WASHINGTON – Maryland aced the test for school standards and accountability but received an F for school climate in a study released Wednesday by a national education magazine.
The survey by Education Week magazine also gave Maryland grades of C to D for school resources and a C for improving teacher quality, although the teacher quality grade was still 11th-best in the nation.
Maryland education officials said they are not worried about the low scores, noting that school reform has been a priority for the past decade.
“[The study] is confirming that we are on the right track,” said Assistant State Superintendent Ronald E. Peiffer. “We have a lot of things in the works.”
Peiffer pointed to the Teacher Quality Act of 1999, which, among other things, offers $2,000 to experienced teachers who stay in low-performing schools.
A union official agreed that the state is taking steps toward better teacher policies, but that it still needs to do more.
“Unless you change the work environment and teach teachers differently, the $2,000 is not going to make a difference in getting high-quality teachers into the schools that need them,” said Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. “The quality of schools is critical to attracting good teachers.”
Editors at Education Week agreed with Pence that teacher quality is important, which is why they highlighted that area in this year’s study, “Quality Counts 2000.”
“I think states have a responsibility … to get people into the profession,” said Virginia Edwards, editor and publisher of Education Week. “I think working conditions are important. I think [teachers] need to feel like they are supported.”
This is the fourth year Education Week has compared school quality in all 50 states. It ranks schools in five categories: student achievement, standards and accountability, improving teacher quality, school climate, and resources. Except for student achievement, all of the rankings were translated into letter grades.
But both state and union officials said the study has weaknesses.
“I think the picture [the study] portrays is lower than [teacher quality] really is,” Pence said.
He said most of the state’s teachers are properly trained but that high numbers of unqualified teachers in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, where there are teacher shortages, bring the state score down.
Peiffer also criticized the study’s method for measuring school climate. He noted that school choice — programs such as school vouchers or charter schools — accounted for 25 percent of the school climate grade. Maryland has very little interest in such programs, Peiffer said, and the state’s grade suffered as a result.
“I believe that area (school climate) would be much more improved with a direct measure of classroom size,” Peiffer said. “I just don’t have a lot of confidence in that data.”
But the magazine editors said they are confident in the study.
“We think it provides a road map for where states should lead the future,” said Edwards.