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July 31, 2007

The return of the dreaded gym shorts

For all of you wondering whatever happened to good ole fashion recess, Oregon's governor is attempting to bring it back. 

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has signed a bill that will require all the school districts in his state to provide minimum amounts of physical education in elementary and middle schools. The story found here states that for elementary schools, it's a 150 minutes per week minimum. For middle schools, it's 210 minutes per week; all in an effort to help fight childhood obesity.



Posted by Brent Jones at 2:32 PM | | Comments (2)

July 30, 2007

More math in high school equals better science in college

A new study found students who had more classes in math in high school tended to do better in all types of science in college. The article about the study published in the San Francisco Chronicle and found here also reports that taking multiple science courses in high school, on the other hand, did not translate into better college performances in science. For instance, taking high school physics does not mean better grades in college biology, although taking high school calculus tend to lead to higher grades in both fields.

Not exactly the most thrilling study in the world, but it is something to think about for you future science majors or parents of kids who are interested in science.


Posted by Brent Jones at 1:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 27, 2007

Pay for Performance

Performance pay for teachers hasn't made its way to Maryland yet, but the idea seems to be gaining support from several lawmakers, including Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Currently, Florida, Minnesota and Texas are the only states instituting some version of a pay for performance system.

A story in Education Week here states that Republican and Democratic senators are pushing a proposal this month on changes to No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for re-authorization, that include incentives for states to look at pay-for-performance programs to attract teachers to underperforming schools.

Not much evidence exists that paying teachers for performance leads to better school test scores. But one of the nation's prominent teachers unions -- the Teacher Union Reform Network -- is not categorically dismissing the subjective system, according to the article. Any teachers out there willing to have their raises connected to student achievement?

Posted by Brent Jones at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 26, 2007

Winning streak ends for local Jeopardy! contestant

 Kriti Gandhi is $10,000 richer thanks to intense preparation, a little luck, and a nudge of encouragement from her family.
 Gandhi, an 18-year-old graduate of Centennial High School, competed in the Jeopardy! Summer Games Teen Tournament, which has been airing on national television the last two weeks. On Wednesday night, Gandhi’s winning ways ended with a loss in the semi-final round.
 For making it to the semi-finals, she earned a $10,000 payoff. (She amassed $17,700 in winning her first round, but contestants don’t get to keep the opening round money unless they advance to the final round.)
 The road to the competition began last fall when Gandhi’s father signed her up for a tryout on the show.
 A series of tests, and additional tryouts followed, and within several months she was one of 15 teens picked for the show, which was taped in March in California.
 “I was actually surprised I got it,” Gandhi said about a callback to New York in November as part of the selection process.
 Sure, Gandhi had game show experience from the multiple rounds of tryouts and through serving as an alternate on Centennial High School’s It’s Academic Super Bowl team, but it couldn’t compare to the lights and cameras of Los Angeles.
 “Nothing can prepare you for just the experience of being on national TV,” Gandhi said. “It felt really, really good.”
 Gandhi got ready for the show by reading an almanac and using online Web sites such as Wikipedia — anything that would give her “as much knowledge about as many topics in a short amount of time,” she said.
 Gandhi said it has been difficult to abide by the contract she signed with the game show that prohibited her from revealing the outcome of the tournament prior to the airing of the shows.
 “I feel really bad not being able to tell people who I know and who have been so supportive of me throughout this entire experience,” she said. “But, they are pretty strict about that one.”
 A lifelong fan of Jeopardy!, Gandhi said she was surprised that host Alex Trebek was so friendly in person.
 “He appears acerbic on the show, but he is really fun,” she said with a laugh. “During the break, he was talking about fixing up his house. He was really fun and friendly.”
 Gandhi, who plans to attend McGill University in Montreal in the fall, admitted that some of her new classmates might recognize her when the semester begins. “It’s possible some people might recognize me,” she said sheepishly.
 But she thinks that the benefits associated with the show — the competitiveness and the lightning-quick responses — will help her.
 “The skills I’ve been able to gain on the show will come in handy in college as well,” she said.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Teacher-student sex abuse scandals

We ran a story today about an Anne Arundel County school teacher charged with fondling a 16-year-old student and sending her suggestive e-mails. Christopher Thomas Newman, 31, described on the South River High School football team's Web page as a married father of two young children, is alleged to have used the name of a character from the movie Fight Club to share fantasies and told the 16-year-old girl, "I think I crossed the line, but I like it." He surrendered to county police July 12 and was charged with two counts of sex abuse of a minor and two counts of fourth-degree sex offense, according to charging documents. He denied any wrongdoing when interviewed by police, charging documents show, and was released on bail. 

 How do these cases crop up in schools? Are districts not providing adequate training? What is adequate training? Districts talk about giving staff members copies of ethics policies -- but is that enough?   

Over the last 14 months, The Sun has covered a disturbing string of cases of teachers involved in inappropriate or sexual relationships with students.

A former Glen Burnie High School band director was ordered in March to spend 18 months in jail for having sex at the school and in a park with a female student. A year earlier, a former North County High School basketball coach and student advocate was convicted of having a yearlong sexual relationship with a student. He was sentenced to two months in jail.

Howard County education writer John-John Williams also chronicled the arrests of three Howard County high school teachers charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with minors. In one instance, Samuel Ellis, 25, a history and government teacher at Glenelg High School, was accused of exposing himself to one female student in a classroom, sending suggestive computer messages to another and persuading a third to meet him at a park with the promise of alcohol. In another case, Alan Meade Beier, 52, a chemistry and physics teacher at River Hill High School, was accused of undressing and photographing a 16-year-old boy in his classroom and with fondling a 17-year-old female student.

And in yet a third case, Kirsten Ann Kinley, 27, of Columbia on three counts of third-degree sex offense involving a 14-year-old boy. The indictment was handed up Wednesday, the same day that the Howard County Board of Education terminated Kinley's employment at Marriotts Ridge High School.In court documents released yesterday, the boy told police that he had contacted Kinley after hearing from a friend that she was having sex with male students. Kinley was arrested in February on similar charges involving a 15-year-old boy.




Posted by Ruma Kumar at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)

Is your school safe?

 Check out Liz Bowie’s story about the recent “persistently dangerous” list released by Maryland State school officals.
 Five Baltimore city middle and high schools made the list.
 As a result of the designation, students in those schools have the right to transfer to another school if they wish. Fewer than 200 city students took advantage of the option last year.
 To see what schools made the list, link on Liz’s story.
 For a school to get on the list, 2 1/2 percent of its student body must have been suspended for arson, possessing a weapon or drugs, assaulting a teacher or other student, or sexual assault.
  Do you know of any schools that you consider unsafe, but did not make the list?
 Tell me what you think...
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)

July 25, 2007

Teaching for the test....

A majority of the nation’s school systems say that they have increased time for reading and math in elementary schools since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, according to a recent report by the Center on Education Policy.
 The report, based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 350 school districts, finds that a a majority of the school systems spent one-third less time on other subjects during that same time.
 In addition, school systems appear to be changing their curriculum to emphasize content and skills covered on high-stakes state tests used for No Child Left Behind purposes.  
 Essentially, schools are teaching to prepare students to take assessment tests, such as the MSAs, HSAs, etc….
  To check out the report link to the center’s Web site.
 What do you think about schools system’s that teach for the sole purpose of taking tests? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)

July 24, 2007

Special city school board meeting

For all you Baltimore school board followers out there who didn't know how you would possibly survive the doldrums of summer without another regularly scheduled meeting until Aug. 28... fear not. The city school board will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. next Tuesday, July 31, at the normal location, 200 E. North Ave. The agenda hasn't been published yet, but it's likely the board will vote to appoint a retired Army officer, Maj. Gen. Bennie E. Williams, as the chief of staff to new CEO Andres Alonso. Sorry, but no public comment will be taken.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:47 PM | | Comments (0)

Exit exams

Wondering how Maryland high school students will do when they have to take those pesky high school exit exams in a few years? Utah might be able to serve as a test case.

Check out here what's going on in the Salt Lake state, where 26 percent of the students fail those exams, but are still able to graduate (essentially, with an asterisk on their diplomas). State lawmakers are looking into who is failing the test and why before convening for the 2008 session. The test includes reading, math and writing segments, and students have five chances to pass.

I don't really understand the point of exit exams, especially if they don't determine whether a student graduates. Doesn't that make it a rather meaningless test? And what difference does it make if it's noted on the diploma that the student failed the exam? He/she is still considered a high school graduate, right?


Posted by Brent Jones at 1:11 PM | | Comments (1)

Local Jeopardy! contestant getting it done

 Kriti Gandhi, an 18-year-old graduate of Centennial High School, won her opening round of Jeopardy! Summer Games Teen Tournament and has advanced to the semi-finals.
 Last Wednesday, Gandhi earned $17,700 and beat two contestants to advance. Gandhi’s semi-final round will be televised tomorrow at 7 p.m. on WMAR (Channel 2) in Baltimore and at 7:30 p.m. on WJLA (Channel 7) in Washington.
 “It’s actually really surreal,” said the McGill University-bound teen. “I actually know all these [contestants] now. It’s strange. Seeing them on TV. It’s not an everyday experience.”
 Gandhi said she has been flooded with support throughout the entire process.
 “So many people called,” Ganhdi said about her opening-
round win. “Right after the show people were text messaging me. At one point I was talking to three different people on three different phones.”
 Gandhi, who is one of 15 teenagers competing in the tournament this month, participated in the competition in March, when it was filmed. She said she prepared for the show by reading the almanac and using online web sites such as Wikipedia.
 “I was trying to gain as much knowledge about as many topics in a short amount of time,” she said yesterday.
 Gandhi is no stranger to television game shows. In May, she was an alternate on Centennial’s It’s Academic Super Bowl team. That team finished second and earned $10,750 in prize money for the school.
 The It’s Academic competition helped Gandhi prepare for Jeopardy.
 “It gave me more knowledge and quiz show experience,” she said.
 Check in later this week, when I share more of my interview with our game show girl!
 What did she talk about with host Alex Trebek? What was the application process for Jeopardy! like? Is Jeopardy! more difficult than It’s Academic?
 Get the answers to all these questions later this week, here at Classroom Connections.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Study: fake IDs lead to drinking!

University of Missouri-Columbia researchers have confirmed that underage college students with fake IDs are more likely to drink alcohol.

This apparent exercise in confirming-the-obvious was published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a journal of the American Psychological Association, officials announced Tuesday.

"Our results strongly suggest that fake ID ownership in college is consequential," wrote the study's author in their paper, heralding that conclusion as "novel."

Popular Science has catalogued similar groundbreaking research -- "Gun-Toting Drivers are More Prone to Road Rage" and "Faraway Objects Are Tougher to See" -- in this article.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 12:26 PM | | Comments (0)

July 23, 2007

No class, no license

An article found here in the Chicago Tribune reports on a new state law that will revoke the license of Illinois students under age 18 who have more than 18 unexecused absences from school, are expelled or have dropped out.

The law is part of an effort by Illinois education officials and state lawmakers to reduce the statewide dropout rate. About 24,000 students dropped out of Illinois schools last year. Indiana is the only other state that revokes or withholds licenses from students who have dropped out or are expelled.

In the story, there's an intertesting quote from a 17-year-old student who says he doubts the law will keep students who are determined to leave, in school. They'll just drive illegally, the student says. Coming from a high school in Florida where half my class dropped out before graduation, I'm inclined to agree.

Brent Jones

Posted by Brent Jones at 12:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Want to see how schools rank?

   Want to see where Maryland's best-performing students hang out? Want to see how your neighborhood schools stack up? We have ranked all the elementary and middle schools in the state based on the number of students who performed at Advanced levels in the Maryland School Assessment. Go to and you can look up a series of reports on line. You will be able to search for schools in the databases or click on to the PDF files that give you listings already sorted.

   Some of the reports were also printed in yesterday's paper with a story that looks at what the highest performing schools in the state have in common: a stable workforce of well trained teachers who feel they have a say in finding new strategies to improve the school, a variety of after school activities and programs for gifted students.

 We spend a lot of time focusing on whether schools have enough students passing the MSAs, but in fact, many schools are doing so well that they are now looking at how to get more students score at the advanced levels.

The schools in this catagory are those that parents seek out when they are deciding which house to buy.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:25 PM | | Comments (1)

July 20, 2007

No "flow" of political cash from MD college presidents

This week, the Chronicle of Higher Education blogged on the "flow" of political donations from college presidents to presidential candidates. Of the five donors mentioned, none were from Maryland, so we decided to have a look in our backyard.

Alas, not much of a flow here, either, yet, according to, which tracks such things. Of the state's public four-year colleges and major private schools, only Salisbury University's Janet Dudley-Eshbach has given in the 2008 election cycle, with a $1,000 offering to Joseph Biden's campaign in February.

Still, that doesn't mean we can't have a good time with a searchable database of public records. Some fun facts:

Of the 40 donations made so far in the 2008 cycle by donors listing Johns Hopkins as an employer, none went to Republican presidential candidates. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton scored 13 Hopkins-affiliated donations (totaling $12,000) while Barack Obama got just six (totaling $3,650).

The 34 donors* listing the "University of Maryland" as an employer were slightly more ideologically ecumenical, but only slightly. Obama got 11 donations (totaling $2250), Clinton took in 13 (totaling $13,150), but John McCain ($650) and Rudolph Guiliani ($250) also got a touch of academic love.

University of Baltimore law professor Barbara Ann White is the sole UBalter to shell out thus far -- and she gave $300 to Clinton.

*Many of the "donors" are repeat customers. For example, UB's White gave Clinton $300 in three equal installments.







Posted by Gadi Dechter at 8:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Sex and the schools

Thursday's New York Times has an intersting article here

The report centers around possible cuts in funding to abstinence programs across the country. Eleven state health departments rejected abstinence training this year. Under this administration, abstinence programs had received in federal money since 2001, but saw a decline for the first time this past June (it now stands at about $176 million).

Maryland received about $1.1 million in abstinence only programs from the government in 2003, the last year I could find statistics.

Posted by Brent Jones at 6:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 19, 2007

City military veteran to fill top schools post

Major General Bennie E. Williams, a Baltimore native who served in the U.S. military for more than 30 years, will be the new chief of staff in the city schools. The schools' new CEO, Andres Alonso, made the announcement today at Williams' alma mater, Frederick Douglass High School. Read more about the new chief of staff in tomorrow's Sun.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:19 PM | | Comments (0)

July 18, 2007

City schools administration announcement tomorrow

This just in... Andres Alonso, the new city schools CEO, will hold a press conference at noon tomorrow at Frederick Douglass High School to announce the first cabinet appointment of his administration. Stay tuned to Classroom Connections tomorrow afternoon to find out the details.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:37 PM | | Comments (0)

South Dakota as a technology leader

South Dakota may not be the first state to come to mind when it comes to forward thinking educational strategies, but its state board recently approved standards for teaching students how to use technology at each grade level from kindergarten through high school.

The story ran in the Rapid City Journal and will assess students' proficiency in using technology as part of the educational process at every grade level from kindergarten to high school. All schools in the state are equipped with computers and high-speed Internet access. State schools officials also want every high school student to have a laptop.

Posted by Brent Jones at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0)

Tug-of-War for schools money, priorities

A bitter feud over who controls the purse strings of Anne Arundel County's schools spiked this week with the Anne Arundel County Council giving the school system two weeks to explain how it scraped together $13.9 million to fund programs that county officials had previously rejected. 

Over the last three months, routine and perfunctory spending requests have sparked trust and communication issues and disagreements over how the district's $869 million ought to be spent. The county government, suspicious of the school district's priorities and spending plan, say school leaders are too loose with their spending. School leaders say the county government leaders, who know little about what it takes to run schools, are too meddlesome. We ran a story about this ongoing feud in the Sun's Anne Arundel section today.   

Conflicts over budgets are nothing new in local government. However in Maryland - where many school boards are appointed by the governor but depend on budgets written by county governments - the infighting can be especially severe. Maryland is one of nine states that don't grant any of their school districts the authority to levy taxes.

Do you believe the state should change the way schools are funded? Post your comments on whether you think school boards should have taxing authority, or is it best left up to county governments, as it is now? 


Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:00 PM | | Comments (0)

Best school for the buck

Howard County is one of the best school systems in the country for the buck, according to the July issue of Forbes Magazine.
Howard County ranks seventh in the business publication’s ranking that accompanies the article “Best and Worst Districts For The Buck.” Montgomery County ranks fifth on the chart, and is the top Maryland school system according to the magazine.
 Forbes uses per-pupil spending in school systems and compared it with college entrance exam scores, exam participation rates and graduation rates to determine the rankings.
 The higher ranking school systems on the Forbes list deliver high performance at low cost, according to the article.
 In addition to Montgomery and Howard counties, Frederick County ranks 21st, Carroll ranks 37th, Calvert ranks 51st, Anne Arundel ranks 75th, and Baltimore County ranks 89th.
 What do you think about this ranking? Do you live in any of these Maryland school systems? Do you think that your school system should have been ranked higher than Montgomery?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Howard County

July 17, 2007

Single-sex schools

With things being relatively quiet in our local school systems, we’ve found an interesting debate raging in Cleveland. You can click here
to read the story.

To sum it up, the American Civil Liberties Union is trying to shut down five new single-gender schools scheduled to open next month in Cleveland, calling the approach discriminatory and one that could backfire on students. About 262 schools nationwide are single-gender, public schools. Of course, Baltimore City’s very own Western High, an all girls school, is the oldest.

Because Western has been around for decades, the concept of single-gender schools is more engrained here and not much of a topic of discussion. But nationally, only three districts in the nation had single gender districts in 1995, and the concept seems to be growing in popularity every year. The schools in the Cleveland story are elementary schools, which is a whole other issue in and of itself.

Posted by Brent Jones at 11:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 16, 2007

Game girl!!!!!

  Check out the second item I wrote about in my Sunday education column. It’s about Kriti Gandhi, an 18-year-old graduate of Centennial High School, who will be one of 15 teenagers competing in the first-ever Jeopardy! Summer Games Teen Tournament this week. 
 The tournament shows will air Monday through Friday, today through July 27. Jeopardy! is shown at 7 p.m. on WMAR (Channel 2) in Baltimore and at 7:30 p.m. on WJLA (Channel 7) in Washington. Gandhi will make her television appearance Wednesday. 
 Gandhi is no stranger to television game shows. In May, she was an alternate on Centennial's It's Academic Super Bowl team. That team finished second and earned $10,750 in prize money for the school. Gandhi plans to attend McGill University in Montreal in the fall. 
 Although the Jeopardy! tournament was taped in March, and contestants and staff from the show are prohibited from revealing results, I thought it would be nice to solicit words of encouragement for our hometown girl. So write in right now!!!!!
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Educator Spotlight

Christine B. Watson

Teaches America’s Past at Franklin Middle School in Reisterstown

Resides in Owings Mills with her husband, Dennis, and son, Christopher, 15, and daughter, Jennifer, 23

Volunteering at school when her daughter was young inspired Christine Watson to pursue a career in education.

"I loved the connection with the kids, motivating them, seeing the change in them and watching them achieve their goals," says Mrs. Watson, who will soon begin her ninth year in the Baltimore County schools, seventh at Franklin Middle School. "It was so fulfilling and I enjoyed the experience so much that I thought I should do it full time. What a great way to spend the day."

Mrs. Watson admits teaching is much more work than she anticipated and reaching all kids is an incredible challenge, but she knows that her efforts are worth the toil.

"When you can inspire a child and when they come back a few years later and remember what you said and what you taught them, all the extra work is worth it." Those moments, knowing she’s made a difference in a young life, she says, are the reasons she teaches.

She hopes that her dedication and commitment to her students inspires them to do the same for others, creating a legacy. She fondly remembers her junior high school home economics teacher, Mrs. Shulman, who was the kindest person she ever met.

"If I can be like Mrs. Shulman to my students, then I will have accomplished something."

She is a "Mrs. Shulman" to many students at Franklin Middle School, probably more than she realizes. She may see a glimmer in a student’s eyes, a change in work habits, improved behavior or a new-found self-esteem, and she knows she’s accomplished what she set out to do --- make a difference.

Posted by Gina Davis at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 13, 2007

Thinking ahead

We may be less than a month into the summer season, but the folks at are among those who figure it's never too early to start thinking about preparing for the first day of school. Time flies, and a new school year is fast approaching.

Schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties are scheduled to open their doors to students on Aug. 27. In Anne Arundel County, only 6th and 9th graders are expected to start school on Aug. 27 --- all other students are to start on Aug. 28.

In the meantime, students and parents can check out's tips for getting the new school year off to a good start. Topics include: helping students get back into the routine of homework, conquering anxieties about making new friends, the latest in fashionable bookbags and ideas for healthy after-school snacks. The site also includes tips for teachers.


Posted by Gina Davis at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

July 12, 2007

Activist Families

We ran a story today about the Sniders, a Severna Park family that many in Anne Arundel believe are the most influential on the local education politics and policy scene. In that one family, two daughters garnered spots on the school board as student representatives. In that role -- the county is the only one in the nation to give student school board members full voting rights -- the Snider girls have the authority vote on everything from union contracts to the more than $800 million operating budget. Their mother started a grassroots group that restored arts and physical education to the curriculum. And their father runs a blog that tracks school board politics. It's rare to find an entire family so completely devoted to service in a particular area -- in this case, public education. Can you think of families like this in your county/community -- where both children and parents are involved in serving and influencing a particular cause? Let me know.
Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:22 PM | | Comments (0)

See-sawing KIPP

Ran a story in today's paper about the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, Harbor Academy in Edgewater closing. It's the second time in three weeks I've written about the tenuous fate of the two-year-old school that struggled to find space for growing enrollment, and is now closing because the principal resigned. Parents have written me e-mails. They've called me sobbing with questions. And I have few answers for them. They wondered why three weeks ago they got an abrupt announcement that the school would close for lack of space. They wondered why the school's board of directors had a change of heart and voted to keep it open. And just as they were celebrating that decision, they wondered yesterday why the school is closing again for a lack of staff? The back-and-forth has made it hard for parents to plan their child's education. I'd be interested in hearing from you about the roller coaster of events surrounding the school's viability. What do you think of the way the school handled the 'should we stay open or close?' decision? Respond  here on the blog, or e-mail me directly at Thanks!


Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)

Hollywood comes to Havre de Grace High School

There's a call for extras at Havre de Grace High School this Saturday July 14.

An independent thriller, called "From Within" is being shot in Havre de Grace this month. The film stars Thomas Dekker from "Heroes" and Elizabeth Rice.

Extras are needed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the high school. People interested in volunteering can e-mail questions and register on

The crew is looking for people of all ages to volunteer and the scene is suppose to be a casual Sunday afternoon. There will be drawings every half an hour. Prizes include gift certificates to local shops and restaurants, Carrie Underwood tickets and one iPhone will be given away Saturday. ¶

Posted by Madison Park at 9:41 AM | | Comments (0)

July 11, 2007

Field trip fallout

The Six Flags amusement park chain has been struggling financially in recent years, so it's no wonder that its Maryland attraction, Six Flags America in Largo, would want to keep the business of Baltimore city school kids.

The city schools administrator overseeing middle schools, Marilyn Perez, issued a directive recently that all field trips must be education-related. All of the city's traditional middle schools are classified as failing academically, so Perez said she wants kids engaged in learning until the last bell rings.

As I reported in May, Dunbar Middle School had to cancel three eighth-grade trips, including one to Six Flags, as a result of Perez's directive. Officials refunded the money that kids and parents had already paid to attend. The students, who had been looking forward to the trips for months, were crushed.

Terry Prather, the general manager of Six Flags America, and an attorney for the park spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday's school board meeting. They asked for an opportunity to participate in discussions over any new field trip policies. Prather said he's heard from a number of city teachers who used to take their students to the park each spring but are no longer allowed to.

"A lot of learning can occur at an amusement park," Prather said. He talked about the educational opportunities that come with learning about the physics of the rides, and about the safety of his park, which he said is staffed with certified medical technicians.

All that may be true. But what about the value of letting kids who lead incredibly difficult lives, and who rarely have the opportunity to leave their violence-ridden neighborhoods, to simply have fun for a day?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

A summer program that's out of this world

Six Maryland educators are among 265 teachers from 21 countries and 43 states who just returned from two weeks at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While learning how to improve math and science instruction for their students, the teachers -- through the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program -- got to participate in real astronaut training exercises. The local participating teachers were Cherilyn Brown from West Baltimore Middle School, Tameshia Farley from Baltimore's Garrison Middle School, and Lisa Kelly from North Carroll Middle School in Hampstead. There was also a teacher from Frederick and two teachers from Mardela Springs.

During the training, Farley was one of 16 teachers selected to choose a student to send to the space center. 

All the teachers attended the program on full scholarships. Selected from among a field of nearly 1,000 applicants, they were required to submit essays describing how they motivate their students to study science-related fields and pursue careers in technology.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:09 AM | | Comments (0)

July 10, 2007

Holocaust training for teachers

I just learned about an interesting training opportunity for teachers, and I wanted to pass it along.
 The Jewish Museum of Maryland will offer its third annual Summer Teacher’s Institute on Best Practices in Holocaust Education, a three-day seminar where teachers learn the affects of the Holocaust on world and U.S. history, government, English language arts and world religions.
 “Holocaust education is sometimes a very sensitive topic,” said Deborah Cardin, the director of education at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. “Teachers feel challenged in teaching it in a sensitive, compelling manner.” 
 Over the last two years, 80 teachers from both private and public schools have completed training, Cardin said.
“They come away with so much education and thought,” Cardin said. “They are able to make connections with things that are going on today.”
 The cost is $20 for two days of training, and $30 for the entire three-days.
 This year’s training will include: testimonials from Holocaust survivor and author, Leo Bretholz; a tour of the Jewish Museum’s Lloyd Street Synagogue, the state’s oldest synagogue; a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.; and a workshop on curriculum based on Holocaust survivor testimony.
 “We need to make sure we are properly educating teachers and giving them proper training so that they can implement this in the classroom,” Cardin said. 
  The deadline to apply is Friday, July 20.
To register, or for additional information, teachers should call 410-732-6400.  


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Teaching

Principals' contract kept under wraps

When a school board votes in public session to approve a document, it's supposed to become public immediately. But when the Baltimore school board approved a new contract with the city's union for principals and other administrators two weeks ago, officials said they would not release a copy of the agreement until the union membership had voted to adopt it.

The membership vote came and went later that week, and still the contract was not released. Last week, The Sun was told that a school system lawyer had to review the contract before it could be made public, and a copy would be available by Monday.

On Monday, word came that the contract won't be available until it has been printed and distributed to all members of the union, maybe by late this week. A school system spokeswoman wrote in an email: "According to our legal department we have 30 days to give it out but of course we are not waiting anywhere near that time." She said the decision to hold off was made out of respect to the union members, who shouldn't have to read about the details of their contract in the newspaper before receiving the document themselves.

Nevermind that the members already got the details of the contract when they voted to adopt it.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 9, 2007

Super's salaries, backpack safety

Check out my most recent education notebook.
 This week, I address Howard County’s possible plans for backpack safety policies and I share how much area superintendents make a year.
 I was particularly interested in the superintendent salary data. It appears that working in an affluent, successful school system doesn’t translate to collecting a larger pay check….
 Should a superintendent’s salary reflect the reputation and academic results of his/her school
 Also, what suggestions do you have about limiting the weight of backpacks?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Introducing Andres Alonso

The new city schools CEO will be on hand to meet parents and community members at a series of five public forums beginning this week. School system officials say the goal of these "Community Conversations" is for parents, students, staff and others to raise questions and voice concerns about education in the city. The meeting times and locations are listed below.

Southeast communities: 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 11) at the Southeast Anchor Library, 3601 Eastern Ave. Interpreters will be available for non-English speakers.

South Baltimore, Cherry Hill, Westport, Brooklyn and Curtis Bay: 6 to 8 p.m. July 17 at St. Veronica Catholic Church, 806 Cherry Hill Road.

Northeast communities: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 18 at Charles Commons, 10 E. 33rd St. Parking available in the Union Memorial Hospital guest garage.

Southwest communities: 6 to 8 p.m. July 24 at Bon Secours Community Center, 26 N. Fulton Ave.

Northwest communities: 6 to 8 p.m. July 25 at Coppin State University, 2500 W. North Ave. Meeting will be held in the university's new dining hall.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)

July 5, 2007

School's done, but the news isn't...

Check out the story in today's Sun by John-John Williams about the state's trial of new online science tests. Some advocates are concerned that a disparity in computer access in schools around the state may put some kids at a disadvantage on the tests.

Meanwhile, I report today about a dispute between the state and federal governments over how much Maryland schools can bill Medicaid for the health services they provide to low-income, special education students. As a result of the dispute, Maryland is instructing its school systems to cut their billing rates nearly in half. In Baltimore, that will mean a loss next school year on the order of $5 million. To learn more about this complex but important topic, read my story here

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:47 AM | | Comments (0)

July 2, 2007

A big job for Andres Alonso

I've gotten lots of email about my open letter to the new Baltimore schools CEO, Andres Alonso, published in the Sunday Ideas section. Do you think I did an accurate job summarizing the challenges facing the city schools? Are there significant issues that I didn't touch on? Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Read my letter to Alonso here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:08 AM | | Comments (2)
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