The Maryland State Board of Education seems to want to assume exclusive control of educational reform in our state.
Despite the advice of professional education groups, it recently endorsed and hastily adopted the Resident Teacher Certificate. This certificate allows schools to employ liberal arts majors who have only 90 hours (two college courses) of preparation in education. It also replaces student teaching, the capstone of a professional education program, with an inadequately conceived and under-funded "mentoring program." In effect, the board wants to allow liberal arts students to experiment on Maryland's children.
Maryland cannot afford to permit individuals to assume responsibility for a classroom without more adequate preparation. And unfortunately it will be the school systems that can least afford inadequately prepared teachers that will probably hire the largest number of RTC teachers.
By instituting the RTC program, the board is implying that it believes an often-voiced misconception that liberal arts students may be brighter than education students and so would make better teachers. But data collected by several Maryland colleges and submitted to the board showed that:
SAT scores for education majors averaged above 1,000, which equaled or exceeded the average score of students majoring in the humanities and social sciences.
Grade point averages for education majors in non-education courses averaged 3.03, which was equal to or exceeded those GPAs received by majors in the humanities and social sciences, who averaged 2.97.
The GPA required for completion of a certification program in education is set at about 2.5 for many Maryland's institutions; 2.0 is the usual average for majors in the liberal arts.
No one denies the importance of a solid liberal arts education for future teachers. Changes in this direction have already been made in Maryland. Secondary education students at most institutions must major in content disciplines, such as math, biology or English. And though many elementary education students major in education, they are also required to take a substantial number of content courses. A liberal arts student's transcript would not compare favorably with the well-rounded course of study required of today's elementary education major.
Shaila Aery, state secretary for higher education, has recommended that future teachers enroll in a liberal arts undergraduate program to be followed by a fifth year of studies in professional education. Her proposal may be the best solution for Maryland's schools. However, alternative approaches need to be considered in order to arrive at a plan that significantly improves teacher education in our state.
Maryland's educational system is not without flaws. To be effective, however, the board of education must reverse its direction and collaborate with professional educators. Only through such efforts will Maryland enact reform that translates into enlightened teaching and improved student performance. -- William J. Amoriell chairs the education department of Loyola College.