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January 31, 2008

Do Maryland students care about the presidential election?

No matter how you slice it, this election year has the billings to be nothing short of historic – especially among Democrats. But do students care?

Are your students following the youthful surge caused by Barack Obama? Are your female students excited by Hillary Clinton? Have there been heated discussions about race and gender that have been caused by the two Democrats?

I’m particularly interested in finding out what history, current events, social studies, and civics teachers think.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Trends

January 30, 2008

How about giving away shoes?

I know, I know, this "earn to learn" debate could go on forever, but I couldn't resist just one more entry...

The Sports Boosters of Maryland and Holabird Sports today announced the launch of their "Shoes for Grades Challenge" at 12 high schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Any student who can raise his or her grade-point average by one full grade from the second to the third marking period will get a pair of name-brand athletic shoes. 

Is it any more palatable to give out shoes than cash? And what about the kids who already have straight A's?

For a list of schools participating in the Shoes for Grades Challenge (many of them the same city schools where Andres Alonso is trying to lure students with incentive money), read on.

Baltimore City participants: Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, Forest Park High, Heritage High, Patterson High, Reginald Lewis High, Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, W.E.B. Dubois High

Baltimore County participants: Dundalk High, Lansdowne High, Parkville High, Randallstown High, Kenwood High

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:37 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

Maryanne Ralls is the latest to leave

The director of student support services is the latest high-ranking administrator to leave the Baltimore school system. As usual, officials won't say whether Ralls resigned or was terminated.

Readers of this blog know I've been keeping track of the administrative comings and goings since Andres Alonso became CEO in July. Recapping some of the highlights in the departure category:
1) Linda Chinnia (chief academic officer)
2) Gary Thrift (human resources officer)
3) Marilyn Perez (middle school area academic officer)
4) Howard Steptoe (information technology officer)
5) Michael Johnson (director of information technology)
6) Deborah Wortham (high school area academic officer)
7) James Smith (elementary school area academic officer)

Know of any others? Drop me a line.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 29, 2008

Whatever happened to Cassandra Jones?

The former chief academic officer of the Baltimore schools is now interim chief academic officer in Philadelphia, where she's applied to be the next CEO. Check out this Philadelphia Inquirer story today.

To those of you who worked under Jones in Baltimore, do you think she'd make a good schools chief?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 28, 2008

Is cash any different than other student rewards?

That's the question I posed in my story today. There was an uproar last week when word got out that the Baltimore school system will offer up to $110 to the 5,000 students who have already failed at least one of the High School Assessments if they can improve their knowledge. (Improvement, by the way, will be gauged by performance on the school system's "benchmark" tests, not on the HSA itself -- a point that Dr. Alonso clarified late in the week.)

Schools give rewards to kids all the time, from candy to toys to pizza parties. What makes cash different? Or does it? And is the issue the reward itself, or what students are being rewarded for?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 24, 2008

"Learn & Earn": Baltimore's not alone

As Baltimore prepares to pay struggling high school students for improved test scores, a Georgia school district this week announced an initiative to give cash to a group of kids for attending after-school tutoring in math and science. Check out this entry on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's education blog. Fulton County's "Learn & Earn" program made headlines on CNN yesterday. It was conceived by Newt Gingrich, of all people.

Today's coverage of the Baltimore controversy is here and here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:10 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Trends

Is it acceptable to call school officials at home?

Devraj "Dave" S. Kori, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County, called up Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. He left his name and phone number and got a nasty message later in the day from the official’s wife.

The minute-and-change message from the wife blasted the student. At one point she calls him a “snotty-nosed brat.”

Kori (the student) got the last dig when he posted the message, along with the official’s work and home number, on his Facebook page. Needless to say the official received a fair share of calls – at home. Check out more of The Washington Post story here.

Since The Post broke the story, it has gained national attention. CNN ran an item about it. And the phone message left by Tistadt’s wife is up on YouTube. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the link had attracted close to 21,000 hits. By 5:30 p.m., the link had been removed.

What do you think? Is it ever acceptable for a student to call a school official at home? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:10 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Trends

January 23, 2008

Paying for progress on HSAs

After several hours of reporting yesterday, I finally learned what the "incentives" line item in last night's city school board presentation meant: The system is going to pay kids who have failed at least one previous High School Assessment for improvement in their scores, up to $110 each.

The meaning seemed to be lost on some of the board members, too, judging by their discussion at the meeting. Afterwards, when I asked Dr. Alonso about the strategy, his reply was, "Why not?" He's willing to try anything to motivate kids at risk of dropping out or being denied a high school diploma. The nearly $1 million for incentives is part of a $6.3 million pot -- money previously entangled in a bureaucratic mess that was freed up for the city school system's use by the state -- for a variety of interventions to help students who are struggling on the graduation tests. Also in that pot is about $700,000 for peer tutoring and college student tutoring.

Nancy Grasmick signed off on the plan despite concerns about the lack of research to support financial incentives for students. (The system will survey all the students impacted to see what kind of effect the incentive offer has.) Alonso says that, in a nation where the majority of urban school systems are failing, he's got to take some risks.

I'm sure you folks will have plenty of opinions on this one... Is paying students to do well on a test a risk worth taking?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

January 22, 2008

Education jargon term of the day

CAROI, which means Cooperative Audit Resolution and Oversight Initiative. It is a federal mediation program run by the U.S. Department of Education used to resolve audit findings.

BCPSS and MSDE (if you don't know what institutions I'm referring to, check out our glossary of educationese, now updated to include CAROI) went through this mediation from 2004 to 2005 to figure out what to do about an audit finding problems with how BCPSS was spending its Title 1 money.

So why am I talking about this today? At tonight's school board meeting, officials are scheduled to announce that the state is permitting the school system to use the $6 million remaining from the CAROI settlement to give extra help to students who have failed one or more of the HSAs. (Title 1 and HSA: also in the glossary.)

Also tonight, the board will hear public comment on a proposed change in policy regarding who gets admission preference to Baltimore's prestigious citywide high schools.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, EdGlossary

January 21, 2008

Should pregnant students be allowed maternity leave?

That’s the center of a debate brewing in one Denver high school.

Pregnant students there are asking for at least four weeks of maternity leave and not to be penalized with unexcused absences.

Colorado's public schools, like many school systems, tend to place pregnant students or new moms in specialized programs or craft individualized education plans for them.

Denver Public Schools has no districtwide policy, which leaves it up to schools to work out plans for students continuing their education, according to a Denver Post article.

What kind of policy does your school system have for pregnant teens or teens who have recently given birth? Do you agree with students receiving four weeks of maternity leave while not receiving unexcused absences?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, Trends

January 18, 2008

Millions proposed for school building projects

"Investing in education," is how Wilson Parran put it. He's the president of the Calvert County commissioners. Parran was at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville to hear Gov. Martin O'Malley talk about the proposal to spend $333 million on school renovation and construction projects in the coming year. Other education, state and county leaders, including Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, also joined the governor for a tour of the school, which is slated to receive nearly $900,000 in the coming school year for a new roof.

"If we expect a lot of our children, they should expect a lot of us," Parran told me. "We have to invest in the infrastructure of schools. We have to put our money where our mouth is."

An independent audit last year of Baltimore County school system's education plan unexpectedly pointed out the effect of aging buildings. The auditors said they were shocked to find some of the schools in as bad of a condition as they did. County and school officials routinely stress that the system has the 2nd oldest stock of school buildings in the state.

Without realizing it, Brittany Cole, a 17-year-old senior at Western Tech, echoed the audit's rationale on deteriorating school buildings --- it's hard to concentrate when you're too hot or too cold.

"I think a new roof will give the school better insulation," she said hopefully.

So, teachers, parents, students ... what needs fixing at your school?

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:48 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, School Finance

Suspensions in Maryland

I have been looking over the suspension data for Maryland schools recently and noted that there are a lot of suspensions for non-violent offenses. There seems to be a debate over how to deal with misbehavior. Should we be suspending students for talking back and disrespect as a way of getting troublesome students out of the classroom or should we try other approaches? What about suspensions of young children? I would be interested in talking to teachers and administrators about this issue. My e-mail is
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

What the BCPSS bosses make

As everyone following developments in the Baltimore school system knows, there have been several high-profile administrative appointments lately (in addition to departures). In the hours immediately after many of these appointment announcements, as I've scrambled to compile a story on deadline, I've been unable to find out how much money the administrators will make in their new jobs. So a few weeks ago, I filed a request with the school system for the salaries I've not yet reported. I have them in hand now and will list them below, for the record.

And for the record, I'm not making a judgment one way or the other about whether these people are overpaid (that, dear readers, is for you to debate). On one hand, the school system is facing a $50 million budget shortfall for next year. On the other, Dr. Alonso needs to be surrounded by good people if he's going to have a chance of succeeding at reform, and top tier administrators in surrounding districts make comparably high salaries. Keep in mind also that a lot of administrative positions are being eliminated at the same time as the promotions and new hires.

Without further adue...

Gen. Bennie E. Williams, chief of staff to Andres Alonso: $168,945
Mary Minter, chief academic officer: $168,945
JoAnne Koehler, human resources officer: $168,945
Michael Sarbanes, executive director of partnerships, communications and community engagement (starting Feb. 19): $140,000
Irma Johnson, executive director of elementary and elementary/middle schools: $140,000
Roger Shaw, executive director of secondary schools: $140,000

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 17, 2008

CDC study shows school murders down from 90s

According to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, close to 16 students are murdered at U.S. schools each year. Read more in this story.

The study shows that 116 deaths occurred from July 1999 through June 2006. From July 1994 to June 1999, which included the shooting spree at Columbine High School in April 1999, there were 172.

The CDC counted murders of students that occurred at elementary, middle or high schools; during school-sponsored trips; or while students were on their way to or from school.

Researchers don’t know what led to the drop, but they suspect that the decrease might have to do with violence prevention measures.

Are you surprised by these findings? What do you think has contributed to the drop?

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: a model school for subs

The Associated Press published a story yesterday about teacher absenteeism and schools' increasing reliance on substitutes. "A year is a long time in a child's education, the time it can take to learn cursive writing or beginning algebra," the article begins. "It's also how much time kids can spend with substitute teachers from kindergarten through high school — time that's all but lost for learning."

The story explores the use of long-term subs to fill empty positions, a practice it says is on the rise. It quotes Education Department data showing that the number of schools nationwide reporting that they used substitutes to fill regular teaching vacancies doubled between 1994 and 2004.

Classes with short-term subs often get out of control, especially if the regular teacher doesn't leave an adequate lesson plan. (Subs, of course, aren't required to have nearly the same credentials as teachers.) But as an example of a school that uses subs the right way, the story looks to no other than Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where a teacher recently injured in a car accident came to school bandaged and bruised each day to drop off lesson plans for the person filling in for him.

One issue that the story doesn't explore: what happens when a school can't find enough subs. I know it's common in Baltimore for teachers to be called in during their planning time to fill in for their absent colleagues.

What's the subbing situation at your school?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

January 16, 2008

Teachers riled over prospect of no pay raise

He didn't even ask, and that's what hurt the most, said many Baltimore County teachers who attended a public hearing last night in Towson to prevail upon the school board for a pay raise that they say their own boss --- Superintendent Joe A. Hairston --- should be seeking on their behalf, but apparently isn't. (See my story in today's paper.)

They say they are working harder in a system that is expecting more of them every year. What really had them worked up last night was that not only is a raise not in the offing, but many of them are facing a decrease in take-home pay because of increasing contributions to health care and pension costs. Without an across-the-board raise, union leaders say that 20 percent of their teachers --- the most senior --- will receive no raise at all. An additional 20 percent --- the newer teachers --- will see a pay cut because of higher pension and health care costs.

Starting salaries in the county ranges from $42,000 for 10-month positions to about $49,000 for 12-month teachers.

Talking with me last night just outside the gymnasium at Ridge Ruxton School, longtime teacher Ann Ritchey's feelings seemed representative of many of the educators who streamed into the building to appeal to school board members.

Ann was the first speaker of the evening. After giving her statement, Ann stopped to talk to me in the hallway. The 63-year-old fifth-grade math teacher and team leader from Bear Creek Elementary in Dundalk talked about why she felt compelled to show up last night.

"I'm insulted that a person with 42 years experience is being overlooked," Ann said as her eyes welled up with tears. "I arrive early. I stay late. The sad thing is my superintendent, the Board of Education, and the county in which I live, work and play, do not find me valuable enough to give me a raise. A piece of paper says I'm highly qualified. But I'm also highly offended."

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, also spoke during the public hearing. Among her comments, she rattled off some statistics that she said she hopes will help them decide to seek a raise on behalf of the county's teachers:

Baltimore County's "first step" of the bachelor's scale is ranked 7th in the state. Veteran teachers with the "greatest level of certification" are ranked as low as 15th in the state on the scale. Teachers in neighboring counties, including Howard and Arundel, are anticipating raises in the range of 4 percent to 6 percent. In 2002, education made up 48.1 percent of Baltimore County's overall budget, but by this year it made up only 37 percent.

"At Mars Estates in 1989, five new teachers were hired. I am the only one of those five who is still employed by this system. I love my profession, but as professionals we deserve a fair and competitive professional salary," said Bost, a former Teacher of the Year.

What do you say? Do the county's teachers deserve a raise?

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:36 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

No snitching for Baltimore school police?

This story in today's Sun by city courts reporter Melissa Harris left me concerned and perplexed about the officers hired to protect Baltimore's schoolchildren.

Last March, the article reports, at least five Baltimore school police officers were at a birthday party for a school police dispatcher at a club in West Baltimore. Gunfire erupted, and a man was murdered. The gunman pleaded guilty to the crime yesterday, but not with any help from school police. In a club full of potential witnesses, only two came forward -- and neither was a school police officer. Melissa writes:

According to court records, none of the five school police officers could identify the gunman, who escaped and was apprehended almost three weeks later.

The officers told investigators that they were "stomped" on or "trampled" by other guests. Another, when asked why he did not come forward, said he was "shook up," according to a transcript of his interview with police.

A city homicide detective questioning him responded that police officers are not supposed to get "shook up."


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Students in Iowa will receive points even when they do not turn in homework

Check out this story about the way one Iowa school system is treating homework.

Under the new rule, an F would range from 50 to 60 instead of zero to 60 on a 100 point scale.

Apparently, students who had received a zero when they did not turn in homework had a hard time earning a final passing grade.

Right now, the new grading idea is only recommended for the high schools. But, teachers and administrators are being encouraged to use the new system by their superintendent.

What do you think? Is it fair to give a student an automatic 50 to 60 points even when he/she does not turn in an assignment? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:50 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching, Trends

Dixon drops the ball on dropouts

Isn't it a mayor's job to make her city look better than it is? 

Apparently not yesterday for Sheila Dixon, who made a pretty big error in reference to Baltimore's high school dropout rate.

The mayor delivered prepared remarks at the city's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Baltimore Convention Center. In questioning how much progress Baltimore has made since King's assassination in 1968, she cited a litany of statistics about the homicide rate, the HIV infection rate and, naturally, the high school dropout rate. According to my colleague Nick Madigan, who was in attendance, Dixon said that the city has a 70 percent dropout rate for African-American students.

Say what?

The city's official dropout rate for African-Americans, as reported to the Maryland State Department of Education, is 11 percent. Now, that figure is probably a serious underestimation: It includes only the kids who are known to have dropped out after age 16. Kids who drop out before 16 are considered "truants," not dropouts. And those who don't report dropping out -- and therefore could conceivably have moved and enrolled in another school -- also aren't counted. But still. The number is not 70 percent.

The city's official graduation rate for African-Americans -- which, again, may be rosier than reality -- is 60 percent. A recent presentation by schools chief Andres Alonso said that about five in 10 kids who enter city high schools don't graduate.

I asked Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the mayor, where she'd gotten her figures. "I think she remembered incorrectly," he said in an e-mail reply. 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 15, 2008

Talking about truancy

The Open Society Institute will host the first of four forums on truancy in the Baltimore schools tomorrow morning.

According to an OSI press release, new state figures show that more than 9 percent of Baltimore public school students are "habitually truant," missing a fifth or more of the 2006-07 academic year. That figure is more than double the percentage for Prince George's County and more than quadruple the state average of 2.21 percent. In some Baltimore middle and high schools, OSI reports, the percentage of students who are chronically truant ranges from 10 to 40 percent.

OSI-Baltimore's director, Diana Morris, said the goal of the forums is "to bring together policy makers, educators, service providers, advocates, and funders to learn about chronic school absence and to discuss innovative strategies that will improve school attendance in Baltimore."

Here is a schedule of who's speaking when:

Tomorrow (Jan. 16): Ken Seeley, president and CEO of the National Center for School Engagement, will discuss how schools can reduce chronic absenteeism and help students become more engaged in school.
Feb. 22: Hedy Chang, a consultant conducting research for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will talk about chronic absences among young children in Baltimore.
March 18: Kimberly Henry, assistant professor of psychology at Colorado State University, will address the link between truancy and adolescent drug use. 
April 23: Daniel Losen, a senior education law and policy associate at the UCLA's Civil Rights Project, will discuss the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on truancy and drop out.

All forums will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at OSI, 201 N. Charles St., Suite 1300. Seating is limited, so call ahead (410-234-1091) if you'd like to attend.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:46 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City

Food fights becoming costly, popular in U.S. schools

For all those students American students who missed the memo from Mama that warned against playing with food, these examples should thwart any future thoughts of food fights.

Seven Wisconsin high school students, ages 17 and 18, are facing fines and four-day suspensions after being involved in a food fight in their cafeteria last month.

In Howard County, a high school principal made news when he offered students a $30 reward for any information about students involved in a food fight in December. Read more here.

While researching the phenomenon, I found a slew of YouTube videos with cafeteria food fights. I also came across this theory that suggests that the popularity of YouTube has contributed to a growth in food fights. Apparently students are trying to one-up one another by starting food fights and then posting the mayhem on the site.

What is going on with all these food fights? Are these just isolated incidents, or are food fights a major problem in U.S. schools?

When I was growing up food fights were almost a rite of passage. I didn’t participate in these childish antics. (Not that I was a goody-goody. I was a fat kid who wouldn’t dream of throwing away his lunch.)

While I can recall dodging french fries and chicken nuggets, I can’t remember students facing court-imposed fines, or principals offering monetary rewards for information leading to the lunch launchers.

January 14, 2008

Girl's false accusations have readers fuming

I've heard this morning from several readers about articles I wrote last week regarding the 11-year-old girl at Perry Hall Middle School who falsely accused a construction worker of sexually assaulting her in the school's restroom.

Most of the emailers expressed anger that a man's reputation was nearly ruined and his livelihood could've been jeopardized by the girl's false assertions, such as this one from a reader in Irvine, Calif. ...

"I think that rape is a serious and terrible crime, and that clearly it does go on. However, it is also clear that unsubstantiated allegations of rape or violence happen very frequently and that these false allegations also victimize innocent people and destroy lives. We need society to move toward a model in which people cannot get away with either of these things."

But the most compelling one (at least by my estimation) is one that comes from a vendor representative who says she has spent many years coordinating efforts between her company and local school systems. In her email, she wrote that she often suggested that school systems issue IDs to contract workers. She wrote, in part:

"There are many people on a school campus. Those that belong, who are employed by the school system, have IDs. Volunteers now go through more of a process and most also have IDs. But those that are contracted by the school system, and actually need to conduct a serious amount of work, for the greatest good, are subject to understandable protocol, numerous questions from a multitude of staff, who are just trying to do their job in protecting children.

"I would get stopped repeatedly, questioning why I was on campus. While making deliveries for children in which I needed to dolly in numerous loads, employees would actually shut the door in attempt to protect the school without any way to indicate I was coming back with more items for their children. I finally made my own sign to post on the propped door indicating its purpose. But I didn't get upset, as I, too, have children and respect everyone's dedication to protect them.

"I have always thought that since everyone is on the same team, and protecting children is of the utmost importance, subjecting vendor personnel to fingerprinting is understandable. These employees should receive a photo ID from the school system indicating they are approved to conduct work on campus. It turns a stranger into a comrade at a glance. And allows everyone to achieve their individual successes to complete the puzzle of best support for everyone's children in academic acceleration."

Here's part of my reply to the angry emailers:

In the end, as I have shared with another reader who called me today, it's unfair to assume the school system and legal authorities aren't taking the girl's false allegations seriously. As I reported, the school system is prohibited from discussing with us what, if any, consequences the girl may face (such as suspension or expulsion). And the state's attorney's office made it clear, as we reported, that they felt confident the girl's family was best suited to handle this situation.

One of the questions I asked of all the parents to whom I spoke was whether they worried that these false allegations would cause them to initially doubt other reports of similar accusations, should this ever happen again. Most of them said it was unfortunate, that one who lies can create this layer of doubt for all others. Again, they came back to the point that it would be better to take this as an opportunity to tighten those controls at the school site to avoid being in this position again.


To read more of the emails and the rest of my reply, click on the link below ...

From Dallas, Texas ...

"Rather than an apology to the construction worker, all involved believe it's a wake-up call concerning the 'possibility' of an attack. ... Where is the outrage at a false allegation and concern for the real victim --- an innocent construction worker?"

From "Disgusted at the times," came this ...

"It amazes me that this story can turn into the subject of what if this young girl had been molested, when it should actually be about how easy she lied. Let's look at the fact of it. If this lie hadn't been brought to light, this construction worker AND HIS FAMILY would have been the subject of not only prosecution, but persecution."

From a reader in New York ...

"I wonder why you, in your journalistic integrity, aren't calling for workers at the school to be better protected from false accusations from obviously troubled children. What would've happened to this man had they not had video surveillance? His world would've been ripped apart and he would've had a hard time proving himself innocent."

This one comes from a reader in Pittsburgh ...

"The implications of this lie were potentially devastating because if the lie had its intended effect, an innocent man would have been sent away to prison for decades. Apparently no one with whom you spoke was concerned about the fact that a man, and his loved ones, might have had their lives destroyed over this lie."


The full text of my reply ... 

Thank you for your note. I'm hoping my reply will give you some insight into our reporting of the story, and our efforts to accurately do so.

First, I'll say that I am aware of the damage that false accusations can do to anyone --- men and women, alike. After all, I work for a newspaper and am an avid news reader.

As for the situation at Perry Hall Middle School, from the very first day, it was clear to me (from my interviews with police and school officials) that video surveillance tapes were providing ample information to prompt further scrutiny of the girl's story. The existence of those tapes was reported in my stories. From my additional conversations with the principal, it was also apparent that the tapes were providing significant information for investigators.

Even school officials, from the outset, acknowledged that they work to ensure as much distance as possible between construction workers (or contract workers, in general) and students/teachers/staff. So, it doesn't strike me as unreasonable that parents would subsequently see this situation as an opportunity to further tighten those controls.

The executive director for the National Safe Schools Coalition told me that he generally advises schools to develop contracts with contractors that call for separate entrances to work areas, etc., as precautionary measures. He says most contractors are likewise interested in alleviating any gray areas.

In the end, as I have shared with another reader who called me today, it's unfair to assume the school system and legal authorities aren't taken the girl's false allegations seriously. As I reported, the school system is prohibited from discussing with us what, if any, consequences the girl may face (such as suspension or expulsion). And the state's attorney's office made it clear, as we reported, that they felt confident the girl's family was best suited to handle this situation.

One of the questions I asked of all the parents to whom I spoke was whether they worried that these false allegations would cause them to initially doubt other reports of similar accusations, should this ever happen again. Most of them said it was unfortunate, that one who lies can create this layer of doubt for all others. Again, they came back to the point that it would be better to take this as an opportunity to tighten those controls at the school site to avoid being in this position again.


Disciplinary push-ups?

Last week, I followed the story of a teacher and principal of an Anne Arundel County charter school being investigated for asking misbehaving students to do push-ups and sit-ups. The county's Child Protective Services is investigating the complaints. The principal and teacher have been temporarily reassigned to central office desk jobs, pending results of the investigation and their absence has parents and students reeling. The teacher was in-charge of a number of afterschool programs and the school's International Baccalaureate effort, both of which have stalled. And the principal was to have been the key spokesman for the school at a Jan. 23 school board meeting where the school will learn whether it will stay on probation for past problems with finances and poor student recordkeeping. Now, parents say they don't know who will lobby on their behalf at that critical meeting. 

I want to know how rare it is for such unconventional methods of discipline to be used. Have your children attended a school where the teachers/principal use physical exercise as discipline as opposed to the more traditional in-school detention or suspension? I'm just trying to see how on the fringe this school was for employing such techniques and whether these techniques warrant the kind of investigation and temporary reassignments by the Anne Arundel school district. Please write and let me know what you've seen at schools around the region.   

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 10:55 AM | | Comments (3)

The shrinking BCPSS bureaucracy

I said last week that I'd be looking into what's happening with the area academic officer positions in the city schools. Here is an update.

For anyone in another district who isn't familiar with the bureaucracy of the Baltimore school system, the AAOs are the administrators who directly supervise principals; each of nine AAOs is assigned somewhere in the ballpark of 20 schools to oversee. 

To recap for everyone, five of the nine AAO positions are now empty, following the retirement of James Smith (Elementary Area 2) and Deborah Wortham (High School Area 6), the resignation of Marilyn Perez (Middle School Area 5; her position has an interim replacement), and the promotions of Irma Johnson (Elementary Area 1) and Mary Minter (Chief Academic Officer's Area). With the school system projecting that it will need to cut $50 million from its budget for next academic year and Andres Alonso vowing that the cuts will not come directly from the schools, there is wide speculation that the AAO positions are on the way out.

When I asked Dr. Alonso about this, he said that major administrative restructuring isn't coming until this summer. Over the next few weeks, he will be holding a few optional meetings for principals and other school leadership to get feedback on what the restructured administration will look like. In the meantime, for the remainder of this school year, the nine areas technically still exist -- even if most of the AAO positions are empty. AAOs generally are the people who do principals' performance evaluations. Alonso said that principals who no longer have an AAO will be reviewed this year either by Johnson (named executive director of elementary and elementary/middle schools last week), Roger Shaw (the new executive director of secondary schools) or Minter (the new chief academic officer). 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 11, 2008

Third Howard County teacher to go to court in March for allegations of sexual contact with students

I’ve spent most of the week in court covering the trial of Joseph Samuel Ellis, a 25-year-old former Glenelg High School history teacher accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with several female students. Read more about the outcome of that case here.

Turns out this week has served as a primer for what’s coming up in March, when I will likely cover the trial of Alan Meade Beier.

Beier, for those of you who are not familiar with the case, is a former River Hill teacher accused of having inappropriate sexual contact with students.

All three cases against Beier will take place in Howard County Circuit Court on March 26. Originally one of the cases was scheduled for February 12, but a motion on December 20, 2007, postponed that case, which allowed all three cases to go to trial at the same time.

Beier, 52, a former chemistry and physics, was arrested on January 12, 2007. He is accused of undressing and photographing a 16-year-old boy in his classroom and with fondling a 17-year-old female student. A third student also reported inappropriate contact with Beier.

Beier is the third and final Howard County teacher arrested during a two-month period during the 2006-2007 school year to appear in Circuit Court for allegations of having inappropriate sexual contact with students.

Kirsten Ann Kinley, 28, a former teacher at Marriotts Ridge High School, pleaded guilty in August to having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy while she was a teacher at Hammond Middle School in late 2004 and early 2005. The boy was not a student at Hammond Middle. Kinley was sentenced to serve 18 months at the county detention center in November.

Do you think that there are enough safeguards in place to prevent situations like these? Do you think these incidents are isolated or do they represent a growing problem? Before you comment, check out some of these stories here, here, here, and here.

Education Week ranks Maryland schools

Maryland schools rank third in the nation, behind New York and Massachusetts, according to a report released this week by Education Week.

Ed Week has been putting out its annual Quality Counts report for the past decade, but it has recently revamped the analysis to include more issues. It looked at a variety of categories from how well a child's chance of success in different states, as well as kindergarten to 12th grade achievement. In achievement the state ranked second.

The well-regarded education weekly particularly highlighted the teaching profession this year. An in-depth study compared teacher pay to 16 other similar occupations. The median income in the other occupations was $50,784 while the median income for teachers around the country is $44,690. What that means is that teachers earn about 88 cents for every dollar that those in comparable jobs earn. Maryland teachers are even farther from parity, earning 87 cents on the dollar.

Although it did well in other catagories, the state's schools didn't rank so well in several categories of teaching. For instance, Maryland is one of only three states that doesn't assign teachers an identification number. The number would allow a state to link student test scores to specific teachers. Some school districts are now rewarding teachers for their students' performance.

Maryland scored first on Education Alignment Policies. Say what? That means that Maryland has good policies in place that try to make sure that a student is prepared at every step of the way. So the standards for what students should learn in pre-school make sense in terms of what they will need to know when they reach first grade and so on as far as getting to college or into the workforce.

There is much more of interest on the report at Education Week.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)

January 10, 2008

Carta kudos for a Baltimore City College alum

Just because it's getting close to the end of the week and we've been debating so many serious topics on this blog lately, here's something silly...

I was copied on a letter sent to some local politicians by Neil Bernstein, possibly the most active "board member emeritus" ever for the Baltimore City College Alumni Association. In the letter, he blasts the Baltimore media for failure to cover the purchase of a copy of the Magna Carta for the National Archives by David M. Rubenstein, City class of 1966 and a member of the school's hall of fame. He asks the Baltimore City Council to issue a resolution of appreciation to Mr. Rubenstein.

"If Mr. Rubenstein had graduated from Gilman or Park School or Loyola Blakefield or a similar blue blood private or parochial school, the media recognition might have been profuse," the letter says. "Baltimore's aspiring media brahmins could be put off by the fact that, as the son of a United States Postal Service Employee, Rubenstein is the epitome of a self-made man."

According to a Reuters article that Bernstein attached, Rubenstein -- founder of the Carlyle Group private equity firm -- paid $21.3 million at a New York auction last month for a 710-year-old copy of the document, the last remaining copy in the United States and the last in private hands.  

Let no one say that this "aspiring media brahmin" (who, for the record, attended a public high school far away from here) didn't notice.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:49 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 9, 2008

Charter school woes in Anne Arundel

After abruptly booting out the principal of Anne Arundel's lone charter school (see my story today), school officials held a meeting last night to allay concerns of parents who were rattled by the sudden decision. The officials told Chesapeake Science Point Charter School parents the move was temporary, pending an investigation into a complaint filed Dec. 21. But they said no more than that. What was the complaint about? Did it involve students? Teachers? How long will the investigation take?

"They told us hopefully it won't be long, but we can't hang on hopes, we need fact," said Al Aksakalli, one of the founders of Chesapeake Science Point.

The lack of detail, Aksakalli said, is dividing the parents in two camps. One group is staunchly supportive and feels suspicious that the reassignment of Principal Fatih Kandil is just another way the district is trying to derail the school's progress. Without Kandil as their spokesman, the school will have a tough time lobbying for itself before the school board Jan. 23, when the board is expected to consider the findings of its latest audit of the school and decide whether to keep the school on probation. The school has wrestled with two years of critical audits and shaky finances but has begun to make marked progress in the last six months.  

The other camp of parents that's emerging in the light of this latest controversy, Aksakalli said, is a group so worried about the implications of this scandal that they're wondering whether it's safe to keep their children in the school. With few details of Kandil's behavior available, they're imagining the worst, Aksakalli said.

"It's like if your doctor tells you the results of a test are abnormal, you start thinking the worst, 'oh my God, do I have cancer?'" Aksakalli said. "If no one gives you information, then, your mind kind of takes off."

I'm keeping close tabs on the story as it develops -- including the progress of the investigation. But I'd love to get your thoughts on what's happening here. Do you have children in charter schools? Do you think this latest controversy illustrates the pitfalls of running a charter school -- or does it reveal the hostility of a public school district trying to make it hard for a charter school to survive?     

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)

City schools for city kids

Any Baltimore County parents out there thinking of paying tuition to send your musically-inclined child to Baltimore School for the Arts? Or your scientifically-gifted offspring to Poly? You may need to think again.

School system administrators proposed to the board last night a policy change that would give qualified Baltimore City residents preference in applying to the prestigious citywide high schools. Currently, the schools select their students based on which applicants have the highest "composite scores," regardless of where they live. Under the proposed policy change, city students who meet the minimum composite score would be admitted over non-city residents, even if the county kids score higher. Non-residents would be permitted to apply for spots that city students do not fill.

School officials and board members say the policy change is only fair: Public city schools, after all, ought to be first and foremost for city residents. But the proposed change stops short of one advocated by Michael Carter, the outgoing chair of the school system's Parent and Community Advisory Board (honored last night for his work). Carter wants to see kids coming from Baltimore's public middle schools get preference in admission to the citywide high schools over Baltimore residents coming from private middle schools. Lots of wealthier city parents fork over tuition money to avoid Baltimore's failing middle schools, only to return to the public system when there are better high school options. Carter says the kids who have stuck it out in the public middle schools ought to be rewarded, but system officials say they must treat all city residents equally.

On the bright side for everyone interested in attending a citywide high school, the school system is planning to give these schools money for additional staff in the coming years so they can admit more students. Some of the schools have extra space but must cap enrollment because of insufficient staff.

The public is encouraged to provide the school board with feedback on the policy change before its vote Feb. 12. We at InsideEd, of course, always encourage your feedback here...

In other school board news: I reported today on the appointments of Michael Sarbanes and Irma Johnson. Sarbanes will oversee the communications department (led by Edie House), the parent involvement office (led by LaVerne Sykes), and the office of community partnerships (led by Deb Silcox).

Check out this post on Baltimore Diary about Johnson's appointment as executive director of elementary and elementary/middle schools (even though it criticizes my story today!). Diary makes an important point: It looks like Dr. Alonso is phasing out the area academic officer positions. That wasn't a topic I was able to delve into last night in the midst of deadline, but I hope to be able to do a bigger story soon about principal supervision in the system. It does look like big changes are coming.

Michael Pitroff was officially named interim information technology officer last night, replacing the ousted Howard Steptoe. Dean Richburg was appointed coordinator of college readiness.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:38 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Teachers, administrators cheating everywhere

It seems like everywhere I turn I’m reading about educators connected to cheating scandals.

This story in USA Today deals with a former national Principal of the Year, who resigned in connection with a case of alleged cheating and grade-tampering.

Last March, I wrote a story about the Maryland State Department of Education’s efforts to ensure security of the Maryland State Assessments when it randomly dispatched monitors to 45 schools.

The action dovetailed with reports of cheating the year before in Carroll and Charles counties.

Surrounding states were no different.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education sent out monitors to 3,120 schools last year -- for the first time -- to observe the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. The New Jersey Department of Education, ripe with its own cheating scandals, increased its monitors by an undisclosed number. And the District of Columbia public school system used additional monitors. 

State assessment tests have added weight because of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which requires schools to increase assessment test scores each year.

Experts say that the added emphasis placed on assessment tests has led to some of the cheating. 

What do you think? Are the pressures caused by NCLB to blame for the improprieties?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, NCLB, Testing, Trends

January 8, 2008

Combined middle/high schools, coming to Baltimore

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
Sun exclusive

Date: Sunday, December 16, 2007
Edition: Final
Page: 1A
Source: Sun reporter
Byline: Sara Neufeld
Illustration: Photo(s)
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

Alonso plan
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.

Promising findings
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

    [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.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

More on the Maritime controversy

Supporters and critics of Marco Clark seem likely to dominate the public comment portion of tonight's school board meeting. My story today gets into the nature of the allegations against him: allowing a student to teach junior ROTC classes (an accusation the student confirms) and allowing the student to graduate without all the necessary credits (an accusation the student denies). Now, Clark is saying he was denied due process and wants to be reinstated. The school system says he's no longer employed there.

Based on the comments of Clark's lawyer, Alan Silverberg, I fear this could turn into a long, nasty court battle. Meanwhile, what about the kids? The teachers who called out in the wake of his departure are back, at least, and it seems that the return of Assistant Principal Kevin Brooks has helped restore order. But what does it say about the school climate that the boy whose mother reported the allegations against Clark must be home schooled out of safety concerns? The school system is offering to send him to another naval junior ROTC school in the suburbs, since there aren't any others in Baltimore.

And as we discussed last week on this blog, whatever Clark's transgressions may have been, there are an awful lot of kids who still look up to him and are mourning his departure. One of them is Marcus Bernard, the 2007 graduate who says he taught the ROTC classes. Already the father of two young sons at 18 years old, Bernard, has a stable job now as a car salesman. "If it wasn't for Dr. Clark, I wouldn't be here" he said in an interview with me yesterday. "I would've dropped out of high school. I'm not saying what Dr. Clark did was ethical and correct, but he did get a lot of kids through high school, me being one of them.... I didn't have a father for 17 years, but Dr. Clark took me in as one of his own sons. When both my sons were born, Dr. Clark was there. Dr. Clark was a father to Marcus."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:00 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City

‘Subprime’ chosen word of the year

For all you wordsmiths out there, I thought you would appreciate this post.

The American Dialect Society chose the word “subprime” as the 2007 Word of the Year at its annual convention Friday.

Members of the society chose “subprime”, an adjective that means "a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage or investment" because of the public's concern for a "deepening mortgage crisis," according to a statement released by the group.

"Facebook," "green," "Googleganger" and "waterboarding" were runner’s up. Read more here.

Last year, the organization chose "plutoed," which means "to be demoted or devalued."

What is your favorite word of the year?

My vote goes to green. Everyone seems to be tossing that word around with regularity nowadays. 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the World, Trends

January 7, 2008

Another year, another elected school board bill

A small but vocal group of parents has tried for the last couple years to push legislation for a locally elected school board in Baltimore. (The board is currently appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor.) The effort has never gone far in Annapolis, but this year, the parents are at it again, backed by Del. Cheryl Glenn, who will introduce the bill on their behalf. The group held a press conference outside system headquarters this morning.

In my years as an education reporter, I've covered both elected and appointed school boards and seen advantages and disadvantages to each. What structure do you favor? And do you support the city-state partnership in Baltimore?

In other city schools news... Congratulations to Thomas Jefferson Elementary, which was just named an International Baccalaureate World School. Thomas Jefferson is the first school in Baltimore and the second in Maryland to become certified to offer IB's "primary years programme."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:02 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 4, 2008

Some Sad News About Natalie Wise Woodson

I came back from a long vacation to some devastating news.

Natalie Wise Woodson, the education chair for the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a retired Baltimore City principal, died Tuesday after a near two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 79.

She was a great advocate for children and was a proponent for closing the achievement gap long before No Child Left Behind mandates. She will be missed.

Mrs. Woodson came from a long line of educators.

At one point during her employment as a principal in Baltimore City, five of her cousins were also principals; four more worked as teachers.

"We were all instilled with the importance of education," she said in an interview I had with her for a profile I wrote about her in June. Mrs. Woodson was also featured on this blog’s Educator Spotlight June 26.

Mrs. Woodson was instrumental in leading several initiatives to help improve student achievement for African-American students.

In 1990 she launched Education Advocates for African Americans, an advocacy organization in which members accompanied African-American parents in Howard County to teacher conferences and meetings about individual education plans. She also worked with the Black Student Achievement Program, another Howard County school system initiative.

In 2000, Mrs. Woodson completed the first NAACP Education Report Card, a comprehensive look at attendance, graduation rate, drop-out rate, suspensions and assessment scores for African-
American students.

I saw Mrs. Woodson just before I went on vacation in December. She was at a Howard County school board meeting talking to board members about improving student achievement.

A viewing will be held Sunday from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Vaughn C. Greene Funeral Home, 4101 Edmondson Avenue at Wildwood Parkway in Baltimore.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Celebration Church, 6080 Foreland Garth, in Columbia.

In lieu of flowers, the Mrs. Woodson’s family requests that contributions be made to:
Natalie W. Woodson Scholarship Fund
c/o Mrs. JoAnn Branche
P.O. Box 8621
Elkridge, MD 21075 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Howard County

Thank goodness for bottled water

I stumbled across this video on YouTube showing what came out of a water fountain that had been approved for drinking in a Baltimore city school... truly revolting. The video was posted last spring, however, and in November, the school system abandoned years of efforts to fix the water fountains and started providing bottled water for all.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 3, 2008

Gone with no goodbye

My story today about the resignation of Marco Clark, the principal of Maritime Industries Academy, was reminiscent of another that I covered a few years ago, when the principal of Frederick Douglass High, Isabelle Grant, left suddenly under similar circumstances. The allegations against both principals involved grade falsification -- in one case, to let a student graduate; in the other, to let an academically ineligible student play football.

I remember a boy named Ignacio Evans, who spoke about Grant at a school board meeting in the spring of 2006. "She helped me out when my mother left me," he said then. "She extended her arm and was like, `Whatever you need, I'm there.' She pushed the papers so I could become a foster child, and now I am."

Like many students at Maritime now, Ignacio and his classmates wanted a chance to say goodbye to a person who might have been the most stable adult presence in their lives. The kids I interviewed yesterday talked about Clark as a father figure, just like the kids at Douglass viewed Grant like a mother.

And in both cases, the principals left without explanation, and students and families were left without any closure. In such cases, the school system is legally bound from commenting on what happened, since it's a personnel matter and anything said could lead to litigation.

What is the appropriate response in a situation like this? 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:11 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 2, 2008

Bracing for a busy January

Happy new year, everyone. For those of you in the city, I hope you had a restful holiday, because I think we're in for an eventful January. Dr. Alonso has promised midyear budget transfers (this being midway through the academic/fiscal year), with money taken away from administration and sent directly to the schools. Then there will be more cuts on the table later in the winter, when the school board takes up the budget for 2008-2009. Officials have said they'll have to cut $50 million to offset the freeze in Thornton funding.

I'm hearing that a lot of people at North Avenue are scared for their jobs, which might explain why we've been seeing so many resignations and retirements lately. I've heard several more names of administrators who have departed in the past few weeks or will be leaving soon. I'll be adding to my ongoing list of departures as soon as I get confirmation.

I covered a protest this morning by students and parents at Maritime Industries Academy, rallying in support of their principal, Marco Clark, and assistant principal, Kevin Brooks. Clark resigned just before the holiday break and Brooks has been placed on administrative leave. The system won't say why -- it's a personnel issue -- and the parents want an explanation. Frustrated students have started a MySpace page.

We at InsideEd send our condolences to Charlene Cooper Boston, whose husband passed away over the holidays. Ellis Boston was a labor relations attorney for the Baltimore school system and for D.C. schools. Read his obituary here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:17 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City
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