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Report: Teacher Aides Could Ease Shortages

April 2, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some of the best teachers of the future are already in American classrooms, according to a teacher recruiting group that wants to see more of the nation’s 455,540 classroom aides become licensed instructors.

``An estimated 2 million new teachers will be needed over the next 10 years,″ said David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers Inc. ``These classroom understudies could be the stars.″

More teachers will be needed because of a projected enrollment boom, caused partly by immigration, and teacher retirements, he said. Teacher shortages already are being reported in some large cities, which are especially in need of bilingual and special education instructors, he said.

The nonprofit Recruiting New Teachers, based in Belmont, Mass., released a study here Tuesday that says 77 percent of the more than 9,000 teacher aides studying to become professional teachers are minorities.

They typically live in the urban school districts in which they work, understand the culture of the community and can design strategies to reach these students, the study says.

``Sometimes I walk to school with students. I go down the same alleys and see the problems,″ said Jonas Calderon, a former teacher aide who now teaches at Foshay Learning Center in south-central Los Angeles.

Living in the community helps him better understand and relate to the students, said Calderon, who escaped the civil war in El Salvador in 1985 and immigrated to the United States at the age of 15.

He became a teacher after receiving financial help from the Ford Foundation-supported Latino Teacher Project at the University of Southern California.

Like her students at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Hartford, Conn., Barbara Gordon Cobb grew up poor and disadvantaged. Ms. Cobb, a divorced mother of three, worked during the day and studied at night, becoming the first graduate of a Connecticut Department of Education program called Teaching Opportunities for Paraprofessionals.

``The children can look at the roads I traveled and know that they can travel the same roads, or chart their own course,″ said Cobb, who fell in love with teaching during her 19 years as a teaching assistant.

The study was commissioned by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, which since 1989 has provided $40 million to programs helping teacher aides become teachers.

The study reviewed 150 programs in more than 30 states that typically include regular college and university work, field training and summer and weekend courses leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

In the 1970s, federal programs for teacher aides wanting to become teachers multiplied. At its peak, the federally funded Career Opportunities Program provided nearly $27 million a year, helping a total of 15,000 paraprofessionals become teachers. The loss of federal funding led to the demise of several programs, although several have rebounded since the late 1980s, largely because of backing from foundations.

The study calls on Congress to maintain or expand federal programs that support teacher training, special education and bilingual education and offer financial aid to part-time and adult college students. The federal Title I program, which provides money to schools that educate low-income students, helps pay teacher aides’ wages.

While supportive of the teacher aide-to-teacher training programs, Deputy Education Secretary Madeleine Kunin said Congress has slated cuts for the Title I program.

``We can’t make promises of money. Hopefully, Title I will be restored,″ she said.