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September 28, 2007

Lucky 13: Schools Taken Off Improvement List

Thirteen schools – including four Baltimore County high schools, and one high school each in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City –- have made enough progress over the past two years to be removed from the school improvement list, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

The schools are:
Anne Arundel County
North County High School
Baltimore County
Chesapeake High School
Owings Mills High School
Parkville High School and Center for Math/Science
Randallstown High School
Prince George’s County
Bowie High School
Frederick Douglass High School
Gwynn Park High School
Laurel High School
Potomac High School
Suitland High School
Surrattsville High School
Baltimore City
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

 State officials say that improvement on the algebra and English High School Assessments resulted in accomplishment.

“Students are taking the High School Assessments seriously, and that has paid off for everyone,” State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a press release. “Targets rise every year, making the process that much tougher. But when so many schools succeed, we know the work is paying off.”

In addition, more than 70 percent of Maryland high schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), according to data  released today by the state on the Maryland Report Card Web site.  AYP, the yardstick under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is used to determine whether children can transfer to higher-performing schools. It also can affect federal funding to schools.Overall, nearly 80 percent of Maryland schools made AYP in 2007. 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB

September 27, 2007

Where have all the male teachers gone?

 Where are all male teachers? They definitely aren’t in the classroom.
 Newsweek reports that the percentage of male teachers is flirting with a 40-year-low. What’s up with that? And more importantly, does it matter? Is being a good teacher more important factor than gender?
 Are you a male teacher or an aspiring male teacher? What are the obstacles in the profession? Why aren’t their more of you out there?

This whole conversation strikes me a little odd given that Sara posted a blog item about superintendents and gender earlier this week.

In her post, she shares findings that show that women make up more than 20 percent of superintendents. The Newsweek article shows that women make up about 75 percent of teachers.
 Does this mean that there is a serious glass ceiling for top administrative positions within school systems. Is it OK for women to teach and not to lead?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:40 PM | | Comments (3)

Shame, shame, shame, Florida State University

Check out this story about a cheating scandal that involves almost two dozen athletes at Florida State University.

Two athletic department academic assistance employees have already resigned; 23 athletes were implicated in cheating on tests given over the Internet, according to school officials.

Is anyone really surprised? I’m only surprised that the athletes got caught. Athletics have ruined the college experience. I really can’t believe some of the things that athletes are allowed to do in college. I’m highly doubtful that colleges are doing anything to help these athletes learn.

Have you heard some college athletes talk during interviews? It’s embarrassing. Thanks, Carmelo Anthony and Stephon Marbury…

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:20 PM | | Comments (3)

Another side of Alonso

In city education circles, everyone is talking about the exchange at Tuesday night's school board meeting between Andres Alonso and Michael Carter, the Parent and Community Advisory Board chair. Carter customarily leads off the public comments toward the beginning of school board meetings. Almost invariably, his comments are both insightful and in excess of the five-minute time limit. And almost invariably, school board chairman Brian Morris and others on the board respond on the spot to whatever Carter had to say, taking Carter's time at the table way, way past five minutes.

This week, Carter was talking about the High School Assessments, and the person to respond was Alonso (after which four board members also weighed in). Carter was critical of the low turnout among city school folks at last week's state forum on whether to scrap the requirement that kids pass the exams to graduate starting in 2009. He was critical that the city school system doesn't have a formal position paper on the tests and isn't reaching out to parents. And he expressed his fear that, with only around 30 percent of the kids in the class of 2009 having passed the tests so far, not much will change in two years and thousands of kids will be denied diplomas. "I do not see a sense of urgency here on North Avenue," he said.

His comments did not go over well with Alonso, who thus far in his three months on the job had avoided any public confrontations. With one hand under his chin and the other wagging at the audience, he fired off a rebuttal. Excerpts:

"I have enormous faith in my ability and the ability of the system to move forward in a different direction. If two years from now, we're still at 30 percent (passing the tests) like we are now, then I haven't done my job, I should be fired, and the community itself and the schools haven't responded as they should. If we assume we're not gonna have an impact in terms of the lives of the students however, whatever has happened in the past, then what are we doing?"

Explaining why he doesn't want to give out meaningless diplomas when kids can't meet basic standards: "It's a shell game. They graduate, and then what happens to them?"

"Is it gonna be difficult? Absolutely, but if we enter the discussion with the assumption that we're going to be at 30 percent two years from now, then what kind of faith do we have on the parents? What kind of faith do we have in teachers? What kind of faith do we have in principals? It's our work to change that. It's not our work to say just because it's gonna get tougher, when we know that it's not working as it is, that it's gonna be fine, that it's gonna be fine if we make it easier. That's not my job. My job is to create the urgency that's gonna make this system move forward."

Board member George VanHook, echoing Carter's call for a plan to be developed and released to the community detailing how the system will get students passing the tests and where it stands on the issue: "I'm not sure, Mr. Carter, whether you're satisfied with the response (from Alonso). I know you're being diplomatic and I appreciate that, but you didn't get your answer, did you?"

Carter to Alonso: "When DREAA (the school system's research division) releases the HSA data in 2009, I'll give Ralph (Alonso's driver) the day off and drive you to the airport if it's not what it should be."  

Alonso, responding to Carter: "That is exactly what I would expect you to do. Let me then also say that, in terms of the plan, there are a lot of people who have been around for the past 12 years as we have been miseducating kids. However -- however -- I've been here for two and a half months trying to figure out where to find the money to educate kids. And the notion that this is going to happen in a week -- hold on, hold on (interruptions) -- or the notion that we're going to somehow put a task force together when our kids are wasting time in school, in order to make the work move forward, that I find ridiculous."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

'Jena 6' update

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced that the court case involving Mychal Bell, a black teenager and member of the “Jena 6,” will be heard in juvenile court.

Blanco made the announcement with civil rights leaders Martin Luther King III and Al Sharpton.

The case is also catching the attention of Capitol Hill. A video can be found on The Sun's homepage. Scroll down to the video section and scroll down to the Jena 6 video.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:27 PM | | Comments (3)

More on the test-optional directory

The folks at FairTest took issue with my headline for Tuesday's post about the group's directory of colleges and universities that don't require SAT or ACT scores. (See "A useful URL for bad test takers.")

Bob Schaeffer, FairTest's public education director, wrote in an email: "Of course, we'd argue that the list of 'optional' schools is useful for more than just bad test-takers. Many students with good (or even great) ACT/SAT scores apply to these institutions because of the message they send by evaluating a broader portfolio of talents." 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:03 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Testing

State of the superintendency

Some interesting tidbits from "The State of the American School Superintendency," a report released this week by the American Association of School Administrators:

-- More than 20 percent of superintendents in 2006 were women, up from 16 percent in 2000 and 6.6 percent in 1992. 

-- A majority of superintendents believe that No Child Left Behind has had a negative effect on the nation's schools.

-- Mean tenure for superintendents is 5.5 years; median tenure is near six years.

Get more information on the study here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:21 AM | | Comments (0)

September 26, 2007

Unsettling suspension stats

In today's Sun, Brent and I report on the city school board's vote last night to require principals to get permission from CEO Andres Alonso or his designee before they can suspend a student for more than a week. (See our story here.) Previously, principals could suspend a child for up to two weeks without an administrative review.

Alonso says that a two-week suspension could have such a profound impact on a student's life that it should not be allowed to go unchecked.

To put the issue in a national context, I recommend checking out an article published yesterday in our sister paper, the Chicago Tribune, which analyzed national suspension data. It found that, in every state but Idaho, "black students are being suspended in numbers greater than would be expected from their proportion of the student population.... And on average across the nation, black students are suspended and expelled at nearly three times the rate of white students."

The article quotes a former principal in Austin, Texas, who virtually eliminated disciplinary referrals at her school, which, like Baltimore's schools, is majority-minority. "I am not going to give up on a child and suspend him or send him to an alternative school," she said. "Washing our hands of a child will never change his behavior, it just makes it worse. These are children. It's up to us to be creative to find ways to help them behave."

At the same time, as Alonso readily acknowledges, Baltimore's schools aren't equipped to offer all the in-school suspension and other alternative programs needed to keep kids engaged academically when they're away from their regular classes. And kept in their regular classes, of course, kids recommended for suspension are often really disruptive. 

Educators, parents, advocates: What do you think is the best way to handle kids with disciplinary problems?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:13 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Report card day

Not for the kids, silly. For the nation. Tuesday marked the release of the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card. The test is significant because it compares the states against each other. The other standardized tests, the ones we obsess about, the ones mandated by No Child Left Behind (Maryland School Assessments here), vary from state to state, making comparisons nearly impossible.

I don't know about the other education reporters, but my inbox has been flooded with press releases giving different groups' spin on the NAEP results.

Maryland State Department of Education: "STATE STUDENTS SHOW ACROSS-THE-BOARD PROGRESS ON NAEP ASSESSMENTS" (talks about Maryland scoring above the national average in all four categories tested: reading and math in fourth and eighth grades, says growth is consistent with progress on other exams mandated by No Child Left Behind)

Advocates for Children and Youth (Baltimore-based advocacy group): "NEW NATIONAL SCORES SHOW MARYLAND STUDENTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK NATIONALLY IN READING, MATH" (says the state's kids are "stuck in the middle," many children left behind despite the state's wealth)

Southern Regional Education Board: "Many SREB States See Record-High Achievement in Reading, Math on 'Nation's Report Card'" (touts the gains of the states that belong to its consortium but questions whether individual states' tests are as stringent as NAEP, says Maryland had the nation's biggest percentage-point increase in the number of fourth graders scoring at the basic level in math)

American Federation of Teachers: "AFT Welcomes Good News in NAEP Scores, Warns of Troubling Signs" (focuses on eighth-grade reading scores, which have been flat since 2003, blames No Child Left Behind)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: "2007 NAEP Reports Sustained Improvement In Math Scores Nationwide in Grades 4 and 8" (says public attention to math instruction is paying off)

Don't know what to think? Judge for yourself here. And read Liz's story in today's Sun.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

September 25, 2007

Some teachers cool on cyber school idea

When Connections Academy, the Baltimore-based for-profit outfit that operates full-time online public schools, put down stakes in 2005 in Oregon, teachers objected loudly. Among their complaints --- the company is a for-profit business, has student-teacher ratios of 50-to-1 and depends on parents to serve as quasi-teachers, spending hours a day providing the kind of hands-on instruction that normally happens in the classroom, according to local news reports. In its first year, Oregon's program had 700 students and was said to be on the verge of doubling that enrollment within the year.

As I report in today's Sun, the Baltimore County public school system plans to test Connections Academy, starting this week with home-schooled students. (See the county's page at the company's website.) The goal is to enroll as many as 200 students for this year-long pilot phase. Students will be expected to meet all of the state's public school requirements --- such as completing 180 days of class and taking all of the state's standardized tests.

Contacted last night, the head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County said she can envision a place for Connections Academy within the local school system as "a support" to students who might find themselves needing an extended absence from a traditional school, but not something that would be open to the general student population.

Cheryl Bost, TABCO president, added:

"We value more teacher-to-student interaction in the public schools, as opposed to taking taxpayer money and giving it to a company. We're not supportive of it being a replacement" for traditional schools.

A significant drawback, she added, is that if the company is unsuccessful with a student, that child would return to a brick-and-mortar school, forcing teachers to pick up the pieces.

Some wonder why a home-schooling family would want to sign up for a program that would return them to the public school way. Others figure it'll give these parents and students the best of both worlds --- access to public school resources on their own territory, in their own homes. Still others question what business do people have enjoying the benefits of the school system they decided to leave for whatever reasons, be they philosophical or practical.

Teachers, parents, students --- what do you think? Does Connections Academy present an opportunity or an obstacle for public education?

Posted by Gina Davis at 10:14 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Trends

A useful URL for bad test takers

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, also known as FairTest, has compiled a database of 750 American colleges and universities that will not require most of their applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores this year. Check it out here.

FairTest, the nation's leading critic of the standardized testing movement, reports that more than 30 schools have eliminated admissions exam requirements since a new SAT was introducted in March 2005 and the ACT added an optional writing section. Goucher and Salisbury are among the Maryland institutions on the list.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, said in a press release: "The test-optional movement is nearing 'critical mass.' Each college that eliminates its entrance exams stimulates several more to reexamine their requirements."

FairTest argues that SAT and ACT results reflect racial, gender, language and income biases, are weak predictors of college academic performance and are "highly susceptible to coaching." Do you agree?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:11 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (6)
Categories: Testing

September 24, 2007

Closed meeting update, or lack thereof

If anybody out there is still wondering about that closed-session city school board meeting last week, I still have no answers.

Last week, I posted about the school board holding a session behind closed doors to discuss "administrative functions." I couldn't find anywhere in the state's open meetings law that permitted a closed session for such a purpose. Given school officials' lack of response to my inquiry, I'm guessing they couldn't, either.

Read my original post here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:24 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Achievement Gap chatter

A story I wrote for Sunday's Idea section about the achievement gap between African Americans and whites has spurred a number of people to express their views on what is holding back minority and poor students. Do you have any questions about the story you would like answered? I will be happy to post answers today.

Read below to see some of the comments posted an earlier blog entry on the topic, or read these comments about the story posted on 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:31 AM | | Comments (2)


No, that subject line is not disguised profanity, but a tribute to National Punctuation Day, which is today. This year marks the fourth celebration of principles that must be hallowed by punctilious teachers, editors and other meticulous individuals everywhere.

As the name would suggest, National Punctuation Day is meant to remind people – both big and small – of the importance of proper punctuation; indeed, we all could probably use a reminder every now and then! So remember: Watch those comma splices…and try not to overindulge in exclamation points.

Oh, and for some samples of what not to do, check out photos of "annoying punctuation gaffes" on the site dedicated to the cause.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:13 AM | | Comments (0)

September 21, 2007

Students stand for Jena 6

Milford Mill Academy teacher Pamela Nevel sounded like a proud mother in her email as she wrote about the hundreds of students who showed up yesterday morning to protest in support of the "Jena 6," as thousands of others did across Maryland and the rest of the nation.

"It was super and moving," she wrote.

Several of her students also wrote in yesterday with their own accounts of how the protest had affected them. Read comments they sent to us here at Classroom Connections. Among the comments was this gem from 10th-grader Janakhte' Page:

"I, along with Briana Haden, held up a sign that read "Honk if you support the Jena 6". We held that sign up with pride and screamed to the top of our lungs. ... Most people just ignore racism or pretend that it doesn't exist because they do not want to face the truth and the pain of racism. No one pays attention until somebody gets hurt or gets put in jail and that is exactly what happened. Racism is alive and I feel that the protest let people know that it still is. I was proud to be a part of a positive protest that reflects our community's consideration for others."

Coming Sunday: A critical gap

Why, decades after integration and years after a federal law was passed to raise achievement, is there still a persistent gap between African Americans and white students across the state and the nation?

I explore the reasons why the achievement gap persists in a story in the Ideas section of the Sunday newspaper. Some African Americans say families need to stress academics and push their children to succeed.

Do you have a view on what is causing this problem? Maybe you are a teacher who has seen this gap played out in the classrom, maybe you are a parent. What are your thoughts? On Monday I will respond to comments posted here. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:19 AM | | Comments (6)

I'm going home!

 Hey all!

I’m going home to surprise my Mom – a retired elementary school principal -- on her 60th birthday. It will be the first time I'm going back home in five years; and yes I have personally seen my mom in that time period.

 I won’t be back until the 26th.

But, I have left you in good hands. I have already talked to my fellow education reporters, and they have a few exciting things planned – including more Jena 6 items -- in the coming days.

Talk to you when I come back,

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:03 AM | | Comments (2)

September 20, 2007

The lost boys: from Baltimore to Jena

I met this morning with Edwin Johnson and Carl Stokes, two of the founders of the Bluford Drew Jemison Math Science Technology Academy, Baltimore's new charter middle school for boys. Four days a week, the school has a 12-hour academic day, an attempt to keep its students off the city's dangerous streets and out of trouble.

Johnson and Stokes are also heavily involved at Dunbar High School, one of the Baltimore's magnet high schools with stringent admissions requirements. At Dunbar, a historically African-American school, there are more than twice as many girls as boys because there aren't enough qualified male applicants. The charter middle school is an attempt to change that.

Back in the office, over lunch at my desk, I read this blog post on Jena 6 by Byron Williams, a syndicated columnist and pastor in Oakland, Calif. In it he suggests that the six boys from Jena, La., instead be called the American 6, since their case serves as a microcosm of our society. He cites a disturbing report from the Urban League about incarceration. Among the findings: African-American men in the United States are three times more likely than white men to face jail once they have been arrested. African-American men receive jail sentences on average 15 percent longer than white men convicted of the same crime.

How do you think our education and criminal justice systems can be reformed to produce better outcomes for African-American males? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:45 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Diversity/Segregation

Any Kid Nation watchers?

 Did any of you watch the reality TV show last night? For those who didn’t, here’s a recap from my friend Sarah Kickler Kelber, who runs The Sun blog Reality Check.

What did you think of the show? It was almost like Survivor, Deadwood, and Degrassi: The Next Generation, morphed…

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:15 AM | | Comments (1)

Jena 6 Update

 If you want to check out video of rallies in Louisiana and Washington, D.C. link to
 Also, check out today’s article in The Sun.

UPDATE: If you go to the mainpage of The Sun, you can view special video reports from Jena.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)

The cost of not doing more for Maryland's high schools

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, offers some interesting calculations on how much struggling high schools --- and students who can't graduate --- are costing Maryland. Read this statement that the organization issued today:




Federal Government Can Help by Expanding No Child Left Behind

to Include Resources and Support for High Schools


    Washington, D.C. – This is a watershed year for American education, with Congress currently working on a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.  In 2004, the last year for which data is available, only 75 percent of Maryland’s students graduated from high school on time.  And about 31 percent of the students in Maryland who started ninth grade earlier this month read so far below grade level that they are at serious risk of not graduating in four years. 

    “The poor graduation rate is a wake-up call that we can and must do more to help our high school students,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “All of us pay the price – not just the dropout, who is looking at a severely limited future, but also the rest of us, who need these new members of the workforce prepared to support the nation in a twenty-first century world that is becoming more and more competitive."

The Alliance for Excellent Education, to help illustrate the potential economic benefits of an improved high school system that better prepares all high school students to graduate prepared for college and work, calculates that: 

Maryland would save more than $307 million in health care costs for each class of dropouts, over their lifetimes, had these dropouts stayed in school and earned their diplomas.

Maryland households would have over $1.1 billion more in accumulated wealth if all heads of households had graduated from high school.

If Maryland’s high schools graduated all students ready for college, the state would save almost $80 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings.

Maryland’s economy would see a combination of savings and revenue of more than $211 million in reduced crime spending and increased earnings each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.

Wise said, “While well-intentioned, the current NCLB simply does not address the dropout problem and permits far too many students to leave high school without an adequate education.  Congress has the opportunity, right at this moment, to ensure that the law extends to all students.  Now is the time to build on the ideals of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and pass legislation that leads the nation toward ‘every child a graduate.’"

Posted by Gina Davis at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

Meeting behind closed doors

The Baltimore school board held a special closed-session meeting Tuesday night to discuss "administrative functions."

How did I know about this meeting? I happened to stop by school system headquarters at 200 E. North Ave., and I saw the meeting notice taped to the door. I've requested repeatedly over the past few years that the system post notice of closed-session meetings online, or at least alert the media by e-mail, as neighboring jurisdictions routinely do. But officials technically meet the letter of the law by putting up paper notices inside system headquarters. As a result, the only people who find out about the meetings are those who are in the building -- and notice the signs on the wall.

What does it matter? We can't attend closed-session meetings anyway. But doesn't the public have a right to know how much of its business is being done out of its view? And in this case, I wonder why the meeting had to be closed. Typically, the public is kept out of meetings when the board is discussing legal or personnel matters. This time, the notice at North Avenue said the purpose of the meeting was to review the board's "administrative functions."

What does that mean? I didn't get a response to my inquiry to the school system Wednesday. I'll let you know if I do.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 19, 2007

Just a reminder…

Kid Nation premiers tonight at 8 p.m. on CBS.

Weigh in tomorrow with your impressions of the first episode. I can't wait to hear your take on the child abuse accusations!

Oh yeah, scroll down on this page to check out the show's video promo.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:52 PM | | Comments (0)

Rising against racism

Aisha Carr, a 10th grader at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, was just on the phone with me explaining why she and her schoolmates plan to protest tomorrow morning in support of the "Jena 6." They are the group of black students in Jena, Lousiana, who were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder in connection with beating a white student in December after nooses were hung from a tree at the school. Their case has drawn criticism from people, who like Aisha, feel that the blacks were being unfairly treated more harshly than whites after racial confrontations and fights at Jena High School.

"We know racism existed, but we never knew it would become so real for us," Aisha said, as she worked with schoolmates to create posters for tomorrow's protest. "It's clear we have a long way to go."

Aisha --- who is enrolled Milford Mill's International Baccalaureate program -- said she has heard some people say the white students hung the nooses as a joke, "but that wasn't funny."

She said she and her schoolmates decided on a protest after hearing announcements on the radio, at church and at school calling on people to wear all black tomorrow as part of a national call that has designated Sept. 20 as "Support the Jena 6: A National Day of Action."

"It's time for the youth of America to have a say," she said. " 

Their protest is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. tomorrow at the school.

Posted by Gina Davis at 2:27 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Diversity/Segregation

Jena 6 Rallies

Just in case you have been living under a rock, there will be a slew of protests nationwide about the “Jena 6” case in Jena, Louisiana.

Here’s a brief recap: Thousands plan to descend on Jena (pronounced JEEN-uh), La., this week to protest a series of incidents stemming from several nooses that were hung from a tree at a high school. That incident sparked a fight, that resulted in the arrest of six African American students.

 Many protesters are upset with what they consider harsh treatment and unfair charges handed out to the African American students involved in the fight.

Check out these stories in USA Today. Also check out the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the case. The Tribune, our sister paper, originally broke the story.

Bus loads of people plan to go Louisiana to protest the sentencing of the African American students. There are also local rallies planned. Rallies are scheduled to be held at: Coppin State University from 12 p.m. until 1:30 p.m. New Shiloh Baptist Church, 2100 N. Monroe Street, from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.



UPDATE: If you go to the mainpage of The Sun, you can view special video reports from Jena.


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:53 PM | | Comments (17)

Baggy pants: Part II

The baggy pants post yesterday generated a lot of discussion.

I think that it will be interesting to hear what you have to say after reading Tanika White's front page story in today's paper.

It appears that the issue is being considered here in Baltimore. Councilwoman Helen L. Holton has introduced a resolution to require youth to pull up their pants.

Thanks to Claude Call for giving us a heads up with yesterday's blog comment.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:37 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Trends

Baltimore: A long way from New England

I recently had an email forwarded to me that was written last spring by a native of my hometown in suburban New England. She's now a teacher at a Baltimore city school. Here's some of what she had to say about her job:

I am a parent (dealing with children who are abused, whose parents don't make them do their homework, so I need to come up with my own system to get it done), a secretary (completing our cumulative folders, which our secretary should be doing but she quit so we don't have one), a gym teacher (since ours is out on surgery leave with no replacement), a computer teacher (since ours is acting as the secretary), a nurse (since ours is not here full time), a librarian (since we don't have one), a disciplinarian (since the kids throw chairs and tell me they don't care what my white tail has to say) and then the rest of me is left to be a teacher. And, no, at that point, I am not going to be a great teacher, because I am stretched in so many directions. Yes, there are kids that can succeed and go off to college but they are lost in the chaos of all that is going on in this ridiculous system. Perfect example is ... our 5th grade teacher. Has taught for 20 something years. Johns Hopkins grad. Was moved from 2nd grade to 5th grade this year because the 5th grade was so out of control that they needed a good teacher with them. Well, these kids drove her out the door and she is leaving the system after this year. No support, no sensible decisions, no consistency in staff.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

Md. shunned (or spared) in civics survey; FSU enrollment up; other good news

Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea must be happy that Intercollegiate Studies Institute decided to shun the Baltimore school this year in the think tank's annual civics literacy survey-slash-slam of elite colleges.

Last year, as we reported, "the Delaware-based nonprofit ranked the Baltimore school last out of 50 U.S. colleges in a survey of 14,000 students measuring how much they learned -- or, in the case of Hopkins undergrads, forgot -- about American history, economics, political philosophy and U.S. foreign relations during their bright college years."

This year, neither Hopkins -- nor any other Maryland school -- was among the 50 campuses surveyed. "The approach was more of a random sample of the nation’s universities," explained ISI press agent Joe Turman. "The important thing is that right now, students all over Maryland are filling out applications to universities on this list.  They need to know that there is a chance they won’t get what they paid for."

MEANWHILE, public relations staff at area colleges have been furiously flacking away happy news and fundraising coups. Here's a sampling: 

*A year after sinking to its smallest enrollment in 17 years, Frostburg State University proclaims a rebound -- with the largest freshman class ever this fall.  This fall, the Western Maryland college signed up 1,074 new freshmen, officials said, 132 more than two years ago.

*The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is celebrating a $500,000 gift for its Dresher Center for the Humanities.

*Villa Julie College wants all you future teachers to know that Provident Bank "has committed $500,000 to establish a scholarship fund for Baltimore City public school graduates pursuing a career in education."

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)

What, exactly, do you want to say?

An elated Andres Alonso called me Tuesday afternoon to talk about New York City winning the Broad Prize, the nation's biggest urban education award. Alonso, of course, was NYC's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning before becoming Baltimore's schools CEO in July.

Baltimore school board chairman Brian Morris was with Alonso at the time of the call, and Alonso wanted to pass along a quote from him: "We are serving notice to the nation that we got next."

As my conversation with Alonso continued, Morris interrupted to revise his quote: "We want to serve notice to the nation that we will be a serious competitor for the Broad Prize within two years."

"That's so much tamer," said Alonso, talking on speaker phone. "I like the, 'We want to serve notice that we got next.'"

Repeating the initial quote, Morris said I could use whichever one my editor liked better. I made the executive decision to go with the original.

See my earlier entry on the Broad award here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:35 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 18, 2007

Take this site and name it!

 It’s capital budget time, and we at Classroom Connections are amid our own renovation project.

We’re working to enhance our site to bring you the freshest look at the world of education – whether that be local or national. That means there will be more digging, more insightful content, and more trends.

It has also been pointed out to us that our name is a little – dull. So we will be taking suggestions for our new name.

We hereby announce a contest for a new name.

The winner will have the glory of being recognized on our new site. A word of warning: we are also thinking up new names, so your suggestions have to be better than ours…

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:04 AM | | Comments (5)

Cracking down on baggy pants

 It might be considered fashionable and a sign of the times, but wearing baggy pants might get you arrests, jailed or fined.

Talk about the fashion police….

Across the country, laws are being passed, and enforced, that target baggy pants wearers. Read more in this story.

Seems a little harsh to me. It appears that this trend is targeting young African-American males. I’m not advocating baggy pants, but I believe in equal treatment for all.

What do you think? Should people have the freedom to wear what they want?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Trends

Kid Nation Controversy

It’s TV time folks, and many of the Fall shows will be unveiled in the coming weeks.

One that has already generated a lot of controversy is Kid Nation, which will debut Wednesday on CBS at 8 p.m.

The show features 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, who have the cameras turned on them as they live -- by themselves -- in an abandoned mining town in New Mexico for 40 days.

Throughout the course of the show, the kids form their own government, cook their own food, and essentially rule themselves. Typical of reality television, the kids participate in challenges in order to receive special powers and privileges on the show. At the end of each episode, one kid will win a Gold Star worth $20,000.

It has been reported that participants were paid $5,000 to be on the show.

Even though the show will air this week, some critics have already called the show abusive. Others have criticized parents for allowing their children to appear on the show.

I’m not sure what to think about the show. I’ve seen the previews. Sure there are plenty of clips of kids crying, but my first reaction is not child abuse. Kids cry.

Personally, I don’t see how the show is all that different from Bug Juice on Disney, or Boys Vs. Girls on The N. All of these shows exploit participants. But isn’t that one of the prerequisites of “reality television”?

What do you think about the “Kid Nation” controversy? Would you allow your child to participate on the show? Are the participants of “Kid Nation” being exploited?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:30 AM | | Comments (2)

September 17, 2007

Teachers union ticked

In an email exchange this morning, Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, was smarting from comments that schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston made in discussing recent test results showing that less than half of the students at some largely minority schools had passed state exams required for graduation.

In my story last week, Hairston said that some of the county's high schools are not receiving "the same level or quality of education" as others. In addition to other reasons, he said that is partly because of a lack of leadership at some schools.

Cheryl agreed to let me share some of the comments from her email this morning:

Many teachers and principals are upset about Dr. Hairston’s comments, and that includes teachers in non-challenging high schools. They feel as if he put them under the bus and anyone in his leadership has no responsibility. The schools that didn’t pass HSA’s are our most challenging schools with a high turnover of administrators and teachers. They are the schools that have the same number of staffing as other schools and research shows lower class sizes works to improve achievement. They are the same schools that BCPS pilots or implements every program that comes down the educational bandwagon without the time to find out if the programs work or not. ...

Many teachers say they want time to teach and the appropriate resources to teach instead of time being taken away for this demand or that data collection requirement or new curriculum after new curriculum. We need to stop trying to beat the test and get back to good strong teaching. ...

I don’t understand how the Superintendent can fault the teachers and principals when leadership starts at the top. I have yet to learn about him or an area assistant superintendent going into one of our challenging schools, sitting down with all of the employees, and asking," What do you need us to do to help you be more successful in getting student achievement up?" It’s not a hard question, but maybe they are afraid of what they will have to do to help or afraid to acknowledge what they are doing isn’t working.

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Testing

All eyes on ADHD

On Tuesday, NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness is sponsoring an evening with Dr. Kevin Harrison, a Howard County Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. Harrison will discuss Pediatric Psychopharmacology.

The 90-minute presentation, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will be held at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, at 10431 Twin Rivers Road, in Columbia.

For further information call: 410-772-9300.

Did you know that Wednesday is ADHD Awareness Day?

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder – formerly known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) – is an illness that characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, according to NAMI. ADHD affects an estimated two million American children, according to NAMI.

Does your child have ADHD? Are there any resources that you can recommend to other parents faced with this issue? How hard is it to diagnose ADHD?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: SpecialEd

Baltimore's blogging CEO

And speaking of Andres Alonso, he is the guest blogger this week on Audacious Ideas, a blog by the Open Society Institute that discusses possible solutions to Baltimore's social ills. His entry is called "The City and the Neighborhood as School."

Alonso tells me he'll be in Washington Tuesday morning for the announcement of the mother of urban education awards, the Broad Prize, which gives $500,000 for college scholarships to students in the nation's most improved school district. Four finalists each receive $125,000. (As the press release helpfully points out, "Broad" rhymes with "road." The money comes from the Broad Foundation, established by billionaire Eli Broad.)

The New York City Department of Education, where Alonso was deputy chancellor overseeing instruction before heading south to Baltimore this summer, is in the running for the prize. The competition: Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Long Beach Unified School District (which won in 2003), and San Antonio's Northside Independent School District. 

This is NYC's third time as a finalist. If Alonso can make the changes he envisions in Baltimore, maybe someday we'll be a contender, too.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Lunch update

An update to my post from last week about city kids having to eat cereal or cheese sandwiches instead of the regular cafeteria fare while they wait for their free lunch applications to be processed:

Andres Alonso, CEO of the city schools, emailed late last week to say that "whatever was happening, it ended yesterday." He said a directive has been sent to all schools instructing them to serve students applying for subsidized lunches the same food as everyone else.

Thanks to Monica Lane, the grandparent of a prekindergartner at Gilmor Elementary School who brought the situation to my attention.

Read my initial post about the problem here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:53 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

AIM is the name of the game

Parents with children attending Baltimore County public schools should visit the district’s Web site to download checklists of what their children are expected to learn in each of their classes throughout the school year.

The system is in the process of creating lists for all of its courses, but many are already available at

As I reported last month, county school officials have created a new progress-reporting system, called the Articulated Instruction Module, as a tool for parents who want guidance on how to help their children at home.

The system is a series of checklists that follow a student from year to year, school to school, and chart whether the child has met specified objectives and learned certain skills during a given grade.

Beginning this school year, in addition to the traditional reports with letter grades that measure students' mastery of a given subject, participating teachers will give parents progress reports each quarter that will tell them whether their children can, for instance, convert fractions to decimals or determine percent of a number. Until it is mastered, a skill or objective follows a student from grade to grade.

Tested this spring in a few county schools, the system --- otherwise known as AIM --- is available on a voluntary basis to all of the county's teachers. Because the hope is that parents will find the reports useful, the school system has posted the checklists online so parents can print their own copies for home. If a teacher isn’t using the system, parents are encouraged to bring the checklists to their parent-teacher conference meetings to help guide the discussion of their children's progress.

Read my story from last month in full here:

System charts pupil progress
Baltimore County tests computerized checklist for parents

    For years, parents have complained that report cards skimp on the details and don't go far enough in helping them understand what their children have - or haven't - learned in school. 

    But a new progress-reporting system developed by a longtime Baltimore County educator aims to fill that gap with a computerized checklist that charts detailed objectives and skills.Tested this spring in a few county schools, the system is being made available on a voluntary basis to all of the county's teachers this coming school year, and the superintendent hopes it will be widely used.

    In addition to the traditional reports with letter grades that measure students' mastery of a given subject, participating teachers will give parents progress reports that will tell them whether their children can, for instance, convert fractions to decimals or determine percent of a number. Until it is mastered, a skill or objective follows a student from grade to grade.

    School officials and community leaders see the reporting system, called the Articulated Instruction Module, as a tool for parents who want guidance on how to help their children.

    "As test scores show, too often children are failing, and no one responsible for their education seems to know why, and there is no other evidence in the student's folder other than a bunch of papers with letter grades," said Barbara Dezmon, assistant to the county school superintendent for equity and assurance, who created the program. "At the end of an education, we just know that the student is not adequately prepared."

    Some educators and civic leaders applaud the new reports, especially their plain language. Others, including the county's teachers union, worry that the checklists will be one more task on teachers' already full plates and leave them open to undue scrutiny.

    It's hard to peg how many school systems nationally are using similar progress reports, but Baltimore County's effort appears to be a rare step toward providing a comprehensive skills inventory that should systematically track a student's progress. Education advocates point to it as an example of what more school systems ought to be doing to ensure that students aren't falling behind.

    "These type of growth models go beyond the one-time snapshot and tell us how much does Johnny know now and how much did he progress," said Reginald M. Felton, director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association. "This comprehensive measuring of progress is a step in the right direction so that parents understand, `What is it my child should know?'" 

Pleased parent

    James West, a 42-year-old logistics manager, said he was pleasantly surprised this spring when his stepson's math teacher gave him a three-page report during a parent-teacher conference.

    His stepson, 12-year-old Tyre Bethea, is a rising seventh-grader who was among the students whose teacher at Woodlawn Middle School participated in a small-scale pilot of the program in the system's northwest-area schools, including Powhatan, Hebbville, Woodmoor and Featherbed Lane elementaries.

   "It helped us out a great deal," said West, who added that Tyre has struggled with math. "I know what I need to do to help him out. I know what he can do and can't do, and what he's working on."

   West said the report helped him determine where Tyre might need tutoring and gives him, as a parent, the confidence that his stepson is on the right track.

    "I'd hate for him to go along through each grade and get to the end, get a diploma and still not know what he needs to know to be successful," West said. "This little piece of paper could make a big change for a lot of people."

    Other districts, including Prince George's County and Baltimore City, are interested in using the system, according to Baltimore County school officials, who added that all of Maryland's systems can use the copyrighted program for free beginning this year.

    Dezmon, a former English teacher, said she began developing the program nearly 20 years ago when she was looking for ways to better communicate with parents, especially those of minority children, and homeless and otherwise transient students.

    "This makes it easier to do individualized instruction because the teacher knows exactly what a student has or hasn't learned," Dezmon said. "With this, there are no good kids and no bad kids, just children and the skills they should know."

    But the president of the county's teachers union said preparing the progress reports - which would be done quarterly in addition to report cards - will burden overworked teachers. She also worries that instructors will be blamed when a child fails to master a skill.

    Doing such reports, in addition to regular report cards, "would create an enormous amount of work for teachers," Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, wrote in a July 10 letter to school board members and schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

    In a recent interview, Bost said she has several questions, including: What happens when a child continually fails to master a skill - mandatory summer school or repeating a grade? What are school officials doing to ensure that the progress-report objectives are built into teachers' lessons? And, when will teachers find time to do everything that is asked of them?

    "This is going to tell parents where the deficit is, but is there a plan in place for when, during the school year, teachers are supposed to find the time to meet the student's needs?" she asked.

    School officials said they are still working out details such as when to retain a child in grade.

    Bost said she hasn't seen a presentation of how the progress reporting system works, but she has spoken with teachers who participated in the small-scale pilot this spring.

    "It's an add-on, from what teachers tell me," she said.

    Bost added that she doubts that the system will remain voluntary because it's likely teachers will feel pressured to create the reports by principals who want to impress administrators.

    Hairston said he hopes many teachers will choose to create the reports, adding that the school system has "a moral obligation" to provide them because it can.

    "What responsible parent would not want this information on their child?" Hairston said. "My responsibility is to at least bring it before the public and let them know it's there."

   By the first day of school, school officials say, Baltimore County parents will be able to log onto the system's Web site to access lists of objectives and skills for every class. That way, parents can chart for themselves what their children should be taught during the year.

    The computerization of the reports also should make it easier for teachers and administrators to track and analyze student progress, from individuals to the entire district.

   Because the reports will show how well students are progressing, officials say, teachers can use them to focus their classroom time.

    Under the system, a teacher would give each student letter-grade type ratings every nine weeks on a series of knowledge and skill indicators for each course. Unlike the traditional report card grade, an "A" on this evaluation would mean the child needs "acceleration," or remedial help. An "I" would indicate the need for further "instruction." And an "M" would signal the student is at or approaching "mastery."

   Dezmon said she hopes teachers welcome the evaluations as a way to provide more information about their students than they can with the current system of test scores and report cards.

    "In this era of testing - state testing and national testing - they have removed the teacher, period," she said. "Teachers are represented in modern education by the letter grades they put on report cards. Everything else fades out. But these [progress reports] are based on teachers' observations of their students."

Teacher in favor

    One teacher who tested the new system this spring said he liked it.

    Robert King, a math teacher at Woodlawn Middle School, said he found the reports "no more time-consuming" than regular report cards. He said he finished an entire year's worth of reports in about an hour and a half for each of the 25 students in his sixth-grade math class.

    King said the list of objectives and skills closely matched what he had taught, and knowing his students' strengths and weaknesses enabled him to quickly complete the checklists.

    "As a teacher, whenever they tell you there's something new you're going to have to do, you have reservations," he said. "But with what this allowed me to do, I was impressed."

    Besides making his parent-teacher conferences go more smoothly, King said, he can target his instruction for a student who transfers to his class late in the year. He foresees that it could save teachers time, especially at the beginning of the school year, because they won't have to do diagnostic testing for children who are in the database.

    "To me, it's a no-brainer," King said. "This is one of the simplest things we've done to get solid tracking of student data. We track grades, but let's be honest, what does a grade tell you? ... This is better than a standard report card because it's a justified grade. It allows parents to have a solid footing of where a student stands."

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:19 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 14, 2007

Bathroom bullies

Some school design experts in the U.K. are proposing "unisex" bathrooms as the way to curb bullying, according to the National Education Association.

The folks at NEA wrote in this month's neatoday magazine ... 

"A commission charged with making newly constructed middle and high schools more safe and efficient is recommending blurred glass walls in his-and-her loos. They think unisex toilets will discourage students from lingering. Students had told the commission that they avoided the bathrooms, sometimes not going all day, for fear of being harassed. 'There are always people in there smoking, and they are bullies,' one 13-year-old told BBC News. 'I don't want my head dunked down the toilet.' "

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

A mother's angst

Kim Solomon, a Baltimore County second-grade teacher and Brandon Solomon's mom, emailed me recently to tell me about the trouble she has experienced trying to get Brandon the special-education services he needs.

After months of trying to get appropriate services for Brandon --- who is now a 7th grader and who has a rare genetic disorder that has rendered him clinically blind --- Kim says that school officials suggested she take Brandon somewhere else to be educated. Frustrated and not wanting to lose any more time in Brandon's education, she has enrolled him at the Maryland School for the Blind, at the expense of the Baltimore County school system.

Brandon has a disorder --- methylmalonic acidemia, or cobalamin C-defect --- that makes it impossible for his body to process and metabolize proteins. Though the disorder is incurable, it is treatable and manageable. Kim also says that while Brandon is developmentally delayed, he is not severely mentally retarded. She said his reading and math skills are roughly that of a 4th grader --- in part, she says, because of months of attending Parkville Middle School without the large-print books and similar accommodations that he needed to compensate for his low vision.

Kim says that as a teacher, she knows the legal --- and moral --- obligation that teachers have to educate ALL students, not just those who are easier to teach than others.

Kim and I spoke recently about her struggle. She has sought help from the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, which she said has told her she has a solid case against the school system, but they can only help her if she chooses to send Brandon back to a public school --- something she says she can't bring herself to do just now.

Read on to find out why Kim says she had no choice but to remove Brandon from the public school system ...

Kim agreed to let me share her correspondence on this blog in the hopes that others who are experiencing the same difficulty might want to band together. Here is the letter that Kim and her husband, Charles, wrote just before the end of the 2006-2007 school year:

My son is a 6th grade student at Parkville Middle School, in Baltimore County. He started this school year with some excitement and some trepidation. My son is a special needs child. He has Cobalamin C Defect (a very rare genetic disorder) and is visually impaired. He has an IEP - Individualized Education Program.

Almost immediately, the harassment and bullying from other students began. This includes, but is not limited to, incessant name calling, knocking his books out of his hands, kicking his books, throwing food at him in the cafeteria, hiding a soda can tab in a soft pretzel and then watching him eat it, pushing and shoving him around. I could go on and on. Is this not harassment and bullying? Is this a safe environment that is conducive to learning? Is it unreasonable to expect the school to provide a safe environment where all the students can learn to the best of their ability?

Constant contact has been made with the teachers and administrators at the school throughout the entire year. The problems don't go away. They just continue day after day after day. Parkville Middle School, what are you doing to make this situation any better? After numerous phone calls, e-mails and visits, I still can't figure that out.

The issues unfortunately aren't limited to the student body. My son has pumped up a teacher's tire while the rest of his class participated in the actual class. He has also been told to sit and watch a University of Maryland basketball game with the teacher (and be quiet so the teacher could hear the game as well), while the rest of the class participated in the actual class. Does this constitute the proper education my son should be receiving at Parkville Middle? A teacher's assistant has questioned my son's visual impairment by telling him she thinks he is making up his visual deficiencies and lying to the teachers. When he told a teacher once that he couldn't see the material, he was told by the teacher "I suggest you get your eyes fixed then". So much for taking the extra steps necessary (as required by the IEP and by law) to accommodate for my son's disability.

Is this for real? Unfortunately in this Baltimore County Public School, yes it is.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:45 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, SpecialEd

Parent scores big

While others are talking about how parents need to get more involved, Rolanda Chambers, president of the New Town Parent Teacher Student Association in Owings Mills, is putting talk into action.

Sun columnist Milton Kent writes in today's Sports section about Chambers, who recently launched a program to help student-athletes boost their SAT scores.

Here's an excerpt from Milton's column:

"If the kids master the SAT, they can get into college even if they don't get scholarships," said Chambers, whose son is a sophomore on the junior varsity football team. "We just have to get them to pay more attention to the test."

Chambers said the disparity in standardized test scores between black students and those of other ethnicities may have a number of causes, but require a more intense effort by parents to prod their children to improve those scores.

"I just think that, overall, other parents put into play other things that are available, and African-American parents just usually don't," Chambers said. "So, where other kids are getting that boost that they need, our students don't. This is why such a program is necessary. It's doing what other parents are doing for their students, giving them that push outside the classroom for the SAT."

Read the rest of Milton's column and find out more about the SAT prep program.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Testing

Charter School Conference

I thought I would pass along this information about the fifth annual Maryland Charter School Conference. It will be held on Oct. 19 at Sojourner-Douglass College.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools

September 13, 2007

Second-class lunches

Monica Lane, whose 4-year-old granddaughter is in prekindergarten at Gilmor Elementary School in Baltimore, brought this situation to my attention: 

The first week of school, Lane turned in an application for her granddaughter, Tyla, to receive free lunch. Most kids in the city school system get free or reduced-price lunch, subsidized by the federal government, because of their family incomes. Turns out, though, applications for subsidized lunches take around three weeks to process.  

So for kids new to their schools (including all those in prekindergarten) whose parents didn't turn in the lunch applications over the summer, there's a problem. They can pay $2 to get a full lunch, but, of course, the reason they're applying for subsidized lunch in the first place is because they can't afford that. Or, kids without lunch money can receive a "complimentary lunch" of a cheese sandwich or cereal with milk.

The scenario raises a host of concerns, as Lane points out: Kids eating the complimentary lunches come home starving. Her granddaughter, she points out, eats lunch at 10 a.m., and school goes until 2:45. And what about those who are lactose intolerant? (Being lactose intolerant myself, I'm particularly sympathetic to this concern.) Tyla's not a fan of cheese or white milk (chocolate is OK), so one day she ate dry cereal. What's more, by eating what are clearly second-class lunches, children can be subjected to teasing by their peers.

"There are kids who don't eat good at home," says Lane, who's been sending Tyla with $2 a day since she became aware of the situation -- and found the little girl ecstatic when she got a slice of meat between her two slices of bread. "They may not get a good breakfast or they may not get a good dinner." 

Andres Alonso, the CEO of the city schools, told me he'll investigate the situation. I'll post again with an update when I hear back.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Women’s New Role: In The Classroom

 This USA Today article reports that the latest census numbers show that a jump in college enrollment is being fueled by women.
  Here’s an example: the article reports that for every four men enrolled in graduate school in 2006, there were nearly six women.
 Do these numbers surprise you? 
 Check out the comments of Leonard Sax, a Maryland psychologist, family physician and author of Boys Adrift:The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men.
 If Sax’s comments don’t get you talking, I don’t know what will.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:45 AM | | Comments (0)

An end to the thirst at Edgewood Elementary

I got a tip earlier this week that Edgewood Elementary School in West Baltimore was out of bottled water. While that may not be a crisis at a school where kids can get a drink from a water fountain, it's a serious problem at a school like Edgewood, where lead in the water pipes prevents the fountains from being turned on. And it gets hot inside an old school building without air conditioning. So, I'm told, kids were thirsty -- and, not surprisingly, having difficulty concentrating.

School system officials acknowledge that there was a problem with the Deer Park delivery to Edgewood. But they say 24 jugs for the cooler arrived on Tuesday when the school was closed for Election Day. Students should be thirsty no more.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:48 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 12, 2007

A victim of bungled bureaucracy

Every year, employee turnover is high in inner city school systems like Baltimore's. Sometimes, good educators leave for jobs in suburban schools that are both easier and higher paying. Other times, they leave because they're burnt out.

Sheila Eller resigned this summer from her job as a speech-language clinician at four city preschools because she was a victim of the system's bureaucracy.

Eller, who just so happens to be the sister of former state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, retired in 1999 after 23 years as a speech pathologist, most of them at Pimlico Middle School. Under a state law that allowes retired educators to be rehired in critical shortage areas, she returned the following year as a part-time teacher mentor -- until the school system's $58 million deficit resulted in her being laid off.

In March 2005, Eller says, system officials asked her to come back yet again, this time on a day-by-day basis to provide speech services, an area where the system has consistently struggled to meet its obligations to children and has gotten in trouble with a federal judge as a result. By 2006, the system asked her to work three days every week.

Eller was concerned about whether her rehiring would interfere with her pension, since technically the state's retire-rehire law applies only to teachers, teacher mentors and principals, not speech pathologists. She says system officials assured her not to worry. But those assurances were verbal, not in writing. And earlier this year, Eller got a letter from the state retirement program. She had exceeded the $39,000 earning limit her pension allows by $5,413. She had to pay the money back.

When Eller called the state, she says she was told that she needed only a letter from the school system saying she was exempt from the earning limit and covered under the retire-rehire law. But she couldn't get anyone from the system to write that letter. In fact, system officials wrote a letter saying Eller was not exempt and should repay the money. Eller learned that a handful of other speech pathologists were in the same situation, though she did not know who they were.

In her resignation letter, dated June 30, Eller wrote to the system's human resources officer, Gary Thrift: "Your choice was for the individuals to be sacrificed, rather than the system owning up to an error that never should have been made."

Well, now, the system is owning up. "Permit me to begin by apologizing for any angst that you may have experienced recently," begins an Aug. 29 letter from Thrift to Eller. Thrift goes on to say that the system will reimburse the state retirement program the $5,413, and Eller will get her money back.

"I hope that you find this news to be a welcome relief; and I want to apologize again for the frustration that you have experienced in trying to address this problem," the letter concludes. "We greatly appreciated the service that you rendered in a time of great need."

Eller is able to continue working with her students in her new job -- for one of the system's special education contractors, Care Resources. For Eller to provide the same speech services, she says, the system pays Care about twice what it was paying her when she was on the city payroll.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Starving over NCLB

Author Jonathan Kozol, whose classic Savage Inequalities inspired me eight years ago to become an education reporter, is on a hunger strike protesting the damage being done to inner-city children by the No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind, as all you educators out there know, is up for reauthorization in Congress. That means, as Kozol puts it this week in a blog entry
 for Huffington Post, "Congress will either renew, abolish, or, as thousands of teachers pray, radically revise in the weeks immediately ahead."

Kozol explains in the post why he believes the law is doing "vicious damage" to inner-city children:

"The poisonous essence of this law lies in the mania of obsessive testing it has forced upon our nation's schools and, in the case of underfunded, overcrowded inner-city schools, the miserable drill-and-kill curriculum of robotic "teaching to the test" it has imposed on teachers, the best of whom are fleeing from these schools because they know that this debased curriculum would never have been tolerated in the good suburban schools that they, themselves, attended.

"The justification for this law was the presumptuous and ignorant determination by the White House that our urban schools are, for the most part, staffed by mediocre drones who will suddenly become terrific teachers if we place a sword of terror just above their heads and threaten them with penalties if they do not pump their students' scores by using proto-military methods of instruction -- scripted texts and hand-held timers -- that will rescue them from doing any thinking of their own."

Yikes. So, will a hunger strike make a difference? Kozol writes that he's eaten mostly small amounts of liquid foods for more than two months, during which time he's dropped 29 pounds. Readers of Huffington Post are divided on the wisdom of such a strategy. What do you think? And what would you like to see happen to No Child Left Behind?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB

Are private schools failing special needs students?

 This study says so.
 The study also finds that 43 percent of private schools have students receiving special-education services available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); and 44 percent use one of many programs outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. The study basically shows that private schools are not utilizing funds for special education students.

Are you the parent of a special needs student who has had success in private schools, or have you experienced failures?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:35 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: SpecialEd

September 11, 2007

Sept. 11 in the classroom

 It’s hard to believe that we are six years removed from Sept. 11. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a senior in college and I wound up covering the Pentagon attack for my newspaper…

I found this link for teachers who want to incorporate Sept. 11 in their classroom lessons.

Teachers, are there special ways you incorporated Sept. 11 in your lesson plans this week?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching

A Virtual Nightmare?

Is it just me, or does this story give you pause?
There is no doubt that there are some benefits to a virtual education. But at the K-12 level, I think it is important that students are exposed to other students. 
Socialization is extremely important in shaping future adults. If a young child misses out on those important life lessons that exist in school – academic, respecting authority, learning social norms, being exposed to diversity – are they truly receiving an education?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:08 PM | | Comments (2)

A good excuse to go to the movies

The coming-of-age film Rocket Science, about a boy who stutters but joins the debate team to impress a girl, is on my list of movies to see this fall. If it's on yours too, you can go to a special screening at 4 p.m. Sunday at The Charles, when a portion of the proceeds will go to the Baltimore Urban Debate League (which was featured last month in the Washington Post magazine). Students and staff from the debate league will be on hand for a question and answer session after the show. But beware, parents: the movie is rated R.

A video on the debate league is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Teaching contract conundrum

I've had a couple calls from parents in the past few days who are distressed that, a few weeks into the new school year, Baltimore's teachers are still working without a contract, the result of a dispute over planning time. The teachers union is encouraging its members to "work to rule," that is, to work to the terms of their contract and no more. That means leaving on time, not bringing papers home to grade, not advising any clubs or extracurricular activities. It potentially means coming to class unprepared.

But are the teachers complying? 

The city teacher who writes the blog Epiphany in Baltimore had this to say about working to rule in an entry last week: "I'm not doing it, and I don't know of any teachers that are, at least at my school. But today I left at 5:15 instead of 7:30. Vive la revolucion! I'll just pretend I don't have 60 essays in my bag to grade tonight." 

This teacher, by the way, is also in grad school and works a second job at a restaurant, or so says his blog (which I've followed for awhile though, truth be told, I still don't know his identity).

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

What’s Height Got to Do With It?

Check out this story about the shortcomings of kindergarten teachers.

I couldn’t resist the pun…

Parents, do you agree with these findings? Is there a bias against shorter boys?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Teaching

September 7, 2007

Attention football fans

The city school system will launch its football season Saturday with its first triple-header, pre-season competition, featuring three state championship teams.

At noon, Baltimore County's Parkville High will play the city's Patterson High. At 3:30 p.m., Gwynn Park Senior High from Prince George's County will play Baltimore's Dunbar High, class 1A state champion. And at 7, Friendly Senior High -- the class 3A state champion from Prince George's -- will play Edmondson-Westside High, the city school that won the class 2A state championship.

Bob Wade, the city school system's athletic director, said it's rare for fans to be able to see three of the state's four champions compete on the same day.

For Dunbar, the event will be particularly meaningful. The team's interim coach, Lawrence Smith, will lead the players in a memorial game honoring Ben Eaton, the popular coach who died suddenly Aug. 27 while exercising in his home.

All games will be played at the stadium on the grounds of Polytechnic Institute and Western High School, 1400 W. Cold Spring Ave. General admission is $5, and $3 for students of participating schools with an activity card. The triple header will be taped for later broadcast on Baltimore City’s cable Education Channel 77.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

What's the point of high school exit exams?

A new report from the Washington-based Center on Education Policy questions the purpose of those dreaded high school exit exams that students around the country must pass to graduate.

Sixty-five percent of students in the nation's public high schools must now pass exit exams to get a diploma. But of 23 states that responded to the center's questions, only six said the purpose of the tests is to measure the knowledge and skills students need to go to college. Nine said the goal was to measure students' readiness for the work world. The most common response: 18 states said the exams, generally at around a 10th-grade level of difficulty, are meant to determine if students are learning the state curriculum.

"States have poured valuable resources into exit exams without seemingly having a clear purpose for their use," Jack Jennings, the center's president and CEO, said in a statement. "And regardless of the aim of the tests, they are having a major impact on classroom teaching and learning, which leads to serious questions about the rigor of state standards and tests."

In Maryland, the tests are scheduled to take effect as a graduation requirement for the class of 2009, this year's juniors. But last week, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick suggested that schools offer students who fail the exams the option to demonstrate their proficiency through a senior project. That was a major departure from her previous position that students must pass tests in algebra, English, biology and government to graduate. The state school board will consider her project proposal next month.

According to the center's report, 26 states are expected to have exit exams in effect by 2012, impacting 76 percent of the nation's public high school students and 82 percent of minority students. Yet all states currently testing show significant gaps in pass rates among student groups, with blacks, Latinos, students with disabilities, and those learning English as a second language most likely to fail.

For more on the achievement gap on Maryland's exit exams, check out this week's story in The Sun by Gina Davis and Liz Bowie. The Center on Education Policy story is available here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Testing

A capital campaign in Roland Park

Roland Park Country School, a private school for girls in North Baltimore, announced Thursday a $25 million capital campaign to build a new athletic complex. Campaign proceeds will also support an endowment for faculty compensation and student financial assistance. The school reports that it already has $14 million in early commitments. The athletic complex will be designed as a "green" building and will include a suspended running track and a rowing tank for crew, said to be the first of its kind for a Maryland high school. It is scheduled to be completed next summer.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:40 AM | | Comments (0)

September 6, 2007

Endorsement exaggeration

In the Baltimore Jewish Times last week, state Sen. Lisa Gladden was quoted about why she's endorsing Sheila Dixon in the city's mayoral race.

"She wanted a change in the schools, she wanted to recapture some of the glory of the system she attended and graduated from," Gladden was quoted as saying. "She found and hired a dynamic leader (Andres Alonso, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO). She could have played it safe.... But she didn't hesitate and that speaks volumes about her ability to lead."

Um, not exactly. It was actually the Baltimore school board that recruited and hired Alonso. In fact, Dixon stated publicly that she wanted to be a part of the process to find a new schools CEO, but until the week of Alonso's appointment, she was kept out of the loop. School officials said Dixon was the only person besides the board members who met Alonso before his appointment was made public in June, but at that point, his hiring was already a done deal. 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:21 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

Predicting trouble?

As I conducted research for today's story, "Scores in suburbs divided racially," I came across a compelling state report that was published in 1998 and pointed to the very issues that are playing out today in classrooms across the region.

The report, called "Minority Achievement in Maryland: State of the State," was developed by the Maryland State Education That Is Multicultural Advisory Council. It was the state's first comprehensive study of this issue.

Click here to read it and see for yourself how many of the issues that we reported in today's story have been on educators' radars for years.


Posted by Gina Davis at 12:42 PM | | Comments (0)

Capital needs

Tonight, Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin is expected to unveil the 2009 capital budget plan that exceeds $118 million for various construction projects.
If you were Superintendent of your school system, what capital needs would receive top priority?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:44 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

September 5, 2007

A need for Arabic

 Check out this USA Today story about the growing demand for Arabic-language teachers.
  Are you a student currently studying Arabic? If so, what do you plan to do with the language?
 Are you a parent who wants your child to be able to study Arabic, but your child’s school does not offer the language? If so, are you pursuing language classes outside of the normal school day?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Teaching

Secret Revealed

 Rev. Jesse Jackson will speak to the Wilde Lake High School student body Thursday morning. 
 Jackson, a former presidential candidate, will talk to the students about the importance of leadership and voting.
 Are there any questions that you would like to me to ask Jackson? If so, send your questions to the blog and I will try to work them into my interview…..
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Educator Spotlight

Photo by Susan Kowalski – Anne Arundel County Public Schools (Photo by Susan Kowalski – Anne Arundel County Public Schools)

Southern High School teacher Alicia Appel was one of seven finalists for 2007 Maryland Teacher of the Year by the Maryland State Department of Education, and was named Anne Arundel county Teacher of the Year in April.

Appel, who has been in education for 11 years, teaches English and Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) courses, which offer mentoring and extra support to help students in the academic middle stay on a college preparatory track. A military spouse, Alicia is a world traveler who uses her experiences climbing Mount Fuji and traversing zip-lines through rainforests in Central America in inspiring, memorable lessons for her students.

"What sets her apart is her ability to reach the students, be creative, use lots of different tools and energy to get to the heart of the student as well as the head," said Southern High School Principal Maryalice Todd. "I’m new to the school, so I’ve just gotten to know her this summer. And in 35 years in education, I can say she is one of the best teachers I have ever seen. She blew me away."

Appel, 45, was a stay-at-home mom of three for 12 years before switching to full-time teaching.

"I love children. I feel like I get to do what I was created to do and I learn so much from the kids and my colleagues," she said.

She has won accolades for her teaching style because of the relationships she builds with students through team building exercises, motivational talks and college exploration field trips. As an AVID teacher, she helps students who might not have been able to get into college, by showing them how to write strong college essays, figure out financial aid, and more. During her lessons, she plays everything from rock group Aerosmith to crooner Frank Sinatra to "inspire mood and learning," she says.

"Learning has to be fun. You’re not going to learn anything unless you really have fun," she says. "It might be the technological age, but people and relationships and connecting with each other on a personal level is really important."

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 7:13 AM | | Comments (0)

Troubling mix: Alcohol and elementary school kids

The researcher's conclusions are startling --- and included in a recently published study ---

"... The percent of children who have used alcohol increases with age, and doubles between grades four and six. The largest jump in rates occurs between grades five and six," according to John E. Donovan, an associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Children are drinking, and our concern with underage drinking needs to start in elementary school, not in high school."

Donovan is the author of a study, "Really Underage Drinkers: The Epidemiology of Children's Alcohol Use in the United States," which was published this month in Prevention Science magazine. 

For his study, Donovan reviewed national and statewide surveys done during the past 15 years and concluded that "among typical 4th graders, 10% have already had more than a sip of alcohol and 7% have had a drink in the past year. While the numbers are small in the fourth grade, the survey shows that the percent of children who have used alcohol increases with age, and doubles between grades four and six," according to a press release recently issued by the Society of Prevention Research.

"... The numbers are still alarming because of the connection between early alcohol consumption and negative outcomes later during both adolescents and young adulthood," Donovan adds.

For more on the study, click here.



Posted by Gina Davis at 6:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Study, study!

September 4, 2007

I Have A Secret

A former presidential candidate will visit a Howard County High School Thursday. Check out the blog tomorrow to find out the identity of this special guest.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Black and Latino students increasingly segregated, report finds

The Pew Hispanic Center has released a new analysis of public school enrollment data, concluding that black and Latino students became more segregated from white students over a dozen-year period. And Latino students in Maryland became more isolated from their white peers than in any other state.

In the 2005-2006 academic year, 21 percent of Latino students in Maryland attended public schools where the enrollment was virtually all minority. That compares with 7 percent in 1993-1994.

The state's black students became more isolated, too. Maryland's increase in the percentage of black students attending nearly all-minority schools was the fifth highest in the nation, jumping from 32 percent in 1993-1994 to 45 percent last year.

At the same time, in what would appear to be a contradictory finding, the report found that white students nationwide have become less isolated from minority students. That, the report says, is a result of a 55 percent increase in the percentage of the public school population that is Hispanic. Latinos accounted for 19.8 percent of all public school students in the 2005-2006 academic year, compared with 12.7 percent in 1993-1994.

The full report is available at

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:47 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
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