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The Education Gold Rush

Headline Photo

Illustration by Josh Hagler

By Jessica Lee

Tuesday October 2, 2001

More than 150 years ago, the new state of California played host to a flood of people out to make a better life for themselves. Ads in newspapers and posted fliers around East Coast cities lured people to travel west and make it rich - that is, strike gold. And thousands did.

Now, California is at it again. On Sept. 20, the Arizona Daily Wildcat ran nearly a half-page ad paid for by CalTeach, a teacher-recruiting agency for the state just west of Arizona.

The main slogan read: "Left Coast. Right Job. Bring your teaching degree to California."

Say what?! The teacher crisis in the United States incited a landslide of competition between states to land educators in their public schools. According to this ad, you can get rich quick. All you need is to become a teacher and move to California.

Intrigued, I visited the Web site of CalTeach, because why would anyone want to move to California on his own free will? According to the site, teaching in California has many incentives. First of all, in 1996, the state passed the Class Size Reduction Act, which limited the classroom to 20 kids in kindergarten through third grade. This move was great; it gave the students more individual attention; it also gave teachers an easier load. The consequence? It multiplied the number of teachers needed. The state also passed a $38.1 billion dollar budget, just for improving schools, teachers and resources.

Does higher salary ring a bell?

Don't forget the ecological diversity California offers. You could teach near the beach, in the ghetto or surronded by Redwoods. Who could ask for anything more?

The National Education Association predicts that more than 2 million teachers will be needed across the country within the next decade. Where are they going to come from? The University of Arizona graduated about 300 from the College of Education and other colleges. That added to the 1,200 who earned teaching certificates at the three universities in our state.

What's the problem then?

The dilemma is that one-fifth of those new teachers leave the field after five years. Who wouldn't after working 12-hour days and spending most of that time teaching disrespectful kids how to pass a standardized test? As if that isn't bad enough, every once in a while, a pathetic paycheck arrives.

What's the solution then? Prioritizing education from the city to state to national level is the only solution. Public schools need more money, and teachers need a significant raise in salary as well as a "high five."

The answer is not rewarding schools' performance pay. Nor is introducing vouchers. And please, don't say, "Make the entire process to getting a teaching degree easier." Kids need more than just a warm body in the classroom - they need a real teacher.

Many of our nation's conservatives think liberals are crying wolf and argue the teacher crisis doesn't exist. In fact, they say there are 4 million Americans who own teaching certificates but currently don't practice in the field.

Why aren't those individuals in the classroom? It's because some other profession pays them more, not because they don't want to teach.

Last May, 900 Tucson teachers participated in a sickout. They wanted additional pay, they needed better insurance, and they yearned for greater respect. They were tired of the state breaking apart their unions.

It's obvious that Tucson's public schools suffer from a lack of enthusiasm. It only took about five minutes on the Tucson Unified School District's Web site to find that right now there is still a lack of teachers - 32 in elementary, 26 for middle school and 12 at the high school level.

Arizona scours the nation's universities for teachers too. But we don't have much to offer except 300 days of sunshine. We are pathetically ranked 49th in education spending for each student in the country.

We need to convince the knuckleheads running Arizona's government to dish out the bucks for public education. Until then, I recommend all seniors in the UA College of Education go to California.

Stake a claim. Good luck. And don't hesitate returning to show us the gold you've found.


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