Maryland is addressing class size, teacher shortage

Posted on April 04, 1999 at 19:57:42:

It's not happening overnight, but there's very good news regarding two major problems in public education in Maryland.

Two pieces of legislation that will reduce class size and award scholarships to students who agree to work as public elementary and secondary school teachers after graduation.

I am a proud co-sponsor of Senate Bill 131 which establishes Maryland Teacher Scholarships and the Maryland Hope Scholarship as well as Senate Bill 137 which will reduce class size.

I have spoken with many teachers who are frustrated by the large number of students they must teach. It's no secret that the less students you have in a classroom, the more individual attention a teacher can give to their students. If a classroom is overflowing, teachers are relegated to being babysitters who neglect their instruction to control unruly students. We all know that when too many kids get together in a crowded room, it's a recipe for disaster.

Senate Bill 137 establishes the Maryland Learning Success Program to provide funding to local boards of education to reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20 students for reading instruction in the first and second grade. Politics being what it is, the General Assembly is still tinkering with the details of this bill, but its passage seems imminent.

This bill will probably stay intact because it is an example of good government. It recognizes that class size is a real hindrance to education, especially in the formative years of first and second grade when children need strong, intensive individualized training on how to read. The best way to read is on a one-to-one basis between teacher and student. If there's 40 children in a class, the teacher can't possibly provide this type of effective one-on-one education.

I'm pleased that we're moving beyond the political rhetoric of promising smaller class sizes on the campaign trail then never doing anything about it. Finally, we are doing something about it and this will greatly enhance our young people's reading skills.
And yet we need the teachers to be there to instruct the students. Personnel offices across the state are scrambling to hire qualified, certified teachers as more college graduates are choosing higher paying fields and the number of retirements in the school system is growing faster than we're able to replace them. The numbers of teachers in the Maryland system who are uncertified is worrisome. But to make sure our schools are manned with teachers, school systems throughout the state have no other choice but to hire uncertified teachers. And if we have uncertified teachers, we have no way of knowing how effective they will be teaching our students. That's a scary, but very real situation in our school system. The Maryland Teacher Scholarship Program goes a long way towards solving this problem.

So while we're trying to cut down on class size, we need enough teachers available to man these smaller classrooms. You can't have one without the other. That's why SB 131 and Sb 137 are interdependent on one another.

The Maryland Teacher Scholarship will be used for tuition and mandatory fees at any eligible institution in the state. An award may be renewed up t four times if the recipient is in a five-year program as established by the institution. The annual award is $1,000 for a student enrolled in a two-year institution and $3,000 for a student enrolled in a four-year institution.

Maryland Teacher Scholarship recipients must be residents of the state, must be accepted as a full-time undergraduate student or already enrolled in an undergraduate program that leads to a Maryland professional teacher's certificate. The Maryland Teacher Scholarship applicant must have a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3.0 (or B average) on a 4.0 scale in core curriculum courses.

Applicants than must sign a "service obligation" in which they submit a letter-of-intent indicating that they will teach full-time in Maryland as a certified teacher in public elementary or secondary schools. The scholarship recipient must then teach in Maryland for as many years as they received scholarship money. Recipients cannot hold any other scholarship awarded by the state Scholarship Administration except the Distinguished Scholar Award.

The Maryland HOPE Scholarship is another wonderful educational opportunity. The HOPE scholarships are earmarked for graduating students who pledge to work in Maryland after graduation from an eligible undergraduate institution. This will mean that we'll spend our money educating our students and won't see it leave the state. It's a good investment that we'll be making in our own students. The HOPE scholarships will begin being rewarded on October 1, 1999.

HOPE scholarship awards are $1,000 for a student enrolled at a two-year eligible institution and $3,000 for a student enrolled in a four-year institution. Additionally, HOPE scholarships may be used at eligible higher education institutions in Maryland or a hospital diploma school that trains registered nurses if approved by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

So, we came to Annapolis determined to do something about improving education in our state and keeping the students we educate in our institutions in Maryland. And we're doing just that. Yes, sometimes, the political process in Annapolis does work and I'm pleased I was able to do my share to make sure it worked for the betterment of our elementary, secondary and college-aged students.

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