Md. Tries to Stay on Top of Teacher Shortage Trends - Southern Maryland Headline News

Md. Tries to Stay on Top of Teacher Shortage Trends


By MAREN WRIGHT

WASHINGTON (April 8, 2009) - Maryland is prepared for the twin education trends of an aging teaching force and young teachers giving up the profession early, according to data from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

The organization held a briefing Tuesday to release a report showing that half the nation's teachers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years.

Add that to the 50 percent of new teachers who change careers in five years or less and you have the makings of a teacher shortage, said commission President Tom Carroll.

Maryland is a bit luckier. Teachers trained at the University of Maryland, College Park, stick with the profession more often, with retention rates closer to 70 percent, said Donna Wiseman, dean of the College of Education.

And its teaching force sits about mid-range age-wise, at an average age of 44. Nearby West Virginia will see 68 percent of its teaching force retire in the next 10 years, a situation that may force the state to draw teachers away from Maryland.

The poor economy could slow or stall the trend, Wiseman said, as fewer teachers retire and the stability of the teaching profession makes it a strong career choice.

"Part of the answer will be using Baby Boomers in a real creative way when they decide to retire," Wiseman said.

The commission's main recommendation, creating new options for retiring teachers, is already policy in Maryland.

In 2007-2008, 177 teachers participated in the state's retire/rehire program, specially designed to retain teachers in high need schools and critical subject areas. Retiring teachers in Maryland can also choose to work half time and still collect a pension, said Deputy State Superintendant John Smeallie.

"Maryland, fortuitously, is maybe a little bit ahead of the curve on this," Smeallie said.

Bringing teachers back into the classroom after retirement requires flexibility in more than pension plans.

"Seventy percent of teachers would be interested in staying if they were able to work in new education roles in phased or flexible retirement," said Elizabeth Foster, director of strategic initiatives for the commission.

The commission advocates teaching teams that pair experienced teachers with young educators, classroom coaches, parents and industry partners. This format would allow the system to give semi-retired teachers more flexibility in teaching tasks and scheduling.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the federation also likes learning teams, saying they can reduce teacher isolation and combine the excitement of new teachers with the sagacity of experienced teachers.

Yet Weingarten has seen other teacher mentoring programs come and go as they failed to achieve system-wide success.

"Top down accountability without having bottom-up reform and bottom-up buy-in never works," Weingarten said.

Supporters tout the cost-savings of this model, as a team mixes high-cost teachers, part-time teachers and new-hire teachers with lower paid school workers. Carroll said the team approach can also reduce the costs of teacher turnover by improving working conditions.

There is a down side to keeping teachers: higher salaries as more experienced teachers begin to boost the overall wage scale, said Neil Bergsman, director at the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute.

Teams are an innovative and promising idea, he said, but the state may need more changes to pension eligibility and benefits.

If there is a point of agreement, it is that change is on the horizon of the teaching profession.

"We have to stop thinking that students need to go to school in this little box, for this number of hours, for this number of years," said Gene Wilhoit, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, "That model has to break down."

Carroll also sees innovation ahead.

"We have a once-in-a-century opportunity to reinvent the make-up of the educational system," Carroll said. "Let's not just recreate the industrial model we've struggled with for 100 years."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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