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July 31, 2008

Swapping a city school board seat?

I've heard from multiple sources that one of the three candidates in the running to succeed Buzzy Hettleman on the Baltimore school board is David Stone. This is interesting because Hettleman was first appointed to the board in January 2005 to fill the seat left by Stone, who resigned because he was applying for a job in the system. He served as head of charter schools before leaving to work for the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

If Stone is appointed -- and keep in mind, there aer two other candidates -- I can't imagine he would stand in the way of Dr. Alonso's agenda, as some people have feared given the membership of the community interviewing panel. But time will tell.

Meanwhile, since we're printing letters this week from people who won't be serving on school boards, keep reading to see the one Hettleman sent to supporters on Tuesday.

Dear Colleagues/Friends,

        Yesterday I withdrew as an applicant for reappointment to the Baltimore school board. (My term expired June 30 and I will go off the board when my successor is named.) It was a wrenching decision. I have the greatest respect for each board member. We have been a cohesive and courageous team, and I feel lucky to have been a small part of our efforts to recruit Andres Alonso as our CEO and to chart new directions. Progress has been made, as our recent increases in test scores attest. Even more important, I am convinced that with Dr. Alonso at the helm and with board support, Baltimore is poised to rise to the top of all cities in school reform.

        On the other hand, "North Avenue" is now in good hands, and serving on the board is enormously time-consuming. It limits my own policy research, writing and advocacy. And so on balance, I decided to step aside. At the same time I will continue to do what I can to assist Dr. Alonso and the board.

        Please stay tuned for my further work. I am writing a book on urban school reform nationally and will be engaged in other school projects. As always, I am grateful for all the help I receive from colleagues/friends. With thanks and best, Buzzy

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

July 30, 2008

Baltimore County school board appointments

Maggie Kennedy, a national education consultant and Baltimore County community activist, applied for a position on the school board. The governor announced the appointments yesterday, and Kennedy did not receive one of the volunteer positions. She sent this letter via e-mail to her friends this morning.  

Dear Friends,
I am extremely gratified and humbled by the recent outpouring of community support for a recent appointment opportunity to the Baltimore County School Board. Since last Friday, I know of 52  letters or phone calls of support that reached Jim Smith, the governor and his appointment secretary. Many of you reached out to other Baltimore County community leaders and for your support I am grateful. Please pass on thanks to others I may have not included in my email. 
As many of you are aware, I did not apply for the position, but was approached by the governor's brother, Peter O'Malley. I was surprised by the call in early May, but was ready for the challenge. My vocation and avocation has always centered around student achievement, parent involvement, and a responsible school system. A safe and financially sound school system is necessary, but student success measures community success.

The customers are our children and parents and good teachers make all the difference. I have been privy to meet and work with so many great teachers in our county. Their support and commitment to student achievement make them true role models and leaders.

Children are not Democrats, Republicans, or Independents and deserve representation which serves them well.  I hope the new appointments serve our children well. Student achievement and community safety dictates the destiny of our county. Monies in both categories are well invested and spent. 

Valerie Roddy, former assistant to BC Government Fred Homan, David Oldfelder, CPA. and James Coleman, retired Coppin math teacher, have a responsibility to more than the capital and operating budget. They have a huge responsibility to the achievement of children in our school system. I wish them success and hope the school board continues to respond to the PDK audit and the recommendations.

Our school facilities need updating, air conditioning is needed in all of our schools, a new high school in the NE/central area, and a new  elementary school in the Towson area are needed to address overcrowding. The curriculum needs to meet the needs of a diverse student population, as well as meet national, state and local standards to prepare our Baltimore County children to compete in a global society and teachers need to be paid equitably for experience and effective teachers rewarded.

As advocates and community leaders, thank you. Each of you have been an inspiration and care deeply about the success of a generation of our children. My respect for each of you and appreciation of your contributions to our Baltimore County community inspires me.

Hold our leaders accountable.

Warmest Regards,
Maggie Kennedy

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:00 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore County

Panel member mixup

After my story yesterday, I had a call from Jimmy Gittings, president of the city school system's administrators union. He said he was disturbed to read in my article that he's a member of the panel interviewing school board candidates but didn't show up to the interviews on Friday. (I reported that only four of the seven panel members attended.) In fact, Gittings said, Mayor Dixon didn't invite him to be on the panel until he saw her at an event Monday afternoon -- three days after the bulk of the interviews occurred. An interview with one more candidate is to be held this week.

Had Gittings known he was invited to the interviews on Friday, he said, "believe me, I would have certainly been there with bells on, to get someone in there (on the board) that would support us." Having missed the session, he said, he would trust the recommendations of Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

No comment back from City Hall on the mixup.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 29, 2008

Eric White interviews school board candidates

In public, Mayor Sheila Dixon has been very supportive of Dr. Alonso and the work his administration is doing. But now she's appointed a panel to screen school board candidates that includes some of the CEO's most formidable adversaries: Marietta English, Glen Middleton, Jimmy Gittings, Eric White. 

Eric White? I was surprised to see his name on the list of panel members, given that his organization, the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, has been put on inactive status by the Maryland PTA as a result of his actions. Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the mayor, said Dixon believes he still has something to offer.

It appears the mayor is keeping two of Alonso's supporters on the board, Bob Heck and Anirban Basu, since she did not solicit applications for their seats. But yesterday it became official that the board is losing another Alonso supporter and perhaps its most outspoken member: Buzzy Hettleman. He was one of four candidates under consideration for his seat, but he decided to withdraw his application.

Whether the mayor officially gains control of the city school system or Gov. O'Malley allows her to unofficially control the school board appointment process, as she's doing now, Dixon will be in charge once she has a board majority. If this panel is advising her, Alonso may have his hands full.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 27, 2008

Should the mayor take control of city schools?

Liz reports today that Mayor Dixon is potentially interested in taking back control of the Baltimore school system, replacing the current structure where the mayor and the governor jointly appoint a school board. With the recent increase in test scores and the political capital they bring, who can blame her?

When he was mayor, Gov. Martin O'Malley expressed support for mayoral control of schools, so Dixon would likely find an empathetic ally in Annapolis. Already, O'Malley seems to be deferring to Dixon to take the lead on school board appointments.

A growing number of big city mayors, including those in New York and Washington, have gained control of their schools. Education experts say the success of these arrangements hinges on whether the mayor has the will to support changes that are not politically popular. As Paul Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, said in the story today, "one of the big issues is, does the mayor have the stomach for expending a fair amount of political capital?"

In Baltimore, Dr. Alonso has said he's committed to staying 10 years. But he's also said he'll only stay as long as he has the power to run the system without political interference. In his first year here, the school board was sometimes divided, but a majority always backed him. For as long as he's at the helm, we can count on more controversial decisions. Would Mayor Dixon go along with them?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:37 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 25, 2008

Report tracks African-American boys

The Schott Foundation for Public Education today released a report on the state of education as it pertains to African-American males. It also launched an interactive Web site with all sorts of interesting information about the achievement gap for black boys. Check it out here.

The report contains data not only for the 50 states, but also for their largest school districts. According to Schott's calculations, Maryland's graduation rate for black boys in 2005-2006 was slightly higher than the national average: 55 percent, compared with 47 percent nationally. That's due in part to the fact that Baltimore County reported one of the nation's highest graduation rates for African-American males, 72 percent. Montgomery County's rate was 69 percent and Prince George's was 59 percent. And then there was Baltimore City: 31 percent.

Using data from 2004-2005, the report said white, non-Hispanic boys were admitted to gifted and talented programs in Baltimore at twice the rate of black boys. Four times as many white boys as black participated in math Advanced Placement courses. Nine times as many white boys took science A.P. courses. Although this information is nearly four years old, it highlights the opportunities that have long existed for the small number of white students (less than 10 percent of total enrollment) in the city school system.

The report's release and the Web site launch coincided with this week's UNITY convention of 10,000 journalists of color, who gathered in Chicago.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:43 PM | | Comments (5)

July 24, 2008

Swapping school funding models with D.C.?

The Washington Post reported yesterday about the unintended consequences of Chancellor Michelle Rhee's directive for art, music and physical education in all D.C. schools: There's not enough money for classroom teachers, and class sizes are going up as a result.

The article describes how Rhee -- who, like Dr. Alonso, just completed her first year on the job -- is changing the formula to fund Washington's public schools. Turns out, the city to our south is adopting a staffing-based model that sounds strikingly similar to the one we're scrapping in Baltimore, where schools have specific staff requirements.

Meanwhile, we're adopting a per-pupil model that resembles what Rhee is throwing away, where schools receive a certain amount of money for each child enrolled, plus more to accommodate for special student needs. According to the article, "Rhee contended that many schools were ill-served by the funding method. In her view, the system gave too much power to principals who sometimes made questionable staffing decisions. It also penalized some low-enrollment schools unable to generate sufficient per-pupil revenue to maintain quality academic programs."

Sound familiar? Those are precisely the things people in Baltimore have been worried about for the past four months since our new funding model was unveiled. Yet we've also heard about how inequitable funding was under the staffing-based model and how principals are powerless to make meaningful changes in their schools without some autonomy over their budgets.

So what's a school district to do? As with so many issues in urban education, it seems there are no clear solutions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, School Finance

July 23, 2008

Class-based integration

Fascinating article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine about new efforts to integrate school districts by class, now that the Supreme Court has outlawed assignments based on race.

While the issue is probably irrelevant in much of Baltimore City, where many white, middle class parents send their children to private schools, I could see it having legs in diverse suburban districts like Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

The article raises a host of interesting questions: How many poor students can a majority-affluent school accommodate without a perceived decline in quality? A significant number, the researchers quoted conclude. What conditions need to be in place for class-based integration to work? A Harvard economist says affluent and poor students must be together not only in the same building, but also in the same classes. If the poor kids are all put in low-level classes, it defeats the purpose. Will class-based integration lead to racial integration? In some cases yes, in others no.

The article mentions at least one school system where economics-based school assignments seem to be working. In Wake County, N.C., the system ensures that no more than 40 percent of students at a school come from a low-income area, and no more than 25 percent speak English as a second language. Test scores have improved among both black students and poor students. But in San Francisco, a diversity plan based on socioeconomics has resulted in racial resegregation of schools.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

July 22, 2008

Another new teacher blog

This time, not only the blog but the teacher is new. Check out Inner-City Teaching to read about an Oregon transplant who's come to work in Baltimore schools. (He's student teaching this summer.)
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

July 21, 2008

Study of Baltimore youth ties academic struggles, depression

A new study of students in Baltimore concludes that black first-graders -- especially girls -- who are already struggling academically are at a higher risk of experiencing depression by middle school.

Psychologists examined data for 474 African-American boys and girls in nine Baltimore public schools. The students were assessed in first, sixth and seventh grades. 

The study’s findings are in the July issue of the Journal of Counseling Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association. According to the association, this is the first time psychologists have examined the link between academic performance and depression among African-American children living in an urban setting.

The study showed that "girls tend to internalize academic problems more than boys," according to Keith Herman, the study's lead author. “It is critical for counselors and psychologists who are working with underachieving African-American youth to find ways to highlight their nonacademic skills, such as social, music or art abilities, and work with their parents and teachers to do the same. This may help improve their present and future emotional well-being.”

For more on the study's methodology and findings, keep reading.

From an American Psychological Association news release: 

"The authors examined the students’ performance on a basic skills test administered in first grade to determine how well the students were doing in reading and mathematics. The first-graders were also asked how frequently they felt sad, anxious or upset. The authors compared these findings with the students’ self-reports of depressive symptoms after they had entered seventh grade. The authors noted that prior research found that depressive symptoms in children and adolescents predicted the likelihood of using mental health services, of contemplating suicide, and of being diagnosed with depression later in life.

"The authors found that the students who performed below average on the basic skills test in first grade were more likely to experience depressive symptoms by the time they had entered seventh grade, while controlling for conduct, attention and social problems.

"The authors also looked at data collected in sixth grade, which measured how much control the students felt they had over their academic, social and behavioral skills. Using this information, the researchers determined that first-graders who were struggling in school were most likely to believe that they had less influence over important outcomes in their life. These beliefs, in turn, served as risk factors for depressive symptoms. The negative effects of low academic skills on future self-beliefs were roughly twice as strong for girls as for boys."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Study, study!

July 18, 2008

City students performing at Artscape

If you're going to be at Artscape today and over the weekend, here's a list of the performances by Baltimore city students.

Performing from noon to 3:30 p.m. today at the UB stage (at Charles Street and Lafayette Avenue) will be the Hampstead Hills Orchestra and Choir, Frederick Douglass High School Jazz Ensemble, St. Veronica’s Steel Drum Orchestra, Francis Scott Key Summer Drama Club, Southside Academy drama students, and ConneXions Community Leadership Academy drum troupe.

The Douglass Jazz Ensemble also will be the featured guest performers at the Chick Webb Jazz Combo Competition. This is a companion to the Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway Jazz Vocal Competitions. This event (like the rest of Artscape, free and open to the public) will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Everyman Theatre.

Students' visual artwork will be on display all weekend in the Target Family Art Park, located near the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Students will exhibit and sell original works of art. The BCPSS Pavilion will also include hands-on art projects coordinated by teachers.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

More on the rising test scores

We've been theorizing a lot on the blog this week about what caused the jump in test scores this year in Baltimore in particular and in general statewide. Liz's story today offers a possible explanation: The tests this year were shorter and better aligned with the Maryland state curriculum, so students were likely less tired taking them and less likely to be presented with material they hadn't learned. But officials say the material tested was just as difficult as last year. And Dr. Alonso points out that Baltimore students still improved more than their peers in the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, an article in the current Education Week reports on two studies in New York City and Chicago that linked an increase in highly qualified teachers serving poor and minority children to better test scores there. While the article only examines those two cities (and Illinois in general), it suggests a trend in urban districts nationwide. Baltimore is one of a handful of systems lauded for aggressive recruitment programs in hard-to-staff areas. "Both studies show a shift in the long-observed trend that the most-qualified teachers appear to teach at the more affluent schools, while the poorest schools are usually staffed by teachers who are new or less qualified," the article says. 

The New York study is here (sorry, it costs $5 to read the whole thing). The Chicago study is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching, Testing

July 17, 2008

A jump in seventh-grade MSA scores

Has anyone noticed how much the seventh-grade Maryland state test results went up in reading this year?

Across the state, 81.2 percent of seventh graders passed the reading MSA, up 10 percentage points from last year. In Baltimore City, the gain was much steeper, going up 18 points. In Prince George's, the scores were up 14 points. In Kent County, the increase was from 59 percent passing to 79 percent. In Baltimore County, the pass rate went from 68 percent to 81 percent.

Readers have asked how this could have happened in one year. The head of assessment for the state, Leslie Wilson, points out that there was a strong bump up in fifth grade as well. Her explanation is that if one looks back at how last year's seventh-graders did when they were in sixth grade, the results don't look as surprising.

In other words, we shouldn't be comparing this year's seventh-graders to the kids who were in seventh grade the year before, but to how they actually did when they were younger. Viewed that way, the results do look less startling.

For instance, 76 percent of sixth graders in 2006-2007 passed the state reading test. This year, 81 percent of those students passed the tests. In other words, the increase was just 5 percentage points. There are still some very large gains in Somerset and Cecil counties, for instance, which still went up more than 10 percentage points.

And there are still some increases that seem difficult to explain in other grades and on the math test. Are there any teachers or administrators who have theories on what happened?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

July 16, 2008

A not-so-rare opportunity

The nonprofit Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland will hold a forum tonight entitled "Do Something." The goal is a laudable one: to encourage professionals to get involved in improving the Baltimore city schools. (Anyone interested in going can register here. Doors are at 5:30 at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum in Fells Point)

But the sales pitch I'm getting in e-mails and voicemails from a PR firm hired to promote the event is pretty amusing.

"I thought you might be interested in covering the event - or attending out of personal interest - as this is a rare opportunity for the public to engage Dr. Alonso (the featured speaker) outside of 200 East North Avenue," one of the e-mails says.

I've been covering Dr. Alonso for a year now. Every week I get his public schedule, and every week there are several opportunities to see him outside North Avenue. As I've reported previously, he visited or attended PTA meetings at more than 150 schools during his first year on the job and went to dozens of community gatherings.

Which isn't to say tonight's event won't be interesting. It just won't be rare.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 15, 2008

How did Baltimore's test scores get so high?

That's the question that everyone in the city should be asking today as the state releases this year's Maryland School Assessment results. As I report in my story today, Baltimore made gains -- often double-digit ones -- in every grade and subject.

The city has been showing steady improvement in the elementary grades for awhile now, but this year, the progress is in middle school as well. Reading scores jumped 16 percentage points in fifth grade, 12 percentage points in sixth grade and 18 percentage points in seventh grade. And special education, Title 1 and limited English proficient students all made faster progress than the system as a whole.

So what's the cause of this? Some might say it's because Baltimore has been keeping many more of its sixth- through eighth-graders in elementary schools, which are converting to K-8s. But while it's true that the K-8s score higher than standalone middle schools, both types of schools improved this year.

Statewide, Nancy Grasmick attributed the closing of the achievement gap to the state's heavy emphasis on early childhood education, meaning poor and minority kids are arriving in school more prepared. While that's true, too, the city's middle school students weren't the beneficiaries of the early childhood programs offered today. 

It does seem plausible that the city's elementary school reforms are starting to take hold at the middle school level.

But is it too soon to credit the Alonso administration? Most people in the education world believe that reform takes three to five years to take hold and translate into improved test scores. Alonso says the system was already on a path of improvement before his arrival, but the improvement accelerated this year.

I suppose time will tell, when we see if the system can replicate the progress. A few years with jumps like this and the Baltimore schools won't be the state's poor stepchild any longer.

For some interesting tidbits on the large increase in the number of city students scoring advanced on the tests, keep reading.

On the reading MSAs, the city had 1,328 fewer test takers than in 2007 because of declining enrollment; 4,356 fewer students failed the tests; 652 more students scored proficient; and 2,376 more scored advanced.

In math, 1,348 fewer students took the tests; 3,274 fewer students failed; 255 more scored proficient; and 1,671 more scored advanced.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 14, 2008

Lorretta Johnson elected AFT executive vice president

However, contrary to reports last week from the American Federation of Teachers, she will remain in her role as co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union for the time being.

Johnson, who has served as president of BTU's paraprofessional chapter since the 1970s, is now the No. 3 official in the nation's second-largest teachers union.

UPDATE, 7/16: Mayor Dixon has proclaimed today "Lorretta Johnson Day" in Baltimore.

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

MSA scores on the way

Stay tuned to The Sun and the state's Web site tomorrow for the release of this year's Maryland School Assessment results. Find coverage, including a database, about previous years here.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

July 11, 2008

Where were your administrators this week?

A good bet is Cambridge, Mass. Dr. Alonso led a team of eight people from Baltimore to participate in Harvard's Public Education Leadership Project. A joint initiative of the Harvard School of Business and the Harvard School of Education, the project works with teams from school districts across the country on reform.

Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties also sent teams to this week's conference, as did school districts in Boston, Minneapolis, Charleston and Calgary. 

The Baltimore school system paid for half the cost for its participants to attend: $17,000, plus travel costs of approximately $300 per person. Harvard paid another $17,000.

There's been some debate on this blog the past few days about whether the trip was appropriate given the system's recent ban on travel. For whatever it's worth: One of the participants reports that they've been in classes for 13 hours a day and have hours of homework to do each night.

Keep reading for a list of the city's participants.

Andres Alonso, chief executive officer
George VanHook, school board member
Sabrina Sutton, youth liaison for Mayor Sheila Dixon
Violet Cousin, Baltimore Teachers Union representative
Roger Shaw, executive director of secondary schools
Laura Weeldreyer, director of new initiatives
Karen Lawrence, principal of Heritage High School
Matt Hornbeck, principal of Hampstead Hill Academy

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 10, 2008

Substance-abuse policy revisited in Carroll

The Carroll County school board approved several changes to the system’s substance-abuse policy last night, specifically dealing with sanctions involving extracurricular activities.

Now when students are caught on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event with a “dangerous substance” – drugs, alcohol, tobacco, etc. – they will be placed on “restricted eligibility,” as opposed to being effectively banished from their extracurricular activities during that time.

That means students caught will still be permitted to associate with their clubs and other school organizations during the sanction period.  The revised policy allows them to attend practices/games/performances, travel and sit with their teams and even wear uniforms – but not actually play or perform. 

The revisions also tackled the district’s policy on “constructive possession,” which holds students responsible for non-school-related/off-campus situations and locations where controlled/illegal substances are present.

Director of student services Dana Falls said the “vast majority” of comments from the public on the matter “indicated that it’s time to let those go away.”

School officials say the revisions “reflect a desire to effect positive changes in decision making for students” – allowing them to maintain their relationships with their coaches and teammates – instead of punishing them for poor choices.  Some parents also told school officials that coaches are often some of the best people to steer kids in the right direction after such an incident, Falls said.

What do you think? Is this a positive reinforcement for bad/illegal behavior? What policies do other school systems have in such situations?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:55 PM | | Comments (2)

Lorretta Johnson in line for AFT post

Lorretta Johnson, who has been president of the Baltimore Teachers Union's paraprofessional chapter since the 1970s, may finally be moving on to a new job. She is running -- and so far is the only announced candidate -- for executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, which, with 1.4 million members, is the nation's second-largest teachers union.

Johnson is campaigning on a slate with Randi Weingarten, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers, America’s largest union local. Weingarten is running to replace retiring AFT president Edward McElroy. AFT's current executive vice president, Antonia Cortese, is running on their slate for secretary-treasurer.

More than 3,000 delegates will vote in the AFT election at the union's convention in Chicago this weekend, where Hillary Clinton is a featured speaker and Barack Obama will address the group via satellite. Election results are scheduled to be announced Monday morning.

In addition to her role with the BTU, Johnson is currently president of AFT-Maryland and an AFT vice president. If elected as AFT's executive vice president, she would occupy one of the union's top three leadership positions, a full-time job.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 9, 2008

Suspended students to attend school at North Avenue

With Dr. Alonso and a half-dozen other school system officials up at Harvard for a conference this week, I thought last night's board meeting would be a quiet one. There wasn't much on the published agenda, and -- for once! -- not a single person signed up public comment. But a few items were tacked on to the end of the agenda, and that's where things got interesting. As I report in today's paper, the board approved locations for its two new alternative schools. And as we've been speculating on this blog, one of them is going in North Avenue.

Now, everyone who works for the city school system will have to interact with students. What a concept.

While officials initially looked at placing the school for over-age middle school students inside system headquarters, they ultimately decided the space configuration worked better with the school that will serve students on long-term suspension and expulsion. The school for over-age middle school students will be temporarily located at Chinquapin Middle.

Other news last night: Up in Towson, the Baltimore County school board named Patty Abernethy, the city school system's deputy chief of staff, as its new chief academic officer. Because of a last-minute change, the city school board didn't make its personnel agenda immediately available (supposedly, it will be online by this morning), but I'm told that Michael Carter, the previous chair of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, was named the system's director of parent involvement. As chair of both PCAB and the Facilities Solutions steering committee, Carter has volunteered hundreds of hours for the school system in recent years; he has been on the payroll as a consultant the past few months.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

July 8, 2008

Retrenching from Facilities Solutions?

On tonight's school board agenda: the educational facilities master plan. The phrase "facilities master plan" itself sounds like a yawn, but the history here is actually pretty interesting. In 2005, the board was under intense state pressure to operate more efficiently, or run the risk of losing state money for school construction and renovations. It embarked on a high-profile process it called "Facilities Solutions," committing to reduce the system's operating space by 15 percent over three years. There were loads of community meetings and multiple board votes on school closures and reconfigurations.

But now, as the Alonso administration is creating several new schools, it needs space. And many of the buildings that were scheduled to shutter are now staying open. (This was what led to the controversy in Canton earlier this spring.)

So is the board abandoning the 15 percent goal set by Facilities Solutions? We won't get the answers tonight. The presentation on the agenda says the system is asking the state for another year to do a comprehensive assessment of its buildings and submit a long-range plan. This summer, it will submit only a plan for the coming year.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 7, 2008

Teacher transfers and terminations

I had a number of calls and e-mails last week about teachers in Baltimore getting non-renewal notices, and about teachers whose positions were eliminated as a result of the budget process not knowing where they'll be placed.

Here is the information I received from North Avenue about what's happening:

Last week, 286 teachers who have been on conditional certification since 2005 received non-renewal letters. If they're able to complete their certification by the end of the summer, they can be re-hired into a school with a vacancy.

About 100 teachers whose positions were eliminated by their principals were still awaiting placements as of last week. All of them will have jobs, the system says; it's just a question of where they will be.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 3, 2008

For W.E.B. DuBois, it paid to be persistently dangerous

As I report in today's paper, W.E.B. DuBois High in Baltimore has been awarded a $3.7 federal grant to improve mentoring and student work opportunities. It is one of nine "persistently dangerous" high schools nationwide to receive a multi-million-dollar grant from the federal labor department.

No Child Left Behind leaves it to the states to define what it means to be a "persistently dangerous" school.   In Maryland in general and Baltimore in particular (where all of Maryland's persistently dangerous schools are located), people complain a lot that the state makes it easier than most for a school to earn the dubious label. There are several downsides to that: Schools have an incentive not to suspend students for violent offenses (here, it's the suspension numbers that count against you). If violent schools do report their numbers accurately, they are rewarded with public humiliation.

In this case, though, it paid to be persistently dangerous. While many schools could use a grant for mentoring and internships, only persistently dangerous schools were eligible to apply.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

July 2, 2008

Baltimore teacher starts a new blog

The Baltimore high school English teacher known as Epiphany in Baltimore has started a new blog dedicated solely to education issues.  It's called "Humbly I tried to learn, more humbly did I teach: Dispatches from the Land of the Puzzle Palace." (The title comes from the Langston Hughes poem "Teacher.") He's ending the Epiphany in Baltimore blog, which addressed both his professional and personal lives. As far as I know, the new blog will be the only one of its kind in Baltimore: dedicated exclusively to the city schools from a teacher's perspective and updated regularly. Baltimore Diary, like EiB, is a mix of personal and professional; Voice for School Truth has great insights but doesn't post often.

I've also been enjoying the new parent blog Surviving the System lately. And I was sorry for the student blog News From Room 123 to end this spring when the student authors graduated.

If anybody has any other education blogs, local or national, to recommend as we update our blogroll this summer, drop me a line.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

July 1, 2008

Why are KIPP fifth-graders coming less prepared?

In today's paper, I report about KIPP's proposal to open a new charter elementary school in Baltimore in 2009. KIPP -- the acclaimed Knowledge is Power Program, which runs one of Maryland's top middle schools with poor city kids -- already had approval to open a second middle school next year. But the school management network is changing plans after analyzing the declining preparation levels of the incoming fifth-graders at the existing middle school. (KIPP Ujima Village Academy in West Baltimore serves fifth through eighth grades.)

KIPP administers the Stanford 9 standardized test to students as they enter fifth grade. In 2003, the incoming fifth-graders scored at the 30th percentile in reading, the 38th percentile in math and the 32nd percentile in language. In 2007, when the incoming fifth-grade class was tested, those scores had declined to the 16th percentile in reading, the 19th percentile in math and the 15th percentile in language. Every year, the students have come less prepared than the class before.

I asked Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore, why he thinks that is. He doesn't know for sure, but he has two theories. One is that elementary schools are spending so much time and emphasis preparing students for the Maryland School Assessments that they aren't teaching them other basic skills that would be measured on a test like the Stanford 9. A second theory is that parents of needier students are choosing to send their kids to a charter school because the traditional public schools aren't working for them.

In any case, KIPP believes it needs to get students younger so there's less ground to make up when they arrive in middle school.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City
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