Glendening wants to hire 1,110 teachers 860 would be assigned to reading, 250 to math

Goal: reduce class size

Plan similar to those of Sauerbrey, Clinton

September 01, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and Mike Bowler | Thomas W. Waldron and Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Outlining his education agenda if elected to a second term, Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposed yesterday hiring more than 1,100 reading and math teachers and adding or renovating thousands of classrooms in the next four years.

Most of the new teachers -- 860 -- would be assigned to teach reading in first and second grades, a level Glendening called crucial to a student's success in school.

His plan also calls for adding about 250 teachers in seventh-grade math classes -- with the goal of increasing the number of students ready for higher-level courses such as algebra and geometry.

"The best way to ensure that our children are able to master the fundamentals of reading and math is to increase the individual attention they receive," Glendening said at a midmorning news conference at Guilford Elementary/Middle School in North Baltimore.

The proposal would cost the state about $43 million a year for the teachers once they are hired -- a small increase in the $2 billion the state now spends on education for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Glendening's proposal is similar to one advanced in July by his likely Republican challenger, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who has called for increased state spending for reading teachers in the early grades.

The governor's plan echoes a pledge in President Clinton's State of the Union address this year to hire 100,000 new teachers to reduce primary school class sizes across the country from an average of 22 pupils to an average of 18.

The governor said his proposal was based on studies showing that students who cannot adequately read by the third grade have difficulty later in many subjects.

Similarly, seventh-grade math is considered an important transition between basic mathematics and advanced courses, Glendening said.

In addition, Glendening said, if elected, he would continue the state's aggressive spending on building and renovating schools. He promised to spend $250 million in state funds on such projects in each of the next two years -- money that would have to be partially matched by local governments.

The governor said the state, with a surplus of $700 million, could afford the school construction spending.

With the approval of the General Assembly, Glendening has significantly increased the amount the state had been spending on school construction. This year, the state is spending $225 million on school construction -- the highest state outlay in a quarter-century.

"Our formula is simple: more classrooms plus additional teachers equals smaller class size," Glendening said. "And smaller class size means a better education."

Funds contingent

The governor said the funds for new teachers would be available to local school systems that could demonstrate that they were hiring the teachers to reduce class size.

Lowering class size is the most expensive of all educational reforms. The average class size in the first three grades in the six Baltimore-area school districts is about 24 pupils. Reducing that average to about 18 would require an estimated 1,150 new teachers that would cost more than $40 million alone in salaries.

But educational research shows that students in smaller classes have better test scores, participate more in school, behave better and retain these benefits over time, said Joan McRobbie, a researcher at WestEd, a federal education laboratory in San Francisco.

However, the more pupils in a class above 17, she said, the more limited the gains.

"Lowering class size helps," McRobbie said, "but then the question becomes what kind of policy to put in place" -- whether to target the additional teachers where most needed.

California -- midway through a $2.5 billion, two-year effort to reduce class size -- has what McRobbie called a "one-size-fits-all program that isn't helping enough where it's needed most, in the inner cities."

'Only a first step'

Karl K. Pence, president of Maryland State Teachers Association, a group that has endorsed Glendening, said he liked the governor's education initiative but said it was only a first step.

"There is no magic bullet," Pence said. "This doesn't solve all of the problems, but it makes it possible to start to solve the problems."

State education Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick also endorsed the governor's goal of reducing the number of students in certain key classes, but cautioned that it would be difficult to find 1,100 more qualified teachers in addition to the teachers needed to handle expected increases in student enrollments in the next four years.

Local school systems across the state are contending with a shortage of qualified teachers. The state, along with the local school systems, must develop more incentives to attract students to teaching, she said.

"We've got to begin to address this issue of a teacher shortage," Grasmick said. "We're not going to do it with the same old mechanisms. The competition is steep for these talented young people."

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