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June 29, 2007

Tutoring helping in Baltimore... maybe

Baltimore was one of nine urban school systems included in a federal study released this week that found that the tutoring for poor students is improving standardized test scores.

But is it helping here? We don't know.

As the Associated Press reported, the study did not say which of the systems were having success and which weren't. Two of the systems showed no change in test scores, and the results in another two were not used because of the small number of students being tutored.

The tutoring is mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. Under the law, schools serving a large number of poor students must offer free outside tutoring if they fail to meet academic benchmarks on state tests for three years in a row.

The study is online at

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:58 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB

Low grades for Maryland

The National Council on Teacher Quality released a report this week concluding that many policies in Maryland are counterproductive to the goal of improving teacher quality.

"While Maryland ranked in the middle of all states, its overall performance was still quite poor," said a press release from the group. The state earned one B grade, one C, two D's and two F's. The grading looked at states' policies on such topics as teacher licensing and compensation reform.

The report found that Maryland has "lax oversight of its education schools, doing little to ensure the quality of students going in and teachers coming out of these programs." It "neglects the preparation of special education teachers, failing to ensure that these teachers are prepared to teach students with disabilities." And it doesn't pay enough attention to what elementary school teachers know about specific subjects, such as American history.

On the bright side, the report found that Maryland offers a "reasonably good" option for people who want to switch careers to become educators, or to enter teaching without traditional certification.

Want to know more? The report is available online at

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:48 AM | | Comments (0)

Scholarship Success: Part II

Just read Sara Neufeld’s blog post about the recent scholarship success in Baltimore City. It got me wondering about the success in other school systems. In addition, I want to know the keys to scholarship success.
 Are you a student who has recently received a large sum of scholarship money? Do you have any tips for rising seniors? Are their special Web sites to search? Did you have a special guidance counselor who steered you in the right direction?
 I can’t wait to read about the keys to your success!
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:42 AM | | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

Uniforms gaining traction

Will polo shirts and khakis be the mandatory fashion in Harford County schools soon?  Students may cringe at the idea, but uniforms are gaining support from key county officials.  Harford County Sheriff L. Jesse Bane suggested that mandatory uniforms could cut back on gang-related paraphernalia in schools.  Incoming Harford County school board president, Thomas Fidler, said he likes the idea of uniforms as an equalizer for different socio-economic groups.  In the the board's five-year strategic plan for Harford County Public Schools, members said that they want to explore the possibility of uniforms.

Posted by Madison Park at 12:37 PM | | Comments (0)

KIPP stays open -- but amid uncertainty

We ran a story today about the board of KIPP Harbor Academy in Edgewater deciding to keep the school open. The decision was a surprising reversal that came just a week after the school's leaders sent parents home with a letter announcing it would close immediately because it couldn't find a new space to hold its growing enrollment.

First, I'm interested in getting in reaction to that turnaround. With 10 of the school's 12 teachers ready to take jobs elsewhere, the school's principal Jallon Brown has a tough summer ahead with recruiting staff. She also has to recruit a new fifth-grade class. I wonder, has the tumult of the last week made people think twice about sending their children to KIPP? Your thoughts?  

I've also gotten some calls and e-mails from parents and observers at the meeting who say the board appeared unprepared and waffled on whether to close or leave it open as they heard nearly two hours of emotional testimony. One observer told me, "we didn't know what was going to happen from one moment to the next, and the board didn't seem to know either." What I'm wondering is: how much of KIPP Harbor Academy's closing has to do with facilities trouble -- and how much has to do with inexperience of a brand new principal and a board of directors, some of whom are leading a charter school for the first time? Can you provide some insight and context? What do you think fueled the turmoil at KIPP Harbor Academy? Write to me at or call 443-482-3402 -- we're hoping to follow the story.  

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 12:34 PM | | Comments (0)

Scholarship success

The Baltimore school system reports that its seniors in the class of 2007 received a record amount of scholarships, financial aid and loans for postsecondary education: $74 million, up from $46 million for the class of 2006. Officials estimate that 1,400 graduating seniors received some sort of financial aid.

The bulk of the awards went to students at the city's elite magnet high schools: $32 million alone to kids from Polytechnic Institute, plus $13 million to girls at Western High and $11 million to grads of City College. (Never wanting to be second -- or third, as the case may be -- to Poly, City Principal Timothy Dawson emphasized that more money has come in since the $11 million was reported.)

Other high schools in the city's top 10 for financial awards are Dunbar ($3.5 million), Mergenthaler ($2.6 million), Patterson ($2.4 million), Edmondson ($1.2 million), School for the Arts ($802,820), Carver ($753,000) and the alternative school Harbor City ($617,400). Frederick Douglass came in at No. 11, with $602,970.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 26, 2007

Educator Spotlight: Natalie Woodson

Educator Spotlight

Natalie Woodson

Education chair for the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  

The 79-year-old Columbia resident has been an advocate for African-American children for more than four decades.

Woodson worked in the Baltimore City Schools for 28 years as a teacher and administrator.
After her retirement in 1988, she continued to volunteer in the Cherry Hill community, where she served as principal at Patapsco Elementary School for 11 years.

In 1990 she launched Education Advocates for African Americans, an advocacy organization in which members accompanied African-American parents in Howard County to teacher conferences and meetings about individual education plans.

She  currently works with the Black Student Achievement Program, a Howard County school system initiative. She is also an active member of the Black Student Achievement Council of Elders, an organization of African-American senior citizens who volunteer and work as mentors for African-American students. 

In 2000, Woodson completed the first NAACP Education Report Card, a comprehensive look at attendance, graduation rate, drop-out rate, suspensions and assessment scores for African-American students. The three-month preparation process requires Woodson to collect hard copies of school system data - she doesn't trust the accuracy of computerized data - and analyze the information by hand. She then grades school systems using the data.

This year Woodson completed the laborious report card task despite receiving chemotherapy for an inoperable tumor that doctors discovered in September. 
For more information about Woodson, read a profile about her in Sunday’s Ideas section of the Sun.
Below are comments about Woodson from former colleagues. 
Loretta Wainwright, a retired Patapsco Elementary School teacher who worked with Woodson for 15 years, said: “With her, the children are number one. With them being primary, she possesses the power of nice. She considers staff and faculty and involves them in decision making. She makes everybody feel important. She’s just dynamic. She runs so many different programs. She keeps things going. She doesn’t let anything get stagnant. She’s just wonderful. The children and the teachers all respect and love her. I’ve been in the education field more than 30 years and she’s the most dynamic principal I’ve ever had.”  

Martha Dailey, a retired Patapsco Elementary School teacher who worked with Woodson for 10 years, said: “She was very, very strong and persistent with what she did with parents, staff, and the children. She was knowledgeable about every grade in that school. Nothing was too good for her to do when it came down to demonstrating what needed to be done. She did not mind subbing in the classroom when there was not a teacher or a substitute.”

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:40 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Howard County

June 21, 2007

Anne Arundel charter school closes...

The Sun reported today that the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, Harbor Academy, which had 120 fifth- and sixth-graders inside Sojourner-Douglass College in Edgewater, notified parents last night that it was closing. 
 Are you a parent at the school? If so, can you share your thoughts on the recent announcement?
 For the remainder of the education world, do you think that charter schools work? Do you think that charter schools are necessary? Can you share some examples of successful charter schools in the state of Maryland or surrounding areas?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Charter Schools

Time for change?

In Gina Davis' story today about the seeming lull that prevails during the last days of school, one parent offers some suggestions for increasing their productivity (and purpose), including community service or possible career days for students.

What do you think?  How would you like to see your children spend their last days of school?  Or should we let sleeping dogs lie?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:28 PM | | Comments (1)

More Money!?!? Are you serious!?!?

Just read Brent Jones’ story about a meeting between Baltimore school officials and City Council members. At yesterday’s meeting school officials confirmed that shoddy repair work was done at 40 schools; then they asked for $25 million from the city’s surplus to help pay for repairs and renovations.
Why give additional money when other projects had so many problems? And what assurances will school officials make in order to guarantee that these mistakes don’t happen again?
 Surely you – my fellow education readers – have an opinion on this issue. Drop me a few comments.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 19, 2007

Taking fight for a new school to the masses

Perry Hall advocates recently launched a Web site to bolster their effort to encourage the Baltimore County school system to build a high school in their area, its creators have announced.

The Web site,, is part of the Perry Hall Improvement Associations drive to relieve crowding at Loch Raven, Overlea, Perry Hall, and Towson high schools.

The site includes a myths and facts section, news articles on crowded conditions at area schools and information on supporting the association.

Parents and local school advocates have pressed for construction of schools to alleviate crowding. Vincent Farm Elementary School is expected to open in the White Marsh area in time for the 2008-2009 school year.

Posted by Gina Davis at 2:30 PM | | Comments (0)

June 18, 2007

Leaving A Legacy

Sunday, the paper ran a profile I wrote about Tom Brezinski, a media specialist at Clemens Crossing Elementary in Columbia. 
 Brzezinski, who was one of the first media specialists hired in Howard County, will retire at the end of this school year after working in Howard County for the past 42 years.
 “Mr. B”, as he is affectionately called, has made his mark by offering unique programs at the school such as showing after-school movies at the school and attracting popular children’s book authors to the school. 
 Do you know a retiring educator in your school system whom will be greatly missed?
 I want to know about these great educators. Drop me a line and tell me why this departing educator is so great.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Educator Spotlight: Clare Grizzard

Educator Spotlight
Clare Grizzard
Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore

Grizzard has been an arts integration specialist at Roland Park Elementary since 2005, working to integrate arts into all aspects of the curriculum. Previously, she worked as an art teacher at the school from 1998 to 2005. She is one of 23 educators in the nation who were recently named MetLife Foundation Ambassadors in Education for their efforts to bridge gaps between schools and the parents, businesses and organizations that make up the surrounding community. Grizzard lives in Baltimore County with her husband, Thom, a writer. She has four children, all of them artists. On the side, she works as a consultant and teacher for the National Gallery of Art. In 2005, she was named Maryland State Elementary Art Educator of the Year.
Below are excerpts from her award nomination letters.

From Joan Weber, executive director, Baltimore Partners for Enhanced Learning: "I have watched as Clare has worked tirelessly for Roland Park Elementary/Middle School to bring arts and cultural programs into the school from organizations in Baltimore City. As an artist, teacher and arts integration specialist, she understands deeply the value of incorporating the arts into the daily learning environment of students. As important, she understands the value of bringing art and cultural programming in from the Baltimore vibrant arts and culture community. She has forged partnerships with groups as varied as the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Peabody Institute of Music and Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, each contributing to the strong academic standards of this Blue Ribbon school.... You merely have to walk the halls of the building to understand what she means. Every single hallway is filled with works of arts; students proudly display their work at all levels of their process. There are murals on the walls that have been created through the efforts of community artists, parents and joint projects with students. The building invites you in to witness an environment that allows students to explore and create. Visitors know that the students' work is valued or it wouldn't be displayed so prominently. It gives the students a sense of importance."
From Mariale Hardiman, assistant dean of urban school partnerships at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, former Roland Park principal: "With many schools across the nation narrowing the curriculum to focus on meeting high-stakes accountability standards, the work of Ms. Grizzard provides a viable example of merging high academic outcomes with the enrichment that comes from support from the arts and cultural community."
From Roland Park's current principal, Carolyn Cole: "Our school is firmly committed to integrating the arts. Clare's work represents that: we are the first school in the city to have a faculty position dedicated solely to this mission. Ms. Grizzard has made the arts and community involvement part of who we are and what we do. She has built a Study Center that includes a reference library, teaching materials, and resources for using the arts across the curriculum.... As a direct result of Clare's work, Roland Park is a beautiful place in which to learn. Our halls communicate a sense of celebration, presenting finished student work, works in progress, murals, and themed work from
many disciplines. This clear display of pride is why we are often asked to host visitors from around the country and the world, including Fulbright scholars, government representatives, research institutions and the media."
-- Sara Neufeld
Posted by Howard Libit at 5:30 AM | | Comments (0)

June 15, 2007

Sun Exclusive: Maryland Report Cards

Looking for high-performing schools? Want to see how your children's schools stack up?

The Sun's exclusive Maryland Report Cards can help.

These comprehensive, downloadable reports provide the most useful look ever at Maryland State Assessment scores, all in easy-to-read tables. The reports include reading and math test results for every elementary and middle school in Maryland, plus a yearly progress indicator. They also introduce The Sun's own composite score, a single number that summarizes each school's academic performance.

To get your copies of the Sun Report Cards, visit

-- John-John Williams IV

Posted by Anica Butler at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

June 14, 2007

Assessment test testimonials

Yesterday, the Maryland Department of Education released results of the the Maryland State Assessments, or the MSAs.
 Were you surprised by the scores recorded in your county/ child’s school?
 Are you a teacher who is a disappointed with the test scores at your school?
 Are you part of a school that has experienced extreme growth this year? What was your secret to success?
  Do you think that too much emphasis has been placed on assessment scores?
 We want to hear from you!!!!
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:35 PM | | Comments (0)

What would you do?

It’s a daunting task but someone has to do it.
 Andres Alonso, the No. 2 school official in New York City, was named the chief executive officer of the Baltimore school system yesterday.
  Michelle Rhee, Chief Executive Officer and President of The New Teacher Project, a national non-profit organization based in New York City, accepted the nomination of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty to become Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools on Tuesday.
  Both school systems have had their fair share of problems with student achievement, violence, and deteriorating facilities.
 What advice would you give these newly appointed leaders? If you were in their shoes, what would you do to improve these school systems?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:34 PM | | Comments (1)

Baltimore County Muslims: Calendar decision is nothing to celebrate

Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, issued a scathing press release this morning that criticizes the Baltimore County school board decision to approve a 2008-2009 calendar that doesn’t include closing schools for Muslim holidays.

"ADC Baltimore calls on the superintendent, Dr. Joe Hairston and the board, to reverse their racial and religious profiling of Muslim students and teachers. We call on them to treat Muslim and other religious groups equally and without discrimination. ADC Baltimore chapter regrets the decision of the Baltimore County public schools board of education to discriminate against Muslim Americans," Pharoan writes in the press release. "The issue is not about celebrating religious holidays per se. The issue is about equal treatment of all County tax-paying residents. ADC Baltimore chapter will continue its efforts for inclusion and equality in the school system."

Pharoan has pressed for years to persuade Baltimore County school officials to close schools for Islamic observances — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha — as they do for the Jewish observances of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and the Christian holidays of Christmas and Good Friday.

The county school board and school officials have been steadfast in their position that the law bars them from closing schools solely for religious purposes. State law requires that schools be closed from Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, and the Friday before and Monday after Easter to avoid widespread absenteeism. Baltimore County schools have closed for the Jewish observances of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since 1995.

Pharoan’s press release makes it clear that he is not prepared to give up a fight he began waging about a decade ago.

Click on the link below to read the full press release.

ADC Baltimore chapter regrets the decision of the Baltimore County public schools board of education to discriminate against Muslim Americans

Baltimore County, Maryland.

The Board of Education voted on Tuesday 6/12/2007, unanimously to exclude the two Islamic holidays from the school calendar 2008-2009. It is troubling that the board of education failed again to debate the issue in its open session. There was no discussion to rationale of the exclusion of Muslim holidays or the rationale to approve the closure on the two Jewish holidays without objective data.

The president of the board of education, Donald Arnold, departed from long-standing board of education practice of not commenting or answering public speakers questions or demands at the same meeting. He claimed that the calendar committee for 2008-2009 did not vote on or unanimously agree to include one Muslim holiday as school closing day.

The president of the board statement troubles ADC Baltimore because his assertion was not factual. Thus, the board president is covering up the facts. The calendar committee did agree without any objection of any member present, in its third and last meeting on 3/19/2007, to recommend to the superintendent the addition of the Islamic holiday as school closing day, based on the secular reason of equal treatment with the Jewish holidays. It is a fact that the committee chair, Ms. Kara Calder, instructed the committee not to keep minutes, thus proving the intent to hide or manipulate the discussions and the outcome of that committee, if it did not agree with the superintendent. Board president, Donald Arnold, should have explained why the school system is granting most favorite status to one minority, by closing the public schools on that minority religion holidays, without objective data, and continue to deny all other minorities of equal treatment. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, have as much rights for equal treatment as any minority in the County. The board of education thus is violating both state and federal laws barring school closure on religious holidays without a secular purpose. The school system cannot at its whim just declare one minority has a secular purpose without data and exclude all other minorities from equal treatment. The board of education thus is practicing discrimination based on religious beliefs or ethnic affiliation.

ADC Baltimore calls on the superintendent, Dr. Joe Hairston and the board, to reverse their racial and religious profiling of Muslim students and teachers. We call on them to treat Muslim and other religious groups equally and without discrimination. Furthermore, the school system must recruit diverse teacher population so it reflects the demographic composition of the County. The school system has shown lack of interest in recruitment of Arab or Muslim American teachers for the past four years.

The issue is not about celebrating religious holidays per se. The issue is about equal treatment of all County tax-paying residents. ADC Baltimore chapter will continue its efforts for inclusion and equality in the school system.

Bash Pharoan MD

ADC Baltimore chapter President

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)

June 13, 2007

Something in NYC's water?

What’s going on in New York City education?
 First, Michelle Rhee, Chief Executive Officer and President of The New Teacher Project, a national non-profit organization based in New York City, accepted the nomination of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty to become Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. 
 Second, I stumbled upon this story in the New York Post about increases in math test scores among minority students.
 And most recently, Andres Alonso, the No. 2 school official in New York City, was named the next chief executive officer of the Baltimore school system this afternoon.
  Clearly something is going right in the Big Apple, and educators in Charm City and the Nation’s Capital have taken notice.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 4:41 PM | | Comments (0)

You Grade Your School System

  This week, thousands of students, and staff from public schools across the state learned the results of the Maryland State Assessments, or the MSAs.
 Student results are recorded on a scale of basic, proficent, and advanced.
 Using the same scale, how do you assess your school system? Assess your school system using these three categories: quality of teachers, curriculum/activity offerings, and facility conditions. 
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:45 PM | | Comments (0)

New city schools CEO

Let us know your thoughts on the selection of Andres Alonso, the No. 2 official in New York City schools, as the next CEO of the Baltimore school system. Alonso will be named CEO at a 3 p.m. press conference today. Read about Alonso's selection here.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:45 PM | | Comments (6)

June 12, 2007

Candid Presidential Candidate Talk!!!

 Want to know what the 2008 presidential candidates have to say about education-related issues?
 In the coming months we will post transcripts from one-on-one interviews between The Education Writers Association (EWA) and the candidates.
 The EWA Election '08 Interview Series, which was announced just minutes ago, will be hosted by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The one-on-ones will feature a panel of EWA journalist members asking questions of the candidates, according to the organization. (We’ve been assured that the EWA will have complete editorial control of the interviews, which basically means that any question is fair game!)
 The EWA, a non-profit organization represents more than 900 education reporters, editors and education communicators from around the country, includes staff from The Sun.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:02 PM | | Comments (0)

Should Baltimore follow D.C.'s lead?

Michelle Rhee, a former public school teacher in Baltimore, has accepted the nomination of Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty to become Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
 Rhee will step down as Chief Executive Officer and President of The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the number of public school teachers and to creating new programs that impact student achievement.
Since 1997, the organization has launched 40 programs in 23 states and recruited, prepared or hired approximately 23,000 new, high-quality teachers for school districts nationwide, according to the organization.

Rhee taught in Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore City from 1992-1995. At that time the school was one of the lowest-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City. Over a two-year period, Rhee helped to increase students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher, according to her resume. 

 Should Baltimore follow in D.C.’s footsteps and hire someone from the non-profit sector as its school’s leader?   A new Baltimore schools CEO is expected to be named any day now.....

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)

After the SAT coach, the SAT shrink

On June 21, a big chunk of the 2.2 million students who take the SAT every year, will be receiving their test scores. In anticipation, New York neuropsychologist and college admissions coach Jacqueline LoBosco is taking "emergency calls," she recently announced this week in an email touting "7 Easy Tips to Help Kids Handle their SAT Results!"

Among LoBosco's advice for parents whose kids get lower-than-hoped-for scores: "Create a safe space for your child to communicate his or her feelings" and "Congratulate your child for taking the test!" 

While the notion of post-SAT therapy may strike some as evidence of an over-coddled, over-coached generation of families who place too much currency in admission to elite colleges, it's no joke, says Steven Roy Goodman, a private admissions coach who practices in Towson and Washington.

"The admissions process as a whole causes an incredible amount of stress in living rooms across America," Goodman said. "And tests are a component of that."

Goodman, who co-wrote his coming book College Admissions Together: It Takes a Family, with a psychologist, says he refers about 5 to 10 of his clients every year to professional counseling.   

A few years ago, Goodman was working with a student whose father, a Harvard University graduate, couldn't conceive of his daughter enrolling anywhere else, though she was a mediocre student with little chance of admission.  

"She was a mess," Goodman said of the daughter. "The family was paralyzed. The mother thought the father was putting too much pressure on the daughter and it became clear to that I needed to refer this to a psychologist to help them overcome this impasse."

Goodman doesn't think SAT results or the college-admissions process causes psychological trauma so much as brings to the surface underlying issues that already exist. "Normally the stress associated with the college-admission process is a metpahor for broader issue that are affecting the child and the family," he said.

Know of anyone in (or contemplating) counseling for a college-prep crisis? Drop me a line at and let's talk about it.


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Master plan meeting

The city school system will host a meeting Thursday for interested parents, students, educators and community members to discuss the system’s plan to improve academic achievement.

All school systems in Maryland are required to have a comprehensive master plan to guide academic reform. Officials said the purpose of Thursday’s meeting is to engage the community in discussion about how to improve Baltimore’s plan for the upcoming years.

The meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the first-floor board room at school system headquarters, 200 E. North Ave.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:53 AM | | Comments (0)

Carpooling to the extreme

When a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver didn't show up to work yesterday, about 35 students at Winston Middle in Baltimore were left without a ride to school. But according to city school system officials, one kind-hearted father singlehandedly shuttled 21 of them. The last of the kids got to school at 9:15, two hours after arriving at the bus stop and just in time to catch another bus to the Maryland Science Center, where they were headed for a year-end field trip. For Donna Lyons, a Winston parent who spent the morning on the phone complaining to the school system and supervising while a neighbor piled the kids in his car, summer vacation can't come soon enough. After dropping her daughter off at the bus stop, Lyons said, "I usually come in the house and take a shower and get dressed. This morning I was running around like I was working a professional job."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 11, 2007

"O Say, Can You See ..."

Proving they are not among the two out of three Americans who don’t know the words to the National Anthem, students from Baltimore County’s Perry Hall Middle School will join about 50 schools from across the nation this week to celebrate Flag Day in Washington, D.C.

The folks at the National Association for Music Education launched the National Anthem Project in 2005 to teach more Americans the words to "The Star Spangled-Banner" and to underscore the importance of music education.

Perry Hall Middle is the only Maryland school that will perform this week as part of the project’s culminating festivities, which run Thursday through Saturday, according to a spokeswoman for the National Anthem Project.

The activities are set to begin Thursday when thousands of students, teachers and music supporters are scheduled to perform at 2 p.m. with the U.S. Marine Band at the Sylvan Theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument. On Friday, the school choirs will sing at monuments, memorials and other spots around the District. The Drum Corps International will wrap up the celebration with a performance at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Posted by Gina Davis at 5:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 8, 2007

Can you hear me now?

Reader Nancy Ostrow, who also happens to be an officer with the PTA Council of Baltimore County, called this morning to give me an earful about today's story about plans to erect a cell phone tower at Randallstown High School.

Nancy --- who stressed that she was speaking to me as a concerned citizen and not as an officer of the PTA group --- said she's happy to see that elected officials and local leaders are finally speaking up about the issue. But she wonders how they can possibly say they had no idea about the plans that first came to light about 3 years ago when T-Mobile was granted permission to conduct feasibility tests at the high school on Offutt Road.

"My hopes would be that my elected officials are more informed than I am," she said. "Even if you weren't there when the school board approved the feasibility study, or when it tabled discussion of the plan until it could get more information, or when it voted to approve the contract, or you didn't see the 2-foot-by-4-foot masonite sign on a steel pole at the school. Let's say you missed all of that, what about the articles and the zoning board notices in the local community paper? These elected officials have staffs, and you'd think they'd have someone screening the papers for anything relevant to their districts."

She also wondered how local advocates missed the issue when minutes from at least one school board meeting (Aug. 10, 2004 --- when board members discussed the cell phone tower issue) indicate that the head of the Liberty Road Community Council was in attendance and spoke on an unrelated issue.

Nancy may never get an answer that satisfies her to the question "who knew what when?," but, at the least, she raises an intriguing question.

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

And the winners are...

Carroll County Delegate Tanya Shewell just announced more than 50 county students who received college scholarships for the 2007-2008 academic year.

Considered criteria included "students' financial need, academic record, self-help/work, community involvement, and extracurricular activities," according to a press release from Shewell's office.  Shewell appointed a scholarship committee to make the selections.

Congratulations to the winners:

Brian Arndts, Mt. St. Mary’s College

Tiffany Braman, McDaniel College

Adam Brodowski, Savannah College of Art & Design

Bethany Bromwell, UMBC

Zachary Bromwell, Loyola College

Stephen Carnaggio, Villa Julie College

Jeffrey Corron, Jr., UMD, College Park

Benjamin Cowman, McDaniel College

Richard Dahlberg, Towson University

Sarah Dansberger, Maryland Institute College of Art

Robert DeBaufre, McDaniel College

Jamison Douglas, Salisbury University

Bilal Durrani, UMBC

James Dyson, McDaniel College

Brittany Eyler, McDaniel College

Austin Fogarty, Carroll Community College

Allen Gehret, UMD, College Park

Jacob Geiman, UMBC

Susan Gordon, McDaniel College

Christie Henderson, Villa Julie College

Alyssa Henn, Salisbury University

Kimberly Henn, Salisbury University

Brandi Hensley, UMBC

Casey Hively, Carroll Community College

Bradley Hood, UMD, College Park

Kelly Inglis, Salisbury University

David Johansson, Towson University

Whitney Kiler, McDaniel College

Zachary Koch, McDaniel College

Matthew Laumann, Towson University

Irina Levina, UMBC

Travis Love, Towson University

Norili Maldonado, University of Baltimore

Thomas Martz, Towson University

Jennifer Matthews, UMBC

Kenneth McHugh, McDaniel College

Natasha Morrison, Bloomsburg University

Cailin Nealon, Maryland Institute College of Art

Andrew Newton, UMD, College Park

Sarah Newton, Salisbury University

Cori O’Donnell, Villa Julie College

Joseph Ottomano, McDaniel College

Justen Peeling, Mt. St. Mary’s College

Jessica Petela, Mt. St. Mary’s College

Bradford Portney, Frostburg State University

James Ridgely, McDaniel College

Caitlin Sirman, Salisbury University

Thaddeus Siwinski, III, UMD, College Park

Jason Smith, UMBC

Kevin Teal, Salisbury University

Ellen Townsend, Carroll Community College

Nicolette Wentz, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Kelly Wunder, McDaniel College

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:17 PM | | Comments (0)

June 7, 2007

Freshly Squeezed: Thursday's Sun education offerings

That Sara Neufeld is at it again! Check out the follow-up to her exclusive story about the shoddy work on numerous construction and renovation projects in Baltimore City Schools. Now, Mayor Sheila Dixon has ordered an audit of the Baltimore City school system's construction and renovation program.

Speaking of problematic school facilities, check out this story about asbestoes being found in the recreation center at Violetville Elementary School.

What are the conditions like in your school system? What are your suggestions to properly maintain existing facilities? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Diploma update

An Illinois school system has backed down and has awarded diplomas to five students who were punished for their family's/friend's behavior during graduation. Sounds like it was the right thing for the school system to do. With that said, I know that graduation is a big deal, but come on... I've witnessed parents scream and holler during moving up ceremonies at the elementary school level. Give me a break. It's not like that child has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize or something. Friends and families, less is more in most cases. Excess cheering lengthens the ceremonies and can sometimes embarrass the children. A simple, respectful clap is much more appropriate than the large disruptions I've witnessed. Enough about my rant. I want to know what you think?  
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

Rising Test Scores

  A new report out this week from the well regarded Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C,. is likely to be used by both sides in the wars over testing to prove their point of view.

   CEP, which is a non-partison education group that has been following No Child Left Behind Act, analysed test data from all 50 states since the law was enacted in 2002.

   Student achievement in reading and math has increased particularly in the elementary grades, since the federal law was passed, the report says. However, the report draws no judgements about whether the increases are the result of NCLB. Other factors, including increased learning, more lenient tests and changes in who is tested, may be responsible for the increases, CEP says.

 But that didn't stop the U.S. Department of Education from claiming a victory. Here is a quote from the department's press release:  "The study confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation's schools and students," said U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "We know the law is working, now it is time to reauthorize NCLB."

 The data on Maryland shows gains over the period, as has been reported every year by the Maryland Department of Education.

   To see a copy of the report go to For press reports on the report, go to,1,6441138.story, the Los Angeles Times story on the subject.

    If you are interested in the next round of test score releases in Maryland, they are coming in the month of June. These are tests given last March to students in grades 3 through 8.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB

June 6, 2007

Freshly squeezed: Wednesday's Sun education offerings

In today's paper I wrote about continuing problems at Howard High School in Howard County, and in brighter news I wrote a small profile on Murray Simon, an 81-year-old trail-blazing advocate for Hispanic education in Howard County. Murray is a great guy who has led efforts to close the achievement gap.

Also, check out an exclusive by Sara Neufeld; and story by Gadi Dechter about slipping graduation rates among African Americans in the University of Maryland system.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)

More reaction about "Grow Your Own" scholarship program

Blogger Matt Johnston ("Going to the Mat"), who regularly blogs about education issues, spotted The Sun's story about Baltimore County's scholarship program and he says that while the program is a good idea, it may not be going far enough to meet the need.

Here's an excerpt of what Johnston had to say on his blog yesterday:

"The idea has some real benefits, but the size of the program is not going to do much to help the school system overcome its teacher shortage. The program is budgted to fund 60 students, 15 in each of the four years of college. For a district that has an estimated 900 teaching positions open for next year, this program will fill 15 slots a year when fully implemented, or just 2 percent of the need assuming the need remains constant, which it won't as the baby boomer generation of teachers retire.

Baltimore County officials have said they see the program --- which is designed to encourage county graduates to pursue teaching careers and return to the system to teach in some of its neediest schools --- as one of multiple efforts it is using to recruit and retain teachers.

Blogger Matt Johnston concludes:

 "However, as programs to recruit teacher go, this is a good step. The students themselves have avoided the stress of finding a first job after school and the county is getting some fresh ideas flowing for recruiting teachers. However, the program needs to get larger and the students receiving the scholarship need to win more money and be encouraged to attend the state's more rigorous schools, such as UMCP or Johns Hopkins."

If you're interested enough in education issues to visit this blog, you probably have a few opinions of your own about whether school administrators are doing enough to ensure they have a steady supply of qualified teachers. If you were in charge, what would you do?

Share your thoughts and ideas by submitting a comment to this post.

Read more of Johnston's post ...  

But here is another limitation:
Under the program, students will receive $4,000 annually. The agreement requires them to teach one year in the county for each scholarship year or pay back the money.

Scholarship recipients must maintain Maryland residency, be enrolled full time in an approved teacher education program at a Maryland college, and commit to teach in a "critical need subject area" at a school with a high rate of children from lower-income families.

"So often students don't look to education as an option for a career," said Cheryl Brooks, a specialist in the school system's equity and assurance office who oversees the district's Future Educators Association. "We're trying to move toward a culture of cultivating educators. So many students deem higher-paying jobs as more rewarding. But education is one of the most rewarding ways to make a living."

The scholarship, at $4,000 per year, is not insubstantial, but it does not cover even all the tuition at the schools the three students profiled will attend. Once student will attend Frostburg State University, where tuitiion for in-state students in 2008 will be $5,000, with an addtional $1,550 in fees. These totals are irrespective of room and board, which at Frostburg is estimated between $6,000 and $7,600 depending upon dorm and meal packages. In return the state gets one year of service for each year of scholarship the student uses.

Further, none of the students profiled or mentioned in the article will attend the state's flagship campus, the University of Maryland, College Park, where the academic standards and admissions standards are tougher.

However, as programs to recruit teacher go, this is a good step. The students themselves have avoided the stress of finding a first job after school and the county is getting some fresh ideas flowing for recruiting teachers. However, the program needs to get larger and the students receiving the scholarship need to win more money and be encouraged to attend the state's more rigorous schools, such as UMCP or Johns Hopkins."

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Keep it quiet!!!!!

How loud did the cheering get at your graduation? Check out this story in the Chicago Tribune. The punishment seems a bit excessive if you ask me. It also seems that there are some other issues brewing at that school. But enough about what I think. I want to know what you think about this story. Should these students be punished because their relatives and friends decided to celebrate? Does your school system have rules that govern cheering during graduation? Drop me a comment on the blog.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

School building troubles

In today's Sun, I report that state inspectors found school system employees falsely certifying that they had made building repairs that in fact they had not done. In addition, confidential state documents I obtained show shoddy work on multiple school renovation projects. You can read the story here

The school system's chief operating officer, Keith Scroggins, says resolving the situation has been his top priority since he learned of the state inspectors' findings just over a month ago. State officials have high praise for his response, but they say he has an enormous job trying to change the culture in an institution long beset by a lack of accountability. Share your thoughts with us here about how such change can happen.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:51 AM | | Comments (3)

June 5, 2007

A sign of things to come?

I came across a job posting for a high-ranking position in the Baltimore County school system that suggests interesting changes may be underfoot as the system tackles recommendations from an independent audit that earlier this year found deficiencies in the district's strategies for educating children.

The job posting --- seen on, a national education website --- advertises an opening for an assistant superintendent to oversee the school system's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) office. Some people have been speculating that H.B. Lantz, the system's current assistant superintendent of STEM, would be retiring at the end of this school year in part to make way for wide-sweeping changes in the Curriculum and Instruction department. That department, which includes STEM, was the focus of the independent audit.

The posting reads:

Baltimore County Public Schools
Baltimore County, Maryland

Baltimore County Public Schools is a progressive system of 165 schools and 108,000 students. The system has developed nationally recognized curricula, boasts a rich diversity in its student and teaching population, and continues to initiate innovative programs in both teaching and support services.

The system seeks energetic and visionary candidates for both teaching and administrative leadership positions. The successful candidates will have appropriate certification, demonstrative skills, experience and a knowledge base appropriate to each position.

Baltimore County Public Schools is seeking applicants
for the following position:

Assistant Superintendent of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)
Salary - $134,840

Application materials are available online at website: or by contacting the Office of Personnel Staffing at 1-800-TEACH-BC or (410) 887-4191.

Deadline: June 19, 2007
An Equal Opportunity Employer

Check out The Sun's coverage about the audit:

Schools stymied, audit shows
Baltimore Co. education board, teacher training pinpointed as areas in need of improvement
March 13, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis  
     A lack of oversight and teacher training have undermined academic progress in Baltimore County schools and perpetuated a minority achievement gap that could take 50 years to close, according to an independent review that found a breakdown between what children need to learn and what is being taught. 
    In an unprecedented, in-depth examination, the audit found that teachers are inundated with new programs but little direction, and many schools are in disrepair. It also found that "no one is `in control'" of curriculum management - a critical function that includes determining what will be taught and when, ensuring that teachers have the necessary training and tools and measuring whether programs are working before trying something new."They're not giving teachers the right curriculum and professional development," Fenwick English, a lead auditor from Phi Delta Kappa International, an Indiana-based education advocacy group that recently reviewed the system's curriculum and instruction department, said yesterday. 
    The audit, a 423-page document that includes more than two dozen major conclusions, is set to be publicly released at tonight's school board meeting.
    As an example of the lack of teacher training, the audit points out that although the district's technology plan meets state standards, many teachers aren't comfortable integrating computers into their instruction. Auditors said they visited more than 1,000 classrooms that housed about 6,000 computers, but found that only 24 percent of the computers were being used.
    While the audit credits schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston for establishing an overarching plan for academic progress, it chided the school board for obsolete and outdated policies - nearly half of which are more than 25 years old - that do little to help shape the educational priorities for the third largest school system in the state and one of the 25 largest in the nation. 
    English said the system is doing as well as it is in large part because of Hairston's planning guide, called "Blueprint for Progress," but that it is the school board's legal responsibility to set policy so that the district's future doesn't rest upon one person's vision and plan.
    "People come and go," said English, who has overseen about 60 curriculum audits since 1979. "The board's policies are the only thing that sticks. It's the only way you can hold your administration accountable."
    Donald L. Arnold, the school board's president, said the board began reviewing its policies a few years ago with the goal of updating ones worth keeping and eliminating ineffective ones. The board's plan is that all policies will be reviewed at least every five years, he said. 
     He said the audit confirmed many of his suspicions. 
    "Although there are a lot of things we had a general concept about, this gives us proof," he said. "This was a total check-up of the system to help us make sure we're making the best use of our resources, both dollars and people." 
    Hairston said he plans to follow the team's advice and has already taken the report's recommendation that the district hire a chief academic officer. 
    About two weeks ago, he named Sonia Diaz, who most recently was superintendent of New Mexico's second-largest school district, to the position of associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction. 
    "We're not a bad school system, but we need to improve," Hairston said. "We put ourselves under the microscope because we want to do a better job in preparing our youngsters for the future." 
    The county school board last summer approved a $245,000 contract to Phi Delta Kappa. The nonprofit organization has reviewed curriculum management in school systems across the country and abroad for nearly three decades. 
    The executive summary of its report on Baltimore County schools is expected to be available online at after tonight's board meeting. 
    With about 106,000 students, the county's schools are spread across rural, suburban and urban communities. State test results show a range of student performance, with some schools internationally known for high performance and others struggling to meet state standards. 
    For example, results from the 2006 High School Assessment in English showed that 58 percent of the county's students passed the exam, which is one of four tests that students starting with the Class of 2009 must pass to graduate. School-to-school comparisons showed disparities that ranged from 88 percent of Eastern Technical High School's students passing to only 35.5 percent of Woodlawn High School's students passing. 
    And while the achievement gap - the difference between how whites and minorities perform on the state tests - is narrowing, school officials continue to grapple with ways to eradicate it. In its analysis, the audit team estimated it could take 64 years to eliminate the nearly 20-point percentage gap in reading scores between white and black sixth-grade students. 
    Hairston said he enlisted Phi Delta Kappa International in August - soon after the system's previous head of curriculum and instruction left for a job in Michigan - because he knew changes were needed, and he wanted an objective evaluation. 
    A team of 26 auditors spent a week in December visiting 157 schools, including more than 3,000 classrooms, and interviewing parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders. They also analyzed information that directly and indirectly affect curriculum and instruction, including planning guides, budgets and policies. 
    "The system ... is data rich and information poor. But it's producing more data than teachers can effectively use," English said. "There has to be more professional development to show teachers how to make the data useful in the classroom." 
    English cautioned against using the audit's findings to make sweeping generalizations and said that the school system's curriculum is strong in some areas, such as English and language arts and math. 
    "We were in more than 3,000 classrooms and saw some excellent teaching and some excellent schools," English said. "Baltimore County schools are a fine school system. I would put any of my 16 grandchildren in them. I don't think we found anything in Baltimore County that was surprising or shocking, save one thing - the poor maintenance of facilities, which are in deplorable condition."
    He also stressed that the audit, called an "exception report," is purposely designed to point out a school system's weaknesses. 
    "This is not a report card, where you get some As and some Bs and some Cs," he said. "The district is not going to be complimented for when the trains run on time. They're supposed to run on time."


Highlights of consultant's recommendations for Baltimore County schools:

Hire a chief academic officer 

Centralize professional development

Enhance assessment of each student's progress so teachers and administrators can adjust instruction

Create five-year plan to align spending with curriculum goals using cost-benefit analysis

Clear backlog of repair and maintenance projects

[Source: Audit by Phi Delta Kappa Curriculum Management Services Inc.]


Board members urge action on school audit
Outdated policies need updating, public agrees
March 14, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis

   Although an expert's report lays out a two- to five-year timetable, Baltimore County school board members said last night that children and teachers can't wait that long for changes recommended in an audit of the system's education programs.

    "We don't have five years. We don't have five months," said board member Warren Hayman. "We have to take the posture that time is of the essence to meet all the recommendations. ... We need to change the culture of the system. Until we change the culture, we are just spinning our wheels."Last weekend, board members received copies of the audit, a 423-page document that was publicly released at last night's meeting.

    Auditors found that a lack of oversight and teacher training have undermined academic progress in Baltimore County schools, according to an unprecedented, independent review that found a breakdown between what children need to learn and what is being taught.

    Among more than two dozen major findings, auditors said teachers are inundated with new programs, but receive little guidance on how to use them, and many schools are in disrepair. It also found that "no one is `in control'" of curriculum management - a critical function that includes determining what will be taught and when, ensuring that teachers have the necessary training and tools and measuring whether programs are working before adding new ones.

    But some of the team's sharpest criticism was directed at the school board and its policies, which it said "are outdated and inadequate to guide the work of the system."

    Of about 280 board policies that the team reviewed, nearly half are more than 25 years old and do little to help shape the educational priorities for the third-largest school system in the state and one of the 25 largest in the nation, according to the audit.

    Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's Blueprint for Progress provides direction, but the school board "has neglected its legal responsibility to provide district governance," the audit states.

    "The planning we saw was probably the best I've seen in the country," Fenwick English, a lead auditor with Phi Delta Kappa International who has overseen about 60 curriculum audits since 1979, said in an interview this week. "But the board is legally the only body that can institutionalize good practice. And if you have a new board or a new superintendent who doesn't want to use the Blueprint for Progress, they don't have to, if you haven't incorporated that good practice."

    The school board began reviewing its policies a few years ago to update those worth keeping and eliminate ineffective ones, Donald L. Arnold, the school board's president, said in an interview Monday after reviewing the audit. The board's goal is that all policies will be reviewed at least every five years, he said.

    "This is a process that we'll use to improve our school system," Arnold said during the meeting. "It's not a silver bullet. And it's not something that's going to happen overnight. ... It provides a road map so that we'll be able to go forward."

    Arnold said one of the board's next steps is to act on the superintendent's recommendations based on the audit. In an interview Monday, Hairston said he is developing an action plan, which he expects to compile by June.

    Cheryl Bost, president of the county teachers union, said the audit echoed many of the concerns that teachers have pressed for many years about frequent changes in the curriculum. "For teachers, we have to master it before we can teach it," Bost said last night.

    Jonathan Schwartz, a parent with a daughter in second grade at Chatsworth Elementary School, said the audit supported teacher complaints that they have too much on their plates and he was hopeful school officials will use its recommendations to allow teachers to do their jobs more effectively.

    "I think the board took it the right way. It's a challenge, not a criticism," Schwartz said.

    The county school board last summer approved a $245,000 contract with Phi Delta Kappa, a nonprofit organization that has reviewed curriculum management in systems across the country and abroad for nearly three decades.

    A team of 26 auditors spent a week in December visiting 157 schools, including more than 3,000 classrooms, and interviewing parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders. They also analyzed information that directly and indirectly affects curriculum and instruction, including planning guides, budgets and policies.

    The team's report is called an "exception report," which means it's designed to point out weaknesses. The executive summary of the audit was expected to be available online at


School system flunks repair
Baltimore County audit reveals pressing maintenance issues
March 19, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis

   As she walks the hallways of Mars Estates Elementary, Principal Linda M. Chapin says she knows about the rusty bathroom stalls, the cracks that crisscross the terrazzo flooring, the missing wall tiles here and there. She also knows all too well that while her office might be baking at 80 degrees, other rooms are quite chilly.

    But she also sees the sparkling new windows and blinds installed last year that send sunlight streaming into classrooms, the cafeteria and gymnasium of the 57-year-old school."Some of the old windows, you couldn't see through them," says Chapin, who has been principal at the Essex school for three years. "But we're an old building, and you get some dents."

    When auditors descended upon Baltimore County's schools late last year to zero in on the weaknesses of the system's plans for teaching children, they expected to find the typical lapses in communication between top administrators and teachers, poor coordination of new programs and insufficient training. But the team, which included former and current superintendents, teachers and administrators from across the country, said they were shocked to also find school buildings in extreme disrepair.

    "This is the one where you flunked," Fenwick W. English, the lead auditor of the independent review, told school board members last week during their meeting. "One of your principals said, `If it doesn't arc or spark ... no one is going to come by and get to it.'"

    English added that it was difficult to fathom how teachers are able concentrate and teach in those schools and said "the repairs that are needed really kind of broke our hearts."

    School board members and administrators said the auditors rightly noted deficiencies, and they stressed their commitment to improving those conditions. But, they added, the district has some of the state's oldest schools, and county and state funding consistently falls far short of the system's needs.

    Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said last week that he is perplexed by criticism of the school system's buildings -- especially the elementary schools, which were recently renovated at a cost of $280 million in county and state funding.

   "We're putting a lot of funding toward bringing schools up to a reasonable standard," he said. "It's clear we have a major systemic problem, and we're addressing it."

    Smith said he is troubled that principals and other school employees feel they must tolerate deteriorating buildings.

    "That [the school system] would institutionalize such a low standard of expectation is a real concern to me," he said.

    Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said that the school system realizes that every school isn't in top-notch condition but that the district is responding as efficiently and quickly as possible to the building needs.

    "If we had a fully funded maintenance program for 10 years, there would be no problem," he said. "We know we have limited resources. We move on, and we take care of the things we can."

    English said the audit team found schools with such poor climate control that temperatures in different areas of a building ranged from extremely cold to extremely hot. They came across stained or missing ceiling tiles, drafty windows, safety hazards and plumbing problems, he said.

   After visiting 157 schools -- and peering into more than 3,000 classrooms -- the team found a "significant number" of them in poor condition.

    The audit team heard a consistent groan of frustration from school administrators, especially principals, about the slow pace of repairs and routine maintenance, said English, who has overseen about 60 curriculum audits since 1979 for Phi Delta Kappa International, a nonprofit group that analyzes curriculum management for school systems.

    "Many interviewees reported that facilities in BCPS were in a state of crisis," the team wrote in a 423-page audit released last week.

   "This is a problem, and it's not just aesthetic," English said during the board meeting. "This is a problem of learning and teaching in facilities that are conducive to improving achievement for all students."

    Michael G. Sines, the school system's executive director of facilities, said he empathizes with principals' frustration. To improve the system, he added this year a computerized maintenance request system that enables administrators to place work orders and track them.

    "What Dr. English's team observed didn't occur overnight," Sines said. "It is the direct result of the number of years of facilities being underfunded."

    He said that progress has been made in recent years because of additional county funding targeted at renovations but that it will take much more to bring all buildings up to par. He estimated it could cost $1.25 billion -- and take until 2033 -- to renovate the county's 24 high schools, assuming an average of $23 million a year in state funding.

    Given the unlikelihood of such substantial funding, Sines said the district has been done partial renovations at the elementary and middle schools, which include installing or refurbishing air conditioning, plumbing and lighting systems; asbestos abatement, and boiler and window replacements.

    "These are substantive, critical components," he said. "It's not going in there and putting a Band-Aid on it."

   During last week's board meeting, English recommended that the school system act swiftly to stem the problem and suggested the district consider outsourcing and privatizing maintenance to eliminate the backlog.

    "Maintenance will eat you alive because one thing will lead to another will lead to another will lead to another," he said. "And you're reaching that point in some of your schools."

    Cheryl Bost, president of Baltimore County's teachers union, said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that the auditors raised concerns about deteriorating school conditions. She said it was interesting to hear an outsider's perspective, given that it was only a few weeks ago that the school board rejected a proposal to raise wages for the system's lowest-paid employees, including custodians.

    "We kind of work through it all," she said. "But the working and learning environment makes a difference for teachers and students."

    At Mars Estates, Chapin says she wants the best for her staff and students, and would rather focus on teaching than maintenance problems.

    "But I am realistic," she said. "I know I'm not the only one."

** Examples of poor conditions in Baltimore County schools **

Auditors found that about 40 percent of schools had "noteworthy deficiencies," and problems with maintenance were an issue in almost half of the schools. Examples include:

Safety and security hazards

Fire sprinklers installed upside down at two unidentified schools

Electrical wires strung across the floor at Woodlawn Middle School

Books stored near hot-water pipes

High windows on hallway doors make it difficult to see small children at Catonsville Elementary School

Neglected repairs

A cracked glass front door at Overlea High School

A boarded-up bathroom window at Rosedale Center High School

An electrical outlet in need of repair at Milbrook Elementary School

Warped window blinds at Woodlawn High School

Inadequate space

Children being taught in a crowded hallway at Villa Cresta Elementary School

Desks and cabinets stored in a hallway at Cedarmere Elementary School

A culinary arts cafe in a narrow hallway at Carver Center for Arts and Technology

[Source: Phi Delta Kappa International, "A Curriculum Management Audit of the Baltimore County Public School District"]


School board weighs overhaul's cost, timing
Audit raises concerns, but priorities are an issue
March 21, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis  

   Baltimore County school board members raised concerns last night about funding, timing and priorities as they began sifting through nearly a dozen recommendations from an independent audit that suggests overhauling many of the system's educational policies, plans and strategies.

    While their consensus was that the board should act swiftly, they had a harder time deciding what their immediate next step should be.Several members stressed the need to improve school facilities, which auditors described in their report as deplorable. Others pointed to items higher on the list of recommendations that deal more directly with curriculum, such as hiring a chief academic officer and revamping the way the system determines what children must learn and how it will be taught.

    "When we talk about maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment, we define that as being one of our primary responsibilities," said board member John A. Hayden III, who added that auditors pointed out hazardous conditions in several schools. "This particular [finding] is troublesome. I very strongly encourage that we move to address that issue immediately."

    Member Meg O'Hare said other items that appear higher on the auditors' prioritized list of recommendations would be more realistic to quickly address, because they don't require an infusion of money - such as expecting greater collaboration among employees who oversee curriculum development, teacher training and program assessment.

    "Safety issues are simply unacceptable," she said, adding that "some of the things require a culture change, not more money."

    The unprecedented independent audit, compiled in a 423-page report released last week, found that teachers are inundated with new programs but given little direction, and many schools are in disrepair. It also concluded that no one was in charge of overseeing curriculum management, a critical function that includes determining what will be taught and when, ensuring that teachers have the necessary training and tools and evaluating programs.

    The recommendations urge school officials to do a better job of evaluating whether new academic programs are working for students, training teachers to make classes more engaging and ensuring that children have equal access to programs and services.

    Fenwick English, a lead auditor who oversaw Baltimore County's project, said last week that the recommendations could take up to five years to implement across the state's third-largest school system.

   With about 106,000 students, the county's schools range from those internationally known for high performance to others that struggle to meet state test standards. And while the achievement gap - the difference between how whites and minorities perform on the state tests - is narrowing, the audit team estimated it could take 50 years to close the gap in some academic areas, if no changes are made.

   To help close the achievement gap, auditors recommended devising a system that ensures students have equal access to comparable programs and services, such as special-education, gifted and talented, and Advanced Placement courses. Auditors said many students are limited in their access to highly qualified and experienced teachers, magnet programs and participation in AP courses, depending on where they live.

   In response to complaints that new programs are haphazardly introduced, the audit recommends that the school system centralize professional development and routinely evaluate teacher training. It also stressed the need to improve the evaluation of students' progress so teaching strategies can be adjusted.

   Cheryl Bost, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said the audit confirmed many of the concerns that she and other teachers have pressed for years.

    "We've been saying for probably eight years that curriculum is just coming at us," Bost said in a recent interview.

   She said she hopes school officials will consult with teachers as they work toward implementing the audit's recommendations, especially since many of the changes are likely to affect how and what teachers are expected to do.

    Auditors - who visited 157 schools, including more than 3,000 classrooms - said they found instruction to be relatively static, with most teachers favoring the "less effective lecture format with students engaged primarily in listening, taking notes, and completing worksheets," despite county and state guidelines that call for a variety of teaching strategies, according to the audit. The team said it saw few instances of hands-on projects and activities.

    At Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's recommendation, the county school board awarded a $245,000 audit contract to Phi Delta Kappa International, a nonprofit group that has reviewed curriculum management in school systems across the country and abroad for nearly three decades.

    Among the audit's top recommendation was that the district hire a chief academic officer to oversee curriculum development and management. A few weeks ago, school officials announced that Sonia Diaz, who most recently was a superintendent in New Mexico, ' is expected to start April 1 as associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Audit recommendations
Hire a chief academic officer.

Centralize professional development.

Develop a format for creating curriculum guides that help ensure consistent, rigorous instruction.

Adopt school board policies that articulate priorities and strategies.

Better assess each student's progress, so teachers and administrators can adjust instruction.

Require systematic reviews of academic programs.

Develop easy-to-use databases to help teachers and administrators plan instruction.

Create five-year plan to match budget decisions with educational goals using cost-benefit analysis.

Devise a system that ensures children have equal access to programs and services.

Clear backlog of repair and maintenance projects.

Update relevant policies and make necessary improvements for the county's five special programs: prekindergarten, special education, gifted and talented, English for Speakers of Other Languages and magnet schools and programs.

SOURCE: Phi Delta Kappa International, "A Curriculum Management Audit of the Baltimore County Public School District"


Activists seek changes in schools curriculum
Department needs leadership change, they say
March 27, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis

 As Baltimore County school officials begin to make significant changes based upon a far-reaching audit of the system's educational plans, some local activists are pressing for an overhaul of the staff that directs what is being taught in classrooms.

    Community leaders are calling for a makeover of the staffing in curriculum and instruction - a department of at least 200 employees who introduce and manage classroom programs."We need a fresh start, and that means necessary changes at the top," said Pat Ferguson, president of the county's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I'm not going to name names, but they need to be replaced."

   Ferguson, who has served on the school system's Minority Achievement Advisory Group since the early 1990s, said only those in the curriculum and instruction office who are qualified and philosophically prepared to implement the audit's recommendations should remain.

   Ella White Campbell, a fellow advisory group member and community activist, said the audit's findings reiterated concerns that she and others have expressed for years to the curriculum and instruction department's leaders.

    "If you keep the same people, they're going to keep doing the same things they've been doing," said Campbell, a former English teacher. "Teachers are overwhelmed by too many canned programs that have not been tested."

   Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who asked for the audit last summer, not long after the system's previous head of curriculum and instruction left for a job in Michigan, said he couldn't comment on personnel-related matters such as calls for staff changes.

    Since July, the office has been led by two assistant superintendents, Kathleen M. McMahon and H.B. Lantz.

   McMahon said yesterday that she understands people might question the department's staffing, adding that as difficult as it is to hear the criticism, it is helpful.

    "We exist to support teachers as they work to instruct students," McMahon said. "Dr. Hairston is expecting us to respond very quickly to this audit, and he'll be looking to see are our personnel embracing the recommendations and acting as rapidly as possible to make the necessary revisions."

   The audit, compiled in a 423-page report, found that teachers are inundated with new programs but are given little practical guidance. It also found that "no one is `in control'" of curriculum management - a critical function that includes determining what will be taught and when, ensuring that teachers have training and tools, and measuring whether programs are working before trying something new.

    McMahon said the office has begun addressing key issues from the audit, such as the lack of consistency in the curriculum guides that teachers use to help develop lessons. She said that until about four years ago, the department was broken down into two main divisions: elementary and secondary schools. Since then, the office has begun a transition to developing curriculum across subject areas, such as reading, from prekindergarten to 12th grade. After the transition is complete - and a format for all guides has been established - the curriculum should have greater consistency, she said.

    "We'll look to our teachers to provide us with how the guides can be more helpful to them," McMahon said.

    Recently, school officials hired Sonia Diaz, who most recently was a superintendent in New Mexico, to be the system's associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She is expected to start next week.

   Carmela Veit, a former Baltimore County teacher and past president of the county's PTA council, said an increasingly inexperienced teaching corps has made it imperative to have clear curriculum guidelines.

   "More than 60 percent of our teachers have five or less years' experience," said Veit, also a former president of the state PTA who supervises teachers who are earning master's degrees in education at the Johns Hopkins University. "It's important for beginning teachers to have something that has specificity.

    "In the past, we could've counted on seasoned veterans to help the [younger] teachers," Veit said. "The audit adhered to the principle of having curriculum guides as instructional tools to guide teachers and help students obtain certain goals. I think we've moved away from that."

    The audit's 26-member team said it heard from many principals and teachers who complained that teachers find it difficult to adapt the curriculum to children's varying needs and abilities.

    Patricia A. Lawton, principal at Red House Run Elementary, said the audit's recommendations can help administrators refine classroom strategies.

    "We really need to further our efforts in differentiation in the classroom so we really can reach all of our children," she said. Through differentiated instruction, teachers are encouraged to work toward common academic objectives using a variety of strategies, such as small group settings, based upon each child's needs and abilities.

   Lawton said more must be done to ensure that teachers know how to adjust their instruction. At Red House Run - which this year was named one of seven Blue Ribbon schools across the state - Lawton said she includes teachers in discussions about how best to address the academic goals.

   "As long as we're trying to make a difference with the children, we allow the risks to be taken," she said. "We have a common objective, but there are different ways to get there. No one size fits all."

    Harry C. Walker, principal at Sandy Plains Elementary, said he sees the audit as a roadmap for creating a systemwide professional development plan.

    "It's how well teachers are learning that determines how well children are learning," Walker said. "The audit has provided the structure to move forward as a school system."


   `Assertive' leader to apply audit
Diaz to oversee Baltimore County school changes
March 7, 2007
Byline: Gina Davis

Baltimore County school officials have hired a longtime educator, who was fired from her last job, to oversee what and how children are taught - matters explored in a soon-to-be-released independent review.

    Sonia Diaz, who most recently was superintendent of New Mexico's second-largest school district, is scheduled to start next month as associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction. Her appointment coincides with the coming release of a 400-page evaluation of the county school system's strategy for teaching youngsters.Diaz, who describes herself as an "assertive" leader, was dismissed after four months as head of the Las Cruces public schools in New Mexico after employees criticized her management style, the former head of the school board there said.

    But after announcing her hiring last week, Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he isn't troubled by Diaz's work history because he believes she has the right priorities.

   "We needed someone who understands leadership," said Hairston, adding that he has known Diaz for about 10 years. "Here's someone who has experience and a track record with regard to bringing about academic achievement in more challenging school systems."

    Hairston said the experience in Las Cruces, where Diaz was the fifth superintendent in five years, isn't an accurate reflection of her effectiveness.

    "They have given away every competent superintendent because they don't want to change," he said. "Superintendents are lightning rods. People will make them the bad guys when they don't agree. She had the courage to stand up for the rights of children."

    Diaz said she has researched Baltimore County school system's strengths, such as initiatives to strengthen science and technology education. She said she plans to follow the curriculum audit's recommendations, and talk to teachers, administrators, parents and students.

   "The crux of so much of what has to happen depends upon the strength of the curriculum, the rigor of the curriculum, the content of the curriculum and the alignment of the curriculum to statewide standards," she said. "I want to get to know what has been working well for the school system and build on that."

    In August - soon after the system's previous head of curriculum and instruction left for a job in Michigan - Hairston enlisted auditors from Phi Delta Kappa, an Indiana-based education advocacy group, to review the system's curriculum management.

   Fenwick English, one of the group's lead auditors, said its review would define the system's weaknesses by analyzing curriculum documents, plans, budgets and policies. Auditors spent a week in December interviewing parents, students, teachers, administrators and community leaders.

  Hairston declined to discuss details of the audit until its scheduled release next week but said that the report includes "a strong finding of a need for leadership." He said he will follow its recommendations.

  A well-run curriculum and instruction department is critical because it sets the bar for what students need to learn and how teachers will accomplish that, said Margaret Trader, a visiting professor at McDaniel College and former assistant state superintendent for instruction.

    "Children are held accountable for school performance on state tests, and we need to make sure that the curriculum is aligned with the expectations of those assessments," Trader said.

    Diaz began her education career in 1973 as a first-grade bilingual teacher in Boston. She earned her doctorate in 1996 from Harvard University in education administration, planning and social policy.

    She was deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Miami/Dade County schools, superintendent of Bridgeport, Conn., schools and superintendent of Community School District 1 in New York City's school system.

    She spent four years overseeing schools in Bridgeport. Although she accepted a buyout after a shift in the school board's composition eroded her support, she also earned acclaim for educational reforms amid controversy. She was among those credited when Bridgeport was named a finalist last year for the Broad Prize for Urban Education, which recognizes districts for overall academic progress while reducing achievement gaps for poor and minority students.

    Greg Firn, superintendent of the nearby Milford, Conn., school system, said Diaz was successful during a time when Bridgeport's mayor, who appoints the school board, was convicted on corruption charges.

    "She was able to rise above that political climate and put a lot of things in place that are still in place today," Firn said.

   The Las Cruces school board placed Diaz on administrative leave in November while it investigated complaints that employee morale was suffering under her management, said Sharon Wooden, who was then president of the school board. Diaz was fired in January.

    Diaz said that while she sets high expectations, she considers herself even-handed. She declined to talk in detail about Las Cruces because she filed for court arbitration after the board's decision, saying only that "some places just are not a good fit."

    "She was very bright and very knowledgeable. But her management style just didn't work with our school district," said Wooden, adding that Diaz attempted to make changes too soon.

    Cheryl Bost, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said she is hopeful that Diaz will collaborate with teachers in efforts to adopt the curriculum audit's recommendations.

    "We don't want a top-down approach," Bost said. "We hope she has the will and the desire to work with us and with the teachers."

Posted by Gina Davis at 3:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Regents to address minority achievement, graduation rates, athletes' grades

The education policy subcommittee of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents meets this morning in Catonsville. It will be an unusually data-rich session, with reports coming out about minority achievement, graduation and retention rates and sports programs.

It’s not clear whether any news per se will emerge from this session (major decisions have to be approved by the entire board), but the reports on the subcommittee’s agenda are interesting for those of you tracking progress of the 11-campus public university system.

Here are some highlights:

Enrollment, Graduation and Retention Statistics

· Black freshman enrollment at University System of Maryland campuses doubled between 1989 and 2005
· UMBC was the only university-system campus to see a recent drop in the numbers of black college freshmen. In 2002, there were 166 first-time, full-time black freshmen on campus; in 2005 there were 143 – a decline of 14 percent.
· Despite a gradual increase in overall graduation rates, the racial achievement gap in Maryland colleges has increased since 1989, according to reports. “The four-year graduation gap between African-American freshmen and all USM freshmen has increased from 14 percentage points … to 19 percentage points” between students entering college in 1989 and those entering in 2002, the report said. There is a similar pattern in six-year graduation rates.
· More needy students are attending Maryland public colleges. From 2000 to 2005 there was a 23 percent increase – to 2,482 – in full-time freshmen who received Pell grants.

College Sports

· Student-athletes graduate at higher rates than other students at Bowie State, Coppin State, Towson and UMBC
· At Frostburg, College Park and UMES, graduation and retention rates for athletes is about the same as for the general student body
· The men’s basketball teams at Coppin State and Bowie State recently received warnings from the NCAA about poor academic achievement of team members, and the schools are in danger of losing scholarships if they don’t improve within three years.

-- Gadi Dechter

Posted by Howard Libit at 8:16 AM | | Comments (0)

School's out?

The weather's warmer, and the days are getting longer.... It's almost time for school doors to close and summer to officially begin for area students.

Here are the last days of classes for each Baltimore area public school system:

Anne Arundel County: June 15

Baltimore City: June 15.  All schools dismiss at 12:30 p.m.

Baltimore County: June 19

Carroll County: June 12 for kindergartners. June 14 for other students - and two-hour early dismissal

Harford County: June 15

Howard County: June 20

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:49 AM | | Comments (0)

June 4, 2007

"Grow your own" teachers program sparks interest

I've heard from several readers who read my story this weekend about a "grow your own" teaching scholarship initiative in Baltimore County and who wanted to know how to apply for the program. The initiative, formally known as "Baltimore County Public Schools Scholarship Loan Program," was created this school year to encourage the system's graduates to consider careers in education and commit to returning to the county to teach in some of its neediest schools.

Among other qualifications, applicants must be a Baltimore County public school senior with a minimum GPA of 2.8. Scholarship recipients must maintain Maryland residency during college; declare a major in education and commit to teach in a "critical need" subject area, such as math, science or secondary special-education; and commit to teaching in a low-income school within six months of graduating from college.

Here's a link to the online brochure, which includes contact information:

Read Sunday's story about the program:,0,5928464.story?track=mostemailedlink

Posted by Gina Davis at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching

June 1, 2007

If not chiggers, then what?

Apparently my research on chiggers this week was inadequate. ... I've had three emails from science-types who say chiggers couldn't possibly be the type of mite infesting Violetville Elementary in Baltimore.

Will Brown, a wildlife biologist at University of Virginia, says the buggers are more likely clover or Erythraeid mites, harmless species that doesn't bite like chiggers do. (No students or staff at Violetville have reported chigger bites.) "Pest control companies are generally not good authorities on invertebrae identification, so it would be no surprise to me that a misidentification was made," Brown wrote. "They can also often (be) 'trigger happy' and happy to spray pesticides on anything moving, even harmless invertebrates."

Elaine Parker of University of Maryland predicts that the "chiggers" are actually red spider mites, which she says have been out in full force. "No self-respecting chigger would let all that tasty flesh go unsampled for long," she wrote. "And, the idea that an 'exterminator' is going out into the woods to spray any and everything there is appalling. Young birds, animals, beneficial insects will be poisoned for no good reason."

Robert Kluver Sr., who has worked in pest control for more than 35 years, is on board with the spider mites theory. "Someone needs to get to the bottom of this and have these bugs identified by a state certified entomologist," he wrote.

I consulted with Keith Scroggins, the school system's chief operating officer, who said he can't prove one way or another what kind of mites have infested Violetville. But he said he will "promise that children and staff will not come back to a pesticide-covered building."

Some Violetville parents, meanwhile, wrote in frustration. One mother was upset that parents weren't informed about the pest problem for five days after it was discovered, saying they wouldn't have sent their children to school on Tuesday had they known. Another said the school building "is deplorable and should be condemned."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:58 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
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