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Fri., Oct. 9
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World of possibilities


Albert Einstein would have trouble solving this problem.

Public school districts in rural parts of the north country are experiencing difficulty hiring science teachers, particularly in the area of physics. People who are qualified to teach physics can get better salaries in school districts in more populated regions of the state as well as from private-sector businesses.

The free market would take care of this dilemma through competition. When the demand for people with a background in physics exceeds the number of those seeking jobs, salaries will trend higher to boost recruiting efforts.

And then everyone comes out happy. Applicants receive good offers at decent wages, and companies get the personnel they need to carry out their work.

But public school districts are not businesses and are limited to the budgets that have been set for them.

Firms in the private sector can pass along increased expenses to their clients. Public school districts, however, are at the mercy of constituents who often don’t have the financial means to support tax increases. So they endure tremendous strains on their revenues and a drop in suitable job candidates at the same time.

General Brown Central High School in Dexter saw this scenario play out last week. With the district headed toward financial insolvency, officials were compelled to reduce some full-time positions to part time.

One of these was for the school’s physics program, which had about 50 students signed up this year. The school had all of two applicants for the job.

It offered one of them the position, but the offer was turned down. As the school year was scheduled to begin this week, school officials announced they could no longer offer physics.

Shrinking budgets have forced staff reductions in some districts while deepening frustrations over educational reform measures have pushed other teachers out of the profession. That General Brown Central High School could not hire someone to teach physics this year is a travesty.

On the local level, school districts must pursue regional solutions. Pooling resources will the only way many of them will survive. Perhaps districts can share a physics teacher or use college professors.

On the national level, educational authorities must understand that a one-size-fits-all approach is failing. Testing students to ensure they are proficient in the courses they’re studying and holding teachers more accountable for their job performance are fine.

These tactics, though, cannot replace the creativity and innovation that complements effective learning. Mr. Einstein altered our understanding of the universe through physics because he dared to imagine the impossible. But how will these disciplines be impacted if high school students don’t have the option to explore them?

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