for partnerships. It says would-be teachers getting loan forgiveness would have to have undergraduate degrees in academic subjects in addition to taking professional education courses.
The strong insistence on subject-matter knowledge appeals to critics who say the proposals could pour too much money into colleges of education that turn out people who are versed in teaching methods but weak on academics. They also argue that the proposals will put too much stress on credentials that limit the access of people with talent, enthusiasm and grounding in subjects.
“We don’t have faith that by sending more money and power to those schools of education that we’re actually going to get the types of teachers that we need,” said Mike Petrilli, an analyst with the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
C. Emily Feistritzer, an analyst at the private National Center for Education Information, says the role of four-year education programs is diminishing because of changes in the source of new teachers. Also, states have devised alternative routes of certification.
Early retirees, midcareer job changers and returning former teachers are filling many jobs.
“We are no longer dependent on high school students trotting off to college to major in education to provide the pool for teaching,” she said. “That is a significant change.”