With only a year to go before the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires teachers to be "highly qualified," the Baltimore County school district is holding firm, despite objections from the union, to a rule limiting teachers' ability to transfer to other schools within the district.
Under the rule, first implemented this school year, a teacher who meets the complex definition of "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind cannot transfer from a low-performing school or "Title 1" school -- one serving poor children -- unless there is a "highly qualified" replacement. The teachers union argued unsuccessfully during contract negotiations to have the rule lifted for next school year.
"Teachers are still feeling as if they're being held hostage," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, which represents the district's 8,200 teachers. "I just got off the phone with a high school teacher who said, 'I can't get out. My only way out is to go to another school system.'"
The school system says the transfer limits will keep the most experienced teachers with the students who need them most, while the union argues that those teachers in low-performing schools must want to be there if the schools are to improve.
Bost said the union proposed several ideas during negotiations, which are continuing, to place highly qualified teachers in needy schools -- among them a teacher exchange program, where veterans could take on a tough assignment for a trial period, and expansion of a program that pays teachers for 20 days beyond the school year to work on professional development. She said the district rejected them all.
At a school board meeting last night, district administrators outlined the many steps they are taking to comply with No Child Left Behind, including signing bonuses and foreign recruitment.
Teachers in "critical shortage areas," such as math and science, in low-performing or Title I schools, are eligible to receive signing bonuses of $2,500 to $4,000, plus $1,000 for moving expenses. For the first time, the district sent two employees to recruit in the Philippines, a trip that officials believe will result in 16 to 18 hires for hard-to-fill positions in special education and science.
Baltimore City school officials have also traveled to other countries to recruit.
By the end of next school year, all teachers in "core" subjects -- English, reading, math, science, social studies, foreign language, economics, geography and arts -- must be "highly qualified" or schools risk losing federal funds. Of Baltimore County's 6,449 teachers in core subjects, 85 percent are highly qualified.
Among the 998 who are not, 473 are certified to teach, but they don't meet the "highly qualified" definition because they lack certification in the subjects they are teaching. Most are special education teachers, certified to teach children with disabilities but not certified in, say, math.
Other steps the district is taking to recruit: partnering with area colleges and universities to train people changing careers, and placing December graduates of education schools in the classrooms of veteran teachers for a semester before giving them classes of their own.
District officials recruited at more than 50 universities this spring, including more than 20 historically black colleges and universities, said Donald A. Peccia, the district's executive director of human resources.
Peccia said he is optimistic that all core subject teachers will be highly qualified by the spring of 2006. If the district does not meet that goal, he said, "it won't be because of lack of effort on many people's part."
But Bost said the district is not doing enough to retain the teachers it already has. She said the district must do more to improve school climate, by looking at what works in the schools with low turnover and few student discipline problems and emulating it.
"We're filling the bathtub full of new water and losing our veteran water out the other end," she said. "We're doing a lot for recruitment. We're doing very little for retention."
Peccia said the district typically has between 800 and 900 teaching vacancies a year. For each of the past two years, Peccia said, about 800 teachers have requested transfers within the district. Last year, nearly half those requests were granted. Officials have not acted on this year's requests.
Union officials say the teacher transfer issue is more significant in Baltimore County than in many neighboring school districts because of the county's size and diversity. The county has some of the state's highest-performing schools, but it also has several schools performing below state averages.