Saturday, March 1, 2008

how do you fix a shortage of your own making?

From the AP as published in the C-J...

A big city's drawing power can make it hard for rural school districts to attract good math and science teachers, but superintendents hope to find help in a fellowship program that starts taking applications this year.

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is using Indiana to launch a program that pays for a master's degree for teachers who pledge to teach math and science in high-need secondary schools.

Rural school superintendents say they face a number of obstacles when they hunt for teachers of difficult subjects like chemistry, physics and calculus.

"These people can go into industry and make a lot more money," Twin Lakes School Corp. Superintendent Tom Fletcher said. "If they have the good math skills, the good science skills, companies are looking for them."...

Yep, opportunity costs is the first thing you learn in Econ!

The underlying issue is a union unwillingness to have differential pay for teachers in different fields. If you start with that unfortunate constraint, then a subsidy might work as a next-best option. But it's far from optimal...

Here's what happens if you can't cover the "shortage" appropriately:

Math and science teachers, especially in rural areas, often are not qualified to teach their classes, said James Fraser, lead consultant for Indiana for the Wilson foundation.

"But somebody's got to cover the math or science class," Fraser said. "A significant portion are taught by people who didn't even minor in math or science."

This reminds me of an old joke: the first name of most Econ teachers is "Coach".

And it leads to longer-term problems-- for individuals and for society.

That can cause problems for students after they leave high school, said John Hill, executive director of the National Rural Education Association based at Purdue University. "Their experience isn't in as great a depth as it needs to be to participate at the next level," Hill said.


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