SC senators mull teacher quality, retention

08/19/2014 2:06 PM

08/19/2014 9:25 PM

Recruiting and keeping quality teachers in South Carolina, and moving ineffective ones out of the classroom, will be the focus of a new Senate panel exploring the state of the S.C. teaching profession.

S.C. public schools have about 4,000 vacant teaching positions each year, but only 2,000 teachers exiting S.C. teacher preparation programs and entering the profession, Jane Turner, executive director of the Center for Recruitment, Retention and Advancement at Winthrop University, told senators Tuesday.

School districts, as a result, must turn to teachers from other states and countries, those who have other certifications and substitutes to fill the remaining 2,000 positions,” she said.

"We are alarmed that we are not producing enough teachers each year to fill the vacancies that are available each year," Turner said.

Tuesday was the first meeting of the special Senate panel, created by Senate Education Chairman John Courson, R-Richland. Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairs the committee. Other members are Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, Larry Martin, R-Pickens, and Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston.

Some senators expressed concerns that the process of eliminating ineffective teachers is long and costly and said they wanted to make that part of their panel’s focus.

Evaluating teacher salaries and other programs to help recruit and keep teachers, especially in high-poverty regions, also will be the panel’s focus. The senators will meet again next month.

Kathy Maness, executive director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, said that increasing state support for a S.C. teaching fellows program to fund more recipients should be a top priority for lawmakers looking for ways to improve the state’s education system.

Requiring some of the fellows to focus on math and science could help meet a growing demand for teachers in those subject areas, Maness said.

Lawmakers also could put more money in the state’s teacher loan forgiveness program for college students who commit to teaching in high-need schools once they graduate, she said.

Representatives from the S.C. Department of Education also told senators that increasing teacher salaries, offering pay hikes to encourage teachers to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools, and giving administrators an easier path to eliminating ineffective teachers would improve the teaching profession across the state.

Bernadette Hampton, the new president of the S.C. Education Association, said high-stakes testing, a lack of respect for the education profession, and too few resources for high-poverty areas are impediments to recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

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