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From: Ruben I Safir
Subject: [hangout] A recision is a good thing
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Shortage Ends as City Lures New Teachers
By ABBY GOODNOUGH
After years of struggling to recruit enough certified teachers to fill even half of its classroom vacancies, New York City has attracted more than 8,000 qualified candidates for the fall, in effect ending what school officials called the most crippling teacher shortage in decades.
Education officials attribute the striking increase in certified applicants to the floundering economy and to a recent contract agreement that raised entry-level teacher salaries to $39,000 from $31,910. In addition, an alternative form of certification that requires far less training has drawn several thousand people who might never have considered teaching otherwise. New York City has 80,000 teachers, of whom 16 percent were uncertified last year.
As of last week, the school system said, it had offered jobs to 8,300 certified teachers, meaning they have passed the requisite exams and education courses. (For permanent certification, teachers must get a master's degree by the end of their fifth year.) Harold O. Levy, who stepped down last week as schools chancellor, said then that he expected certified teachers to fill at least 90 percent of the vacancies in September. In contrast, only half the teachers hired in 2001 were certified; in other recent years, the number dipped as low as 40 percent.
To fill the void, the school system had resorted to hiring thousands of uncertified teachers with little or no training, many of whom had repeatedly failed the state licensing exams. School officials used to refer to this last-minute hiring as the fogged-mirror test: if a mirror held to the applicant's mouth fogged, they joked, the applicant was clearly breathing and therefore met the basic qualification for teaching in New York.
The tide began to turn in 2000, when the State Board of Regents adopted a new policy requiring that all New York City teachers be certified by September 2003. As a first step, the policy ? enforced by court order ? barred the city from placing uncertified teachers in its 100 lowest-performing schools in 2000-01.
In response, Mr. Levy hastily created an alternative certification program that recruited career-changers and recent college graduates with no teaching experience, gave them a month of intensive education courses and assigned them to those lowest-performing schools.
As part of the program, approved by the state, the school system paid for these novice teachers to get master's degrees in education during their first few years on the job. The program, New York City Teaching Fellows, has expanded tenfold and will place 2,000 new recruits in city schools in September. They will join about 1,500 teaching fellows already in the system.
Altogether, about 2,500, or 30 percent, of the new certified teachers this fall will have alternative certification. In addition to the teaching fellows, they include nearly 200 recruits from Teach for America, the nonprofit group that places recent college graduates in troubled schools after a summer of training, and about 300 from other alternate-route programs.
Since these recruits have not spent nearly as much time learning how to teach as those with traditional certification ? many of whom took education courses in college and completed student-teaching stints ? some educators question whether they really count as qualified teachers. "It's a disingenuous claim," said Arthur Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University. "New York has reclassified what it means to be a certified teacher, and what it means is we will still have large numbers of students this fall whose teachers are unprepared to teach them."
The question of what makes a qualified teacher is being hotly debated not just in New York but nationwide, as hundreds of thousands of teachers from the baby-boomer generation prepare to retire and districts scramble to ensure that they are not left short. Like New York, many school districts around the country, including Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, have started alternative certification programs, typically sending the participants into poor inner-city schools with high turnover rates.
President Bush's No Child Left Behind law calls for a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom by 2006, and Rod Paige, the education secretary, has said that career-changers and others with alternative certification meet that definition.
In a recent report, Mr. Paige dismissed the pedagogical course work offered by schools of education ? like Teachers College ? as cumbersome and often ineffective.
"Many academically accomplished college graduates and midcareer professionals with strong subject-matter backgrounds are often dissuaded from entering teaching because the entry requirements are so rigid," the report said. "At the same time, too many individuals earn certification even though their own content knowledge is weak."
New teachers with alternative certification were in abundance yesterday during an induction ceremony for the school system's new recruits at the Madison Square Garden Theater, presided over by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. When a teachers' union official asked how many of the recruits present were New York City Teaching Fellows, hands shot up throughout the theater.
Claudine Gebhard, 27, who became a teaching fellow after several years in the fashion business, said she was not particularly concerned about her relative lack of preparation.
"They really hold your hand a lot in this program," said Ms. Gebhard, who will teach in East Harlem. "We'll have lots of support."
In contrast, Jeannette MacMillan, a new recruit who will teach in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, has traditional certification because she was a student-teacher and got a master's degree in education from Howard University. Ms. MacMillan, 24, said she was sure her years of training would prove invaluable. But like Ms. Gebhard, she said that her most important training was yet to come.
"I don't think anything can actually prepare you for working with your own class of kids," Ms. MacMillan said.
While the school system had so many certified applicants this year that it actually rejected 1,250, it has still not found enough who specialize in math, science, special education and bilingual education, all perennial shortage areas.
The system has hired about 280 uncertified teachers to fill those vacancies, said Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman. Most of them ? along with a number of uncertified teachers already teaching those subjects ? are on track to be certified by next September, the state deadline. It remains unclear how many of the city's new certified teachers have worked in other school systems and how many will be teaching for the first time this fall.
The new teachers' contract significantly increased ? to nearly $61,000 from $43,370 ? the maximum yearly salary that certified teachers hired from other districts could initially earn and the school system hoped that would be an irresistible incentive. School officials could not provide figures this week, but Randi Weingarten, the teachers' union president, said it appeared that the number of new teachers with experience elsewhere was low.
Many new recruits still lacked a specific assignment as of yesterday ? a likely result of overhiring because the system never knows for sure how many vacancies it has until the first few weeks of school.
Much of the hiring was done last spring ? earlier than usual ? because school officials feared the salary increase would compel a flood of older teachers to retire over the summer. But in fact, the number who have retired as of this month ? about 3,000 ? was smaller than expected. New York is among a number of districts nationwide whose teacher shortages have abated, at least temporarily, in part because of the shaky economy.
Diane Ravitch, the education historian, said she suspected that the salary increase was the main reason that New York had attracted so many certified teachers this year. The challenge now, she said, will be giving the new teachers the support they need to stay for the long term.
In welcoming the new recruits at Madison Square Garden yesterday, Chancellor Klein ? who started his own job only three days earlier ? urged them to seek out veteran teachers for support. "There are allies there who you can enlist even though you will feel at times besieged and overwhelmed," he said. "My priority is to make it as good as it can possibly be for those of you who are in the classroom instructing the children."
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