TOPICS > Education

Wanted: Teachers

September 6, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT

PAUL PEROTTI: What we will break ground on actually within the next few weeks, the first shovel will hit the ground.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Paul Perotti sounds like a proud father when he shows off the plans for this 40-unit apartment complex.

PAUL PEROTTI: Two bedrooms are going to be about 1,100 square feet, state of the art with their own enclosed garage, washer, dryer, really nice interior design.

Teacher exodus

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But he isn’t a real estate developer or a builder. He’s superintendent of the Santa Clara Unified School district in northern California. His district is so desperate to get and keep good teachers, that it’s building apartments for them to live in.

PAUL PEROTTI: Last year about this time we saw the beginning of a flow of teachers leaving, and they have to put on there — when they leave they give us a reason. For the first time we saw too expensive to live here, can’t buy a home.

TEACHER: You should have a border for yourself.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Building housing for teachers may sound drastic, but all over the country school officials like Perotti are scrambling, looking for ways to get and keep good teachers. In some states, officials are offering prospective teachers signing bonuses, discounts on their dry cleaning and subsidies for low-cost day care. That’s because this fall, as millions of youngsters head back to the classroom, public schools are facing the biggest shortage of teachers in history, at a time when the teachers are quitting in record numbers.

TEACHER: Thank you kindergartners for waiting so quietly.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: One out of four leaves teaching in the first five years. In poorer urban schools, it’s closer to 50 percent. Linda Darling-Hammond is executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future.

In search of good teachers

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: Basically the story is that low income and minority kids are 10 times more likely to have unqualified teachers in California and about four times more likely to have unqualified teachers nationally. The kids who most need highly-skillful teachers are the least likely to get them in this country.

TEACHER: We’re going to have two minutes that we’re going to work on the speed drill.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: By law, most states now mandate lower class size so school officials can’t put more kids in classrooms.

TEACHER: Get ready, get set, go.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Instead, increasingly they are being forced to hire people with no teaching experience, and allowing them to work with emergency credentials. In California, the problem is acute.

SPOKESPERSON: We have a crisis in California. You all know this story.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: California State Superintendent Delaine Eastin has assembled a task force to make recommendations on how to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

DELAINE EASTIN: We have 37,000 teachers, who are teaching with emergency credentials. We have another 10,000 that are in some kind of an internship program, and a couple of thousand others who are teaching outside their areas, so they might be trained as an elementary teacher and be teaching a Special Ed class that they’re not trained to teach.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And a new study of teachers in California found that more than 1 million students are attending schools with so many under-qualified teachers, that the schools are dysfunctional.

LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND: This process of putting kids through schools where teachers are not adequately prepared, don’t know how to teach reading, don’t know how to identify their needs, puts them on a trajectory for social failure, puts the society on a trajectory for, essentially a downhill slope, because we can’t support in the long run, a knowledge-based economy without educating all of our kids well.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hoping not just to attract, but to keep good teachers, California Governor Gray Davis this summer signed the biggest education reform package in the state’s history.

GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS: Today, I am signing the largest and most ambitious teacher incentive package in America.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: It’s a $1.35 billion package that includes the first ever tax credit for teachers in the country, along with performance pay incentives and salary increases.

GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS: The opportunities for young people are so numerous, and the competition so great, that it’s an uphill battle to keep them in teaching, and that’s why we need a whole bundle of incentives to try and increase the prestige of teaching, as well as provide financial compensation that people need just to survive in our society.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And for many teachers, housing is a major survival issue, especially here in the Silicon Valley, where prices are among the highest in the country.

Will incentives work?

CARRIE HOLMBERG: Just remember the assignment was to read things outside of your normal range…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Santa Clara high school English teacher Carrie Holmberg says owning a home would make her stay in teaching.

CARRIE HOLMBERG: It’s every person’s dream to own their own home in America. I’ve had so many friends who are good teachers move out of state so they can afford… we lost our first nationally board certified teacher, which is…just a very high ranking, because she wanted to own her own home. If I could do it through the district, I’m going to. It will make me stay. I would be committed.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Now, Holmberg’s dream may come true. She is one of 17 teachers to qualify for a $500 a month home mortgage subsidy underwritten by the big computer company Intel.

TEACHER: We’re going to talk about this thing called the science binder today…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But many teachers say incentives are not what will keep them in the profession. The California federation of teachers, and many rank and file say they want starting teachers to make more than the national average of $28,000.

TEACHER: You’re homework is up on the white board over here…

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Santa Clara teacher Tracey Gunn says she would never leave teaching if she received better pay, and Gunn is the kind of teacher superintendent Perotti doesn’t want to lose. She’s fully credentialed, has a master’s degree, and teaches middle school science, a subject where some of the biggest national shortages occur. But she feels the pull of salaries in private industry, where most of her friends are making two or three times what she’s getting.

TRACEY GUNN: If I could be able to say proudly that I’m a teacher but it’s very difficult to say that proudly when I know that I don’t get paid what I should be paid. I thought the first year that I was here very hard about leaving and going into technology. It’s very seductive, a lot of money. Stock options are huge. That’s a long-term investment that I don’t necessarily have.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The idea stock options is something that Governor Davis has been thinking about himself. He wants to get private companies to offer them to encourage teachers to stay. But it’s not just private industry that school systems are competing with.

PAUL PEROTTI: There’s tremendous competition amongst school districts for the first time that I’ve ever seen. We’re competing with each other, and it’s dog-eat-dog. There’s — it’s not this friendly sharing of lists. We always used to kind of work together on this. Now it’s I’m not going to say the districts are trying to steal people from each other, but there’s no love lost at the fact if you got a fourth-year skilled teacher to move from that district to here, that’s a coup.

TEACHER: Remember yesterday when we were talking about same and different?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: While school officials look for new ways to recruit teachers they’re also trying to train the under qualified ones they have.

TEACHER: Different. Good job. And how about this one?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: This former homemaker is part of an on-the-job training program in suburban Sacramento that could some day go statewide. But experts say catch-up programs won’t eliminate the problem, because the shortage is so great. And it comes at a time when the federal government says more than two million new teachers will be needed nationally in the next ten years.