New law could worsen teacher shortage

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

CHICAGO -- A teacher shortage has forced Illinois schools to fill classrooms with thousands of people who are not fully certified to teach. Now a federal law might worsen the situation.

The No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush signed in January requires all teachers to take state competency tests and be fully certified by 2005.

That means the state must find fully licensed teachers to replace 3,500 partially certified instructors working in schools now. That's on top of an already critical shortage of instructors.

Illinois schools began this school year with 3,600 unfilled teaching slots.

No one knows how many teachers are working out of their subject areas to fill in in areas that are critically short, such as math and science.

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the bill's main sponsors, acknowledged in a stop in Chicago Tuesday that finding enough teachers will be challenging, but he thinks four years will be enough time to get the job done.

"Most parents would want to make sure that those that are teaching in the classroom are going to be well-qualified," Kennedy said. "That's what we're committed to attempting to do."

Part of the bill takes effect this fall.

By then, all newly hired teachers in remedial math and whose salaries are paid with federal funds must meet the requirements.

That deadline is not as daunting as the one that arrives in 2005, when all teachers must be fully certified. The Illinois State Board of Education has reported that Illinois needs to hire 55,000 teachers in the next four years because of enrollment increases, teacher retirements and

"We want higher-quality people, but we have classes that we don't have properly certificated people for and we have to have people in the classroom," said Helen Tolan, Sangamon County regional school superintendent.

Many of the state's young, bright students turn away from education because of low pay and increased burdens such as preparing students for standardized testing, Rockford school Superintendent Alan Brown said.

The new federal law also requires annual testing in reading and math for third- through eighth-graders. Illinois currently tests those subjects in third, fifth and eighth grades.

"The prospect of more testing, the prospect of more paperwork and fewer hours devoted to teaching and learning could have an impact" in dissuading prospective teachers, said George King, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

Along with the federal requirements comes an additional $30 million -- for a total of $115 million -- to recruit, train and retain good teachers, said Gail Lieberman of the State Board of Education.

Of 132,000 teachers in Illinois, more than 3,500 are full-time substitutes without certificates or have waivers in areas such as bilingual education, where people fluent in a foreign language may teach for six years without credentials, education board spokesman Lee Milner said.

Associated Press reporter Melanie Coffee in Chicago contributed to this report.

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