Reading series evokes response Professor: A Towson University educator thought "Reading by 9" was unfair to his program, but he also said it helped focus the school's attention.

The Education Beat

November 26, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

DENNIS HINKLE wrote three angry letters to The Sun -- but never mailed one.

Hinkle, dean of education at Towson University, thought the newspaper's "Reading by 9" series unfairly attacked his teacher education program, branding it a beacon of "whole language" instruction devoid of any genuine basis in phonics.

"We do teach our students to teach reading, and we do teach phonics," Hinkle insisted over breakfast the other morning. He'd calmed down considerably, enough so that he conceded teacher education in Maryland -- and at his university -- needs considerable attention and correction. The dean at Towson since 1993, Hinkle, 55, said, "The last thing I want to be is defensive. I know we have a lot of work to do. The series has helped us focus our attention."

Towson is doubling the number of credits in reading and "language arts" required of early childhood teaching majors -- from six to 12. (The decision was made before The Sun's series, he said.)

Twelve credits is typically four semester courses. The state still requires education majors to take only one semester course in reading instruction for teacher certification, though most education programs require more.

And Hinkle, spurred by the articles and discussions with fellow deans, is planning a series of "summits" on reading, beginning in the new year.

If Towson can be legitimately criticized for embracing the whole jTC language fad perhaps too enthusiastically, it has been a leader in translating educational theory into practice at "professional development schools" in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties.

The PDSs, as they're called, bring education professors down from their towers to meet and guide their students in real elementary school settings. It's the equivalent of the "residency" period in medical education.

In the traditional program, students take their "methods" courses -- the often-maligned instruction in the methodology of teaching -- on campus. Their professors might venture into the schools where they've been placed for practice teaching, but the two cultures -- that of the academy and that of the school -- remain separate, as though a medical school had no place in a hospital.

The trouble is that PDSs are expensive. Relatively few education students get a chance to participate. "It's a money issue," said Hinkle.

The last serious look at teacher education in Maryland came two years ago. A task force recommended a number of measures to improve the academic and practical preparation of teachers.

Hinkle noted that not one of the task force recommendations mentioned reading instruction. But Ralph Fessler, a Johns Hopkins University scholar who headed the task force, said the "context was different at the time. We were concentrating on the relationship between theory and practice."

That's just the point, Hinkle said. "Think about how difficult it is to teach reading, and then think about trying to learn how to do it from books and lectures and very little demonstration."

Hinkle tries to practice what he preaches. Once a week he tutors voluntarily at his neighborhood Baltimore County elementary school.

Templeton school honored for making improvements

Furman L. Templeton Elementary School in Upton was the first elementary school in Maryland to be put on the state "reconstitution-eligible" -- that is, failure -- list and ordered to reform or face takeover.

Last week, Templeton got a $37,000 check from the state for making "substantial and meaningful improvement" on the Maryland School Performance Achievement Program for two consecutive years. Sixty-five other Maryland schools were so honored.

Principal Carolyn Blackwell said yesterday that she never doubted her West Baltimore school had the capacity to improve substantially. "The question was the will, and we recovered it. We recaptured our professional pride."

How did Templeton do it? The school concentrated on "professional development" -- training teachers to do better. It invited parents to be a part of the program. It created "family learning teams" in which parents studied with their children. Students took computers home and shared them with their parents.

Blackwell can't use the bounty for teacher pay bonuses. She said she'll "revisit the data base" on her 490 students and look for more education holes to plug.

One of the city's poorest schools, 100 percent of Templeton's student body is eligible for the federal school lunch program.

Mass suspension deja vu from six years ago

A frustrated principal in a troubled city school orders mass suspensions after a fight between students and subsequent classroom and hallway disturbances. The suspensions are overturned by the superintendent, who criticizes the principal's disciplinary tactics as "inappropriate."

Northern High School? No, Hampstead Hill Middle School almost exactly six years ago.

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