I noticed something interesting today on the flashing bar on the top of the BCPSS homepage, a message interchanging with congratulations to Cecil Elementary for being named a blue ribbon school and to the seven city high schools named in U.S. News and World Report's rankings.
"School Operators Wanted: Help Reform Baltimore's Secondary Schools," it says. Click on the icon, and you'll be directed to an application to run one of the new combined middle/high schools that Andres Alonso wants to open in the next few years. Last I heard, Alonso was seeking private money from philanthropists, to the tune of $25 million, to fund the schools. He must be encountering success, or be very confident of his prospects, because applications for schools to open in August are due Jan. 28.
Keep reading to see my earlier story about his proposal. And tune in to tonight's school board meeting to hear him make a presentation on the topic; it's the second-to-last item on the agenda.
UPDATE, 1/9: I asked Dr. Alonso after the meeting last night about the funding for the new schools. He wouldn't comment specifically on which donors have committed what. But he did say that he's moving forward with the creation of the schools regardless. He said it's a reform that the system needs, and he'll find the money somehow.
The Baltimore Sun
Alonso seeks private donors
$25 million price tag put on altering the DNA of schools
Date: Sunday, December 16, 2007
Source: Sun reporter
Byline: Sara Neufeld
Graph Source: Andre F. Chung : Sun photographer
Caption: Superintendent Andres Alonso wants 12 new innovation schools to open next year and another 12 over the following four years.
Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso is asking private foundations for $25 million to jump-start a stalled reform effort by creating two dozen combined middle/high schools that would operate with outside partnerships and autonomy from central headquarters.
In a confidential presentation to philanthropists that was obtained by The Sun, Alonso says that thousands of city students - including many who are overage and many interested in vocational programs - aren't getting the opportunities they need in existing schools. Some of the schools he proposes would be college-prep, while others would prepare students directly for the work force."This is really an attempt to change the DNA of the secondary schools," Alonso said after being told the newspaper had a copy of his presentation. "A school system like this needs to be extremely bold, or the forces of inertia will bring things back to the way they have been."
The presentation begins with dismal statistics about the current state of affairs: "What is the future of Baltimore if ... Only 5 out of 10 students entering our high schools leave with a high school diploma? Fewer than 3 of those students enroll in college? Fewer than 2 of those students graduate from college within 5 years?"
Alonso's request comes as the Urban Institute releases a study today with promising findings about the city's six new "innovation" high schools. The innovation schools have much in common with the schools Alonso is proposing, operating with autonomy under partnerships with organizations such as universities and school management companies.
The study, based on five years of data, shows innovation schools as the bright spots in a major high school reform initiative that overall has fallen short of expectations. The Urban Institute, a national nonpartisan think tank, was hired to evaluate Baltimore's high school reform.
Launched with great fanfare in 2002, the reform effort has stalled in recent years as the largest donor, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, put a freeze on its funding because of concerns about administrative turnover.
Because of the freeze and other problems, four large campuses that were supposed to be broken up into smaller schools remain intact. Some of the small neighborhood high schools that were created are far more crowded than intended. And the innovation schools, while able to control their hiring and curriculum, have not received the budgetary control they were promised.
Now, Alonso - charged with overhauling education in Baltimore while facing a projected $50 million budget shortfall for the next school year - is trying to bring donors back to the table. Locally, at least, they seem receptive.
"We are so, so far short of where we need to be that it is fine for Dr. Alonso to turn this system upside down," said Diana Morris, director of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore. "We're still in the place where we don't have an awful lot to lose and we have a lot to gain."
Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said that "everyone involved is supportive of the superintendent" but that he needs to see in a formal proposal the rationale for putting middle and high school students under the same roof.
Alonso, who has been in his job since July, said the rationale is based on the fact that nearly half of the city's 18,488 middle school students have been held back at least once, and 1,300 of them are at least two grades overage. Another 325 elementary school students have been held back at least twice.
Overage students are at high risk of dropping out, Alonso said. Putting them in a building where they can interact with peers their own age will make their experience in school less socially awkward.
Also, Alonso said, if students could stay in the same school for seven years, "the idea is for a school leader and team to grow over time and become personally responsible for children."
Alonso wants 12 new schools to open by August 2008, with initial classes of 80 sixth-graders and 80 ninth-graders. The schools would add a middle school grade and a high school grade each year until they eventually served grades six through 12. The other 12 schools would open over the next four years.
The presentation says the system has already identified a dozen locations where new schools could start operating. Over time, they would replace many existing neighborhood schools.
Existing schools that remain would be required to partner with outside organizations and adopt a structure in which principals would be given more autonomy in exchange for accountability.
Of the 24 new schools, a third would be college-prep, a third would be alternative schools for students who are significantly behind, and a third would be vocational schools. The citywide vocational high schools - Edmondson, Mergenthaler and Carver - didn't have space this year for more than 1,000 freshmen who met entrance criteria.
In seeking money for the initiative, Alonso might have some previously pledged money at his disposal, if he can get the funders to buy into his vision. Donors pledged $20.8 million to the earlier high school reform effort, but only $12 million has been spent, according to the Fund for Educational Excellence, a Baltimore nonprofit serving as the intermediary between the initiative's donors and the school system.
Gates, which provided 60 percent of the funding, put a freeze on disbursing its donation in 2004; that was lifted last year. The system has spent about $9 million of the Gates money and has almost $3 million remaining.
Alonso's presentation says each of the new schools would need $50,000 for planning and $500,000 for the first two years of operation. He is also asking for $5 million to expand apprenticeship and vocational programs and $3 million to expand Advanced Placement class offerings and a college-prep program offering services such as campus tours and scholarship application assistance.
Since he was hired to a four-year contract - the maximum legally allowed in Maryland - Alonso has said repeatedly that if he's not successful in improving the city's high school graduation rate, he should be fired. But the presentation offers the first glimpse at what specifically he wants to achieve. By 2015, it says, the school system should increase the graduation rate by 25 percentage points and the college enrollment rate by 20 percentage points.
Size and choice have been the principles behind Baltimore's high school reform so far, with smaller schools created within sprawling campuses. All eighth-graders may now submit applications with high school choices.
Unlike the neighborhood high schools, the six innovation high schools have enrollment caps, and their programs started with a class of ninth-graders and added a grade each year.
"It is much easier to start new schools from scratch than to try to break off a school from an existing organization," said Becky Smerdon, the principal investigator for the Urban Institute study.
The study found that Baltimore's high schools have become more stratified under the high school reform effort.
Many of the brightest students in the city were already leaving their peers after middle school to attend selective magnet schools like Polytechnic Institute and City College. Although the innovation schools have no admissions criteria, they are attracting higher-performing students and fewer overage and special education students than neighborhood high schools.
But even when researchers accounted for that difference, the innovation schools still showed more academic improvement and higher attendance rates. Students in innovation high schools scored between 14 and 30 points higher on the state's High School Assessments and attended school between 9 percent and 22 percent more days than their peers in the city's other nonselective high schools.
Nevertheless, the report concludes that "the students attending innovation high schools in Baltimore are not students from advantaged families who sail through Algebra in the 8th grade. They are, by and large, high-poverty, African-American students who score much lower on middle school reading and math than students attending the city's selective high schools."
The report goes on to say that the school system "has found a way to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for some fraction of this population."
Moving forward, Alonso said, the system will need to make better use of its money to improve opportunities for larger numbers of students.
"The tragedy of the earlier effort," he said, "is it was only six schools."
For more on the proposed schools and the Urban Institute report, see The Sun education blog at www.baltimoresun.com/InsideEd.
Highlights of a proposal by Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso to private foundations, seeking $25 million:
The city would create 24 combined middle/high schools, 12 in August 2008 and the remainder over four years.
A third of the schools would be college-prep, a third would be vocational, and a third would be alternative schools for struggling students.
Each school would be autonomous and partner with an outside organization, such as a university or school management organization.
A new Urban Institute study finds promising results at Baltimore's six "innovation" high schools: Academy for College and Career Exploration, Baltimore Freedom Academy, Baltimore Talent Development High, Coppin Academy, New Era Academy and Renaissance Academy.
Among the findings:
Innovation schools attracted students with higher academic performance than nonselective neighborhood schools. But innovation schools had more students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, possibly because they got more students to turn in applications. Innovation schools enrolled more girls than boys.
Nearly two thirds of ninth-graders initially enrolled in innovation high schools were still enrolled by 11th grade, as were more than 60 percent of ninth-graders who enrolled in small neighborhood high schools. In the large neighborhood high schools, fewer than half of ninth-graders were still there by 11th grade.
The study will be available online at www.urban.org.
[Source: Urban Institute]
All content herein is © 2008 The Baltimore Sun and may not be republished without permission.
All content herein is © 2008 The Baltimore Sun and may not be republished without permission.