By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Facing a looming teacher shortage, state education officials said Tuesday that Maryland needs to pay higher salaries, offer tuition reimbursement and reduce class sizes to recruit and retain teachers for public schools, especially for low-performing districts.
"Not only do we want to recruit outstanding teachers, we want to retain them," said Nancy Grasmick, state superintendent of schools. "How can we get the best teachers to go to the schools that need help?"
The state will need about 8,000 new teachers next year. Maryland loses 30 percent of new teachers within five years, Grasmick said.
Legislators suggested that a possible way to recruit students for teaching careers would be to offer scholarships to students who commit to teach in public schools for a certain amount of time.
While higher education institutions have the capacity to educate more teachers, the cost to offer scholarships may be high, Grasmick said.
Grasmick said the State Board of Education is researching ways to recruit and retain teachers by looking at other recruiting programs in states such as Florida, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, and Minnesota. But she said that the board needs to customize a plan for Maryland.
"I don't think lifting a plan from another state and implementing it here is the way to go," Grasmick said. "We need to explore it further."
The state is looking at Montgomery County's peer evaluation techniques and how the county invests in its teachers as leaders, and the state is also recruiting nationally and internationally, Grasmick said.
The key incentive discussed for recruiting and retaining teachers was compensation. One way would be to provide stipends for teachers who mentor or work long hours. Another way would increase the pay of teachers whose students have improved academically.
Teachers are going to other states or to professions with higher salaries, said Dale Templeton, the assistant executive director for the Maryland State Teachers Association.
This causes instability, said superintendent of Queen Anne's County schools, Bernard J. Sadusky.
"It doesn't build stability in an education system when teachers leave to find higher paying jobs elsewhere," he said.
Also, many thousands of teachers are on the cusp of retiring, adding more urgency to the teacher shortage, Grasmick said
In Maryland, the average starting salary for teachers is $36,000, according to the State Board of Education.
Nationally, the average starting salary is $30,377, much lower than other professions that require four-year degrees such as computer programming at $43,635, public accounting professionals at $44,668 and registered nurses at $45,570, according to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Also, the average earnings of workers with four-year degrees are over 50 percent higher than the average earnings of a teacher, according to a recent teacher pay report from the National Education Association.
In order to retain teachers, Templeton, the teachers association official, said the state needs to reduce class sizes and teacher workloads.
Professional development was another suggestion to retain teachers. Templeton said that teachers need resources to address the needs of students and mentoring programs to help with class management and administrative paperwork.
Grasmick said that teachers need professional development to learn how to teach creatively in classrooms with disciplinary problems or low performance.
"I was in Baltimore the other day and I think I saw one of the best teachers. I observed her for two hours," she said about visiting West Baltimore Middle School when a teacher taught the African American curriculum.
The state superintendent said that administrative support is also key to retaining teachers. She said that the state needs to encourage principals to be leaders in their schools and encourage the teachers. She gave an example of how principal leadership works.
Grasmick visited a school in Baltimore County in a low-income area and sat with the staff for an hour. She said 15 teachers told her that they would never leave the school as long as the current principal was there because he allowed them to be creative, even under the national standards. Another suggestion was to increase the preparatory and planning time for teachers.