The University of Maryland is considering major changes aimed at strengthening its teacher education program, including a requirement that prospective teachers complete graduate work before they are certified to teach. If adopted, the changes would move the university in line with a number of institutions at the forefront of national efforts to upgrade teacher training.
The education faculty at the College Park campus has given its broad endorsement to study such changes, and specific plans will probably be developed over the coming months, according to Education Dean Dale P. Scannell. Any changes must be approved by the university's Board of Regents, and Scannell said it would probably be two years before they could be instituted. It is undecided whether the new requirements would affect only new students, he said.
The proposals under study at the university reflect growing determination across the country to restructure the teaching profession, the latest effort in an education reform movement that began several years ago.
In May, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy issued a national study urging that the profession be altered to incorporate salary increases, a national certification system comparable to the bar exam and a training system that would abolish the undergraduate degree in education and require new teachers to receive a master of teaching degree.
This month the nation's two major teacher unions endorsed similar recommendations. At the same time, an independent panel of education deans, known as the Holmes Group, has been developing its own recommendations, which would also overhaul teacher-training programs.
The work of this group prompted the University of Maryland to consider revamping its programs.
The group recently invited Maryland and 122 other colleges and universities to join its efforts by adopting such changes, including the requirement that teacher-training be extended to five or six years.
As many as 60 institutions are expected to make that change, significantly altering the way college students are prepared and certified to teach, according to John Palmer, education dean at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an organizer of the Holmes Group.
The University of Virginia and Catholic University have indicated they will join the consortium. Howard University was invited to join but has not indicated its plans, according to Palmer.
"There is clearly a lot of interest," said Palmer. "There's a lot of feeling . . . across the country that fundamental changes in teacher education are needed."
In addition to the graduate degree for teachers, the Holmes Group is recommending that experienced teachers be involved in training new teachers, that prospective teachers receive more background in arts and sciences and that stronger relationships be developed with local school districts to allow education students into school settings for better on-site training.
If it adopts these recommendations, the University of Maryland, which enrolls about 1,100 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate students in its education department, may be among the first wave of institutions across the country to restructure its teacher-training programs.
There are some reservations among the Maryland education faculty about the specific recommendations of the Holmes Group, named for a former education dean at Harvard University, Scannell said. But he added that there is widespread support for joining the group, a move that awaits final approval from university officials.
"I believe that four years is inadequate to do everything that is necessary in preparing teachers for today's schools and those of the next decade," he said. The current system through which most new teachers receive an undergraduate degree in education was devised in the 1930s, Scannell said, arguing that demographic and social changes since then have created the need to update teacher training.
Schools, unlike those 50 years ago, now enroll many handicapped students and are asked to fulfill new functions because of increased mobility and the incidence of single-parent families, Scannell said. He predicted that upgrading teacher education would improve the image of the profession and ultimately attract more of the brightest students to teaching.
Palmer cautioned that salaries and working conditions, as well as training, must be upgraded if the teaching profession is to be significantly affected.
"It's a complex business," he said. "It's not just changing a couple of courses."