State school board backs teacher development plan Proposal would refine vocation's guidelines

April 24, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The one-size-fits-all teacher workshop is about to become a misfit in Maryland.

Putting another piece of school reform in place, the State Board of Education yesterday endorsed a plan to make professional development for Maryland's 45,000 teachers substantive, meaningful and tailored to the specific needs of those teachers, their students and schools.

The plan would shift attention from general topics such as multiculturalism, and toward courses more closely linked to classroom work. But, for the precedent-setting plan to work, Maryland school systems probably will have to change the way they use two precious commodities: time and money. And that is complicated by the fact that school systems, and the state as a whole, don't know how much of either they spend on teacher training.

"This is a terribly important issue, one that over time we have not given enough attention to," said board President Christopher T. Cross, shortly after the board accepted recommendations presented by the Maryland Business Roundtable on Education, a group of corporate leaders.

The plan may affect scheduling and may change the courses for which teachers seeking advanced degrees are reimbursed. But it has the support of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"It speaks to a lot of the issues that we have raised," said association spokeswoman Mary Ann Blankenship.

"Everybody who's in a classroom in Maryland realizes that what they were taught in college is not what they need today," she said, adding that changes in technology and family life, as well as the state's reform measures, continue to affect the demands on teachers.

Professional development, also known as staff development or in-service training, refers to workshops, classes and one-day programs that school systems provide as on-the-job training.

Several staff development days are built into most school calendars, but many courses are held after school and on weekends.

"Staff development is not a necessary evil, not a cost, but an investment," said Kathleen Fitzgerald, associate manager for human resources at Procter & Gamble Co. and co-chairwoman of the roundtable's staff development committee. "As an investment, it should be held to the expectation that it yields results.

"From teachers, we know there is good professional development in Maryland. But teachers also identified that they were disappointed with current professional development."

The roundtable report endorses specific training, linked to what students are supposed to be learning and to how schools are changing.

It also suggests that teachers and administrators plan their own training and that those working on advanced degrees coordinate their courses with the needs of students.

Teachers often work toward degrees in counseling or administration, when concentration in core subjects would be more beneficial to students, the report said.

The report makes no recommendations on how much to spend because the roundtable could not determine how much is spent now.

Part of that has to do with the way training is paid for.

"Anyone who's served at the local level lives in fear of those dollars being identified as staff development dollars," which are among the most vulnerable to budget cuts, said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who praised the plan.

The state will begin its professional development reform by determining how much the state department spends, and how much is spent in four counties that volunteered to be in the pilot study.

They are Garrett, Washington, Kent and Charles counties.

Local school districts pay for about 80 percent of their staff development; money also comes from state and federal coffers and grants, said June E. Streckfus, the roundtable's executive director. Ms. Fitzgerald said the plan would demand "innovative approaches to freeing up time so that professional development is not an add-on to an already full day" for teachers.

Among the suggestions are greater use of interns and student teachers, coordinated scheduling so teams of teachers are free at the same time during the school day, and greater use of technology to share knowledge.

Although board members were enthusiastic about the plan, and the ensuing changes, they also saw a long road ahead.

"We have to step in and do some hard work," said board member Edward Andrews of College Park.

Even a small amount of state money earmarked for professional development would make a big difference to many schools, he said.

"Don't let these local county officials get ahold of that money or it will be gone," Mr. Andrews said.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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