LT. GOV. MICHAEL S. Steele's fixation with closed-door meetings led him to conduct a recent study of Maryland's public educational system as if it were a highly classified rethinking of the nation's anti- terrorism strategy. Still, the recommendations of the Governor's Commission on Quality Education in Maryland, which Mr. Steele chaired, should live or die on their merits.
Of the 30 recommendations in the report, a good number are innocuous and others make good sense. In the innocuous column, we'd include the ideas that the governor convene a statewide summit on math, science and technology and that schools work to coax parents to become more involved in their children's education. The good-sense column would encompass proposals to improve and expand the quality of early childhood education; empower principals so they may concentrate on education and run their own schools unencumbered by red tape from Annapolis; beef up reading and math programs for struggling high school students; and perform a far-reaching evaluation of four-year teacher training programs to ensure they are effective at turning out well-prepared teachers.
And we are pleased to see the commission urge Maryland to allow state, private, nonprofit and postsecondary institutions -- not just local school boards -- to grant charters.
A handful of the report's suggestions have generated criticism from teachers unions, particularly the notion that the compensation scheme for teachers and principals be revamped. In place of a system that rewards teachers mainly on the basis of experience and years of service, the Steele commission urges that teachers in some subject areas where they are scarcer (such as the hard sciences) be paid a premium, as should teachers who have demonstrated their effectiveness with proven results, such as higher student achievement, and teachers who are willing to work in schools that are hard to staff because they serve underprivileged children.
Better pay for better teachers is a fine idea in principle. But does it really make sense to pay a so-so high school physics teacher more than a fantastic elementary school teacher? And if incentives are established to channel more teachers into schools that are hard to staff, will there also be safeguards to ensure that those teachers are top-notch?
It isn't clear that all the Steele commission's recommendations could be achieved without new funding, which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said is unnecessary. Legislation signed several years ago has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending on public schools, but that money is mostly earmarked. If the commission's proposals on teacher pay or pensions come with a price tag, it would be helpful to know it now.