IT WAS IN 1987 that a group of educators came up with the revolutionary idea that teachers should be licensed in the same manner as physicians and others who call themselves professionals - by proving their competence in a rigorous assessment that takes most of a school year and 200 to 300 hours of work.
Thus was born the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and thus did teaching begin taking steps toward becoming a genuine profession.
They've been baby steps. Fourteen years later, 9,500 of the nation's 6.3 million teachers are "board certified," 74 of them in Maryland and three in Baltimore.
But the pace is picking up steadily, said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and national board officials who visited The Sun on Monday.
About 120 Maryland candidates who sought national board certification last school year are waiting to hear if they passed. A new class of nearly 200 teachers will begin the process in the fall. And nationwide, the board expects to add about 4,000 certified teachers by November.
Maryland's 74 percent passing rate is one of the highest in the nation and well above the national rate of 52 percent, Grasmick said.
"I have to say this, and you'll laugh when I do, but I think Maryland teachers do so well because of [the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program]. It's a performance test, and Maryland teachers know how to do performance. Performance is a way of thinking in this state," she said.
The national board assessment process consists of portfolio entries, including commentaries by the candidate, samples of students' work and videotape of the candidate teaching. People I've known who have earned national certification say the worst part is watching yourself in action.
The idea of national certification has encountered roadblocks since the day it was floated. Conservative commentator Chester E. Finn Jr. calls the 63-member national board of directors "a union-dominated, establishment outfit, steeped in progressive ideology."
But other conservatives like the concept, said Betty Castor, national board president, who denies charges that the process lacks rigor. "They see national board certification as a way of rewarding performance, and conservatives like that," she said.
Some of the most vocal critics are teachers. Their unions traditionally resist merit pay and other schemes that distinguish teachers by the quality of their work.
Maryland has made it easy for teachers to apply for national certification and lucrative for them to earn it. Grasmick's department pays two-thirds of the $2,300 fee for taking the national boards and matches up to $2,000 the annual bonuses paid board-certified teachers by local districts.
With its own stipend matched by the state, Baltimore is paying board-certified teachers $4,000 extra a year for the 10-year life of the certificate. That's a $40,000 bonus for demonstrating you know how to teach. Not a bad deal.
Still, board-certified teachers will remain few and far between. Castor said she expects no more than 15 percent of the nation's teaching force will have national licenses in 10 years.
"That's still a minority, but we're seeing side effects," she said. "Many states are adopting national board standards as the highest standards for their teachers, and that's a good thing."
Hopkins library dean headed for Columbia U.
James G. Neal is neither professor nor student, but he's owed a debt of gratitude by the professors and students in Maryland who labor in the vineyards of research.
Neal, the dean of university libraries at the Johns Hopkins University, takes up duties next week at Columbia University.
Neal is the inspiration behind the Maryland Digital Library, which has put a huge body of academic research at the keyboarding fingertips of almost every researcher in the state's colleges and universities. He also organized an alliance of research libraries in the Chesapeake region.
"He reached out from Hopkins to the rest of the state's library community," said Larry Wilt, director of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County library.
"Jim has the right idea about cooperation between public and private and big and small," said Charles B. Lowry, Neal's counterpart at University of Maryland, College Park. "The more the cooperation, the greater the synergy. He changed the mind-set in Maryland."
Prince George's district is state's most imperiled
What's new in Maryland education as the first of 853,000 students begin the new term Monday?
For the first time in memory, the district most academically and financially imperiled isn't Baltimore. It's Prince George's, which by this time next year may well have been taken over by the state.