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Teacher recruiting criticized; Abell study says city does poor job of hiring best prospects; Policies 'under review'; Report recommends mentoring for newcomers to field


Baltimore's public schools have done a poor job of attracting the best college graduates to teach in the school system and often have left them to flounder without the guidance of experienced teachers, according to an Abell Foundation report.

While suburban school systems offer teaching contracts to the best prospects among graduating college seniors as early as February, city schools typically hire in late May or June.

The study found that the city schools' personnel office appears overwhelmed and disorganized. Job applicants, interviewed by researchers doing the study, had difficulty getting an application or their application was lost.

"Getting through to North Avenue was impossible. I had to be incredibly persistent. I pushed and pushed. I called and called," one applicant told researchers.

Some of the applicants said they gave up trying to get a job with city schools because they never received a response after they applied.

The nonprofit Abell Foundation completed the report last summer and gave copies to school board members, but it has not formally published the study. Seven actions were recommended, including adding new technology to keep track of applicants and hiring earlier.

Abell President Robert C. Embry Jr. said the foundation asked school officials if they would like an outside evaluation of hiring and retention. Dozens of teachers, principals and other school officials were interviewed for the study.

"We think the most important thing the school system can do is get and keep good school personnel," he said.

Chief Academic Officer Betty Morgan, hired three months ago from Frederick County, agrees with Embry and she has made hiring and keeping qualified teachers her highest priority.

"We should expect future teachers would be people who would be held to the highest standards. Why should we accept anything less than medical schools accept? We are talking about children's lives."

School board member Ed Brody said the board recognizes that changes need to be made. "Our entire hiring and retention policy is under review. We are trying to become more aggressive and to do our best to get the best teachers."

Teachers and principals have long recognized that the school system needs to offer contracts to teachers in early spring to be competitive with other Maryland systems, but the budget process has stymied efforts for earlier recruitment because principals often don't know until the summer what vacancies they will have and whether they will have enough money to fill vacancies.

So even when applicants accept a job with city schools in June, they often are not assigned to a school until a few weeks before school starts. This year, the school system plans a job fair for some of the applicants May 22, later than many other systems.

The study is critical of a school policy of accepting all graduates of Coppin State College and Morgan State University who meet the application requirements, saying that school officials should focus more efforts on recruiting at universities with higher academic standards.

The average combined SAT scores of students at those colleges are below the average of 1,092 at other state universities and colleges, the study said.

"Can you assume that the quality of teacher is lower? I don't know. I think it is a leap, but not an illogical one," said the study's principal author, Julie W. Sakin, a research associate in the psychology department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Sakin, whose background is in evaluating educational programs, said she understands the school system's sensitivity to hiring African-American teachers because the majority of pupils are black, but she questions why school officials can't do a better job of recruiting African-Americans from other universities.

About 35 percent of teachers hired in 1996 and 1997 from colleges and universities in Maryland came from Morgan and Coppin, which have predominantly black student bodies.

Coppin's president, Calvin W. Burnett, rebutted the study's findings, saying, "The Abell Foundation is the first organization to measure a teacher's ability to teach based on the SAT scores they got four or five years before."

Patricia Morris, dean of education at Morgan and a city school board member, said graduates of Morgan and Coppin are not automatically hired by city schools, although most do go to teach there.

SATs are not necessarily a predictor of whether a person will be a good teacher, Morris said. "Many of the leaders of the school system are Morgan and Coppin graduates. We are very confident that we are preparing students to be effective teachers."

She said the school system has been offering contracts to her students earlier this year so that they can compete with Howard County, which has been offering jobs to college students in February and March.

Once hired, the study said, the school system does not do enough to ensure that the teachers will stay in the city schools. Teachers say they don't leave Baltimore for the suburbs for better pay -- beginning teachers are paid about the same in Baltimore City as in Baltimore County -- but because they don't get the support they need to be good teachers.

The study recommends the school system have mentors for new teachers, a proposal that has been widely talked about in the past several months for both high school and elementary schoolteachers. Mentoring has worked well, particularly in the Resident Teacher program developed in cooperation with the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. The program takes people who are in other professions and wish to change careers.

Abell report

To improve the quality of teachers hired by the Baltimore public school system, the Abell Foundation made the following recommendations:

District officials should offer teaching contracts to promising college graduates earlier each spring than they do now.

Administrators should evaluate and restructure the personnel office, which the report said has a record of being disorganized and inefficient.

The district should buy a computer system to track job applicants similar to computer systems used by other districts. Principals should have access to the computer system so that they can choose applicants of interest to them.

Administrators should hire more staff to coordinate the training and support of new teachers.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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