Teaching the teachers more about reading Certification: State requirements will improve chances that children can read well.

June 19, 1998

GOOD reading instruction can often make the difference between a child's success and failure in school. Yet, as is RTC apparent in test scores, the preparation and professional development required of Maryland teachers has not given them adequate grounding in the basics of reading instruction.

Next week, the State Board of Education will vote on a proposal to ratchet up the level of reading instruction knowledge that teachers must have to be certified in Maryland. In our view, adopting these requirements is a no-brainer, especially for a state that so far has shown admirable determination to give teeth to all the talk about accountability in education.

If teachers, principals and school systems are responsible for ensuring that their students achieve at grade level, then it makes sense to expect colleges and universities to give future teachers the training they need to accomplish the single most important task in education -- ensuring that their students are literate.

Schools of education may resent these proposals as interference with their cherished independence. But those concerns are scant comfort for neophyte teachers. Imagine their plight when they first face a roomful of youngsters and discover that nobody prepared them to spot Susie's difficulty with letters, or taught them why Johnny will never decode even the simplest story without a strong understanding of letters, sounds and how they fit together.

The proposal before the board would require candidates for certification as elementary and middle school teachers to earn 12 credit hours in reading instruction. Secondary teachers would be required to earn six credit hours. Similar requirements for recertification will prompt significant changes in professional development programs in each jurisdiction.

Some critics have suggested that performance-based exams would be a better way to ensure that teachers are better equipped to provide reading instruction. In fact, those exams would be the perfect complement to these course requirements. But by themselves, they would solve nothing.

The board is tackling these challenges in the right order -- first, making sure teachers have sound instruction in teaching reading, then testing their ability to deliver the goods in the classroom.

A positive vote on the proposed course requirements will be one more important step on the road to school reform.

Pub date: 6/19/98

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