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Published in Print: August 5, 1998, as Georgia, Maryland Beef Up Teacher Education Programs

Georgia, Maryland Beef Up Teacher Education Programs

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Students who graduate from teacher training programs in Georgia and Maryland will soon enter the classroom buoyed by more extensive coursework in reading and mathematics instruction.

Graduates of the 15 education programs at Georgia's state universities will also be backed by a guarantee from the university system.

Under a 10-principle plan to improve teacher preparation programs unanimously approved by the Georgia state regents last month, elementary education candidates will be required to complete an academic minor in both reading and math. Middle school teacher-candidates will need minor concentrations in language arts, math, science, and social studies, while aspiring high school teachers will have to complete additional requirements in each subject they expect to teach.

Beginning in the fall of 1999, all education majors will have to accumulate 15 to 18 credits in each subject to meet the new requirements.

"The bottom line is that our graduates must be better prepared to teach," Chancellor Stephen R. Portch of the Georgia university system said in a statement.

The system will guarantee that graduates at every level have sufficient knowledge of the subject matter they expect to teach and that they will be able to demonstrate effective teaching skills within their first two years in the classroom.

If they are unable to do so, the system will provide additional training. Ongoing professional development will also be offered for all classroom teachers.

Raising the Bar

The state education department, which has been working with the university system on an initiative to improve education from pre-kindergarten through college, endorsed the plan. But the new standards, which may lengthen the time for getting a degree, could also create new challenges, some observers say.

"A number of our members have been struggling and don't think they were prepared enough to deal with [classroom] issues," said Tim Callahan, a spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, an independent teachers' organization that approves of the plan. "We are setting the bar a little higher, and we may find ourselves with some shortages of educators in the pipeline. But that will be transitional."

Meanwhile, a Maryland reading task force proposed last month that all new teachers and those seeking recertification in that state take up to 12 semester hours in reading instruction. The state board approved the measure in an 11 to 1 vote last month.

Most education graduates now complete just one reading course, and some new teachers enter the classroom without any background in the subject. Three new courses will focus on reading, reading instruction, and instructional materials and strategies.

"State test results have been relatively mediocre," Ron Peiffer, the assistant state schools superintendent, said. "It is clear we need to make some changes."

Some union officials and teacher-educators oppose the new policy. While higher standards are needed, they say, mandating a specific number of courses will not guarantee teachers' improved performance in the classroom.

"The question is whether [requiring new courses] is the best way to make sure teachers have the skills they need to teach children to read," said Karl K. Pence, the president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, a National Education Association affiliate. "Teacher education departments have retooled their programs, and they feel that they've permeated these skills throughout in-service training."

Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 12

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