Dangerous Detour in School Reform

March 05, 1995

Maryland is making a name for itself in national education circles because it has, so far, shown the political gumption to move on a variety of fronts, not just on the least painful initiatives. Now comes the temptation of a dangerous detour.

Maryland's school reform has been noticed because it has followed a comprehensive strategy, not a scattershot approach. Proposals to change teacher training dovetail with plans to toughen certification and recertification requirements. In turn, plans to hold teachers accountable for their performance go hand-in-hand with school-performance testing that aims for dramatic improvement in achievement levels of all students.

But a proposal heartily backed by the Maryland State Teachers Association would take authority over teacher certification and training from the overall authority of the State Board of Education and give power solely to the Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board, which now shares that authority with the state board.

Even worse, Gov. Parris Glendening's support helped the measure win Senate passage on Friday. He cites the MSTA's argument that teachers are the best gatekeepers for their profession. Physicians control access to their profession, as do lawyers and other professionals. Why not teachers?

One answer is that children don't have the same choice in their teachers that people have in choosing a doctor or lawyer. Virtually every reform proposal that would create more respect for teachers -- tougher certification and recertification provisions are a prime example -- has drawn the loud opposition of the MSTA. In short, for Marylanders concerned about the success of school reform, there has been precious little reassurance the teachers union is as interested in the broader scope of education reform as in preserving and enlarging their own slice of the education pie.

Governor Glendening justifies his support of this bad idea by saying he wants to bring the board and the MSTA closer together, encouraging a more cooperative relationship between the two parties, both of whom are critical to the success of education reform. That is a worthy goal. However, creating an independent authority within the state Department of Education is not the way to do that. The governor, a student of government and politics, should know such an arrangement is no way to encourage comprehensive, cohesive reform. It's certainly not a logical structure for a smoothly running education department.

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