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August 31, 2007

Police stations in schools

 Many of you have heard of school resource police officers. Some have even heard of the concept of community policing. Detroit Public Schools are taking things to a new level. Read this story and tell me what you think about their plans to operate mini-stations within schools.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)
        

First day gift giving

 Parents, did you send your kid to school with an apple to give to his/ her teacher this week? What about a gift card? Or – gulp -- something more extravagant.
 Teachers, were any of you on the receiving end of a first day of school gift from a student? If so, what did you get?  
 Most of you remember Hollywood’s version of the first day of school: a bashful-looking kid gives his/ her teacher an apple on the first day of class.
 Teachers, I want to know if any of your students gave you some stale cookies or a Tiffany & Co. bracelet. It could happen. Read this story from 2005.
 Nationwide, school systems established policies that prohibit gift giving. 
 In New York City a couple of years ago, school officials established a $5-per-student spending limit for teacher gifts.
 In the past, Howard, Baltimore, and Carroll Counties have placed price limits on gifts.
 Write in and share. What kinds of first-day gifts did you receive/ send this year? What gifts are acceptable? When does a gift become too much? Let me know. 
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching
        

August 30, 2007

A new year, by the numbers

Here are some interesting statistics from a back-to-school presentation at this week's city school board meeting:

Baltimore has 23 newly appointed principals this school year. Two schools started the year without principals but have assistant principals serving temporarily in the positions.

The city hired 836 teachers for the new school year, compared with 950 a year ago. It started the school year with 51 teacher vacancies, down from 68.5 last year.

Twenty-six percent of the new teachers are from the New Teacher Project; 11 percent are from Teach for America; and 22 percent are foreign teachers, mostly from the Philippines.

Sixty-percent of the new teachers are from Maryland, 10 percent are from Pennsylvania, and 4 percent are (like new city schools CEO Andres Alonso) from New York.

Seventy-three percent of the new teachers are women. Fifty percent of them are white, while 24 percent are black, 21 percent are Asian and 2 percent are Latino.

Twenty-nine percent of the new teachers have masters degrees. Two percent have doctorates. Fifty-seven percent have prior teaching experience.

Since May 1, 410 city teachers have resigned or retired. Another 150 did not have their contracts renewed because of poor performance, a 50 percent increase from the prior year. And 79 teachers were terminated because they did not have professional certification, a 140 percent increase from the prior year.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:47 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Gas Woes.....

 I have a hunch that gas prices are affecting the way students are being transported to school this year.
 Parents, have gas prices affected the way you send your kids to school this year?  
 Are you using a carpool this year? Are you putting your kids on the bus? Are you allowing your kid to ride a bike to school? What about walking?
  If you are a transportation employee – coordinator, contractor, bus driver, etc – have you noticed an increase in the number of students riding the bus this year?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Trends
        

The State of Gulf Coast Education

 Check out this report on the state of education in the Gulf region since Hurricane Katrina. 
  The findings are startling. I was most struck by the fact that as many as 15,000 K-12 public school students and 35,000 college students in Louisiana and Mississippi missed school last year due to problems associated with Katrina.
 Check out the entire report, which was released by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation.

What are your thoughts about the way the government has dealt with the Gulf Coast in light of Katrina? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

August 29, 2007

Where in the world is ... the public speaking class?

Pity the poor high school teachers of Lauren Caitlin Upton, the Miss Teen USA contestant whose incoherent response to a question in the pageant has become a YouTube sensation.

Upton, an 18-year-old who is Miss Teen South Carolina, was asked on live television Friday why she thinks a fifth of Americans can't locate the United States on a map. Her response was a jumbled mess of words including "U.S. Americans" and "the Iraq." Not the best endorsement for her alma mater, South Carolina's Lexington High School, where her principal says she was enrolled in honors classes. Or for Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where she's expected to enroll as a freshman.

The blonde beauty queen reanswered the question Tuesday on NBC's Today show, saying that she and her friends can locate the country on a map but, if others can't, there ought to be more emphasis on geography.

Neither geography nor public speaking are on the top of the agenda these days as American public schools scramble to get students passing standardized tests in reading and math. But basic skills in both are, obviously, essential in the real world. Perhaps Baltimore's Urban Debate League, which has turned scores of city students into dynamic public speakers, ought to consider expanding to Lexington, S.C.

To watch the video of Upton's response in the pageant, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww. More on her response to the blunder is available here

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

Back to school roundup

 Here's a recap of scenes from around the region that our education team witnessed on the first day of school.

Anne Arundel County, from contributor Susan Gvozdas: Anne Arundel schools had a staggered opening this week. On Monday, they welcomed students in first through sixth and ninth grades, with highschoolers, prekindergartners and kindergartners following Tuesday.

The county's newest school, Seven Oaks Elementary in Severn, opened Tuesday, along with 10 other schools that were delayed a day by construction. Lake Shore Elementary in Pasadena was to open Wednesday.

Baltimore City, from reporter Nicole Fuller: Among the normal group of "lunch ladies" serving up breakfast at Yorkwood Elementary School was an unusual bunch of heavyweights: Schools CEO Andres Alonso, Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council President StephanieRawlings-Blake and State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

Dixon and Alonso snacked on cheese sticks with a group of kindergartners.

"Cheese is good for you," Dixon told the kids. "It’s good for your bones."

The group, which included School Board President Brian D. Morris, later toured the building that houses Harlem Park Elementary School, where Principal JoyceAkintilo, showed officials renovated classrooms. Alonso moved to shake the principal's hand, but she offered a more intimate greeting.

"We give hugs here," Akintilo explained. Alonso obliged.

After checking out a renovated dance studio, Dixon remarked that she was on the dance team during her years as a student at Northwestern High School. "I’m ready to go back to school," Dixon said. "Forget all this big people’s work."

Baltimore County, from reporter Gina Davis: Baltimore County started the school year with six and a half teaching vacancies, two of which are for instructingJROTC and must be assigned by the military.

The county was expecting 105,330 students and 8,545 teachers.

The smell of new carpet lingered in the air at Crossroads Center in White Marsh as the pack of school officials and community leaders walked the extra-wide hallways of Baltimore County’s newest school, which opened its doors yesterday to more than 400 students in a leased office building at a large business park under construction along the White Marsh Boulevard extension in the eastern portion of the county.

The school, which is the district’s fifth alternative-education facility,offers intensive reading and math instruction for disruptive students who are failing statewide assessments. The goal is to reduce dropout rates by helping struggling students pass the state exams and enable them to excel in a regular high school.

"We’re focused on those students who just need a different kind of opportunity to learn," said the school’s principal, Donna Vlachos. "This is the dream of every teacher. … To make sure that children really do have what they need to learn."

At Crossroads, a typical day for students will include two periods of reading, two periods of math, and a period each of science and social studies. Each day also will include a period of personal development, which will include topics such as conflict resolution. Students also will participate in community service.

Carroll County, from reporters Arin Gencer and Laura McCandlish: In Carroll County, the morning started out a bit flat, as the tires on more than 40 school buses parked in unsecured lots were deflated, delaying students’ arrivals at several schools. The last vandalized bus was on the road by 8:30 a.m., said James Doolan, the district’s director of transportation services.

As the sun climbed into the sky, students could be seen standing in clumps,or sitting solo, as they awaited their first bus rides for the year.

At Westminster’s Winters Mill High School, students passed the morning going through typical first-day fare: passing out schedules, testing locker combinations and reviving skills that dulled over the summer. While completing an information sheet in his world history class, senior Devlan Poseno suddenly sat back, put his pen down and flexed his right hand.

"I haven’t written anything since last time I was in school," Poseno, 17, said. "This is horrible."

But his mind wasn’t worse for wear, as he went on to score a new composition notebook from his teacher, Brianne Carter — a prize for correctly answering a trivia question.

Junior Zauhn Lewis also seemed ready to go, stepping into his advisory class yesterday morning with a bit of spring in his step.

"How can you be excited? It’s school," said Travis Coburn, another junior, after observing his classmate’s entrance. "I’m just excited to live," replied Lewis, a football player. Senior Megan Shultz expressed similar excitement, albeit for a different reason.

"I’m just looking forward to all the senior events," she said, thinking ahead to crabfeast — and prom. "It’s going to be a fun year."

Harford County, from reporters Josh Dombroskie and Madison Park: The highlight of the first day in Harford County was the opening of the Patterson Mill Middle and High School complex, a $70 million facility long anticipated as an important part of the solution to school crowding. Situated on 79 acres between Bel Air andAbingdon , the school opened to about 1,200 students comprising middle school pupils and freshmen and sophomores at the high school level, many of whom transferred from Bel Air High.

The facility boasts an array of amenities — a mass communications lab with a radio station, a TV studio, professional food labs, a child development center. After transferring from the tight quarters at Bel Air High, Chris McGee had an instant appreciation for the spaciousness of the 266,136-square-foot facility.

"It’s big," he said. "It’s better this way, you get more space to move around in, and it’s less cramped. This school is like what most people are looking for."

Howard County, from reporter John-John Williams IV: A year after a problematic computer system prevented class schedules to be sent to students on time, Howard County officials reported a relatively glitch-free first day of school.

"I haven’t seen any problems at all," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "That is something of the past. We have overcome that."

Cousin toured seven schools and was joined by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman for half of his visits.

"Kids and teachers are ready to go to work and to enthusiastically approach this school year," Cousin said after he visited a mix of primary and secondary schools. "I always like to look at the high school kids, and then look at kindergartners. The kindergartners come in with enthusiasm and wonder. We want that enthusiasm and wonder to remain as they matriculate through the school system."

More than 48,500 students - an increase of more than 200 from last year – are expected to attend Howard County public schools this year. The newly opened Veterans Elementary inEllicott City has increased the system’s number of schools to 72.

"I saw teachers and staff who were eager to go back to work," Cousin said. "I saw exactly what I thought I would see. This is a very good school system with an excellent staff who are committed to working with students and parents to make this a better school system."

Cousin, who is entering his 40th year in education, said he will spend this year focused on decreasing the achievement gap and approving the capital and operating budgets.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
        

August 28, 2007

Backtracking?

Sounds like the state plans to renege on the High School Assessment requirements. What do you think about that?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 4:08 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Are students safe from their teachers?

I just put the finishing touches on a story about Kirsten Ann Kinley, the former Howard County teacher who was charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with two teenaged boys.
 A brief recap: she pleaded guilty today in Circuit Court to one count of third-degree sex offense in connection with incidents involving a 15-year-old boy more than two years ago. Charges of improper sexual conduct with the second boy were dropped after he refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
 For the rest, read the online version of the story.
 For a more complete story, including quotes from her attorney, read tomorrow's paper.
 With all that out of the way, I wanted to pose the question of safety. Kinley was the third teacher in Howard County arrested last school year for having inappropriate sexual contact with minors.
  Howard County Public School officials said the new-teacher orientation this month offered a session on appropriate teacher behavior with students. In addition, follow-up sessions will be held at the school level.
 Do you think that is enough? What measures would you like to see schools enact to prevent future incidents?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Teaching
        

Back to school... back to school...

The first day has come and gone for some, and is today for others. As always, the school year's start hasn't been without mishap: thanks to some rather busy individuals in Carroll County, dozens of school buses got a late start when their tires were found to be deflated.

To parents, educators and, of course, students: How was your first day?  How does it feel to be back?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:27 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 24, 2007

Maryland charter schools on the rise

Our neighbor to the south reports that nine new charter schools are opening in Maryland this year, a sign of their increasing popularity.

Yet charter doesn't necessarily mean better, the Post reports: some schools have lagging test scores, and several have failed to meet adequate yearly progress - a requirement of No Child Left Behind - this past school year.

From the article:

"Maryland charter school officials and advocates say the charters are fiscally healthy, provide school choice and help students learn, even if that learning isn't reflected in federal progress assessments. Critics say the schools don't always live up to the high expectations they set and drain money from traditional public schools."

What's your take on the charter-school movement here? If you are a charter-school parent, what led you to opt out of public schools?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools
        

August 23, 2007

What’s “highly qualified” got to do with it? Not much, some say

School systems nationwide say having highly qualified teachers in their classrooms – a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act – has had little impact on student achievement thus far, the Center on Education Policy reports.

To be considered "highly qualified," a teacher must have a bachelor’s degree, be fully certified and have subject-area expertise (proven by passing a state test or completing coursework, for example).

The U.S. Department of Education set the end of this past school year (2006-7) as the deadline for having all highly qualified teachers on board – a goal few states seemed likely to meet last fall.

According to the Center:

"More than half of all states and two-thirds (66 percent) of districts reported that the requirements have improved student achievement minimally or not at all. Only 6 percent of states and 4 percent of districts indicated that the requirements have improved achievement to a great extent."

A bleak assessment, indeed. For school systems in our area, what has your experience been? Has "highly qualified" made a difference?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:36 PM | | Comments (2)
        

August 22, 2007

The five- (or more) year plan… for high school?

New York City schools are seeking to accomodate students who need extra time to complete high school. The city has already funded more than $60 million in programs meant to identify students in danger of dropping out and ensure that those students instead complete high school with the help of remediation classes, so-called "transfer schools" or special centers specifically designed to cater to the past-traditional-graduation-age crowd. While school officials do acknowledge students should complete high school in four years, they also see each diploma earned, regardless of the delay, as a victory.

High-school dropouts are a widespread problem that many school systems have sought to tackle. Should more be heading in the direction New York has chosen?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:09 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 21, 2007

Mini-majors in High School

High schools across the country are "experimenting with specialization," according to the New York Times. In some schools, 9th graders apply for a major by submitting essays on why they're interested in fields such as sports management, fine arts, health sciences, etc. 

As part of high school reforms in Harford County, sophomores in the spring semester will select a field of interest, called a career cluster.

Do these types of specializations make high school more relevant?  Or do they force students to pick a "major" when they haven't had enough opportunity to explore their academic interests?

Posted by Madison Park at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
        

To do list.....

For some students, school is less than a week away. 
  Many teachers – on the other hand – are back in the building this week.
  I want to know -- teachers, students, and parents – the last minute items on your to do list.
 Do you have to purchase that special outfit for the first day of school?
 Are you speeding through the final chapters of your required summer reading?
  Are you – gulp – preparing your lesson plans?
 Write in. We want to know!!!!
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:40 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 16, 2007

Making tech experience "official"

A Georgia state rep is pushing legislation that would provide students in that state not only with a diploma, but a certificate that says they’re ready to work in their chosen field.

The proposal is meant to allow more students to take technical college courses in high school, and (ideally) reduce the dropout rate.

More and more Maryland students are participating in career and tech programs…. Do you think Georgia’s pols are on the right track?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:46 PM | | Comments (2)
        

August 15, 2007

This just in...

Check out this year's AYP results, and see how your school did this time around.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:45 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Educator Spotlight

Jeana Essery

Essery lives in Harford County and teaches sixth grade science at Fallston Middle School.

"I decided to pursue education because I love a challenge. I enjoy taking information and figuring out ways to help kids really understand it. I also felt that teaching would be very exciting," Essery said.

Fallston Middle School principal, Kaye M. Bloom nominated her:

"Imagine being part of a cold air mass that meets a warm air mass and experience what happens in that situation or talking to scientists in a submarine!  Mrs. Essery provides these experiences as well as a multitude of hands-on activities to bring science alive for her students."

"Students enter Mrs. Essery's room excited about what they will experience that day.  They could be asked to line up in the hallway to replicate the solar systen or throw objects of varying shapes and weights off the balcony to determine the effects of gravity." 

 

About the Educator Spotlight
With your help, we’ll spotlight outstanding educators -- anyone who works on behalf of the students, including teachers, principals, guidance counselors, etc. -- from across the region. To salute your favorite educator, please e-mail any of the Sun’s education reporters the following information: The educator’s name; school; educational background; and pesonal data such as age, residence and family. Then, answer this question: How does this educator make a difference?

Posted by Madison Park at 1:42 PM | | Comments (0)
        

ACT's good news... and bad news

ACT scores are up again this year, according to the test’s maker. Though slight, the increase is part of a steady uptick since 2003.

But the folks at ACT are quick to temper this year's progress – an average score of 21.2 on a scale of 1 to 36 – by noting that high schools still aren’t providing the rigor to truly prepare their students for college.

The good news? More Maryland students met the test’s college-ready benchmarks than students nationally, according to a profile report based on a cohort of 9,250 state students in the Class of 2007.

What do you think? Is the ACT’s assessment of high schools accurate?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)
        

August 14, 2007

AYP results due out Wednesday

All the administrators, teachers and parents who have been waiting to find out if their school made "adequate yearly progress" on this year's round of state exams will have answers Wednesday.

The state education department is scheduled to release AYP results for elementary and middle schools at noon Wednesday on the Web site www.mdreportcard.org.

Adequate yearly progress, or AYP, is the measurement stick established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act to determine if a school is on track toward having all students proficient in reading and math by 2014. It is based primarily on a school's scores on the annual Maryland School Assessments in reading and math, measuring not only a school's overall performance, but results according to student "subgroups." If African-American or special education or low-income students fail to make the grade, so does the whole school. And if a school fails to make AYP for two years or more, it lands on a state watch list that could eventually lead to sanctions as severe as staff replacement.

Results of the High School Assessments -- the tests in algebra, English, biology and government that kids will need to pass to graduate starting in 2009, and that determine a high school's AYP -- are due out sometime next week. 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Wikipedia (and doubt) no more?

As students gear up for another school year, the kind folks at the non-profit Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth have compiled resources that might make students, parents and teachers breathe easier when it comes to discerning fact from fiction in research materials. Several sites have emerged, some geared toward students interested in math or science, others catering to a range of subject areas, including economics and the arts.

A handy list of places to go for homework and research help, courtesy of the center:

http://www.cogito.org/ (Hopkins-based site)

http://www.ipl.org

http://www.nobelprize.org

http://www.museumstuff.com

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:44 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 13, 2007

Report questions "persistently dangerous" school label

The inspector general's office at the federal education department is questioning the provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that labels schools "persistently dangerous."

The law leaves it up to states to determine what constitutes a persistently dangerous school, and as a result, most states have made the definitions so strict that they don't have any. Maryland is one of only seven states in the nation that has used the label. Late last month, it designated five Baltimore middle and high schools "persistently dangerous," despite the concern of some state school board members that the label is unfair.

Because Maryland defines persistently dangerous schools according to the number of suspensions for violent offenses, teachers and principals around the state report that kids aren't being suspended when they should be or that suspensions aren't being recorded properly. 

The inspector general's report says the provision of the law "has not advanced the national effort to ensure students a safe school environment."

William Modzeleski, the second-in-command in the federal education department’s office of safe and drug-free schools, told Education Week that the department will consider the report as it makes its recommendations to Congress on the provision. (No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization this year.) He said there is concern "that the states have set the bars too high" for determining what is an unsafe school

“This is definitely an issue that should be closely reviewed,” Modzeleski told Education Week. “Philosophically, I don’t think there’s much disagreement on why the provision is there, but there is a lot of discussion around what constitutes a safe school and what constitutes an unsafe school.”

Education Week's story about the report is available here. And the federal report is available online at:

www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/auditreports/s03g0015.pdf

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB
        

Back-to-school help for city parents

The Baltimore school system's "command center" -- a central location to help parents prepare for the new school year -- opened this morning.

Classes for city students resume on Monday, Aug. 27.

Parents or guardians with questions about school registration, immunization, school assignments, transfers and transportation can call or visit the center between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays through Aug. 24 and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 27 through Sept. 7. The center is located in room 105 at administrative headquarters, 200 E. North Ave., and can be reached by calling 443-984-1177.

Now in its fifth year, the center responds to more than 1,700 inquiries annually.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:33 AM | | Comments (0)
        

Hopkins, St. Mary's among 25 "hottest" colleges in '07

Two Maryland colleges were rated among the "25 Hottest Schools"  by Newsweek magazine and test-prep service Kaplan. The "subjective and temporary" list appears in the Aug 20 issue of the weekly magazine.

Johns Hopkins University makes the cut on the strength of its
stereotypes, winning "Hottest for Pre-Meds" college. But William
Conley, enrollment dean, tells Newsweek that "increasing appreciation" among applicants for the Baltimore colleges's non-nerdy academics and "its lovely campus in the middle of Baltimore" are responsible for a 66 increase in Regular Decision applications and nearly doubling of Early Decision applications since 2002.

St. Mary's College of Maryland in St. Mary's County gets a nod as
"Hottest for Loving the Great Outdoors." Newsweek quotes St. Mary's junior Shane Hall thusly: "From sailing, swimming, fishing, beach bonfires, kayaking and crabbing to polar-bear swims, windsurfing, using a seine net for a bio class or just playing with the bioluminescent algae, the river is the single greatest stress reliever on campus." Plus, the sailing team won a couple national championships this year.

[Gadi Dechter]

Posted by Howard Libit at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
        

August 10, 2007

Added incentive – or just more pressure?

Our neighbor to the south has decided to dangle a juicy carrot to encourage improvement in academic performance. Virginia is starting a new award program, called Virginia Index of Performance (VIP), which will allot points to schools and districts for test scores, and such factors as graduation rates or the percentage of students graduating with college-level credit or advanced diplomas.  The best in class - or "VIP schools" - can receive a Governor’s VIP Award for Educational Excellence.

Is this a path Maryland should explore, with an eye toward getting their schools to exceed, not just meet minimum requirements? What effect do you think this kind of program will have on the school year?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
        

August 9, 2007

Parents, put away your wallets

Colorado's state Board of Education just decided to pay for college classes that high school students take, up to a year after they graduate.

It's unclear where the funding for the controversial rule would come from - whether the state's K-12 per-pupil money (about $6,000 per student) or another source.  Some have expressed concerns that such a generous move could mean depleting money designated for K-12.

What do you think?  Would you like to see a similar program in Maryland?  Would it encourage more high-school students to take college-level courses?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
        

No wonder their test scores are so high...

Students at KIPP Ujima Village Academy, an ultra high-performing charter middle school in West Baltimore, are back in class, three and a half weeks before their peers around the state. The school's 300 fifth- through eighth-graders are required to attend a summer session for six and a half hours a day until the regular academic year begins Aug. 27. After that, KIPP will be in session for nine hours and 15 minutes on weekdays, plus three and a half hours on Saturdays.

The school is part of the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of public schools that overall have been successful in educating poor, minority students.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 8, 2007

No child left... where?

No Child Left Inside is the name of the legislation recently introduced by U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes. As the Maryland congressman's press release explains, the No Child Left Behind Act has led to such emphasis on standardized tests that school kids aren't getting outside much anymore for recess, field trips and "outdoor environmental activities." No Child Left Inside would change that, requiring states to submit plans showing the "environmental literacy" of their high school graduates and providing new money both for states to advance environmental education and for teacher training in the subject. Sarbanes intends for the legislation to be included in the reauthorized version of No Child Left Behind. It's being backed by the "No Child Left Inside Coalition," made up of groups including the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Sarbanes isn't the only one who thinks the slogan is catchy. In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has launched the No Child Left Inside initiative to encourage families to visit the state's parks and other outdoor attractions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:48 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB
        

Bad breakfast stats in Baltimore

According to a new report from the Washington-based Food Research and Action Center, only 39 percent of eligible low-income students in Baltimore took advantage of the free breakfast offered in schools during the 2005-2006 school year. But at schools participating in Maryland Meals for Achievement, which provides breakfast to students in their classrooms rather than requiring them to come in early and go to the cafeteria, 71 percent of kids ate what's so often dubbed the most important meal of the day.

According to FRAC, numerous studies have highlighted the link between breakfast and learning: Kids who eat breakfast perform better on tests, behave better, have fewer visits to the school nurse, and are less likely to be obese. Nationall, FRAC estimates, 45 percent of students who receive a government-subsidized school lunch also eat a school breakfast.

Baltimore was one of 23 cities included in the latest FRAC study. In the midst of the period studied, in January 2006, the city school system began offering free breakfast to all elementary and middle school students regardless of income. But since most city kids were eligible for the free breakfast anyway, the move did not lead to a dramatic difference in participation numbers. School system officials have been reluctant to serve breakfast in classrooms on a wide scale for fear of rodents and other sanitary problems.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 7, 2007

Lunch Prices Increase

Students will pay more for their school lunches this year in Harford County public schools.  School officials say rising prices -- primarily in milk and cheese -- are to blame. 

The price of an elementary school lunch will be $1.70 and secondary $1.80 starting this fall.   The cost of lunches will increase by 20 cents, marking the first price increase since August 1998.  Reduced-price lunches will remain the same at $0.40.

Posted by Madison Park at 2:35 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Freshmen no longer the youngest in the building

Sacramento is experimenting this fall with several new schools that house grades 7 through 12, combining middle and high school. Educators hope such an arrangement will set seventh- and eighth-graders on a firmer path toward graduation, helping reduce dropout rates and ensure students enter high school working at grade level. Sacramento follows New York in this trend.

What’s your take on combining middle- and high-school grades? Do you think it will help set – and keep – students on the right path?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Baltimore County's Diaz expected in arbitration talks

Baltimore County's Sonia Diaz, the school system's chief academic officer, is expected to take part in arbitration talks today and tomorrow with her former employer, the Las Cruces public school system, which fired her earlier this year, according to a New Mexico blogger who follows the region's politics as well as an article today on the Las Cruces Sun-News Web site.

As I reported for The Sun in March when Diaz was named chief academic officer for Baltimore County Public Schools, the Las Cruces school board placed Diaz on administrative leave in November while it investigated complaints that employee morale was suffering under her management. The board fired her in January. Diaz sought arbitration after the school board rejected her appeal of the firing.

Diaz began working for Baltimore County public schools in April.

The Sun's story from March:

`Assertive' leader to apply audit
Diaz to oversee Baltimore County school changes

Wednesday, March 7, 2007
 

   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."

 

    gina.davis@baltsun.com

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:26 AM | | Comments (0)
        

August 6, 2007

Learning more than 2+2...

Congress just passed a bill to promote math and science education, calling for federal grants to encourage the use of successful/proven teaching methods for those subjects.  The bill also aims to funnel more scholarship funds and support to prospective math and science majors - if they, in turn, commit to teaching in high-need schools.  The idea behind this, which you can read more about here, is to improve the nation's workforce and strengthen the economy against foreign competition.
As an aside: Some math literacy experts have observed our tendency to see math skills as something with which you're born/gifted.  But that idea, they argue, is the equivalent of saying a child only needs to master sounding out letters without stringing together words and sentences.
What are your thoughts on math education in the U.S. - and why many seem to view math as a skill that's not necessary to master, but just endure?  Do you think this legislation will help dispel that idea - or, at the very least - improve math (and science) education?
Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:50 AM | | Comments (0)
        

August 2, 2007

Trouble in Tennessee

The state board in Tennessee will play a stronger role in running 17 Memphis schools that failed to meet state performance standards the last six years, according to an article found here in the Memphis Commericial Appeal.

Sound familiar to last year's messy episode in Baltimore city?

 

Posted by Brent Jones at 7:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

August 1, 2007

CEO's baseball allegiance revealed

He's required to love our children, but not our baseball team.... Sources tell Classroom Connections they spotted Andres Alonso, the new CEO of the Baltimore schools, at Camden Yards Friday for the Orioles-Yankees game. Alonso, for those unfamiliar, was previously the deputy chancellor in New York City. Most of his life since immigrating from Cuba at age 12 has been spent in New Jersey and New York. But now, he's committed himself to Baltimore.

So, our sources wondered, which team was Alonso rooting for? His attire at the game -- a light-colored suit -- didn't provide any clues. Curious myself, I asked Alonso this week and he confessed: He's still a Yankees fan.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

A Web site in need of an update

It seems the folks who write the city school system's online meeting agendas may not be up to speed on recent administrative changes. The online agenda for last night's school board meeting said under one item: "Dr. Boston will discuss and provide WRITTEN recommendations and/or updates."

An update for the Web team: Charlene Cooper Boston ended her tenure as interim CEO of the city schools on June 30. She was replaced July 1 by Andres Alonso.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        
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