Raising teacher salaries will be necessary to stem a serious teacher shortage caused in large part by a red-hot job market offering lucrative salaries to college graduates, the American Federation of Teachers said today in releasing its 1997-98 teacher salary survey. 'To attract college graduates to teaching, salaries must keep pace with other professions that are luring people away from the classroom. Teaching is enormously gratifying, and many more would make it their career choice if they felt they were treated like professionals,' said AFT President Sandra Feldman. Along with higher salaries, she said schools must also reduce class sizes, enforce a strict discipline policy, modernize school buildings, and make other improvements to attract and retain teachers.

The U.S. Department of Education has estimated that 2 million teachers will need to be hired over the next decade. According to the AFT report, the chief reasons for the teacher shortage include inferior salaries, a rapidly graying teaching force and increasing enrollments due to the so-called 'baby booklet. ' The national average beginning teacher salary in the 1997-98 school year was $25,735. By contrast, new college graduates in 1998 received an average salary offer in other fields of more than $35,000.

For example, in engineering, offers averaged $42,862; computer science, $40,920; math or statistics, $40,523; chemistry, $36,036; business administration, $34,831; accounting, $33,702; and sales / marketing, $33,252. The national average teacher salary in the 1997-98 school year was $39,347. By contrast, the 1998 average annual salary of other white-collar occupations was much higher. For example, attorneys earned $71,530; engineers, $64,489; computer systems analysts, $63,072; buyer / contract specialists, $54,625; and accountants, $45,919. In the early 1990's, corporate downsizing contributed to a poor job market for new college graduates and new teacher salaries increased at two or three times the rate of other salary offers for new college graduates, according to the salary report.

But starting in 1995, unemployment fell, the labor market for new college graduates grew, and salary offers in the private sector grew at twice the rate as those for new teachers. As part of the salary report, AFT surveyed personnel officers of the nation's 200 largest school districts. Among the findings: . A teacher shortage clearly exists, especially in large urban districts. More than two-thirds of respondents indicated an insufficient supply of teacher applicants in 1998-99... School districts were adopting a variety of responses to the shortage, including providing signing bonuses and housing allowances and issuing emergency teaching credentials...

Respondents said they had more difficulty attracting qualified teachers compared to four years ago... The shortage is particularly severe for math, special education and bilingual education teachers. Districts also noted shortages of teachers in the following fields: foreign language, science, computers, school psychologists, and occupational and physical therapists. No field of teaching rated in the category of 'considerable surplus,' although a sufficient number of elementary and social studies teachers was noted... School districts reported that 8.5 percent of teachers taught under temporary or emergency credentials in 1998-99, up from 8 percent in 1997-98. Last year, the AFT called for a moratorium on emergency credentials for teachers.

As part of the current reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Clinton administration also has pushed states to end emergency teacher credentials, proposing that within four years, 95 percent of all teachers in a state would have to be fully certified or working toward obtaining certification within three years. Other highlights of the AFT 1997-98 salary survey: . The $39,347 average teacher salary is a 2.4 percent increase over the 1996-97 average salary of $38,415... The $25,735 average beginning teacher salary is a 2.9 percent increase over the 1996-97 beginning salary of $25,015... The five states with the highest average salaries: Connecticut ($51,727); New Jersey ($50,284); New York ($48,712); Michigan ($48,361); and Alaska ($48,275). The five states with the lowest average salaries: New Mexico ($30,309); Louisiana ($30,090); Mississippi ($28,691); North Dakota ($28,231); and South Dakota ($27,839)...

Teachers had an average 16.1 years of experience in 1997-98, just over five more years than in 1978. (Sources for the AFT's salary survey include state departments of education and the Department of Defense survey of teacher salaries. ).