New Britain — Elissa Maillet worries she’s not going to be able to get a teaching job when she graduates from Central Connecticut State University in two years.
“I am really nervous about it,” the sophomore with a 3.6 grade point average said while studying between classes. “The job opportunities seem to be so scarce.”
That may soon change.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing that the state’s private and public teaching colleges increase entrance requirements — from a 2.7 to 3.3 GPA in their early college years — which could result in hundreds of would-be teachers being turned away. Waivers would be available in extenuating circumstances.
“We must raise the bar,” Malloy said during his visit to CCSU in New Britain on Tuesday. “If you are to enter a teacher prep program your grades must be better… You need to be a superior student if you are going to be a success in teaching.”
For universities like Central Connecticut State University, this shift will have a big impact. Only half of the 480 students they’ve accepted into their teaching college in the last two years would have met this new B-plus grade requirement, says Mitch Sakofs, the dean of the education school.
“There is a large number who could be turned away,” he said.
The U.S. lags behind several other countries for which students it allows to become teachers, according to the international achievement measurements known as PISA.
“Teaching education programs in high-performing nations tend to be more selective and more rigorous than in the U.S.,” writes Andreas Schleicher, who oversees PISA.
This proposal aims to stop that reality in Connecticut, Malloy said.
While no one seems to be debating the merits of increasing the rigor for the state’s teachers colleges, questions were raised whether this would create large-scale teacher shortages.
“When you increase standards you always run the risk of creating shortages,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, executive director of the state’s superintendent association. “I think that it’s a risk worth taking.
During the 2010-11 school year the state’s public and private colleges graduated 3,554 teachers. There were 3,260 available positions that local schools were hiring that year, reports the State Department of Education.
Sakofs said he hopes this increased requirement will convince students to step up to the challenge and get higher grades.
“Who knows, maybe more students will work harder to meet the higher requirement,” he said.
But if that doesn’t happen, the impact could mean districts will be left with even more lingering vacancies well after the start of the school year than they already face.
Four percent of the 3,267 open teaching positions at the start of this school year remained unfilled through at least Oct. 1, according to the State Department of Education.
Legislative researchers mirror this trend of supply not matching demand in a 2009 report. While the state producing far too few special education and math teachers, they are churning out significantly too many elementary teachers, almost 1,000 extra in 2008.
The higher education package released Monday by Malloy does not put limits on enrollment in low-need areas, such as elementary or high school history teachers.
Just how many of the teacher colleges in the state accept students with bare minimum 2.7 GPA requirement was not available Tuesday.
Jennifer Widness, a leader of the group that represents the state’s private colleges, said Sacred Heart and Connecticut College accepts students with 2.7 GPA, “but most students start higher than that.” The University of Connecticut also notes that while those applications with the bare minimum GPA requirement will be considered, the school is “generally more competitive” and offers enrollment to those with higher grades.
It has not yet been determined how soon this increased requirement will go into effect, but a spokesman for the State Department of Education said it is possible the current freshman will have to meet this higher bar.
Attracting great teachers
Malloy is also proposing a package of incentives to be offered to those considering going into teaching. A discounted tuition of $15,000 and higher pay for those that teach in the state’s high-need schools are the two that may stand out the most for students like Maillet.
“Really. That’s what he wants to do? Cool,” said Maillet, a 20-year old student from Canton, when told of the incentives that may soon be headed her way.
The legislature needs to first approve this new scholarship, which would cost of $1 million a year. If each candidate received a $10,000 tuition break, 100 students would earn reduced tuition with the understanding that they teach in the state for a certain amount of time.
“Obviously those going into teaching aren’t motivated by the money, but this will help relieve some of that student debt that may be challenging for them to repay,” said Jack Miller, the president of CCSU.
Almost two-thirds of college graduates in Connecticut leave with student debt, with the average amount totaling $25,000, according to the Project on Student Debt.
Malloy said he hopes these incentives and the other education initiatives he is proposing will help lure those who may have been previously turned off to the teaching profession.
“Let this be a call to action for anyone out there with the desire to have a positive impact on our state, our nation and even the world, we need you as teachers,” he said.
For Maillet, it’s enough for her to begin seriously considering teaching in the state’s neediest districts like New Haven or Hartford.
“Certainly it makes it more attractive for me to take a job there,” she said. “I would definitely benefit from that. When you are just starting out, it’s hard money wise.”