- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

BALTIMORE (AP) Two groups examining education in Maryland are recommending that the state adopt a standard curriculum for all its schools.
The Maryland Visionary Panel for Better Schools proposed the idea Monday in a meeting attended by state school officials. The meeting included a report from Achieve Inc., a bipartisan national education reform group studying the state. Achieve is also organizing next week's National Education Summit in New York.
"It is clear that the state in some fashion or another needs to create a curriculum to be made available to every district," said Michael Cohen, a former assistant U.S. secretary of education and a member of the Maryland group.
The 40-member Maryland panel, appointed by Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, includes educators, business leaders, politicians, teachers and parents. Next year, it is scheduled to recommend a blueprint for statewide changes in schools over the next 10 years.
Matt Gandal, vice president of Achieve Inc., said a set of statewide standards would put Maryland at the forefront of national education reform.
"There have been some bold, dramatic actions taken in Maryland that other states have not been able to take," Mr. Gandal said. "This is not about state control, but about state responsibility."
Maryland currently uses learning benchmarks for certain grades, such as students recognizing and identifying all uppercase and lowercase letters by the time they leave the third grade.
Teachers, parents, principals and superintendents in local school districts have long fought to retain local authority over classroom instruction. But many who attended Monday's meeting said they favored the proposed change.
"Five years ago, you would have seen us fighting the idea of a state curriculum," said Kent County Superintendent Lorraine A. Costella.
Miss Costella, president of the state superintendents association, said the increasing role of standardized tests has led national education groups in that direction. "If we're all being judged by the same tests," she said, "then we need more consistency."Panel members and state education officials said a statewide curriculum would not be as detailed as Japan's nationwide standard, where teachers are required to use the same lesson plans. They said it likely would be flexible enough for teachers and school systems to use their own ideas.
The state group has appointed subcommittees to study issues such as testing, leadership, learning, teacher quality and the minority achievement gap.
A final recommendation for a statewide curriculum would require approval from the state school board. It could take as long as two or three years to develop, state officials said.
"This would be a big step for Maryland," Miss Grasmick said. "It shows how much this state has changed that so many people are welcoming of the idea."

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