By ESTHER NGUONLY, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Teachers are still overworked and underpaid, two Maryland educators told senators Thursday, despite various improvements in school programs and implementation of new classroom strategies.
Although policies initiated with the No Child Left Behind Act have helped Maryland schools focus attention on students who need it, more funding and better teacher training are necessary to continue improvements, they said.
The No Child Left Behind Act is a 2001 law designed to boost performance in primary and secondary education by emphasizing accountability through yearly progress reports, standardized testing and parent involvement.
Geometry teacher Alana Dale Turner of Easton High School in Easton and Principal Kimberly Johnson of Briggs Chaney Middle School in Silver Spring testified Thursday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the reauthorization of the act.
Data analysis has improved dramatically in their schools, both said, allowing educators to assess student performance and identify individuals and areas needing attention.
However, Turner said more money is needed to provide salary incentives for teachers to ensure quality instruction.
Teachers who achieve National Board Certification should get federally-funded compensation, said both Johnson and Turner.
However, to Turner's knowledge, no teachers at Easton High School are certified.
"There's not that much to draw them into the classroom anymore," she said. Turner works with a staff of about 80 in a 1,200-student school.
Johnson knows of three teachers pursuing certification in a staff of about 75 at Briggs Chaney Middle School.
"Teachers are overwhelmed," said Johnson. Class sizes are larger at her 934-student school, and teachers must already do a great deal of additional work outside of the classroom.
"They are doing after-school programs. They are doing Saturday-school programs. They are working to capacity at this point," she said.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., brought up the difficulty of identifying exceptional teachers from teachers with problems and asked how strategies could be changed to ensure that all teachers perform well.
Teachers must be better prepared for entering the classroom, Johnson said, especially since there is a huge disconnect between what teachers are taught in training and what they are asked to do in the classroom.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., discussed the challenge of meeting special education student needs.
While some special education students are taking general education classes, Johnson said, more support is needed to make sure those students are fully integrated into the school system.
Access to the Internet, special tutoring programs and computerized exercises have helped increase test scores for students.
In one case, those programs helped a special education student who had had trouble with math, but with the help of visual aids and practice programs on his laptop, was able to excel and move to more advanced geometry, said Turner.
All of Easton's 300 freshmen are given a laptop to use during the school year, with the goal that all students will have one by 2009.
However, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., called support for special education "one of the greatest unfunded mandates of all time."
Students with reading, math or speech deficits or any form of learning disability must be presented with the same rigorous curriculum as other students, Johnson said.
Turner agreed, but said that more money was needed to pay for additional special education teachers.
"It's all a big cycle."