COLUMBIA – Higher education officials are worried that students from Maryland’s public schools are coming to college increasingly unprepared to succeed academically – and they say they fear the problem will only get worse.
“Community colleges teach basic English and math again, then at a 4-year college – again,” said former governor Marvin Mandel, a member the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, at the board’s retreat Thursday. “You can’t make the higher ed better unless you have a product to work with.”
Board members suggested a possible solution to the problem of unprepared incoming freshman was to improve the quality of teachers in K-12 throughout the state, but acknowledged that they have little leverage over the public schools.
“The preparation of teachers – that is one area where we have responsibility,” said board member Alicia Coro Hoffman. “Maybe it’s time to take a hard look at the school of education, because that is our responsibility.”
Chancellor of the University System of Maryland William E. Kirwan cautioned the board about an expected surge in college-age students, many of whom come from low-income households and are the first in their families to go to college.
A study by the system suggests over half of the 2009 graduating class from all state public high schools will be minority students. According to the U.S. Census, Maryland’s 18 – to 24-year-old age group will grow by 8.5 percent by 2015, and black and Hispanic populations are expected to grow by a combined 48.1 percent.
Kirwan highlighted the so-called “achievement gap” between low-income and minority students and the rest of the student population. Even though more and more high school students in are enrolling in Advanced Placement courses and taking the SAT college admissions test, there will likely be a dip in scores because more lower income students will be taking the tests.
Like Hoffman, Kirwan pointed to teacher preparation as something state higher education officials can control.
“The responsibility we do have is the quality of teachers that go into schools,” he said.
Patricia S. Florestano, another board member, suggested competency test assessment programs for teachers.
Mandel suggested bonuses to teachers who stay in the classroom instead of going to administrative jobs, and who teach in underperforming schools.
Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, reacted angrily to the idea that public schools were to blame for poor performance by incoming freshmen.
“By keeping cutting programs in our urban schools, you get what we have in education today,” she said. “Public education is the only means by which poor students and students in the middle class can get ahead.”
Florestano suggested a more active partnering of schools with the state’s universities.
The Maryland chapter of the American Federation of Teachers is working on a program to partner teachers with colleges to make certain they are certified by the state to teach. Board member Orlan M. Johnson, who represents Prince George’s County on the board, suggested that a “K through 16 model,” or thinking of college as a logical extension of high school, might be the best approach.