WASHINGTON – Faced with the prospect of up to 8,000 new teachers for each of the next few years, the state Department of Education has said it will support the development of the first statewide curriculum ever.
State officials said they have been surprised at the lack of outright opposition to the proposal from county administrators, who typically guard local control zealously.
“Maryland has had a long tradition of local autonomy. It was astounding that there was a sense of partnership and readiness for a statewide curriculum,” said Assistant State Superintendent Ron Peiffer.
But local officials are hardly warm to the idea, which is still in the development stages.
“I would be very uncomfortable with a state curriculum,” said Carol Reid, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Calvert County schools. “I am much more comfortable with content standards so that students would learn the material that they will be tested on.”
Local educators and parents groups generally said they could support suggested guidelines for teachers, but that they would resist any kind of mandate that would restrict a teacher’s flexibility in designing a curriculum.
“If it is a mandatory curriculum that all counties are required to have, the Maryland PTA will oppose it,” said Wanda Hurt, vice president of legislation for the state PTA. But she said the association would support a curriculum if it were suggested to counties.
The statewide curriculum recommendation was part of the midpoint report released Oct. 1 by the department’s Visionary Panel for Better Schools. The panel of 40 education experts from inside and outside of the department was charged with helping the department shape its education policy for the next decade.
Most county administrators contacted said they are inherently skeptical of a state-mandated curriculum, but agree that schools need to guarantee students will be taught the basic skills tested in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.
Caroline County Schools Superintendent Larry Lorton, like other administrators, said he could support a content-based curriculum as long as it does not interfere with teacher instruction.
“I don’t have a hang-up on who determines the content of any course in one year, but I don’t think it is appropriate to dictate how teachers are to deliver that content,” said Lorton. “A good teacher can teach anything, and . . . the primary responsibility of administrators is to limit confusion.”
Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, agreed with administrators that all students need to learn what they will face on statewide tests. But she, too, fears a state-mandated curriculum would “straitjacket” teachers on what they teach in their classrooms.
“I think that there is some understanding of the need for what it is we are going to teach, to line up with what it is that is going to be tested,” Foerster said. “If teachers are involved with writing the curriculum, I am OK with it.”
But some other administrators said it is too early to condemn the plan outright, particularly at a time when statewide tests and statewide accountability standards are gaining more prominence.
“As we go further and further with the notion of accountability, it is important that our teachers understand what is expected of their students,” said Prince George’s County Schools Superintendent Iris Metts.
“We need to reinforce the notion of increasing standards. The most important thing is to say our students are reaching these high standards of achievement,” she said.
Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast, who is on the state- appointed panel that suggested the curriculum, is also generally supportive.
According to a spokesman, Weast said the goal of the curriculum is to “ensure that students are achieving a rigorous set of expectations beginning in kindergarten all the way through graduation, especially in math, reading, science, social studies, foreign languages and the arts.”