Texas To Recruit Teachers

Tuesday, August 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Wedgwood Middle School is kicking off the new academic year with something most other schools in the state don't have: A teacher in every classroom.

Just two weeks ago the surrounding Fort Worth Independent School District lacked nearly 200 teachers, a shortage repeated in countless other cities across Texas and the rest of the country.

But as classes started Monday in Fort Worth, only 35 out of 4,500 teacher positions were vacant. Other cities can only hope for such a bounty of teachers.

``We've known for about three years that the teacher shortage will get worse and worse,'' said Elene Odno, the Fort Worth school district's director of employment, recruiting and staff. ``Every year it's miraculous that we do as well as we do.''

Officials attribute their success to heavy recruiting and invoking a state law that allows school districts to keep teachers from quitting within 45 days of the start of the school year.

Texas will have an estimated 45,000 teacher vacancies of a total teacher work force of about 250,000 this school year with only 14,000 new in-state recruits available to fill the jobs, according to the State Board of Educator Certification.

The Houston Independent School District, the largest in the state and the seventh largest in the nation, for example, was trying to fill 1,000 out of 11,700 teacher jobs at the beginning of summer.

School officials aren't getting much help from out-of-state recruits, either. Officials estimate about 7,000 out of state recruits will be available to fill vacancies.

Additionally, more than 18 percent of current teachers last year taught at least one class for which they did not have the appropriate certificate: 11 percent of bilingual teachers in first through sixth grades, 13 percent of all special education teachers, 19 percent of all secondary math teachers and 21 percent of all social studies teachers.

No figures were available Monday on how many substitute teachers will start classes this year and whether any courses will be canceled due to a lack of qualified instructors.

Texas schools are growing an average of 70,000 students a year, which required about 5,700 new teaching positions to be created in 1998-99, said Pamela Tackett, executive director of the State Board of Educator Certification.

She told the state Senate Education Committee in November that almost 11,000 teacher vacancies were due to retirement. But the majority of the vacancies — 19 percent of Texas' entire teacher work force — were caused when educators left the field.

``I hear teachers complain about the salary, too much paperwork, behavioral problems and no parental support, and many of them decide to quit teaching,'' said Laura Luke, who administers the special education program at Wedgwood Middle School. ``And the best and the brightest college students know they'll make more money elsewhere.''

To combat the shortages, the state is focusing on alternative certification programs, recruitment and retention programs and beefing up the state's teaching schools. Universities have new programs aimed at turning out more and better qualified teachers.

Many districts are recruiting across the country and even overseas, offering signing bonuses, part-time jobs with full benefits and immediate contracts.

Texas teachers, even with a $3,000 annual pay raise awarded last year by the Legislature, earn $3,000 below the national average salary of $41,377.

John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said the state must pay more to attract and keep quality teachers.

``The teacher shortage is fully upon us, but it's an anomalous situation because we have no shortage of certified teachers,'' Cole said. ``It's just that they choose to do other things. The challenge is going to be for school districts to change their behavior to attract those people who love teaching.''

Cole also worries about the number of substitute teachers filling classroom jobs across the state — without full-time pay or benefits. ``They don't have any guarantee from one day to the next that they are going to have a job,'' he said.

Officials say the teacher shortage will hurt students the most. Studies have shown lower test scores in schools with long-term substitutes, uncertified teachers or instructors leading classes for which they are not certified.

``It will affect students in a negative way,'' said Richard Kouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. ``We just don't know how long it will take for that to happen.''


Associated Press Writer Connie Mabin contributed to this report.


On the Net:

National Center for Education Statistics: http://nces.ed.gov

Forth Worth School District: http://fortworthisd.org

Texas site: http://www.state.tx.us/Education