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December 29, 2007

The role of building conditions in school safety

I had a lot of ground to cover in my story today about school violence in Baltimore. One issue that didn't make it into the article but that I think is worthy of consideration: how building conditions contribute to school safety.

One place I looked at was the Dr. Samuel L. Banks/Thurgood Marshall complex. After I inquired, school system officials discovered that the fire alarm there wasn't working. This in a building where four arsons were reported in the month of November. It wasn't until December that the alarm was fixed. Officials also discovered that many of the building's 64 interior security cameras were not operational; I'm told most have been fixed, as have broken locks on classroom doors.

At the Walbrook high school complex, again after my inquiries, officials found 19 rooms didn't have working intercoms -- leaving teachers unable to call for help if a problem arises.

I know a lot of folks are away for the break, but I'd love for those of you who are reading to weigh in on how building conditions at your school foster an environment of safety, or lack thereof. And why aren't these basic safety violations being reported to the central office as soon as they arise?

On a brighter note... The Street Soldiers program -- run at the Lake Clifton high school complex and at Baltimore City Community College for students on long-term suspension -- seems to be having a lot of success in changing kids' attitudes toward violence. Learn more about the program, funded in Baltimore through grants from the Open Society Institute and the Family League, here. Thanks to all the students enrolled in Street Soldiers who shared their stories with me.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

December 27, 2007

Cool field trip alert

Looking ahead to spring: The Walters Art Museum has started sending out press information about an exhibit opening March 16 of more than 100 of the world's most significant maps. They include a marble street plan of Rome from the Roman Empire and maps created by Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

I don't know how this exhibit correlates with the voluntary state curriculum or how many teachers out there have any funding for field trips... but this seems like it could be a fun reward for kids after the dreaded MSAs are over.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

December 26, 2007

Arundel Supt. and County Exec spar over budget

Here we go again. It looks as if officials with the Anne Arundel county government and school system are getting ready to spar again over education spending. Arundel Supt. Kevin M. Maxwell presented last week a $969 million budget that seeks $100 million more than the district received last year. (See my article last Friday for details.)

That's not good news for County Exec. John R. Leopold, who says a sluggish housing market and decreased state aid will make it impossible for him to afford the schools' request. Maxwell said he has worked to be fiscally responsible, whittling down 90 requests from department heads to 28, but he said the requests are far less than the amount needed for schools. "Excellence costs money," Maxwell told the school board last week. But Leopold countered that the schools must develop a budget "within the parameters of fiscal reality" and recognize that "the county does not print money."

Last year, school officials bracing for steep cuts to their budget didn't attend the unveiling of Leopold's budget. Instead, they convened their own news conference the same day. This year, with rhetoric already heating up, the county’s taxpayers might see some of the same posturing.

Conflicts over budgets are nothing new in local government. However in Maryland, the infighting can be especially heated because it's one of nine states that doesn’t grant its school districts the authority to levy taxes and instead relies on county governments for funding. When it works well, Maryland's system allows county governments to act as a check and balance for school systems, reducing waste and cementing common priorities. When it doesn't work well, school officials feel marginalized in a process where they feel they ought to be considered experts.
Perhaps, Maryland should consider doing what 34 other states already are: allow school boards to levy property or income taxes to fund schools within parameters set by state law or referendum.

What are your thoughts about the way schools are funded? Is it time for the state to consider a new paradigm in the way it funds schools?

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 12:18 PM | | Comments (2)

What made Cecil Elementary a Blue Ribbon school

With the holiday rush and cold season upon us, I didn't have a chance to comment last week on the appointment of East Baltimore's Cecil Elementary as a Maryland Blue Ribbon school. But here's something that struck me about the award:  

At the city school board meeting earlier this month, the board named a new principal of the school, Roxanne Forr. Forr is only the fifth principal that Cecil has had in 42 years of existence, according to a school system press release. That means each of the school leaders has lasted an average of nearly a decade.

Ninety percent of the students at Cecil receive free or reduced-price lunch. Ninety-one percent of the students passed the state reading test last spring. Ninety-six percent passed in math.

People ask how a school serving such an impoverished population can get those kind of results. Judging by the track record at Cecil and at George Washington Elementary (the national Blue Ribbon school in Pigtown), the answer seems pretty simple: a great principal who sticks around for a long time.

Here's hoping that Forr (who replaced James Drummond) can keep a good thing going...

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:05 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 24, 2007

Victories for an innovation high school

The Urban Institute report released last week was great news for the Academy of College and Career Exploration, one of the six innovation high schools in Baltimore found to be improving the academic performance of poor, minority kids. (The innovation schools are run with autonomy and in partnership with outside organizations. The new middle/high schools that Andres Alonso wants to open would run in a similar format.)

Now, there's something even better: Paul DiMatteo, who will be part of ACCE's first graduating class in the spring, has received an early admissions acceptance to Johns Hopkins University. As a "Baltimore scholar," his full tuition will be covered. Hopkins agreed in 2004 to cover the tuition of public school kids from the city who meet admissions requirements. But until now, all the students who have been accepted have been from Baltimore's selective high schools -- mostly City and Poly, which have admissions requirements. DiMatteo is the first from a city high school that anyone can attend. Marion Pines, one of the operators of ACCE (who also happens to be a senior fellow at Hopkins and is a former city housing official), said that "the whole school is dancing."

Paul, by the way, is one of the bloggers on the student-produced site News From Room 123. The blog has had a lot of interesting entries lately, including ACCE students' take on the Robert Poole bus incident, in which nine kids from Robert Poole Middle were charged with attacking a homeless woman and her boyfriend on an MTA bus. (Poole and ACCE share a building in Hampden.) There was also a heartbreaking entry last week by a boy whose house was raided by police looking for evidence against his brother in a murder investigation.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 21, 2007

Another city schools administrator departs

It's been a little while since I've updated my list of city schools administrators who have left since the arrival of Andres Alonso, but there's a new one this week: Howard Steptoe, the system's information technology officer. The school system isn't saying much, only that he's no longer employed there. Did Steptoe resign or was he fired? Officials won't say.

My entries on prior departures are here and here. (For the record, not all those listed were forced out, but some -- namely, Linda Chinnia and Gary Thrift -- were.)

Steptoe has been employed in the city schools since 1984. During his tenure as head of the IT department in recent years, the system had its funding from the federal school technology program E-rate frozen because it has not resolved problems from a 2002 audit of the money it received. That funding freeze was lifted in August.

UPDATE, 12/21: Thanks to everyone who e-mailed to tell me about the departure of Deborah Wortham, one of the area academic officers overseeing high schools. Dr. Alonso just confirmed that she retired. For a copy of the letter she submitted to him, keep reading at the end of the entry.

UPDATE, 12/24: System officials also confirm the retirement of James Smith, an AAO who oversaw a group of elementary schools. And they confirm the departure of Michael Johnson, who worked under Steptoe as director of the IT department for the last couple years. They won't say whether he resigned or was terminated.

December 13, 2007

Dr. Andrés Alonso
Chief Executive Officer
Baltimore City Public School System
200 E. North Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Dear Dr. Alonso:

The Baltimore City Public School System is rich in its capacity to identify and maintain the finest instructional leaders and teachers in the country. The passion and dedication to the students, staff and community is commendable.

For the past two years, Area 6 Administrators have been successful in many ways. They have collaborated and established a bond that has resulted in increased student achievement, teacher leadership and community involvement.

After 36 years with the Baltimore City Public School System, I have decided to cast a wider net and pursue other ways to make a difference for children. My retirement is effective January 1, 2008. It has been an honor to serve the district. During my career, it was my intent to leave a legacy that, "Failure is Not an Option!"


Dr. Deborah Wortham
Area Academic Officer Area 6

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:16 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Our unofficial old book contest

We hear teachers complain a lot about outdated textbooks, but who can beat this?

My colleague Nick Madigan found a dictionary in the library of South Baltimore's Thomas Johnson Elementary School yesterday that was printed in 1956. Its definition of computer: "one who computes; a reckoner; a calculator."

(Nick was at the school to cover the donation of 1,500 new books. His story is here.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 19, 2007

U.S. Humane Society protests Goucher's holiday deer kill

Goucher College continues to receive both protest and praise about its decision to thin by about 50 the herd of deer that roam its leafy Towson campus. Read our original story here.

Recently, the U.S. Human Society weighed in with a letter to President Sanford J. Ungar (download it), followed by one to the head of Goucher's Board of Trustees (reprinted below). Kristen Keener, the liberal arts college's spokeswoman, said the deer kill -- to be carried out over the holiday break by state-licensed bowmen -- is still on.

Pleasure hunters need not apply, however, said Keener, who recently received a personal campus visit from "a couple of guys in camo who asked if they could participate." They were turned away.

"It's not something where you can pay a fee and bag a buck," Keener said.

The college is remaining mum on when the actual hunt will take place. "It's not something they're announcing for fear that protesters will come," Keener said. "They really do want to keep this on the down-low so that nobody would would be potentially put in any harm's way."

And now, the text of the Humane Society letter -->

December 14, 2007

John M. Bond, Board of Trustees, Goucher College

C/O The Columbia Bank

Corporate Headquarters
7168 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046

Dear Mr. Bond,

It is most regrettable that I need to contact you in your capacity as a Trustee of Goucher College about the apparently imminent proposed slaughter of deer with bow and arrow at the college. This has become very controversial, as does the slaughter of any wild animals that are acclimated to people.

We at The Humane Society of the United States have sent a letter to the president of the college offering to meet and help develop a non-lethal deer management plan on a humane basis. Unfortunately, the concerns of many Goucher students and advisors and our offers of help and consultation were summarily dismissed without serious consideration. Indeed, at the meeting President Unger [sic] had with students, he was reportedly explosive, and he simply dismissed the very real concerns the students had regarding the pain and suffering these animals would be forced to endure, resorting instead to threats to impose surcharges on the students’ tuition if humane alternatives were adopted.

In fact, bow hunting at its very best, results in extreme suffering and wounding. Many deer are forced to die over long periods of time from loss of blood caused by open wounds created by arrows. We urge you and the other Trustees at Goucher Collge to take immediate action to stop the killing of these animals and work with the local community and The Humane Society of the United States to develop a more humane and compassionate approach to living with the deer at Goucher College. A respected institution like Goucher College should demonstrate compassion and humane treatment to its wildlife and consideration of empathic and caring responses of its students. Rushing to kill these deer with bow and arrow is an affront to those values.


John W. Grandy, Ph.D.

Senior Vice President

Wildlife and Habitat Program

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 4:00 PM | | Comments (7)

Arundel schools celebrate Natl. Board Cert. Teachers

Anne Arundel County schools are holding a reception today at 4 p.m. to honor the 34 educators who have been named National Board Certified teachers. The honor -- born out of a grueling process that subjects teachers to an intensive review of their classroom teaching techniques and students' performance -- places them in the top 2 percent of teachers nationally. It's a record number of National Board Certified teachers for the district, which this year came only second to the number of honorees in Montgomery County schools. "It's exciting for us because we've doubled the number of National Board Certified teachers from last year," schools spokesman Bob Mosier said, referring to last year's 17 honorees. The county now has a total of 124 National Board Certified teachers. In all, 70 Anne Arundel County teachers sought the certification this year.

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:43 PM | | Comments (1)

Stunts for Success

At 3:30 this afternoon 10 South River High School teachers and their principal will shed their coats and sweaters, wriggle into their bathing suits and plunge into the chilly waters of the South River. Brrrr. It's 45 degrees out today! But the educators from Edgewater say they had a good reason for this stunt. They promised their students they would do this "polar plunge" if they donated at least 1,000 pounds of food for charity. They raised more than 50,000.

The canned and dry goods all benefited the Anne Arundel County Food Bank to feed the homeless and hungry over the holidays. The donations were made through the Kids Helping Kids program, a statewide three-week food collection campaign.

I've noticed a lot more of these kinds of stunts lately -- educators accepting all kinds of dares to motivate students to succeed in one way or another. When I covered education in Memphis, the principal of a low-performing elementary school promised to kiss a pig if her students passed the reading portion of the state test. Pass, they did and wouldn't you know it -- by day's end she was puckering up to a snout. The children dissolved into a fit of giggles, and so did her staff.

Is this a byproduct of reality shows like "Fear Factor" or part of desperation some educators feel in a high-stakes world? What kinds of stunts have educators in your child's schools done? Do share your stories. I'd love to hear them.

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:23 PM | | Comments (1)

The Algebra Project, Alonso talk about insurgency

The Baltimore Algebra Project, the student tutoring group better known for its advocacy, has posted on YouTube segments of a Nov. 17 forum held in honor of the group's 25th anniversary. In this clip, Bob Moses, founder of the national Algebra Project organization, speaks about insurgency, then has an interesting interchange with Andres Alonso about how much the schools CEO will be willing to support the Algebra Project's troublemaking in Baltimore. Click here for a video of the entire panel discussion (an hour and 15 minutes long). For more on the Algebra Project's relationship with Alonso, see my earlier entry.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Can poker help students ace math?

Is poker an ingenious way to teach math or a slippery slope to gambling addiction?

A recent New York Times article tells of a group that has taken up the question.

A Harvard Law School professor and a group of his students formed an organization this fall — the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society — dedicated to demonstrating that poker has educational benefits. They argue that the game, which is probability-based and requires risk assessment, situational analysis and a gift for reading people, can be an effective teaching tool, whether for middle school math or in business and law classes.

But Chad Hills, a gambling analyst for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit religious group, questions the idea. According to the NYT article:

"Kids are extremely vulnerable to gambling addiction,” said Hills, who likened poker to a “gateway drug” that leads to the harder stuff like craps and slot machines.

What do you think --- is this idea worth a gamble?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

December 18, 2007

College makes students less religious, but more "spiritual"

A major new survey by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds that after several years in college, students become less religiously observant, but more "spiritual."

Undergraduate life also contributes to more liberal political orientations and increased stress, according to UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute.

Among the findings:

  • After three years of college, more students rate as "essential" or "very important" statements such as "integrating spirituality into my life" and "becoming a more loving person."
  • There is a "steep decline" in religious attendance from freshman to junior year. Frequent attendance at religious services drops, while the percentage of surveyed students who didn't attend at all nearly doubled, from about 20 percent to about 38 percent.
  • The psychological well-being of students declined from the first to third years of college. The percent of students who described their lives as "filled with stress and anxiety" jumped from 26 percent in their freshman year, to about 42 percent by junior year.
  • College students also became more liberal during college. The percentage of students who indicated their political orientation as "liberal" or "far left" increased from 29 percent to 34 percent in three years, while those describing themselves as conservative and centrists declined slightly.

The longitudinal survey, titled "Spirituality in Higher Education: Students' Search for Meaning and Purpose," tracked data collected from about 14,500 students from 136 colleges. Students were surveyed as freshmen in 2004, and then again in 2007.


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:14 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)

December 17, 2007 Baltimore-Towson among best places to educate your children

The Baltimore-Towson area comes in at No. 4 on a recent list that ranks the Top 20 Places to Educate Your Children.

School support, private school options, library popularity, "college town," and college options were the five key factors used in drawing up the list. (Read the full article here). The Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va., area topped the list. Durham, N.C. was No. 20.

The top 10 include:

1. Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va.
2. Madison, Wis.
3. Cambridge-Newton-Framingham, Mass.
4. Baltimore-Towson
5. Akron, Ohio
6. Columbus, Ohio
7. Albany-Schenectady-Troy, N.Y.
8. Syracuse, N.Y.
9. St. Louis, Mo.
10. Ann Arbor, Mich.

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)

All-nighters = lower grades

College students who regularly cram all-night for exams and papers get lower grades than students who don't, according to a new study out of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  

Psychology professor Pamela Thacher studied the sleep habits and academic transcripts of 111 students and found that two-thirds reported pulling at least one all-nighter a semester. Those that did it regularly also had lower grade-point averages, she found.

Thatcher's findings will be published in the January issue of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine.

The conventional wisdom is that all-nights are associated with procrastination -- another venerable college tradition -- but Thatcher did not find a correlation.

"The data indicate that procrastination is not associated with all-nighters, although both practices significantly correlated with lower GPAs," she said in a university news release.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:27 AM | | Comments (0)

December 16, 2007

Will a new day dawn for secondary schools in Baltimore?

It's an ambitious proposal Andres Alonso is making for 24 new middle/high schools -- and a significant risk he's asking philanthropists to take. Foundations have heard big dreams for Baltimore's secondary schools before. Now, five years after they pledged $20.8 million for high school reform in the city, only $12 million of that money has been spent, and many aspects of the reform plan have stalled.

Alonso will have to persuade the funders that things will be different this time. He'll also need to sell them on two controversial ideas: 1) separating the college-track kids from the vocational kids from the struggling kids and 2) combining middle and high schools, which is not common around the country. He says the structure would meet a specific need in Baltimore, a huge population of overage kids. Some of these figures are in my story today, but they're so stunning that they bear repeating:

-- Nearly half of the 18,488 kids in the city's middle schools are overage.
-- About 1,300 of those kids have been held back at least twice, including more than 400 current eighth graders.
-- In elementary schools, 325 kids are at least two years overage, including 179 in fifth grade this year.

The Urban Institute's evaluation of Baltimore's previous high school reform effort comes at a good time for Alonso. The institute found promising practices at the city's six innovation high schools, which promote the same practices Alonso wants systemwide: autonomy in exchange for accountability and partnerships with outside organizations. The study is supposed to be posted here when it becomes public today (Sunday). It makes a strong case for public school choice.

There is lots of interesting information in the study, but here is one small point worth noting: The innovation high schools are attracting more girls than boys. Talking to some folks from those schools last week, I heard that boys may be sidestepping the improved academic opportunities at innovation schools because of their lack of sports programs. The Baltimore Messenger ran an article last week accusing the school system of failing to live up to promised athletic funding for innovation schools. (I've asked the system to respond to that allegation.) Providing adequate extracurricular opportunities for students is one of many factors the system will need to take into consideration as it strives to reinvent itself.

If Alonso gets all the money he's seeking, a key challenge will be finding good people to run the new schools and stick with them over time. He's banking on the appeal of an opportunity to start a school from the ground up, without central bureaucracy dictating how it must be run. 

Educators, parents and students: Does this idea appeal to you? The city's secondary schools look different today than they did five years ago. What would you like to see them look like in another five years? And how do they get there?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 14, 2007

Here's a shocker... kids don't like school uniforms!

Last month, a one-question Scantron survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement: "Harford County Public Schools students should be required to wear a school uniform."

While most of the grown-ups (teachers, administrators and more than half of the parents) agreed, only 22.1 percent of the students who actually responded to the survey marked yes.  You mean, kids don't want to wear khakis and dress shirts everyday?!?

Granted there are legitimate complaints about the questionable wardrobe choices of teenagers.  Guys wear their pants so low, why even bother wearing pants at all? And there are girls who've clearly gotten their fashion inspiration (regrettably) from Britney Spears.

The school system sent out about 60,000 forms and had about 28,600 forms returned.  A presentation about the survey will be made Monday night at HCPS AA. Roberty Building.

Posted by Madison Park at 4:13 PM | | Comments (23)

A principal problem

In my story today, I write about a new study that found middle schools with the greatest needs in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties had the least experienced principals and suffer from high turnover among principals.

The study was done by the Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit. It looked at middle schools with the highest poverty rates and lowest test scores in the three jurisdictions. It made several disturbing revelations:

In Baltimore City alone, nine of the 10 middle schools that the study examined had at least one change in principal --- and eight of them experienced two or more changes --- from 2003 to 2007. Half of the schools had three or more new principals during that time.

In Baltimore County, where 10 of the district's 27 middle schools were examined, half had at least one change in principal and 20 percent had two or more changes during the five-year period.

And nearly 80 percent of the middle schools evaluated in Prince George's County had at least one change in principal, and one school went through five principals, in the five years.

Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore had four principals during the study's period, while Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County has had three.

While some may quibble with whether bonuses are the answer, most everyone agrees that turning around a failing school takes energy and time --- and commitment. The bottom line, it seems, is that school systems need to give the leaders of its most challenging schools a reason to stick around long enough to make a difference.

Or, as Terrylynn Tyrell, the ACY's education director, put it:

"Its a matter of paying now, or paying later. The cost is so much smaller if we pay now."

Click here to read the ACY's full report.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

December 13, 2007

A tough day in Cherry Hill

I'm not the lead reporter on today's breaking news story about the massive fight among students at New Era and Southside academies, but it sounds like it stemmed from ongoing tension between the two schools. I interviewed a New Era student recently who said that kids from Southside view the students from New Era (one of the city's six "innovation" high schools) as nerds, and the New Era kids then feel the need to protect themselves.

This isn't the only campus in Baltimore experiencing conflict between different schools under the same roof. I'd be interested to hear from those of you in these multiplexes about the dynamics at play and what might be done to improve the situation.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:27 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Nancy Grasmick reappointment

With the legislature and the governor both determined to get rid of state school superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, what motivates her to stay? Why would she decide to stay working under a state school board which is likely to oppose some of her policies and make her life difficult?

A source of mine suggested that if legislative leaders had approached state board president Dunbar Brooks behind closed doors, they might have been able to persuade him to get his board to postpone the decision until after July 1. After all, the state board really doesn't want a fight with the legislature. But instead, legislative leaders chose to make a public statement threatening the board. After that, the source said, the board had no choice but to stand up for itself and its role as the body that dictates education policy in the state.

What do you think?  Is there any room for a graceful way out of this situation? Do you want Grasmick to resign? What difference would it make to the average school if the governor or the legislature hired the superintendent?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:13 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

A Web site to get classroom projects funded

City officials, including Sheila Dixon and Andres Alonso, are scheduled to appear at a news conference Friday to promote the Web site, which is helping teachers get funding for classroom projects.

Here's how it works: Teachers submit their wish lists to the folks at DonorsChoose, and they select the project descriptions they want to put online. Then donors can sign on, pick a worthy project, and contribute any amount toward it. A handful of Baltimore teachers started participating in September, and since then, city classrooms have gotten $60,000 in funding, according to information presented at this week's school board meeting.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

December 12, 2007

How would you integrate students with disabilities into Maryland athletics?

While Nancy S. Grasmick's fate garnered a majority of the ink in today’s paper, the State Board of Education made other news when it recommended yesterday that school systems adopt a policy that would allow students with disabilities to try out for athletic teams. In addition, the board also wants to amend the Code of Maryland Regulations so that school systems can form teams made up of students with disabilities when there are low levels of participation.

I interviewed Lauren Young, director of litigation at the Maryland Disability Law Center, who said that the board needs to do more to increase access for students with disabilities. Read more of the story here.

Do you agree with Young? If you were on the board, how would you handle this topic?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Trends

Bracing for budget cuts, and other Baltimore school board matters

The city school system is getting ready to make budget cuts to the tune of $50 million as a result of the freeze in Thornton funding combined with increasing costs. So at last night's board meeting, Andres Alonso gave a presentation outlining the current distribution of funds. Board member Maxine Wood lamented that, by the time the presentation came up on the agenda, it was after 9 p.m. and the board room -- standing room only three hours earlier -- was almost empty. Such an important topic, she said, and so few people left to hear about it.

And so I, your dutiful reporter, will summarize some of the highlights. (Continue reading afterwards for more on the board meeting, including another showdown between board members and the Algebra Project, mediated by Alonso.)

-- Everyone is complaining about the state budget cuts, but what about the locals? A chart in Alonso's PowerPoint shows that the state's contribution to Baltimore schools rose from $443.9 million in the 2003 fiscal year to $792.4 million this year, fiscal 2008. By contrast, city government contributed $207.4 million in the 2003 fiscal year and $207.9 million this year, an increase of, well, almost nothing.

-- There are significant disparities in funding by grade level, with the highest funding for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Compared with other school systems, the city's spending on pre-k and k is high, but its spending on the other elementary grades is low. Funding is 68 percent higher for a kindergartener than for a fourth-grader.

-- There are also big disparities in funding among schools. Causes for the disparities include school size (small schools get significantly more per capita than big schools) and teacher experience (since teacher salaries are higher for more experienced teachers). Low-poverty schools receive more money per pupil than schools serving high-poverty populations because they have more experienced teachers who get paid more.

-- Sixty-nine percent of the system's $854 million instructional budget is spent on general education, with about 20 percent of that money controlled or spent the central office. Thirty-one percent of the funds are spent on special education, a disproportionately high amount. Around 35 percent of the special education money is spent centrally.

-- Of the system's $246 million non-instructional budget, $173 million (about 70 percent) is spent on facilities, transportation, food and police. About 30 percent ($73 million) is spent on administrative functions, ranging from IT to procurement to the central administration. 

-- Charter school funding makes up about 3.6 percent of the school system's budget.

Earlier in the board meeting:

A group of students from the ever-active Algebra Project took up the bulk of the 10 slots for public comment (much to the chagrin of board member Buzzy Hettleman, who has repeatedly said he doesn't want one group to be able to prevent others from speaking ... board chair Brian Morris said last night they'd take up a policy review). The Algebra Project students were demanding that the board members sign a petition protesting the state freeze on Thornton money. They also passed out a flier titled "O'Malley LIES to the Children of Baltimore," citing earlier quotes when the former mayor/current governor argued in favor of full funding of a court ruling that ordered the state to pay hundreds of millions more to the city schools. In comments before the board, the students called O'Malley a "backstabber."

The school board, naturally, needs Gov. O'Malley as an ally, so members would not sign the petition. They got visibly uncomfortable when the students asked for a show of hands on how many people believe children deserve a quality education. Morris, Bob Heck and George VanHook started taking them to task, challenging the assertion that the board isn't already fighting as hard as it can for the kids of Baltimore, when Alonso -- putting on his old teacher hat -- stepped in.

The CEO urged the students to take Morris up on his offer for the board and the Algebra Project to go together to lobby members of the General Assembly for more funding. But, he explained, "You tend to work through one channel and boards of education tend to work through others." He said his job is "not necessarily" to take political stances, and he can't afford to participate in a demonstration if doing so could anger politicians so much that they would take money away from the city schools. He told the students they can have a great impact with actions beyond "calling the governor a liar and doing a symbolic arrest."

Also during last night's public comment, parents from City Springs and Collington Square elementary schools turned out to urge the board to renew their charter contracts next month. Both schools are run as charters by the Baltimore Curriculum Project and use the Direct Instruction method. And neither school met AYP this year, so the school communities seem worried. The board will be voting Jan. 22 on whether to renew the contracts of all 12 schools from the city's first cohort except Patterson Park Public Charter School, which asked for an expedited review and got renewed last night.

Michael Carter, well known for his spirited public comments at the beginning of each board meeting, gave his final presentation as the chair of the system's Parent and Community Advisory Board last night. PCAB will be electing new leadership in January. In his comments last night, Carter urged support for a drive to fund a library at Northeast Middle School, repeated his calls for the board to adopt a policy giving city students a preference for admission to elite high schools like Poly and City (over suburban kids paying admission), and expressed concern about student discipline at the Harlem Park complex, where he said kids have "spent as much time outside as inside in the last few days because of the behavior of students," referring to fire evacuations.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Joppatowne: the first homeland security school? Hardly!

I wonder how the students and faculty at the Homeland Security Academy in Baltimore City feel after this USA Today story ran about Joppatowne High School?

The article states that the school has “the nation's first comprehensive high school homeland security program.” What the story doesn’t tell you is that long before Joppatowne unveiled its program, just down the road in that tinyobscure school system -- Baltimore City -- started its own program: the Homeland Security Academy located on the Walbrook campus. This program has been in existence since the 2005-2006 school year.

I always hesitate to claim that things are the first -- especially nationwide -- but I can say without hesitation that the program in Baltimore City was up and running well before the program in Joppatowne.

Just giving you guys a little clarity.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:54 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Trends

Teacher wins $1 million lawsuit

A third-grade teacher from California has been awarded a $1 million judgment after a jury found the Chula Vista Elementary School District (in San Diego County) had discriminated against her when she lost her job after becoming pregnant.

"Danielle Coziahr was a probationary teacher at Silver Wing Elementary School in Otay Mesa for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. School districts can choose not to renew the contracts of such teachers without giving a reason," according to an article in today's Union Tribune. "A jury decided Friday that there was a reason – Coziahr was discriminated against. The jury found that the school district decided not to continue her employment, which would have made her a tenured teacher, because she is a woman."

“The money is an afterthought,” the article quotes Coziahr. “I wasn't seeking litigation for compensation. I was seeking litigation to clear my name. I'm basically blackballed. I can no longer teach in San Diego County. My teaching career has ended.”

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

December 11, 2007

Nancy Grasmick, here to stay

The state school board voted to renew her contract today. Read more here.

Also stay tuned for announcements about a new chief academic officer and other administrative appointments expected in Baltimore at the school board meeting tonight.

UPDATE (5 p.m.): The school board still has to vote officially, but Andres Alonso has just announced that he's recommending Mary Minter, an area academic officer who previously served as principal of William Paca and Curtis Bay elementaries, as chief academic officer. Roger Shaw, principal of Dunbar High School, is recommended as executive director of secondary schools. Linda Eberhart, the award-winning math teacher at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle who campaigned for Gov. O'Malley, is recommended as director of mathematics.

UPDATE (12/12): The school board did approve all the appointments listed above.

UPDATE: Thanks to Artie for pointing out the lively discussion about Nancy Grasmick on Jay Hancock's blog. Take a look for an interesting contrast in opinion to the comments we've been getting here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:25 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

Activists: Stop pig surgery at Hopkins

An animal-rights group of lawyers sent a letter today to Johns Hopkins' medical school dean demanding an end to operating on live pigs as part of surgical training. Here's the text of the letter:  

December 11, 2007
Edward D. Miller, M.D., Dean

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

733 North Broadway
Baltimore, MD 21205
Dear Dean Miller:

I am writing on behalf of the National Center for Animal Law. We strongly urge you to discontinue the use of live pigs in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine third year surgery course, and all other use of live animals in your curriculum, on legal, scientific, and ethical grounds. Your medical school is one of only ten in the country, out of a total of one hundred twenty-six, that still use live animals for educational purposes.  We hope you will join the vast majority of schools, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, who have determined that students earn at least equal, if not better, training without the use of live animals in the classroom.                                                                   

I am sure you are aware of the excellent alternatives that are widely available for medical training.   These humane alternatives are not only great teaching tools, most medical students also prefer them. In 2007, the American Medical Student Association (“AMSA”) passed a resolution amending its “Principles Regarding Vivisection in Medical Education” to strongly encourage the replacement of animal laboratories with non-animal alternatives in medical education. The AMSA resolution demonstrates that medical students are increasingly aware of the ethical problems surrounding the use of live animals as teaching tools. In order to meet the ethical and educational needs of your students, we encourage Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to explore these alternatives as a means of removing live animals from its classrooms.  Further, the use of animals in classrooms violates the spirit and letter of the Federal Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”). Medical schools are included in the definition of “research facility” in the AWA, and are therefore subject to its provisions.  Further, the live animals used by your institution’s classrooms come within the protection of that statute, which expressly defines protected “animals” to include “any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit or such other warm blooded animal . . .  intended for use, for research, testing, experimentation, or exhibition purposes, or as a pet.” The Federal statute requires minimization of pain and distress to the subject animal and the use of non-animal alternatives when possible. In light of the availability of superior, non-animal alternative technologies in medical school education, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine arguably violates the principles set forth in the AWA by using pigs in its classrooms. 

Moreover, the use of live animals results in the suffering of sentient beings. Courts have become increasingly aware of such ethical issues and are more often willing to allow legal challenges to unnecessary animal suffering. For instance, a Federal District Court has ruled that a college psychology student had constitutional standing to challenge the exclusion of laboratory rats, birds and mice from the protection of the AWA, because she asserted emotional and aesthetic injury observing their inhumane living conditions. The court noted that the student could bring a lawsuit, “given the express purpose of the AWA to ensure the humane treatment of animals.” Alternatives Research & Development Foundation, et al. v. Glickman, 101 F. Supp. 2d. 7 (D.D.C. 2000).

As a representative of attorneys across the nation who care about the humane treatment of animals, as well as their legal protections, I strongly urge you to immediately cease using live animals as teaching tools in order to comply with the terms of the AWA, to modernize your curricula, and to be responsive to the mission and sentiments of your students.

Most Sincerely,

Laura Ireland Moore
Executive Director, National Center for Animal Law
Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)

"Cocaine Culture" at Loyola College investigated

Loyola College's student newspaper The Greyhound is running a series looking at cocaine use at the private Jesuit school in North Baltimore.

Today's installation deals with a college-administered student survey, which seems to suggest that Loyola students perceive cocaine use is more prevalent than it likely is.

The 2006 survey "showed 82 students out of 1,005 surveyed admitted using cocaine as frequently as only a few times per year, up to three or more times a week. On the other hand, student perception of cocaine use was much higher, with 540 saying the typical student used cocaine a few times a year or more," the Greyhound reported.

The first part of "Cocaine Culture," published last month, offers some insight into the personality of a Loyola druggie:

"He leans over his coffee table, plugs one nostril, and snorts in a line of crushed Percocet through a rolled-up dollar bill ... Five minutes later the user receives a phone call and within 15 minutes a fellow student --a dealer-- enters the room. Twenty dollars is handed to the dealer as they sit down at the table to measure up the half gram of cocaine to be sold ... 'I bought an 8-ball [3.5 grams of cocaine] about a month ago,' he says. 'That [expletive] was gone in two days. I killed a [gram] this Saturday alone.'"

Riveting stuff, though the story relies heavily on unnamed sources, so readers might take it with a gram of salt.

One minor quibble. In a description of drug activity on nearby York Road, the authors write: "Dealers are looking for buyers on the street while buyers are on the corners stretching their arms out as to hail for a cab, but tapping their fingers downward, indicating their want of drugs."

Pointing your fingers downward is just the Baltimore way of hailing a cab, whether illegal "hack" or licensed taxi.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 9:38 AM | | Comments (4)

Harvard gets cheaper: no loans, lower family contributions to tuition

Harvard University announced MOnday a "sweeping overhaul of financial aid policies" to make its undergraduate degree more affordable.

Because of its high-profile status and prestige, the Cambridge, Mass. school's policies are considered influential among higher-ed policy makers.  

Among the changes:

  • No Loans. "In calculating the financial aid packages offered to undergraduates, Harvard will not expect students to take out loans," according to the press release. "Loan funds will be replaced by increased grants from the University."
  • Families with incomes below $180,000 will be expected to contribute less money toward tuition and fees. Familes earning $60,000 and below will pay nothing toward their childrens' tuition and fees. For family incomes from $60,000 to $120,000, the expected family contribution will slide up gradually to 10 percent of income. So a family making $120,000 will be asked to pay about $12,000 a year -- down from $19,000 under the current aid formula. High-income families will also benefit. Those earning up to $180,000 in annual income will be expected to pay 10 percent of their incomes.
  • Home equity will no longer be considered in determining a family's ability to pay for their kid's college education. "This will reduce the price by an average of $4,000 per year for affected families as compared with current practice," officials said.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of a financial aid Web site, said Monday that Harvard's announcement makes it the fifth school to eliminate loans from financial aid packages of low income students, joining Princeton, Davidson, Williams and Amherst.

One more reason to sharpen those SATs and kiss up to your letter-writers.  


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 9:37 AM | | Comments (1)

Do you want metal detectors in your school?

If you work in a school in Baltimore -- a middle or a high school at least -- that's the question your principal should be posing to you this week. And if you're a parent of a city student, you should be asked for feedback as well.

As I report in my story today, Andres Alonso is willing to let schools install metal detectors if the staff and community is supportive of the decision.

We went through the pros and cons of the metal detector debate just over a year ago, after an 8-year-old brought a loaded gun to Grove Park Elementary. Click below for an article a colleague and I wrote on the topic.

City teachers and parents: Have your schools asked your opinion on this issue? And what position are you taking?

The Baltimore Sun
Violent week renews metal detector debate

Date: Saturday, October 14, 2006
Edition: Final
Page: 1A
Source: Sun reporters
Byline: Sara Neufeld and Sumathi Reddy
   A violence-filled week for Baltimore public school students - including a shooting on the grounds of Frederick Douglass High School yesterday - has ignited a community debate over whether installing metal detectors would make children any safer.

    State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she would support having metal detectors in the city's most dangerous schools, especially if parents want them. But many others said the fix would be short-sighted, expensive and ineffective.City school system officials said that, while they are willing to discuss the issue, they are not going to rush out to buy the devices immediately. They were quick to point out that a metal detector would not have prevented yesterday's shooting, which happened outside.

    Whatever the outcome of the debate, it's clear this week's events have left teachers, parents and students frightened. And coming on the heels of highly publicized school shootings in Colorado and Pennsylvania, the local developments were particularly unsettling.

    "Because things have been back to back - it's been so frequent -people are afraid for safety," said Patricia Ferguson, chairman of the Baltimore Teachers Union's safety committee and a teacher at Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy. She said her panel supports putting metal detectors in schools.

    The week's trouble began late Monday afternoon, when about 100 students from Digital Harbor High School gathered several blocks from the school to watch a fight between two 15-year-old girls, breaking a car windshield.

    On Wednesday, a 14-year-old girl at Pimlico Middle School was hospitalized after, police say, a 13-year-old classmate stabbed her in the arm with a 10-inch kitchen knife. Also Wednesday, about 200 pupils at Holabird Elementary were locked inside their school for more than four hours after a shooting in the neighborhood.

    On Thursday, an 8-year-old boy brought a revolver into his third-grade class at Grove Park Elementary School. Another boy went over to see the gun in his desk and accidentally pulled the trigger.

    The boy who brought the gun to school - a small-framed, wide-eyed child with a shaved head - appeared in Juvenile Court yesterday for a hearing. Charged as a minor in possession of a handgun and two other related counts, he wore a gray fleece, blue jeans and sneakers, and held the hand of a public defender as he entered the hearing room.

    The boy sat silently at a table, coloring and reading children's books, while his lawyer and a prosecutor discussed with a juvenile master the conditions of his home detention.

    Master Claudette McDonald Brown allowed the boy to return home with his grandmother, who sat in court yesterday, after being assured that the weapon was out of the home. He is to stay at home except when he goes to school or a medical appointment, and he is to have another hearing next month.

    Authorities continue to investigate how he got the gun.

    Yesterday, a 14-year-old boy was shot in the back outside Douglass during a football game. He was in fair condition last night.

    Around the country, urban school systems commonly use metal detectors, particularly in middle and high schools. But they are not always effective.

    In 2004, a student in a Washington, D.C., high school with a metal detector was fatally shot by a classmate inside the building. Last year in Red Lake, Minn., a shooting occurred in a school with a metal scanner, perimeter fencing and guards at the front door.

    "The thing is, rule-followers will follow the rules. Rule-breakers will break the rules," said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the California-based National School Safety Center. "Sometimes the metal scanning is more of a comfort for the community, the parents and maybe the other students."

    In Baltimore, the idea of installing metal detectors in schools has been floated numerous times over the years after incidents of violence. One argument against such a move is cost.

    Manufacturers say walk-through metal detectors can cost $2,000 to $4,500 each. But the bigger expense would be the salaries of guards to supervise them.

    "It's an incredibly inefficient use of resources," said Bebe Verdery, director of the Education Reform Project at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

    She said it would be more effective to devote money to hiring more school police officers, hall monitors and social workers, and to lower class sizes. Many researchers say that the best way to prevent school violence is for children to have trusting relationships with adults, but teachers often complain that they can't give kids enough personal attention when their classes are too big.

    Edie House, a city school system spokeswoman, said the system recently hired an extra 40 social workers in an attempt to better address children's emotional needs, and thus prevent them from acting out.

    Brian D. Morris, the city school board chairman, said he would like to see a change in the state law that prevents school police officers from being armed inside school buildings. He said he's open to discussing metal detectors, but he fears they would send a negative psychological message to children.

    Grasmick, the state schools chief, argued that metal detectors can prevent strangers from walking into schools, and they can deter children who don't understand the danger of carrying a weapon.

    "I don't think parents should fear every day, `This may be the day I get a phone call,'" she said.

    Bill Woodward, director of training and technical assistance at the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado, said it's "short-sighted" to expect metal detectors to rid schools of weapons. Still, he said, detectors can be effective as part of an overall solution.

    William Lassiter, manager of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence in Raleigh, N.C., said detectors work best when schools can limit access to one door. But in focus groups with students, he said, the center has found that most say it's easy to get around the detectors.

    Also, Lassiter said, students who carry guns do so for protection. "We don't really think the metal detectors themselves are looking at the root cause of the problem, which is, `Why did the child feel unsafe to begin with?'" he said. "But if you're seeing a problem with weapons on a daily basis, then it should be looked at."

    Baltimore schools do not have any walk-through metal detectors. School police use detector wands to conduct periodic weapons searches in middle and high schools, but not in elementary schools.

    Nationally, walk-through metal detectors in elementary schools are extremely rare. But a handful of cities, including Indianapolis and Chicago, have started searching elementary pupils.

    The Indianapolis school system expanded its random searches to elementary pupils in 1998. The district uses wands to test children on a random basis and if there is cause to believe that someone is carrying a weapon.

    Steve Garner, chief of the Indianapolis school police department, said that he has never fielded a complaint from a parent or student and that logistically the process runs smoothly.

    "I do think it serves notice," he said. "And I think it adds a level of comfort to parents, as well as staff."
Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.

All content herein is © 2007 The Baltimore Sun and may not be republished without permission.

All content herein is © 2007 The Baltimore Sun and may not be republished without permission.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

December 10, 2007

Towson community wants college fest canceled

The Greater Towson Council of Community Associations is recommending that Towson University do away with the spring music festival that draws upward of 10,000 attendees a year, the student-run Towerlight reports.

The suggestion is one of 47 proposals made by the civic association, in response to rising town-gown tensions at the rapidly growing public university.

The Towson Times is also reporting stepped-up police enforcement of disorderly students.

"We've had a lot of problems with Towson students and increased calls for service," future Towson precinct commander Lt. Al Jones tells the community newspaper.  

The Times also recently ran a related story about one Towson man's frustration with college students allegedly turning his neighborhood in a "wild" zone when the bars let out after last call.

What's going on over there?

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 1:08 PM | | Comments (2)

U.S. fourth graders lag behind international peers in reading

Want your fourth grader to be a better reader? Send them to Russia, several provinces in Canada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, or Luxembourg. Take your pick.

According to results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy test, U.S. fourth graders – who took the test last year -- are lagging behind their international peers. Read more about the results here and here.

The results should be distressing to No Child Left Behind supporters because U.S. students scored about the same they did in 2001 – even though the federal act has placed more of an emphasis on reading since then.

I can’t wait to see what the readers have to say about this study. I’ve been reading the comments that Liz’s post yielded last week, and they got quite spirited.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:54 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the World, Testing

December 7, 2007

Wanted: venison vittles

News that Goucher College is planning a Yuletide deer kill on its leafy, animal-loving campus, has sparked a lively debate on Tribune's Topix board

All that hot air surely makes a bulletin-boarder hungry, so we've dug up some post-fued food. Below, a 1997-era recipe that ran in The Sun for venison medallions with cognac sauce.

For balance, I did try to find a deerish equivalent of tofurkey, but can't hunt up any vegetarian venison choices. The best I could do was a photo of allegedly vegetarian venison from a restaurant in Vietnam (this other blogger claims to have also seen veggie-ven over there):

So we appeal to you, deer readers. Have you any veggie-venison recipes to share?  

In the meantime, for meat-eaters, a recipe featuring the King of Sweden's favorite lean meat:

Venison medallions with cognac sauce    

Makes 4 servings

4 4-ounce venison medallions, trimmed of fat

1 clove garlic, cut in half

2 teaspoons canola oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1/2 cup cognac

1 cup quick venison stock (below) or defatted, reduced-sodium beef or chicken broth

1 1/2 tablespoons red currant jelly

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon chopped, fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

Rub all sides of venison medallions with garlic. Brush with 1/2 teaspoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large, heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over high heat until very hot. Add venison and cook until seared on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare; be careful not to overcook. Set aside on a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Reduce heat to low.

Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil and shallots to skillet. Cook, stirring, until shallots soften, about 1 minute. Add cognac and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in stock (or broth), jelly, mustard and thyme. Cook, whisking, until jelly melts, 1 to 2 minutes more.

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water; slowly whisk into simmering sauce until slightly thickened. Strain through a fine sieve. Discard solids. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Slice venison and fan onto a warmed plate. Serve with the sauce.

Per serving: 250 calories, 26 grams protein, 7 grams fat (0.4 gram saturated fat), 7 grams carbohydrate, 210 mg sodium, 1 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber. 

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 1:54 PM | | Comments (1)

University of Maryland's holiday e-card

Check out this new holiday "e-card" from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Impressive production values, but also slightly Soviet in spirit, doncha think? Cameos from Connie Chung and Steny Hoyer. Fear the turtle's PR machine.


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 6, 2007

What the BELIEVE campaign is really all about

A pretty funny disquisition on Charm City's oft-ridiculed "Believe" campaign by Throat Culture, a sketch comedy group straight outta Homewood.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 1:00 PM | | Comments (3)

Uniforms Yay or Nay

Will uniforms be coming to Harford County Public Schools?

A survey was sent last week to parents asking them about their opinions on school uniforms.  Harford County schools is also seeking public opinion here.

What are your thoughts on school uniforms at public schools?

Posted by Madison Park at 12:30 PM | | Comments (2)

December 5, 2007

Campus fishwrap-up

Tentatively announcing a new feature to InsideEd's HigherEd division: highlights from area campus newspapers. Send suggestions to In the meantime -->

The Spokesman (Morgan State University)

"Thai Female Elite Demand Black Gigolos." Who knew?

The Retriever Weekly (UMBC)

Columnist Eric Flagg analyzes the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual executive compensation survey and decides he wants to be UMBC prez Freeman Hrabowski.

The News-Letter (Hopkins)

Despite a reduction in formal complaints, town-frat relations are still strained in Charles Village. "The best long-term solutions is a Greek row," says Alpha Epsilon Pi President Marc Posoroff. Perhaps on that vacant lot in front of the new condos on St. Paul Street?

The Greyhound (Loyola College)

In a letter to the editor, math major Mary E. Ross reacts in disgust to a previous week's article which was "an embarrassment to the Loyola community and it is not an accurate depiction of who we [are] as students or a college or who we want to be." Sounds interesting! Too bad the search function on the Greyhound site was not working.

UPDATE: Thanks to Kyle Bates for sending in a link to the Greyhound story.  


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 6:30 AM | | Comments (1)

Hey, starving artists: MICA gets more money to give away

The William Randolph Hearst Foundation has given the Maryland Institute College of Art a $150,000 grant to set up a scholarship fund for students with financial need, with an emphasis on attrracting minority freshmen or transfer students, the private art school announced this week.

The Hearst gift comes on the heels of several other diversity-focused scholarship programs recently announced by MICA.

In August, the college announced it was the recipient of more than $250,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, to be used to for scholarships to low-income students.

Also this summer, MICA reported the recipients of its first-ever "full ride" scholarships, paid for by the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Trust. The first two recipients are Christina Barrera of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Pablo Monterubbio-Benet of Chicago.

Founded in 1826, the Bolton Hill art college is in the third year of "Diversity and Inclusion" initiative. Only about seven percent of its student body was black or Hispanic in 2006, according to state data. In 2005, about 17 percent of undergraduates received federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income students, according to

MICA undergraduate tution and fees -- not including living costs -- comes to more than $30,000 a year.

Good thing the Pikesville Rye is cheap at the nearby Mount Royal Tavern.
Posted by Gadi Dechter at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 4, 2007

The nation's new nationally board certified teachers

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has announced the names of 8,500 teachers who earned the prestigious national board certification in 2007. Of that, 229 teachers are in Maryland. Four of them are in Baltimore (including Katya Denisova, the Homeland Security Academy teacher I profiled earlier this fall).

Some interesting statistics from a Maryland-specific press release:

• Maryland ranks 11th nationwide in the number of new national board certified teachers. It ranks 15th in the total number of teachers who achieved certification over time: 1,056.

• Maryland showed a 42 percent increase in the number of teachers who achieved national board certification in 2007 over 2006.

• About 14 percent of the state’s nationally board certified teachers work in Title I schools.

• The Maryland school districts with the most nationally board certified teachers are: Montgomery County (374), Anne Arundel County (124), Baltimore County (77), Prince George’s County (73) and Carroll County (50).

• With 75 new nationally board certified teachers this year alone, Montgomery County now ranks among the top 20 school districts in the nation both for new and cumulative certifications.

Click here to search for the names of the nationally board certified teachers from any jurisdiction in the country.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore City, Teaching

UB sets date for '68 riots commemoration

The University of Baltimore will host the first-ever academic conference on Baltimore's 1968 riots on April 3-5, 2008, officials announced today.

Background on the conference and the riots is here.

In addition to traditional papers, panels and roundtable discussions, organizers said the three-day conference will also include art installations, original musical compositions and workshops. More than 40 proposals are being considered, from both local colleges and universities around the country, including Columbia University, Howard University and Virginia Tech.

"Given the sensitive nature of this topic and the fact that there has never before been a program of this kind, we didn’t know how our plans would be perceived or if there would be those interested in bringing their views to the table," said Jessica Elfenbein, UB's associate provost and the conference coordinator. "The submissions we received clearly indicate that there is a desire for a substantive meaningful dialogue to explore the meanings of the riots and the extent and limits of any rebirth."

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 4:04 PM | | Comments (0)

U.S. students scores mediocre

There is more bad news about how our students stack up next to their peers in other nations today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results of its assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds in science, math and reading in the major industrialized nations. There were 57 nations that participated, 30 members of the OECD.

Our scores were flat since 2003 and continue to be below the average of of the 30 OECD countries and in the middle of all the countries where students were tested.

Here is what the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, had to say in a press release that arrived this morning.

"While disappointing, it speaks to what President Bush has long been advocating for: more rigor in our nation's high schools; additional resources for advanced courses to prepare students for college-level studies; and stronger math and science education. In fact, students are being assessed in science Under No Child Left Behind this school year. And, the President has proposed making science assessments an element of states' accountability calculations.

I wonder what teachers and principals out there believe? Do you think more testing in science would improve teaching and knowledge?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!, Testing

Press release faux pas of the day

Here are the first few lines of a press release I got yesterday from the Center for American Progress.

"PRESS CALL: Teacher Pay, Principle Pay -- A Promising Reform?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tomorrow, Tuesday December 4, at 1:00 PM EDT the Center for American Progress will host a conference call to discuss both teacher pay (see and principle pay and the forthcoming report from the Center for American Progress 'Principal Compensation – More Research Needed on a Promising Reform' and the connections between teacher pay and principal pay."

Principle pay?

A corrected version of the release was in my inbox this morning.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:50 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

What would you ask a prospective superintendent?

On Thursday, I'll be heading up to Massachusetts for a couple days to attend a seminar for Harvard's Urban Superintendents Program, which prepares educators to become urban superintendents. (This is the program where Andres Alonso earned his doctorate.) I've been asked to speak on a media panel, talking to the current doctoral students about working with the press. On the second day of the seminar, I'll be participating in a "mock school board," interviewing these prospective superintendents as though they were applying for a job leading one of our nation's more challenging school systems. Which is why I'm posting this item... to solicit question ideas from all of you who are working (or have recently worked) in the trenches. What would you ask someone applying to be a superintendent or top-level central office administrator? What kind of answers would you want to hear?

UPDATE (Dec. 10): I just returned from the trip last night, just in time to beat some northeastern snow. There were several of us on the mock school board, so I only got to ask a few questions to each of the three candidates I interviewed. But I did ask all of them about what their mechanism would be to listen to staff and parent concerns. I got an interesting range of responses, including one who would have weekly office hours for people to come in and share their concerns. We had to ask at least some things from a list of real questions that interviewing superintendents have had to answer. A number of them were close to the questions submitted here (how to hold parents accountable, views on charter and magnet schools, etc.). Thanks again to all of you for your great suggestions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)

December 3, 2007

Teddy bear teacher goes home

Gillian Gibbons was on a flight back to London, according to this story from CNN. Our earlier entries about her are here and here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the World

Leave the food and drinks at home at Howard County high school games!

Thinking about bringing food or beverages to a sporting event at a Howard County high school? Forget about it!

The school system has just announced that outside food and beverages will be banned at all county athletic venues including gymnasiums and stadiums. The effort is part of the school system’s attempts to thwart alcohol consumption and to keep their facilities clean.

The food and beverage ban in gymnasiums takes effect immediately. The stadiums ban takes effect when the spring sports season begins on March 1, 2008.

Read more about it in The Sun’s online edition.

What are your thoughts about the ban?

Taking a stand against public displays of affection: Hugs can land you in detention

Who knew that a simple hug could get a kid in so much hot water? Check out this Time article about American schools that ban several forms of non-violent physical contact.

Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Va., has one of the most stringent policies. The school bans high-fives!

Another school -- Fossil Hill Middle School in Fort Worth, Texas -- has banned students from hugging and holding hands. Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois, banned hugs earlier this year.

Is this excessive or necessary? Do you know of any Maryland schools that have similar policies (unwritten or on the books)?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:00 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

A dropout factory or one of the nation's best?

Last month, we told you in The Sun and on this blog about the high schools labeled "dropout factories" by Johns Hopkins University and the Associated Press. One of them was Baltimore's Edmondson-Westside High School.

Now, U.S. News and World Report has issued a list of what it calls the nation's "best high schools." And guess what? Edmondson-Westside is on that one, too.

The newsmagazine named 1,600 high schools either gold, silver or bronze medalists based on whether they "exceed statistical expectations" on tests given their level of student poverty, their test scores for disadvantaged student groups, and their students' participation in, and performance on, A.P. exams. Edmondson-Westside won a bronze medal. Another school in that category also raised my eyebrows: Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High, the city's school for pregnant girls and teenage moms. Don't get me wrong: Paquin is providing some wonderful services for a vulnerable population. But many of its students aren't even there long enough to take the annual standardized tests, and those who are tested have posted extremely low scores.

This, from the source that brings us the annual college rankings over which the nation obsesses.

Not that the "dropout factory" rankings are necessarily any more credible. One school on that list, which looked at the number of ninth graders who graduated four years later, was Ft. Meade High. Apparently the people doing the rankings didn't take into account the fact that the school serves a lot of military families who move frequently.

Still wondering which Maryland high schools U.S. News calls the nation's best? Keep reading.

Gold Medalists
Thomas S. Wootton High (Montgomery County)
Walt Whitman High (Montgomery County)
Winston Churchill High (Montgomery County)

Silver Medalists
Baltimore City College
Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Centennial High (Howard County)
Eastern Technical High (Baltimore County)
Eleanor Roosevelt High (Prince George's County)
Hereford High (Baltimore County)
North Hagerstown High (Washington County)
River Hill High (Howard County)
Smithsburg Senior High (Washington County)
Williamsport High (Washington County)

Bronze Medalists
Clear Spring High (Washington County
Crisfield High (Somerset County)
Digital Harbor High (Baltimore City)
Edmondson-Westside High (Baltimore City)
Hancock Middle/Senior High (Washington County)
Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High (Baltimore City)
Northern Garrett High (Garrett County)
Paul Laurence Dunbar High (Baltimore City)
Snow Hill High (Worcester County)
Southern Garrett High (Garrett County)
South Hagerstown Senior High (Washington County)
Washington High (Somerset County)
Western High (Baltimore City)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
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