Without teachers who instill a love of learning, education reform is not worth the time that it takes to legislate. It is not enough to require four years of English unless there are teachers who make words come alive. How do mandatory science courses help if classes are so large that there is no time to tell students how well they did on a science project?
California has started to improve the status of teachers by paying beginning teachers more money and developing mentor-teacher programs. But, as two new reports point out, far more remains to be done if California and other states are to cope with coming teacher shortages and attract the best candidates to the classroom.
The California Commission on the Teaching Profession, sponsored by the heads of the Legislature's education committees and the state school superintendent, has surveyed teaching conditions for 15 months. It may well have reached too many conclusions and set too few priorities. But some of its 27 recommendations must serve as a focus for statewide debate if the state is to have any hope of recruiting the nearly 85,000 new teachers it will need by the end of the decade.
The commission recommends broader academic training for teachers and more regular evaluations. Too often teachers are evaluated rigorously only as beginners or when they run into trouble.
The teaching environment must be addressed. Only two states have average class sizes larger than California's; that must change. The report suggests greater use of year-round schools to make more classrooms available. It urges schools to buy more textbooks because there often aren't enough to go around.
A most controversial suggestion calls for precise measurements of the caliber of each school in the state, using such criteria as class sizes, teaching loads, class assignments, availability of materials and competent substitutes, cleanliness and order. Parents have a right to know how schools measure up. What makes the idea controversial is that such measurements could stigmatize some schools and make it even more difficult to attract teachers to certified problem schools.
Money isn't everything, but it is as important as working conditions and professionalism, and the panel would start teachers at $25,000 a year and pay as much as $57,000 for teachers with 25 years' experience.
Recruitment of teachers is a prime challenge for schools, and a second report, by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, found that salary will be a factor in meeting the challenge. In 1982 teachers' average salary was $20,175, compared with accountants' $24,850, chemists' $29,000 and computer programmers' $23,000.
The Carnegie group's report says also that as many as half of today's teachers will quit or retire within the next five years, and that nationally 1 million new elementary and more than 500,000 secondary teachers will be needed by 1993. Yet fewer than 5% of college freshmen say that they plan to be teachers, compared with 20% 10 years ago. One reason is that expanded opportunities for women mean that much of the talent that formerly stood in front of a classroom now works in a courtroom or a boardroom. Any recruiting drive must also concentrate on attracting better students to the profession, because the Carnegie study shows that students now majoring in education have lower test scores than do students in general.
It is a rare graduate of high school or college who cannot remember one or two teachers who opened a door. The nation owes it to those memorable teachers of the past to mobilize public support for the teachers who will open the doors to the future.