Md.'s bad teachers to lose certification

June 30, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Mary Maushard and Lan Nguyen contributed to this article.

In an effort to weed out the worst of Maryland's 45,000 public school teachers, the state school board decided yesterday to strip certification from those who receive three unsatisfactory annual evaluations in any five-year period.

New regulations, approved unanimously, replace what state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and many state and local educators call an outmoded licensing system that allows veteran teachers to be recertified every 10 years simply by paying a $10 fee.

"We're saying teachers are an important part of school improvement,and we're going to have accountability," Dr. Grasmick said.

"It's not going to be payment of $10 to get 10 years of certification anymore. It means everybody's performance is going to be assessed because we're serious about having quality and accountability."

To renew their licenses -- necessary to teach in Maryland -- teachers will be required to develop individual "professional development plans" to include courses, seminars, mentoring programs or other efforts to better prepare them for the classroom. Those development plans would have to be approved by local superintendents. The state and most of the 24 districts now run professional development centers where employees could fulfill their obligations. Local districts also offer reimbursement for college courses.

The new licensing requirements drew criticism from the Maryland State Teachers Association and the Baltimore Teachers Union. They said teachers could become victims of incompetent or vengeful principals or others who often use evaluations to penalize teachers because of grudges or other reasons unrelated to job performance.

"In a perfect world, [the new requirements] make absolute sense, but the problem is that most principals are former teachers and haven't been trained in how to evaluate someone, so we end up getting a personality thing," said Linda Prudente, BTU spokeswoman.

The new regulations put Maryland at the forefront of a national movement toward rooting out teacher incompetence by eliminating what amounts to lifetime certification. Alabama, North Dakota and New Mexico have adopted stiffer relicensing requirements. New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are considering new periodic renewal requirements.

Maryland's new regulations, which will take effect in January, will primarily affect teachers with "advanced professional certificates." These teachers, with master's degrees or equivalent experience ratings, account for almost 80 percent of Maryland's public school teachers.

About 1,500 of them renew their licenses each year, officials say. Under the new regulations, they would have to be recertified every five years instead of the current 10. Probationary teachers -- typically those with less than two years' experience -- now can 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. Since 1987, fewer than 15 teachers' licenses have been revoked in Maryland, state officials said.

Unlike the original proposal that culminated about four years of work when it went to the state Board of Education in January, the version approved yesterday also will apply to licensed administrators and specialists statewide.

Many local administrators and school board members said it's about time that teachers do more than just pay a fee to retain their licenses.

Dr. Grasmick and several board members said they hope to strengthen the requirements to eventually force teachers to attain satisfactory ratings for at least four of every five years. But the state board rejected a bid by its vice president, Edward Andrews, to immediately require satisfactory ratings every year.

"I have a real problem with these other two years out of five and with dummying down the level of the profession to satisfactory -- not good, not excellent," Mr. Andrews said. "I don't want to be in an airplane where a pilot lands three out of five times. I don't want my grandson in a classroom where his teacher performs satisfactorily three of five years."

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey strongly supported the new regulations, saying they should shift the focus from abstract talk of school reform to specific ways to improve school staff.

"We talk about school performance, but schools are people. We ought to be looking at everyone to make sure that schools work," Dr. Amprey said. He said the city would scrutinize its evaluation system to ensure fairness. But he added that he's often felt that cumbersome contract provisions have hindered the ability to get rid of inept teachers.

Howard County school board Vice Chair Susan Cook said the new requirements should not only put teeth into school-improvement efforts but also help bad teachers improve.

"Removing ineffective and incompetent teachers from the classroom will benefit the students," she said. "And . . . it is in the system's best interest to retrain the teachers -- not to put them out on the street, but to offer them staff development."

Baltimore County Superintendent Stuart Berger agreed, saying

teachers should be required to get at least a satisfactory rating every year. "It's incumbent upon every local system to improve ++ their evaluation system."

Teachers throughout Maryland can appeal evaluations to local school boards and superintendents, as well as the state board. Those not recertified will lose the right not only to teach in this state but also more than 30 others that recognize Maryland's certification.

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