By Juliet Williams
SACRAMENTO (AP) - The proposal sounds crazy at first: Ask experienced scientists and engineers nearing the end of their professional careers to take a substantial pay cut and face a classroom full of teenagers in a public school.
But that's what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is betting on to help ease a critical shortage of qualified math and science teachers in California schools.
The $12 million initiative, part of his 2007-08 budget proposal, would be a small step toward addressing the state's acute teacher shortage. California is expected to need as many as 100,000 new teachers over the next decade as baby boomers retire -- about a third of them in math and science.
Schools have struggled to recruit those desirable candidates as they compete with more lucrative fields such as biotech and engineering.
That's where businesses facing their own shortage of skilled workers benefit: More California students better trained in math and science would create a stronger work force.
Schwarzenegger's proposal is modeled after a two-year-old program at IBM, where 85 would-be teachers are moving out of their high-paying corporate jobs and into classrooms.
"We have all these brilliant people that have the skills that we need to teach in math or in science," Schwarzenegger said Thursday during an interview with The Associated Press.
He said today's active generation of baby boomers could take a page out of his own book, in which his career moved from bodybuilding to business to moviemaking, and finally into elective office.
"To me, each of those steps was always kind of a new experience and very refreshing," he said. "I think that people will find this very, very attractive and will feel that they are making a tremendous contribution."
At IBM, whose program has expanded to seven states, participants take courses online or on company time and are given a $15,000 stipend during their three-month student teaching internships, said Clint Roswell, an IBM spokesman. The employees also retain their health care coverage and other benefits during training.
"It's an outlet for people who are looking for second careers, who had math or science degrees but were caught up in the whole business of making money and didn't have time," to pursue their more altruistic goals, Roswell said.
In California, IBM and six other companies already have signed on to the venture, dubbed EnCorps. Its goal is to recruit 2,000 would-be teachers during the first two years after the program is funded.
Their companies will provide up to $15,000 per teacher candidate, with no limit on the number of participants, said Sherri Lansing, the former chief executive of Paramount Pictures and a member of Schwarzenegger's Committee on Education Excellence.
The committee was charged with developing a plan to reform California schools.
Lansing, 62, said one of the governor's requests to the committee was to address the shortage of science and math teachers, which got her thinking about how to tap into the vast population of young retirees.
"It's like Teach for America backwards. ... I'm taking the still-young and saying, 'Let's do this,'" she said. "They bring experience, they bring wisdom, they bring knowledge and they also bring money. They can afford to be teachers."
Candidates will collect their retirement benefits along with their teachers' salaries.
Schwarzenegger and Lansing were to announce the program during a press conference Friday in Los Angeles.
Using creative tactics to recruit teachers, including retirees, was the key recommendation of a March report by the California Council on Science and Technology in Sacramento and the Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning.
Center director Margaret Gaston, who regularly testifies on policy issues in Sacramento, said she is more encouraged than she has been in a long time about the prospect of California meeting its demand for teachers.
Bills approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor have created incentives for teachers to work in low-performing schools, provided a stipend for experienced teachers to mentor rookies so they don't abandon the field right away and funneled $2.9 billion to low-performing schools. A data system in the works eventually will help the state track teacher supply and demand statewide.
Gaston said she was encouraged by the idea of recruiting retirees with much-needed skills to share their know-how but said it's equally important that those career-switchers have support once they're in the classroom. Many new teachers leave the field during their first few years on the job.
"We don't want these retirees to develop what we call 'switcher shock,' to be so stunned by the conditions that they find themselves in that they leave right away," Gaston said.
She also pointed to a conclusion in the landmark series of education studies commissioned by the governor and released this spring. It noted that California is renowned for launching new education programs, many of which fizzle out after a few years or are not monitored to see whether they work.
Participants in the new EnCorps program must have a bachelor's degree, allowing them to earn a teaching credential in just one year, rather than the typical four-year training program. They would be required to pass the same tests as other teachers.
The governor said the state's businesses, which face their own shortage of skilled workers, see their own benefits to participating.
"The high-tech industry in California, which of course is a huge industry for our state, they are short of talent, and so we are trying to create the talent as quickly as possible and to create it right here in California," Schwarzenegger said.
© 2007. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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