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More training vs. fewer teachers


Future teachers and those who train them worry that an ambitious plan to toughen the standards for becoming a teacher in Maryland could drive would-be educators out of the state or into other careers.

The proposal by a 21-member task force is designed to increase classroom training of teachers and emphasize their knowledge of subject matter over "how-to" courses.

The plan, which is being considered by the state Board of Education and the Maryland Higher Education Commission, would eliminate the traditional undergraduate education major offered by Maryland colleges and add a school year of student teaching.

Elementary teaching candidates would have to complete a bachelor's degree in liberal studies; secondary candidates, a degree in their chosen teaching subject. New, more difficult tests and assessments would be devised to measure performance. But critics fear the practical realities of teaching will be ignored in the push to further professionalize it, and that the costs of more study will discourage talented students, especially minorities.

Average salaries for starting teachers in public schools, which in 1993-1994 ranged from $21,118 in Garrett County to $28,718 in Calvert County, are too low for prospective teachers to justify foregoing a year of income for a fifth year of training, critics contend.

Some say postponing child-development and other clinical training until the fifth year would cutdown on teachers' understanding of how to help children learn.

Greg Grim, 32, a senior education student at Salisbury, said he might have considered attending school in Delaware, near his Ocean City home, rather than going through a fifth year of training in Maryland. "I'm not saying there aren't changes that need to be made," Mr. Grim said. "But I'm not sure you need to mandate that everybody take a fifth year."

Ralph Fessler, a Johns Hopkins University professor who headed the task force, acknowledged that the proposal would prompt wrenching change at the state's colleges where teachers are trained.

"This plan envisions a real change, a paradigm shift, not only for schools, but in how faculty spend their time," Dr. Fessler said. "It's disturbing to some people because it's going to make them do things differently. It's going to change the lives of faculty." The higher education commission and the state board of education are expected to hold public hearings on the proposal this summer with votes by both boards in the fall. The commission would then make budget recommendations to the General Assembly, which convenes in January, said commission spokesman Jeffrey R. Welsh.

If approved by the boards in the fall, the new requirements would not be put in place until about the year 2000, planners said.

The Maryland Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which represents 20 private and public colleges, opposes doing away with the undergraduate education major -- something that could cause turmoil in schools of education.

Doran Christensen, dean of the education school at Salisbury State University and president of the association, said the proposal is based on a "very questionable assumption" -- that an academic major gives teachers a better foundation for instructing youngsters.

"If it's true, the more one studied a subject, the better you'd be at teaching it," Dr. Christensen said. "But, sometimes Ph.D.s are the worst teachers." Dr. Christensen and other college administrators said adding a fifth year of teacher training would discourage many students, particularly minorities.

"If we're talking about a fifth year you're talking about a big investment of a student's time," said Tom Weible, an associate dean in the college of education at the University of Maryland College Park.

The task force left unanswered key questions about funding.

Dr. Fessler said colleges and local school districts would have to share the costs of the so-called Professional Development Schools, facilities scattered around the state where students would receive their final year of teacher training.

The task force estimated that each of the development schools would cost more than $270,000 annually. Dr. Fessler said it was unclear how much additional money would be required and how much could simply be reallocated from schools or colleges. Education faculty, for instance, would be shifted from college campuses to the development schools, Dr. Fessler said.

The task force said students would pay for their fifth year of education, but it also proposed that they receive a $12,000 stipend.

The debate in Maryland echoes a national dialogue over raising standards for teachers.

Virginia now requires students to earn bachelor's degrees in a subject before doing a year of study in education techniques.

In Tennessee, where virtually every college and university requires enhanced classroom and subject-matter training that may be completed in four to five years, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has increased from 3,928 in 1990 to 5,244 in 1993.

Students earning education degrees at colleges and universities around Maryland had few details about the program but many questions. Nikki Koenig, an elementary education major who will be a senior at College Park in the fall, said a specific liberal arts degree does not make sense for elementary school teachers, who usually need to be generalists. Ms. Koenig, 21, of Crofton, said: "Getting a degree in history won't help me when I have to teach science."

Existing teachers were also skeptical of aspects of the plan.

"You're going to deny some people the opportunity to be teachers," said Susan Donnelly, a fourth-grade teacher at Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Harford County who graduated from the College of Notre Dame in 1989.

One veteran teacher said passing a tougher test for certification wouldn't guarantee that a new teacher will have the necessary passion for the job.

"To make a test harder does not indicate a person can teach," said Marietta English, consulting teacher at Cross Country Elementary School in Baltimore. "I've been teaching for 26 years and I love it every day. I might not be able to pass that [proposed] test, but it's something I love to do and I do it very well."

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