Teachers in state get low grade

The Baltimore Sun

A national report on teacher quality gave Maryland a barely passing grade yesterday, saying teachers are tenured too easily and dismissed with great difficulty.

Maryland is one of seven states that give tenure to teachers after two years of teaching, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. The nonprofit, nonpartisan, Washington-based group is headed by Kate Walsh, who was appointed to the Maryland state Board of Education by Gov. Martin O'Malley in July.

"Tenure is effectively automatic," Walsh said. The council believes that status should be given only to teachers who have proved themselves effective after five years in a classroom. But tenure should be accompanied by a large pay increase that recognizes a teacher has reached a level that deserves a long-term investment by the state and local school system, Walsh said.

Thirty-three states give tenure after three years, and only two give tenure after five years, the report said. Overall, the majority of states, including Maryland, received a D rating. Tennessee earned a B.

The council also said Maryland does not require a meaningful evaluation before granting tenure.

The report parallels one portion of a different report, by Education Week, which recently ranked Maryland's schools No. 1 in the nation. Yet the section on teachers gave the state low marks.

Daniel Kaufman, a spokesman for the teachers union, said the council's report focuses too much on a top-down approach for improving teaching and overlooks steps taken on the local level. Maryland is the first state in the country, he said, to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year, a move that was made possible through Thornton funding and has helped attract and retain good teachers.

The report also criticized Maryland's lack of a data collection system that would allow a district to track the test scores of every teacher's students over a number of years. Such a system could be one of the factors used to evaluate teachers.

Maryland is one of two states in the nation that does not have an identification number for students that links to a classroom. State officials said they had applied for a federal grant to get the money to put in such a system.

John Smeallie, acting deputy state superintendent for administration, said he didn't know whether he disagreed with anything in the report because he had not finished reading it. "Every one of these policy think tanks have a lens through which they look," he said. He said that the National Council on Teacher Quality believes "that the state has a role and a heavy role in managing elements of local school systems. We wouldn't necessarily agree with that."

But Maryland does regulate how teachers are certified, when they get tenure and, in some cases, which ones must be mentored.

Every member of the state board will receive a copy in Maryland, as in other states, Walsh said. Asked whether she would push for some changes in Maryland, she said that she is in the awkward position of being a policy advocate and a board member. "I try to be respectful and keep those roles separate."

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