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Making retirees' second act a class act

The governor and ex-Paramount chief Sherry Lansing unveil a public-private effort to fill teacher vacancies in math and science.

June 09, 2007|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Sherry Lansing retired as head of Paramount Pictures two years ago to head a foundation devoted to education and other causes. What if, she wondered recently, other retirees like her wanted to do the same.

Well, not exactly like her and not precisely the same way. She had in mind a lower-budget, in-the-trenches contribution: namely, becoming a teacher.

That plan blossomed into a media event led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday heralding a public-private partnership to lure retirees into teaching math and science.

The effort was unveiled at Roosevelt High, where Lansing worked as a long-term substitute teacher in math shortly after graduating from college some 40 years ago.

Math, science and special education teachers are at a premium, and state officials estimate that 100,000 teachers will retire over the next decade, about one-third of the teacher workforce. Over that same period, California's schools will need more than 33,000 new science and math instructors.

So why not pluck many of them from among professionals who've retired from something else?

Baby boomers, said Lansing, "are going to redefine retirement, and they are going to redefine aging."

The new program is EnCorps and pronounced "encore," a double-meaning seized on by L.A. Schools Supt. David L. Brewer, who was among the dignitaries in attendance. "I am an encore," said the retired Navy vice admiral, "a retiree who came back."

EnCorps is, in essence, a recruiting campaign with financial incentives to fill vacancies in teacher training programs. If funded by the Legislature, it would provide $12 million on top of the $31.7 million the state allocates to pay tuition and other costs.

In addition, several corporations have signed on to pay teacher training costs for their retiring employees, including Qualcomm, Edison International, Chevron, East West Bank, Ares Management, City National Bank and IBM, which has similar initiatives in New York and North Carolina. The companies will pay up to $15,000 per person in education costs.

"The more we have the private sector involved, the faster we can move forward," Schwarzenegger said. "I think that's where the action is."

The investment is vital for companies and, for workers who don't need a high salary, teaching is a better use of time "instead of spending every day playing golf," said Dominic Ng, CEO of East West Bank.

One executive, speaking not for attribution, acknowledged that EnCorps also could help older workers who need a job because their early retirement was neither voluntary nor accompanied by a golden parachute.

The effort earned almost uniform praise, with some qualifications.

"The first year of teaching, and sometimes the first two ... teachers aren't able to achieve the kinds of learning gains that they do in subsequent years," said Stanford University education professor Susanna Loeb. "This is true for teachers with prior work experience in other fields as well as for recent college graduates."

Research shows that many new teachers -- from all backgrounds -- quickly give up on the profession.

The emphasis on paying for training is helpful, said Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn. "But the part about how now these retirees can afford to teach broke my heart. We need to seriously look at making salaries competitive and making sure schools are a great place to work."

The day included one factual disagreement. Schwarzenegger said Roosevelt needed 121 math and science teachers. The school's tally is six math and science openings for next year.

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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