Toughening hiring standards for teachers will not worsen a staffing shortage, as has been argued, but may attract even more candidates with an improved image of the profession, a Rand Corp. study says.
But reforms in the teaching profession must also be accompanied by pay increases and other improved working conditions to attract greater numbers of qualified applicants, the 40-page study, "Who Will Teach?" says.
"All by themselves, raising standards isn't a way to alleviate the shortage," co-author Michael Sedlak said in a telephone interview from his Michigan State University office.
"In the past, it had to be accompanied by other changes in working conditions, including pay increases," he said.
Sedlak, an associate professor of teacher education, was hired by the Santa Monica think tank to conduct the study with Rand education specialist Steven Schlossman.
The report also concludes that school districts will have to work even harder to attract more job applicants as women leave the profession for other, better-paying jobs.
Women have traditionally been attracted to teaching because it was a socially acceptable job for women and allowed time to rear children, the study said. In addition, school districts traditionally hired women because they settled for less pay than men.
The report contradicts warnings by teachers' unions and others that increased certification standards will further reduce the number of candidates, worsening the shortage of teachers expected to peak in the 1990s.
Education-reform advocates have pushed for tougher requirements for teacher certification, including requiring graduate degrees and more testing.
A recent report by the Policy Analysis for California Education, an education think tank, predicts that an increase of students and retirements in an aging teaching force will create a need for between 85,000 and 135,000 new teachers in California alone in the next five years.
Similar predictions have been made for public schools across the nation.
The authors of the report made their conclusion after studying the history of teachers' salaries, reforms and demographics of the work force since the beginning of the 20th Century.
The study found that teacher shortages have been commonplace throughout the century, but, "It has proved possible, time and time again, to raise certification standards" and continue to attract sufficient numbers of teachers.
"This recurring pattern suggests that there is little historical reason to believe that proposed innovations such as teacher-testing and shifting the professional education of teachers entirely to the graduate level are, by themselves, likely to significantly diminish the attractions of the profession to potentially desirable recruits," the report said.
Arthur E. Wise, director of Rand's Center for Study of the Teaching Profession, went one step further in his foreword to the report, saying that reforms and increased pay are keys to finding more new teachers.
"The historical review presented in this report suggests that unless standards for entry are raised, the job redefined, and salaries increased, America will continue to have difficulty staffing its schools with adequately trained, skilled teachers," Wise wrote.
Teachers have cited low pay, a lack of professional freedom and opportunity for advancement as reasons for leaving the profession.
Bill Honig, superintendent of California's public schools, praised the report's conclusion that teacher reform actually attracts more candidates.
"I absolutely agree," he said from his Sacramento office. "That's what I've been saying all along. You raise the standards and you get more people who are interested, who say, 'Hey, they have the integrity I'm looking for.' "