WASHINGTON – Maryland school officials said U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley had a good idea when he challenged schools last week to make teaching a year-round job within the next five years.
But state officials said they have no idea how schools could pay for the salary increases if Riley’s vision were to materialize.
Funding the longer year would “be a challenge for the states. If we can build support for moving in that direction, it will certainly present challenges,” said Carl Smith, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
Riley said in his annual State of American Education address last week that a 12-month work year for teachers would increase their pay and help close the immense salary gap with other professions.
“The income gap between experienced teachers holding a master’s degree and their counterparts in other fields with the same level of education is enormous — over $32,000 a year,” Riley said.
Closing this gap would attract higher-quality teachers into the work force, improving the American education system in the process, Riley said. The extra months would also give teachers time to work on curriculum and teaching skills, as well as giving low-performing students the opportunity to get summer help, he said.
It could be a hard sell with some teachers. Having summers free is one reason some people became teachers in the first place, according to a 1996 National Education Association survey. It said that about 20 percent of teachers pointed to the long summer vacation was a main attraction to the job.
Still, many education officials around the state saw advantages to the proposal.
Assistant State Superintendent Ron Peiffer said he expects some local school systems will adopt the new 12-month teacher year. Maryland most likely will not require it, but “it would be something we would work with local systems to explore,” he said.
Smith added that the longer year is “fundamental to improving the teaching profession and improving the teaching profession is fundamental for advancing the goals of education.”
But both Smith and Peiffer are concerned that some school systems would not be able to afford the subsequent pay increases.
Some of the poorer school systems choked at the 10 percent teacher raise that Gov. Parris Glendening proposed earlier this month. Under his proposal, local school systems would have to front an 8 percent increase and the state would pay the remaining 2 percent.
Peiffer said some districts would probably react similarly if they were forced to pay for Riley’s proposal.
A U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman refused to provide details on Riley’s plan beyond what was contained in the speech, which did not mention any federal aid for the program.
Teachers union representatives generally welcomed the idea but, like school board officials, said they would not like to have it forced on them.
“What we really don’t have in the regular system is very much time for teachers to engage actively in professional development activities,” said Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.
Pence said he would support the yearlong initiative as long as it remained optional. Other professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, “are able to decide how much additional work they take on” and teachers should have the same option, Pence said.
Pence also added that teaching is a rigorous job and teachers deserve the break if they want it.
“I think teaching involves … intensive interaction with people,” said Pence, adding that “breaks are appropriate” in such a high-stress job.