Proposal on reading courses for teachers stirs debate Hearing on plan to raise requirements scheduled


Maryland educators are preparing to face off over a proposal to boost the number and quality of reading courses required of the state's teachers.

In a debate that affects classrooms from prekindergarten through graduate school, school officials, parents, professors and deans are lining up to address the state board of education at a hearing Wednesday in Carroll County.

The proposal by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and a task force on reading would quadruple the reading course work required for elementary school teachers to become state certified, double the requirements for middle and high school teachers, and include better training in phonics, the science of the sounds that make up words.

The plan got tentative approval from the state board in February and faces a final vote in June. It would affect all 47,000 teachers tTC now in the classroom -- who would have to take new courses to be recertified -- as well as current and future college students headed for teaching careers.

"Reading is a foundation skill, and unless we get this right, we disadvantage children in every academic subject," Grasmick said. "Their whole academic career is impeded."

Opponents, many of them college deans, contend that the way to improve teachers' reading expertise is not to prescribe courses but to require new teachers to pass a performance exam.

Grasmick and her supporters say they, too, favor a performance exam, but it could take time to develop, and reading training needs an overhaul now. Two-thirds of Maryland third-graders are reading below satisfactory levels, and many experts believe poor teacher training is largely to blame.

Donald N. Langenberg, University System of Maryland Chancellor and co-chairman of a council that links public schools with the state's universities, said the council supports Grasmick's plan with the understanding that the state will also develop a performance exam.

Grasmick and other officials don't feel they can wait for the exam -- which could take several years to create -- because the quality of reading instruction is not acceptable, he said.

But Susan Arisman, dean of education at Frostburg State University and chairman of a council of deans working to reform teacher preparation, said the proposed new courses won't fix the problem. Maryland colleges, she said, could rely on new national reading standards to design their own performance exams until the state develops a uniform exam.

Arisman said she doesn't like the state dividing up reading instruction into rigidly defined courses. Teachers, she said, should be taught instead to integrate reading lessons in all subjects. "That's one of our problems in our schools; people aren't seeing the connection between math and reading or art and reading," she said.

Joan Develin Coley, coordinator of the graduate reading program at Western Maryland College, agrees that colleges should improve, but said the state should place equal emphasis on training teachers throughout their careers. And the state should better address the home and societal factors that lead to poor reading, she said.

The hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at North Carroll High School, 3801 Hampstead-Mexico Road in Hampstead, Carroll County. Speakers must sign up by the end of business hours today by calling Joyce Smith at the state Department of Education, 410-767-0467.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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