Md. aims at inept teachers

April 26, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Lan Nguyen contributed to this article.

In an unprecedented bid to root out incompetence among Maryland's more than 45,000 public school teachers, the state superintendent wants to strip certification from those who receive three unsatisfactory ratings within five years.

The proposal, the subject of a hearing today before the state Board of Education, would replace what state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick calls an outmoded system that allows most veteran teachers to be recertified simply by paying a fee.

"We keep talking about improvement of schools; well, to improve schools, we need improvement among teachers," Dr. Grasmick said.

The proposal drew a decidedly different response from the Maryland State Teachers Association. At a news briefing yesterday, the union said it would reduce teachers to "probationary status for the rest of their careers."

Union President Karl K. Pence said the proposal would result in teachers being dismissed solely on the evaluations of a principal or, occasionally, another school official.

"Teachers whose principal failed to give them at least three satisfactory ratings every five years . . . would be stripped of their certificates -- just as if they had been convicted of molesting children or selling drugs in the classroom or some other heinous act," Mr. Pence said.

He promised a campaign to defeat the proposal -- reminiscent of the union's failed attempt to stop a measure allowing direct state intervention in troubled schools.

State education officials pointed out that teachers who receive unsatisfactory ratings could challenge them in grievances or in appeals to the state school board or the courts.

Probationary teachers -- typically those with less than two years' experience -- can now lose state certification for unsatisfactory performance without a hearing or right to appeal.

In practice, more experienced teachers are not stripped of their licenses for poor performance. But they can lose certification for breaking the law or contributing to the delinquency of a minor, for instance.

The proposal before the state board would apply to teachers with "advanced professional certificates" -- about 80 percent of those statewide. In any given year, state officials say, about 7,000 of those teachers would be required to renew their licenses. They would have to be recertified every five years -- the requirement is now every 10 years -- and license renewals would be based on evaluations and other proposed measures designed to demonstrate "continued professional growth."

Under the new requirements, teachers would have to continue graduate work, or its equivalent of "in service" training, throughout their careers.

The teachers association says the proposal is an example of the state infringing on what should be the purview of local school boards: the right to get rid of inept teachers.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, which is not affiliated with the MSTA, also opposes the proposal. Linda Prudente, the city union's spokeswoman, said low pay, violence and a poor student population make it hard for Baltimore to attract enough qualified teachers.

"This will make it harder to get teachers to come here," she said.

She suggested that some teachers fail to progress professionally because of their principals' lack of management training.

But state officials counter that there's nothing too radical about requiring satisfactory ratings most of the time.

Some local school officials agreed. They said the proposed requirement, if anything, is not stringent enough.

"I think it ought to be five out of five years, personally," said Howard County school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey also supported the proposal. "It's quite appropriate to expect all of us in education to examine our fitness for what we're doing to make sure we're on the cutting edge," he said.

He said the state's move was likely to prompt local districts to focus more attention on teachers' competence, which he said would benefit all teachers and schools.

The state board will review public comment -- including written testimony -- until May 3. It is scheduled to vote on the certification proposal next month.

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