ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening entered the 1999 General Assembly session with hopes of creating a legacy as Maryland’s “education governor.” Then, a legislature concerned with other issues like energy deregulation and ethics reform pared down many of the governor’s programs and trimmed his budget.
Most of Glendening’s favorite education-related bills – his tobacco tax, his class-size reduction plan and his prized Hope scholarship – survived the session, but not necessarily intact.
Education remained the word on everyone’s lips at the end of the session, and many legislators were pleased that a varied package of education bills passed – they just weren’t willing to break the bank to focus on one issue.
Despite having to battle to the end on many of his bills, Glendening said he was satisfied with the session and promised to continue pushing major education bills for the remaining three years of his term. The governor did not specify which issues he will push hardest next session but said he won’t surprise anyone who followed his campaign last fall.
The statewide shortage of certified teachers likely will remain a major concern, despite the legislature’s efforts this session. At least 98 percent of teachers should be certified in all counties, Glendening said during his campaign. But Baltimore and Prince George’s County are well short of this mark and unlikely to reach it in the next few years, officials from both districts said.
In addition, the state will have to hire thousands of new teachers in the next five years to meet the demands of a growing population and the state’s new class-size reduction initiative. State universities are not producing enough teachers to meet this demand.
The governor’s Hope scholarship bill, which will offer annual $3,000 incentives to Maryland college students who agree to teach in the state after graduating, is a long-term plan to combat the shortage, though the legislature gave Glendening only a small portion of the funding he requested for the program.
The Maryland State Teacher’s Association strongly criticized a shorter term plan crafted by the House of Delegates. The plan will grant state funds to county boards of education for teacher mentoring programs, extend the probationary period for new teachers from two to three years and offer income tax credits as incentives to qualified teachers.
The incentives, however, will not be large enough to attract new teachers and extending the probationary period will only keep bad teachers around for longer, the state teacher’s association said.
Glendening’s class-size reduction bill also drew its share of criticism, despite widespread support from legislators and educational organizations across the state. The plan, which calls for 20-student limits on first- and second- grade reading classes, annoyed legislators in Baltimore and Prince George’s County at first, because it denied funding to schools with more than 2 percent uncertified teachers.
The bill was ultimately amended to give struggling districts two years to improve their certification rates, quieting concerns from legislators. But education experts still question its value.
Glendening’s plan sounds like a political solution to an education problem, said Charles Achilles, a professor of education at Eastern Michigan University. Achilles helped design Tennessee’s “Project Star,” widely held as one of the most ambitious and successful class-size reduction programs in the country. He criticized the governor’s plan because it does not expose students to smaller classes early enough and because it focuses on only one subject.
The plan only begins to address a wider problem and conveniently costs less than a comprehensive class-size reduction plan, Achilles said.
Outside of the legislature, the introduction of statewide high school graduation tests will become a prominent issue in the next few years. The tests, pushed by State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, are designed to establish a state standard for what students should learn in core high school classes like math, history, English and biology. The state distributed sample items from the tests for the first time this year and will spend the next three years refining and testing the products.
The biggest issue may be deciding what constitutes passing, a spokesman for the State Department of Education said. Only 17 percent of students in Baltimore and less than 30 percent in several other counties, passed the state’s standardized achievement test, called the MSPAP, last year. The MSPAP test is used only to determine how schools are performing, but the high school graduation test will determine the fate of individuals, so similarly low percentages could be devastating to struggling school districts.
The state likely won’t determine its standard for passing until the test has been given a full trial run in the 2,000-2,001 school year.