Grasmick for more reading reform Md. school chief wants instruction for new secondary teachers

January 28, 1998|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick continued yesterday her push to reform teacher education, proposing that new middle and high school teachers be trained in reading instruction.

The proposal -- requiring new teachers to take two reading courses or the equivalent -- also would affect nearly 47,000 teachers in classrooms, many of whom would have to take reading courses to renew teaching certificates.

The plan, devised by a task force studying reading, is slated for a state school board vote next month. The board also will consider a recommendation that new elementary teachers take at least four reading courses.

"We wouldn't think of saying a teacher could teach mathematics who doesn't have the [proper] mathematics courses," said Grasmick, who said she gets letters every day from parents paying for expensive private testing because their children can't read. "Reading is a foundation skill. Why should we be doing less?"

Meanwhile, a key board that approves such requirements and some top figures at Maryland education colleges said the proposals are taking the wrong direction. Aspiring teachers should be judged on what they can do, the critics say, not how many courses they take.

"Things are moving too quickly. We're saying we need time to talk to one another," said Judy Ramoy Johnstone, chairman of the education department at Mount St. Mary's College, who is on a state reading task force and a "standards" board that approves teacher-training requirements.

Both sides agree that teacher preparation needs reform. That need is most acute with reading, where failure to train teachers in methods proven successful is being blamed for much of the widespread reading problem among schoolchildren nationwide.

But educators disagree on how to achieve that reform.

Grasmick, responding to clamor over a series of articles in The Sun in November, immediately proposed quadrupling the reading courses required of aspiring elementary teachers and requiring middle and high school teaching candidates to study reading.

She asked a task force working on improving reading instruction to define what teachers should know, and fit those standards into a framework of courses.

Last month, Grasmick proposed a minimum of four courses in reading for early childhood and elementary candidates. Yesterday, she and task force leaders presented the middle and high school plan, which would require at least two three-credit courses -- or one six-credit course.

The state requires only one reading course for elementary certification -- though many colleges demand more to graduate -- and requires no reading courses for middle or high school certification. The proposals say the courses should be based on research-proven methods and give teachers the opportunity to learn in a classroom.

Critics say requiring courses conflicts with a style of education reform that Maryland has embraced in recent years. Called a "performance based" model, it requires teachers to prove through tests and demonstrations, rather than by courses, that they can teach effectively. A University System of Maryland task force is working on such a "performance assessment" for all subject areas.

Willis D. Hawley, dean of the college of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, said the task force is critical of the Grasmick proposal. "What we end up doing is proliferating the number of courses and making it more difficult to become teachers without assuring that the goal we're seeking is a good goal," he said.

Grasmick says she also favors performance assessments. But while assessments are in the works, she says the clock is running, children are losing opportunities they may never regain, and teachers-in-training need more and better reading instruction.

Next week, she plans to address her critics on the Professional Standards and Teacher Education Board -- which sent a letter of concern to the board yesterday -- hoping to smooth out the kinks.

The state board can overrule the professional standards board with a two-thirds majority.

But no one wants a fight -- especially in reading, where the infamous reading wars between the phonics and whole-language methods have produced only destructive pendulum swings and instruction driven by fads and ideology instead of solid research.

Board member Morris Jones urged Grasmick to resolve the conflicts, saying the state needs all parties working together. "While it's going to be important to be prescriptive as you are here, it's also going to be important for us to pull together everyone who's concerned about education in a massive forward thrust," he said.

On the middle and high school reading recommendations, board members said they were pleased the state is tackling what recent test scores show to be an alarming problem. Eighth-grade reading scores on average dropped last year, continuing a four-year trend and prompting calls for special reading courses in middle school.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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