Several major proposals by the Commission on Quality Teaching in Maryland came under heavy attack last week by teachers at a College Park hearing. Draft recommendations by the commission call for salary increases for all teachers, merit pay for good teachers and higher pay for teachers in understaffed areas, such as math and science.
Certification exams for new teachers, a system for revoking or suspending teaching certificates and special schools for disruptive students also were recommended.
The 29 members of the commission include school and college officials from around the state, House of Delegates Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, Senate President James Clark and business representatives. The commission was established more than a year ago by the State Board of Education, which will receive its report after a final round of hearings in September.
Janice A. Piccinini, president of the Maryland State Teachers' Association, called recommendations for certification reform "an attack upon teachers and the teaching profession."
Although supporting many of the proposals, including certification exams and special schools, she said that, taken as a whole, "there is ample reason for the teaching profession to be outraged by the recommendations."
Nobody objected to the proposal that teacher salaries be made competitive with those of similar professionals in government and private industry.
Piccinini told commissioners at the College Park hearing the proposal should be given "first priority." She estimated its implementation would result in a doubling of teacher pay, at a cost of $508.5 million a year more than what is spent on teachers' salaries in Maryland.
But Piccinini and other teachers strongly criticized suggestions for merit pay and diffential pay. The commission recommended pay increases for teachers in certain areas, such as math and science, who are often lured from classrooms by higher paying jobs in private industry.
"An elementary teacher is no less valuable to the school system simply because IBM hasn't made that person a job offer," Piccinini complained. She argued that such a pay system would "foment hostility and mistrust between and among teachers" and would "destroy" current salary scales based on training and experience.
Several speakers at the hearing complained bitterly about recommendations that the state school board create "ranks" for classroom teachers with "significantly different salary levels in order to encourage superior teachers to remain in the classroom."
Paul Bolig, an elementary instructional specialist in Prince George's County, told commissioners the recommendation would "go far towards destroying staff morale," and parents would be upset if their children were not taught by high-ranking teachers.
The state teachers' association complained that it would be impossible to rank teachers fairly, and that ranking would create "a system of elitism and hierarchy."
State Superintendent of Schools David W. Hornbeck said the problem of superior teachers moving to higher paying administrative positions "needs a solution" and argued that the school system is capable of passing judgment on teachers' quality.
He praised the commission for "a really superior job" but noted their recommendations would carry "a very substantial price tag." He said proposals that teachers receive pay equaling that of similar professions is "far and away the most expensive but also among the most important."
In creating the commission, the State Board of Education praised Maryland's 40,000 classroom teachers but said "we fall short of providing the quality of education that is both possible and desirable."
"It seems to me that it's an embarrassment . . . and an unfortunate implication that they would even have such a study," said J. David Eberly, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. "If we're concerned about the quality of teaching, let's begin with some evidence that the quality is slipping."
Several states are conducting similar studies. In Congress, the House Education and Labor Committee is soon to consider a bill calling on states to evaluate teacher training and performance and to establish commissions to examine "the entire process by which teachers are recruited, selected, trained and retained."
Many of the Maryland commission's recommendations call on the state board to "require," "direct" or pass bylaws that would compel local jurisdictions to implement state policies.
Local boards of education frequently have complained that the state board is usurping their power to set policy and make decisions. These complaints were echoed at the hearing by Maureen K. Steinecke, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Carl Lancaster, faculty chairman and counselor at Largo High School and a director of the state teachers' association, said the commission's recommendations would create "one massive, state-dominated system."
Although the draft recommendations propose that local school boards "establish programs for encouraging secondary students to enter the teaching profession," several other proposals would make it harder to qualify.
The report recommends that the state demand that teacher training programs provide better counseling, more testing in basic skills, a "more prescriptive and rigorous" approach to general course content and improved supervision of field training.
If the recommendations were adopted, students would need a minimum grade point average of 1.5 on a 4.0 scale and at least 2.75 in their major subject to become a Maryland teacher.
The commission also has recommended a "certification examination" that would include "basic literary skills, communication and computational skills, liberal arts content, content from the college major and professional education content."
Currently, Maryland teachers need only an appropriate diploma and $10 to become certified. The state teachers' association said it had "no quarrel" with such a test if it was not very expensive.
Beginning teachers would have a reduced course load during the first year, if the recommendations take effect, and "at least five hours of professional assistance and instructional support" each week. During the second year, a teacher would have to pass "minimum statewide criteria for effective teaching," through a process of evaluation by the principal and another teacher.
State Superintendent Hornbeck said he strongly supports the recommended evaluation process. "It seems to me that certification, which in effect attests to the fact that an individual is a qualified teacher, ought to follow demonstration of that, rather than precede it," he said.
Teachers at the hearings strongly objected to a recommendation that the probation period be extended from two years to three "if necessary" in particular cases.
Lesley Stern, a Montgomery County French teacher, called it "a third year without due process" and said a competent principal would know within two years whether a teacher was good or bad. Steinecke, of the school board association, approved of the additional probationary year.
The commission concluded that many of the problems simply represent inaccurate public perceptions. It recommended that the state come up with a slogan promoting public education and "enter into an agressive campaign" to improve the image of public schools.