Lack of good city teachers Urban school woes: Teacher quality must be enhanced for real reforms to occur.

March 26, 1997

THE RIGORS of teaching in a school system beset by as many urban ills as Baltimore's makes it difficult to criticize those who dare to try. But these teachers' dedication is no substitute for substantial changes to ensure that those who either should not be teaching or need to improve their teaching skills are identified and helped.

Many factors contribute to Baltimore students consistently placing at the bottom of virtually every assessment of academic performance. Curriculum, safety and funding improvements are often mentioned. But little is being said about the quality of teachers. Baltimore does not attract the best, and it has a hard time keeping the good.

A March 10 article by Sun reporter Eric Siegel pointed out that most of Baltimore's 6,822 teachers have less than five years or more than 20 years of experience in the classroom: Unseasoned rookies and jaded veterans who are either not prepared or tired of dealing with so many students burdened by a host of social ills that inhibit learning.

More than 400 teachers left the city school system last year for reasons other than retirement, a fourth of them to take better-paying, less stressful jobs elsewhere. What has become an annual exodus has forced the city to hire a greater proportion (10 percent) of "provisional" teachers, who have college degrees but no teacher training. Fewer than 2 percent of teachers are "provisional" in most Maryland systems.

When so many teachers leave each year, it is tempting to resist the kind of teacher review that might mean further losses. But it must happen. Baltimore must implement a program of evaluation and development so more teachers succeed. The city's failure to provide such a system is costing it $2 million in state funds. That is unconscionable.

A proposal linking teacher evaluations to student performance and pairing teachers who need help to mentors at their schools has been sitting on Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's desk for months. Critics of the proposal have helped work out ways to improve it; perhaps more needs to be done. Instead it sits. It appears that Dr. Amprey is going to do as little as possible as his tenure comes to an end. If he cares about city school children, he will take decisive action to give them better teachers.

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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