As schools overhaul curricula to meet new state standards, many Tucson-area districts are facing a critical shortage of middle- and high school math teachers.
District officials are ramping up recruiting efforts and offering financial incentives to attract qualified applicants. But if they don't succeed, they'll have to rely on long-term substitutes to teach classes.
Even districts that do have enough math teachers worry that they won't be able to fill new openings because of the low number of qualified applicants.
To help ease the situation, the University of Arizona is trying to lure new math teachers by offering financial assistance to engineering and math majors, hoping they'll change their career aspirations.
The shortage reflects a national trend that has attracted the attention of President Obama. He has set a goal of adding 110,000 math and science teachers in the next 10 years.
University and school district officials say the shortage stems from relatively low pay for teachers, and the perception that the U.S. education system is a place with too many problem students and where teachers are overworked and underappreciated.
Most entry-level teachers receive a salary in the low-to-mid $30,000s. Take-home pay is even lower after deductions for retirement and health care. Engineering firms and other private companies offer much larger salaries to college math majors.
"It goes back to the low salary, the image that's been portrayed and the beating up of the education system," said Barry Roth, co-director of Teach Arizona at the University of Arizona.
Teach Arizona offers a master's degree in secondary education and an opportunity for a teaching certificate for anyone who has a bachelor's degree.
FEW good APPLICANTS
The shortage arrives at a time when students are required to take four years of math instead of three under the new, and more rigorous, Common Core standards.
Some students have temporary teachers who may have been hired right before school started and went through an abbreviated interview process. Those teachers are certified but may not get evaluated as thoroughly as teachers who are hired earlier.
Although not every district is struggling, the ones that have shortages frequently see a lack of qualified applicants when math- teaching jobs are advertised.
Here's where some local districts stand:
• Flowing Wells had just 10 applicants last year for three available math-teacher jobs, said Superintendent Nic Clement.
• Vail has had one to three math-teacher openings at various times within the year with no new applicants, said Superintendent Calvin Baker.
• Several Sunnyside math teachers have one-year contracts because they were hired right before the start of school - essentially making them free agents with a marketable skill. The district expects at least four math-teacher vacancies for the next school year but so far has only one applicant, said Anna Maiden, the district's human resources director.
• The Tucson Unified School District seems to be the exception. It has seen a recent boost in prospective math teachers for nine positions that are either unfilled or will be open at the end of this school year, said Pamela Palmo, interim executive director of human resources.
The district recently interviewed seven applicants in one day and has kept a pool of applicants to contact when a position opens, Palmo said. In previous years, it's taken longer to fill these positions, with the district hiring some teachers after the school year started.
MATH TEACHER RECRUITING
TUSD, along with other districts, has started recruiting math teachers earlier than usual in an effort to attract more candidates and avoid a late-summer scramble.
A few districts, including TUSD and Amphitheater, offer stipends for new math teachers.
Amphi offers $2,000 to new math teachers, said Todd Jaeger, associate to the superintendent. The district doesn't have a shortage of math teachers but has had to cut some positions in previous years because of budget woes, he said.
To help fill positions, most Tucson districts have forged a close partnership with the UA, which supplies most of the math teachers to local schools.
Math teachers who study at the university usually graduate from Teach Arizona, the master's degree program, or the secondary- mathematics-education program at the department of mathematics for undergraduates.
Teach Arizona caters to all majors, but Roth, the co-director of the program, said he's noticed a shortage of prospective math teachers.
In May, 60 students will graduate from the program, which has locations in Tucson and Chandler, said Roth, who taught high school biology and chemistry in TUSD for more than 30 years. Of those graduates, nine are future math teachers and 11 are prospective science teachers.
The secondary-mathematics-education program will graduate 16 potential math teachers with bachelor's degrees, said program Director Cynthia Anhalt.
The UA offers one-time financial incentives to math and science teachers, including a scholarship of approximately $6,000 from the College of Education dean's office and $5,000 for tuition support from Teach Arizona through a federal grant.
CHANGES CAREER FOCUS
Cynthia Bowman, a student in the Teach Arizona program, decided to become a math teacher because she saw many students, including some of her peers, make it to college without adequate math skills.
Bowman already has a bachelor's degree in math and will earn her master's degree in education in May. She previously was pursuing a career in environmental science, but changed her plans after serving as a student teacher for a remedial math class at UA.
"I never considered math for a career," she said. "I actually like helping people and teaching math. I hope to convey that to others."
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Contact reporter Jamar Younger at email@example.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger