Teachers can expect heat from scholarship plan

November 24, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ON THIS FINAL Sunday before Thanksgiving, with the scent of fresh nobility in the air, we gather to bless the governor of Maryland, who wishes to bestow upon all serious high school students a free ride at state universities.

All they need is a B average and a family income below about $60,000. All the state of Maryland needs is the ability to bankroll such a gallant gesture with about $40 million a year while simultaneously cutting income taxes 10 percent and throwing an unanticipated $254 million at Baltimore's public schools and coping with a long-anticipated $100 million budget shortfall in the coming year.

But let's, for the moment, grant Parris Glendening his good intentions. Since, everyone agrees, education is good but expensive, and everyone knows there are bright kids who can't afford college and thus never get a fair roll of life's dice, let's say the governor operates with a good heart.

He'll submit legislation this winter to provide free tuition and fees at state campuses for middle-class Maryland students who graduate high school with a B average -- and would keep paying as long as they maintain that B average in college.

Wonderful. Because, if you look at the cost of some colleges these days, here and everywhere around the country, it becomes a miracle that anyone survives four years without completely bankrupting their future.

Take, for example, the cost of the Johns Hopkins University. Annual tuition: $19,750, plus $6,955 for room and board. This, as even a C student can compute, comes to $26,705 a year, or considerably more than $100,000 over four years.

Or Loyola College: $14,260, plus $6,880 for room and board each year. Goucher College: $17,760, plus $6,570 room and board. Or the University of Maryland, College Park: $3,265 for state residents, but an additional $6,115 for room and board. Over four years, this approaches $40,000. And this is considered a bargain in today's hugely inflated college market.

There are bright high school students who can't even dream of meeting such costs. The American educational system has failed them, and they know it, and some react accordingly: with sullenness, with anger that disrupts classrooms and tears apart schools and eventually damages entire school systems, and with early exits from the schools and lives that come undone early.

Maybe the governor's plan gives them new inspiration. That's the idea. Maybe it moves parents to focus new attention on their kids' grades. That's also the idea. And maybe it keeps some bright kids inside Maryland borders, where they continue to live after graduation, thus enhancing the lives of local communities. All of this is part of the governor's thinking, and all of it sounds nice.

Maybe, also, there are teachers all over this state who hear the big tuition news, and welcome the brave new world of academic effort but simultaneously live in the real classroom world and thus brace themselves.

"I know," the 12th-grade English teacher is told by a student, "that my average is only 72, and I never actually did any of the homework assignments. But if I don't get a B from you, I can't get that tuition money, and I won't be able to go to college, and my whole life will be ruined."

"What do you mean," the 12th- grade math teacher is told by a mother with fire in her eyes, "that my son only has a 63 average? Just because he hasn't mastered fractions? There's no college in America that's gonna test him on fractions. Give him the B. His father and I both work, and we just fit in under the $60,000 limit."

Or, how about the kid with a 79 average, and he's one point shy of the B? All those teachers with new power to play God: Do they show some heart, or stand in the way of some kid's future?

You think teachers have pressure at report card time now? You think kids are capable of currying favor now? (Actually, yeah. A quick check with a fairly recent graduate -- my eldest child -- uncovered the following recollections from her high school days: "There were a couple of girls in high school who baked cakes for teachers. There were Christmas gifts. There was one boy in my class who'd go out to the parking lot over lunch break and wax teachers' cars.")

Does any of this argue against financial help for students? Of course not. It simply points out that, beyond the state's financial problems, there would be new developments inside classrooms, additional pressures for teachers. "Gotta have that B average, teach." In an era where we've already seen rampant grade inflation, it might turn out, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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