CAMBRIDGE, MD., JUNE 27 -- Members of the Maryland Higher Education Commission said today that they favor a new blueprint for the state's colleges and universities, including major changes in the way students are groomed to become teachers.
The change in teacher training appears to be one of the most controversial ideas in a 16-page blueprint that reaches into virtually all facets of higher education. Commission Chairman J. Henry Butta predicted that "some of the things in there are not going to be popular" among professors, students, business executives, and public and private college administrators.
Before voting on the plan, presented here today by Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery, the commission agreed to solicit reactions through a series of hearings during the next two months.
Aery's proposal to eliminate undergraduate education majors -- for decades the most common route to a teaching career -- is being challenged by the state's largest teachers' union and by education deans at several Maryland colleges and universities.
Aery is recommending that all aspiring teachers receive a liberal arts degree first. They would specialize during a fifth year of college, after which they would receive master's degrees by studying professional techniques and working as paid interns in public schools.
"I do not believe a liberal arts degree is a better way to prepare a teacher," said Jane Stern, president of the 36,000-member Maryland State Teachers Association.
Education deans questioned whether elementary school teachers would receive a broad enough training to teach numerous subjects if they majored in a specific discipline outside education. In interviews this week, Stern and several deans also suggested that some potential teachers might balk at five years of college, undermining state efforts to lure more and better students into the profession.
Other parts of the higher education blueprint propose revisions in the way state aid is allotted to colleges; in how much public and private colleges may charge Maryland residents; in how professors are evaluated; and in what undergraduates should be expected to have learned by the end of their sophomore year.
The proposal also calls for new types of scholarships and for state colleges to become more financially accountable to state officials. Butta said yesterday that the commission had not yet tried to estimate how much the proposals would cost to implement.
Aery's plan for training teachers comes as faculty members at several state universities have been rethinking the issue on their own. The University of Maryland at College Park is proposing a new five-year curriculum for prospective teachers, and Towson and Morgan State universities are beginning new master's programs in teaching.
College Park and Towson together produce about three-fourths of the state's new teachers.
James Binko, Towson's education dean, said that Aery's proposal to require further training and a master's degree coincides with efforts nationally to bolster "the image of an occupation which aspires to be on par with other professions."
Nonetheless, he and other deans questioned details of Aery's proposal and complained that they had not been consulted about it beforehand.
While praising the idea of a master's program, Patricia Morris, the assistant education dean at Morgan State in Baltimore, said she would oppose the elimination of an undergraduate education major. "Particularly, in historically black colleges and universities, we still need to offer a four-year degree. Financially and for other reasons, students can't" always stay for five years, she said.
Dale P. Scannell, dean of the school of education at College Park, said he was uncomfortable with the idea of sending students with little experience into public schools as interns. "Our kids are too valuable to entrust to people who have not had some professional training," Scannell said.
Stern, of the teachers' union, contended that students needed more than one year to learn how to teach. "The real question is, how many graduates of this instant teacher education are going to wash out because they can't cut it?"