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August 27, 2008

Montgomery County parents fight school fees

If you are a parent, then you probably know that at this time of the year you often get out your checkbook or wallet to hand over some bucks for all those incidental school expenses ... the workbook, the art supplies, etc.

Well, a group of Montgomery County parents is on the war path to stop these expenditures -- at least some of them.

They are angry over the school system's requirement that they pay some fees for things like workbooks, calculators and lab fees for science and photography. They say the state guarantees each student a free public education and that principals should not be charging these fees.

They asked Elizabeth Kameen, the Assistant Attorney General for the Maryland State Department of Education, about whether the county and specifically Magruder High School should be charging fees.

She wrote back, quoting a 1987 opinion that said: "We cannot say whether Maryland courts would go as far as courts in some states in categorizing the activities that must be offered without charge. But whatever the outer limits of Maryland's 'free public schools' guarantee we are safe in saying that anything directly related to a school's curriculum must be available to all without charge."

 Montgomery County school spokesman Steve Simon said, "We absolutly are in conformance with state law. We are adamant that we are providing a free public education."

 But Simon said that the county school board is expected to review the policies soon. All required textbooks, he said, are provided by the county, but there are some materials that parents are charged for. "There are a lot more questions about the variety of the fees, and that is a fair question," he said.

If there are students who can't afford the fees, he said, the principal can waive them.

Are there parents or teachers who think these fees are unreasonable?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:03 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

Are we in for another round of reassessing and HSAs?

 The public will find out on September 24th just how many high school seniors may be in danger of not graduating this year because they haven't passed the High School Assessments in biology, English, American government and Algebra. That is the date of the next board meeting when the state says it will be releasing the results. 

The state has already released individual student test results to all the school systems. Now the local systems are in the process of looking at all their seniors and sorting out which ones haven't passed the end of course exams and may have to do a project called the Bridge Plan to make up for those failures so they can graduate on time.

Board members made it clear yesterday though that they may still have reservations about going ahead with such a plan to require students to pass the tests to get a diploma. One board member suggested he was looking forward to having another in depth discussion about the issue and that he still didn't support linking the tests to the diploma.

What is different this year? The makeup of the state board has changed. We now have three new board members who were appointed in July by Gov. Martin O'Malley. He's not a big fan of Nancy Grasmick, as some of you may remember, and these assessments are very important to Grasmick. So it has yet to be seen whether Grasmick will get more pushback on the HSAs this year than she did last fall when the school board supported her.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:48 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

August 26, 2008

Carroll school board shuffle

In honor of Carroll's first day back to school today, I thought it would be a good time for an update on some happenings involving the Board of Education.

Just last week, I received word that Barry Potts, one of the candidates running for school board this fall, has decided to drop out of the race.  Potts is president of the Carroll County Education Association, and was among the top four candidates to advance after the Feburary primary.

Potts is dropping out to support Virginia Harrison, the board's newest member who was appointed in April, after Jeff Morse resigned.  Harrison plans to run as a write-in candidate this fall.

"We need the perspective of our whole community on the Board of Education," Potts said in a statement, referring to the diversity that Harrison brings to the panel.  She is the board's only member of color.

Speaking of Morse, it looks like he plans on (actively) running this fall.  His name is still on the ballot, and today is the last day to withdraw.  With his earlier resignation, there had been some question of whether he would continue to pursue a permanent seat on the board.  His appearance at the last few meetings - one time with a shirt that read, "I'm not dead yet" (take that for what you will) - and the latest word from the Board of Elections indicates he remains a contender.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)

August 25, 2008

Imagine Discovery to open tomorrow

Imagine Discovery, Baltimore County's first public charter school, will open tomorrow, Aug. 26.  Word is the fire marshal came for the final inspection this morning, and the school is now good to go.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

August 22, 2008

Imagine Discovery won't be open Monday

Just got word that Baltimore County's first charter school will be closed for the first day of classes - Monday, Aug. 25. 

The reason?  Pat Crain, the regional director for Imagine Schools, tells me that the school just needs a final inspection from the fire marshal to get its occupancy permit.  The fire marshal couldn't get out there today - which is why they won't be opening Monday.  But they're hoping the inspection will take place on Monday, Crain said, so the students can start Tuesday. 

The school, Imagine Discovery, is located in renovated office space in a building in the Woodlawn area. Crain said completion of the gymnasium kept them from getting the inspection done earlier.

Parents will be notified to verify opening day - and we'll also keep you posted here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

Money for better AP scores?

The magazine, Education Week, has a thought-provoking piece in its fall issue saying that cash incentives for teachers and students given out for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by the students.

In addition, the program increases the number of students enrolling in college, according to new research by Cornell University economist Kirabo Jackson.

The incentives have the biggest impact on African American and Hispanic students, boosting participation in AP courses and exams.

The program is successful among largely poor and minority students in Texas public schools. The researcher reports that there is a 22 percent average increase in the number of students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT. The increase rises each year the student is in the program. There was an 8 percent increase in the number of students who enroll in a college or university in Texas from those schools that participated in the cash incentive program.

This raises a lot of questions about what motivates students and teachers and whether it is proper to pay students to do better in school. For more information on the research check out Education Next at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:12 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 20, 2008

Teacher of the Year finalists

This just in: The finalists for 2009 Maryland Teacher of the Year:

  • John Billingslea, Baltimore County
  • Mary Catherine Stephens, Carroll County
  • Sharon Thomas, Cecil County
  • William Thomas, Prince George’s County
  • Sharon Richards, Somerset County
  • Julie Harp, Talbot County
  • Debra Wilkins, Wicomico County
  • Amy Gallagher, Worcester County

The winner will be announced Oct. 3.  Check out the official word from MSDE.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:05 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

August 19, 2008

Report on high school assessments


  The release of pass rates on Maryland's high school assessments is taking place a little later than expected this year. The last word I had from the state was it would release the data in September, about a month later than first anticipated.

But in the meantime, there's an interesting report out on the subject by the Center on Education Policy, an indepedent nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that has been closely monitoring how education policies like No Child Left Behind are affecting schools around the nation.

The national movement toward requiring high schoolers to pass a series of exit exams before they can get a diploma appears to be sputtering, according to the report released last week. Last year, Washington was the only state to begin witholding diplomas based on the tests. Three more states, including Maryland, will have implemented the tests in the next several years bringing to 26 the number of states that will require the exams for graduation.

But the report says that two of three states considering adopting exit exams backed down in the face of public opposition and have now opted to allow the use of "multiple measures" in their graduation requirements.

Still, the report says, these exams are having a "signficant impact" on American education. Today, 68 percent of the nation's high school students will have to take the tests, and that figure will soon rise to 74 percent. And perhaps most importantly, impact of the exams on students of color is the greatest. About 84 percent of the students of color in the country live in those 26 states that have or will soon have exit exams.

The subject is particularly sensitive here in Maryland this year because this year's seniors will be the first class to have to pass the end-of- course exams to get a diploma.

A portion of the report that uses January 2008 data says that 88 percent of students in the Class of 2009 have passed all the tests or have met a minimum combined score average to graduate.

Students of color are far more affected. So while 95 percent of white students are passing, only 74 percent of African American students and 85 percent of Latino students are passing.

But students who may have the most trouble are special education students and poor students,  who have met the standards by 53 percent and 73 percent respectively.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:26 AM | | Comments (0)

August 14, 2008

The results are in: AYP 2008

Today, MSDE released the annual list of elementary and middle schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress, based on their Maryland School Assessment test results.  Seven school systems - including Carroll - had all of their elementary and middle schools meet AYP.

Check out the list for the entire state.  You'll notice the new labeling system that's being used this year. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:16 PM | | Comments (2)

August 13, 2008

School board changes meeting format

For the past couple days, I've been writing about proposed changes to the way the Baltimore County school board conducts its meetings.

Last night, members approved one of the revised policies, turning one of their two monthly meetings into a work session that would allow them to explore issues in-depth - without public comment. But the board tabled the other proposal, which involves more narrowly defining who qualifies as a so-called "stakeholder group," a unit typically invited to address the board.

Several people within and outside of the groups that would lose that opportunity expressed their concerns about that change - among them members of the grass-roots Baltimore County Education Coalition.

What I wasn't able to get into today's story is board President JoAnn Murphy's explanation on why they decided to pull the stakeholder item: for further study.  Murphy said amendments on that item were already anticipated - but there was no consensus among members on what exactly those amendments should be.  In short, board members themselves had questions on the item.

She said some members plan to sit down with folks from the coalition, and hopes the board will take the issue up again next month.

Throughout this discussion, there has been some suggestion that the board should not have tackled this during the summer months, as people are in and out with vacations and other activities, and not focused on meeting agendas.  Murphy has noted that these policies have followed the same process as every other - three readings, including time for public comment and a vote with the third reading.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 8:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Administrators kick off a new year

The much-ballyhooed back-to-school kickoff conference took place yesterday, but not before the administrators union called an emergency membership meeting Monday night to gauge its members' outrage over the fact that its president, Jimmy Gittings, was not being permitted to speak. Gittings and his supporters floated the idea of withholding applause for Dr. Alonso yesterday but ultimately did not. (Gittings says Alonso was "shrewd" by having students read poems before and after he spoke, since no one would want to withhold applause from children.) Alonso did acknowledge Gittings in the audience in his introductory remarks.


Alonso gave a nearly two-hour presentation with a treasure trove of data about the city schools. The presentation is scheduled to be posted by today on the system's Web site. One slide that I found astounding detailed what's happened to the class of 2009, the students who should be incoming seniors. Of 8,031 who started as freshmen in 2005, only 5,091 are still enrolled. Of that, 3,855 will be seniors, 689 are still juniors, 405 are still sophomores, and 142 are still freshmen.

Of the 3,855 seniors, 1,653 have passed all four High School Assessments (they'll be the first class that needs to pass or complete a project to graduate), 677 have earned a high enough combined score on the exam to graduate, 177 have passed three of the four tests, 288 have passed two, 394 have passed one, and 666 haven't passed any.  

As I report in my story today about the principal coaches, Alonso said at yesterday's event that he's found an extra $22 million to give to elementary and middle schools -- much of it Title 1 and Title 2 money that was distributed too late last year and therefore not spent. 

Now, just as things are getting interesting... I'll be off until Labor Day. I know, it's bad timing to miss the opening of school, but my colleagues will keep up the discussion while I'm gone.

See you in September.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:10 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

Introducing the principal coaches

These are the 15 people who have been chosen "to facilitate and lead small learning communities of principals throughout the 2008-2009 school year," officials announced. They'll each receive a $5,000 stipend and an intern from New Leaders for New Schools in exchange for providing support to their colleagues.

Sean Conley, Morrell Park Elementary/Middle  
Carolyn Smith, Empowerment Academy
Matthew Riley, Cross Country Elementary/Middle  
Edward English, Northwood Elementary  
Wayne Law, Graceland Park/O'Donnell Heights Elementary/Middle   
Sandra Adams, Calvin Rodwell Elementary  
Angela Faltz, Abbottston Elementary
Yetty Goodwin, Garrett Heights Elementary
Delores Berry, W.E.B. DuBois High  
Karen Webber-Ndour, National Academy Foundation High   
Ivor Mitchell, Academy of College and Career Exploration 
Will McKenna, Afya Public Charter School (new school)   
Brian Eyer, Digital Harbor High  
Starletta Jackson, Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy 
Karen Lawrence, Heritage High 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 12, 2008

Fallout from Baltimore's budget reorganization

In reporting my story for today's paper, I learned that the city school system's budget reorganization has played out in some unpredictable ways.

1) Of the 310 central office employees whose positions were eliminated, all but 14 of them chose to stay in the school system (and six, still not placed, face the prospect of layoffs). I wonder how much the economy played a part in their reluctance to enter a lean job market now, and how many people will leave next year when their pay cuts go into effect.

2) Principals cut 500 school-based positions (initially; some have been restored) and increased money for programs. Over the spring, I heard a lot of concern from program operators who were being told by principals that they didn't have the money to keep them on. The concern at North Avenue was that principals were reluctant to cut positions occupied by their colleagues. But that didn't turn out to be the case. I predict we'll now hear accusations that principals cut the jobs of employees they don't like personally. Union seniority rules prevents this in some cases, but not all.

The class-size estimates are interesting but not surprising, given that we knew that high schools were getting more money and some small elementary schools were getting less. Keep reading to see the figures for elementary, K-8, middle and high schools.

Projected average class sizes, compared with the actual average class sizes last year and the number of students for each teacher allocated under the old budget formula

Elementary schools: 19.1, up from 17.3 last year; old allocation was one teacher per 22 students. 
K-8 schools: 19.6, up from 19 last year; old allocation was one teacher per 27 students.
Middle schools: 23.4, up from 22.9 last year; old allocation was one teacher per 30 students.
High schools: 25.4, down from 27.2 last year; old allocation was one teacher per 32 students.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 11, 2008

Guest list clarification

Dr. Alonso's executive assistant sent out two e-mails to staff on Friday regarding tomorrow's back-to-school professional development day for administrators. The first, sent at 12:41 p.m., said this:

Principals, assistant principals and central office staff are invited to attend the CEO’s Leadership School Year 2008-2009 Launch at Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University on Tuesday, August 12, 2008. 

At 12:57 p.m., she resent the message. It said:

Principals, assistant principals and central office leadership (directors) are invited and required to attend the CEO’s Leadership School Year 2008-2009 Launch at Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State University on Tuesday, August 12, 2008.

Not being a director at the central office, Jimmy Gittings took that as a snub that he and 80 percent of the rest of North Avenue were not invited to the event. I just checked with Dr. Alonso. He said everyone from the central office is invited, but principals, assistant principals and central office directors are required to attend.

Gittings also accused Alonso of writing some of the negative comments posted about him on this blog last week. I clarified that most of those commenting had submitted their e-mail addresses along with their posts.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 9, 2008

PTA Council's charter revoked

As I report today, the Maryland PTA has revoked the charter of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs. Technically, the reasons for the action were the same reasons the group was made inactive in June: It failed to produce meeting minutes and budgets, and it was operating without a secretary or a treasurer as required. But officials at the statewide organization were clearly peeved that president Eric White and his sidekick, first vice president LaV'ernee Curley, were continuing to operate as though nothing has changed.

In light of the decision, I wonder whether Mayor Dixon will still take White's recommendations into account as she decides whom to appoint to the school board. White was a member of Dixon's panel to interview candidates.

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

August 8, 2008

Union leaders bash BCPSS

Jimmy Gittings and Marietta English both bashed the Alonso administration as they were interviewed last night on WEAA's "At Issue" show with George Collins. English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, described the city school system's new structure giving principals budgetary authority "a train wreck getting ready to happen." Both she and Gittings, the president of the administrators union, called for an elected school board, saying the current board is letting Dr. Alonso dismantle a structure that was leading to higher test scores.

As expected, Gittings railed about not being allowed to speak at next week's back-to-school event for administrators. While Alonso has said he had to shorten the speaker list to make the day one of meaningful professional development, Gittings contends that he was given short shrift because of his public criticism of Alonso and his budget restructuring.

Saying it "hurt me to my heart" when Alonso was named CEO instead of Charlene Cooper Boston, Gittings gave her and Bonnie Copeland credit for the recent increase in test scores. "I am not going to sit idly back and have someone else take the glory from these two ladies and their administration," he said.

Gittings was followed on the program by English, who said several teachers in the city still do not know which schools they'll be working at when classes resume Aug. 25. (This is because several principals eliminated positions at their schools as a result of the budget shortfall and reorganization. On the bright side, officials in the human resources department told me a few days ago, the system is poised to start the new year without the teaching vacancies it normally has.)

English acknowledged that no teachers will be out of a job (other than those who were terminated because they'd had conditional certification dating back to at least 2005). She also acknowledged that it will be a good thing if the system ends up having enough teachers to put two in some larger classrooms. (If there are surplus teachers, I've been told, some first-year teachers might be placed alongside veterans.) She praised Alonso's initiative to create more alternative schools but did not give him credit for it.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 7, 2008

Are private eyes watching you?

One of the issues that Jimmy Gittings is furious over and plans to take up in his back-to-school radio address tonight: The city school system has hired three investigators to take anonymous complaints about BCPSS employees, and they seem to be targeting principals. "It's deplorable," the administrators union president told me. "You have vindictive people that are gonna send letters in."

Prince George's County schools also have a complaint unit, but Gittings said the administrators union there was involved in developing the structure for it. He said he was not notified of the investigators' hiring in Baltimore.

I asked Dr. Alonso about these "private eyes," and his explanation made the arrangement sound less clandestine than Gittings made it seem. During the budget reorganization, Alonso said, the system added five people (not three) to its legal department to investigate complaints of fraud anywhere in the system. Previously, when there was a complaint of fraud at a school, the area academic officers were in charge of investigating. That's no longer possible because the area offices were eliminated. More importantly, Alonso said a conflict of interest had been inherent in having the people who supervise schools investigating them, especially since, in some cases, the AAOs were implicated in complaints. When the complaint was about someone in the central office, the conflict of interest had the potential to be even worse.

Alonso acknowledged that most of the complaints coming in this summer have been about principals, since people whose jobs that principals eliminated from their budgets have an ax to grind. He predicted that, once the school year starts, the distribution will be more equal among all groups of employees.

Gittings and Alonso are in agreement that most complaints turn out to be unfounded. But Gittings disagrees vehemently with the way that Alonso has chosen to fulfill the school system's responsibility to check them out.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 6, 2008

Jim Campbell loses bet, pays for dinner

Jim Campbell, the former state delegate and current city school board member, stopped by Linda Eberhart's office some months back and started up a conversation that led to the two of them making a bet.

Campbell had been looking at the 2007 test scores for Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School, and the math results in the middle grades were dismal: Just 13 percent of seventh-graders had passed their exam, and no one passed in eighth grade. That's right; the failure rate was 100 percent.

The board member asked the system's new director of mathematics what could be done. Eberhart, a former state teacher of the year, said she could get the pass rate for both grades above 50 percent. Campbell said no way, especially because the school's seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher was in his first year of teaching. They made a bet, with a dinner as their wager.

Eberhart invited the teacher, Matt Kalthoff, to join Math Works, a program she founded in 2003 to bring math teachers from around the city together to talk about what's working in their classrooms and what's not. Each month, the group makes a CD with teachers' best practices that gets distributed to everyone there. A study released last fall showed that city students whose teachers participated in Math Works posted significantly higher test scores than their peers. Among sixth-graders whose teachers attended monthly sessions, 70 percent passed the state math test, compared with 39 percent of sixth-graders whose teachers did not attend.

When the latest round of Maryland School Assessment scores were released last month, 68 percent of Morrell Park's seventh-graders had passed their math test, as had 61 percent of eighth-graders.

And so tonight, Campbell will be picking up the tab at Cafe Hon as he dines with Kalthoff, Eberhart and Maggie McIntosh, a state delegate and friend of Campbell's who took an interest in helping the school.  

For a feature I did on Math Works a few years back, keep reading.

Where one plus many equals success
Math teachers share tips to help pupils

Sun reporter

February 6, 2006
   The idea came to Linda Eberhart in 2002, when she was Maryland's Teacher of the Year. Traveling around the state, she got to hear from lots of other teachers about what was working in their classrooms and what wasn't.

    The next year, Eberhart rounded up some fellow fifth-grade teachers in Baltimore schools and gathered them in her classroom at Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School in Bolton Hill. The subject: math. How children learn it, where they struggle, what motivates them.There were only about 15 teachers at first, but word quickly spread. Soon colleagues teaching fourth grade wanted to come, too. Then third grade. Now, convening one Thursday night a month, the group has swelled to about 150. They come, on their own time, to share suggestions and support each other.

    Suggestions such as: Superman has to run before he jumps. That's how Steve Lecholop got his fourth-grade pupils at North Bend Elementary School to remember to run across the X-axis before jumping up the Y-axis on coordinate grids.

    Lecholop is in his second year of teaching. Eberhart is in her 37th. This past Thursday, she reported back to him that his tip worked great with her class.

    "I get so many wonderful ideas from everyone," said Eberhart, who makes and distributes a CD each month with all the suggestions shared in the previous session, along with her own ideas.

    At Mount Royal, Eberhart teaches math to the same group of children for two years in a row, in fourth and fifth grades. She plans to retire at the end of next school year, when her current fourth-graders finish fifth grade. Until then, she is grooming younger teachers to keep the Thursday night sessions going. She is also working to put all her teaching strategies into the computer to leave for them.

    In the late 1990s, Eberhart's pupils posted the highest math test scores in the state. The state now uses a different standardized test, which 85 percent of Mount Royal fifth-graders passed last year. That compares with a pass rate of 48 percent citywide and 69 percent across Maryland.

    While she doesn't have hard numbers to back her up, Eberhart says the teachers who come regularly to the monthly gatherings have seen their classes' math test scores go up significantly.

    The whole effort, which has become known as "Math Works," costs $20,000 a year for materials and a stipend for another teacher, Tara Barnes, who oversees the logistics. It is funded through an Abell Foundation grant.

    For such a small amount of money, Eberhart says, the program has profound implications. School systems spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on professional development, which often involves experts telling teachers what to do. A far more effective strategy, she argues, is for teachers to collaborate as equals.

    What is more, a key factor behind many teachers' decisions to leave the profession after a few years is lack of support. Several teachers interviewed said the Math Works meetings - and the connections they make there - go a long way toward filling that void.

    "Without it, I don't know what I'd be teaching," said Elisabeth Lim, a first-year teacher at Highlandtown Elementary School No. 215. Barnes went to Lim's school to help her set up a program she learned about in Math Works, and Lim went to Mount Royal during the school day to observe Eberhart in action.

    On Thursday, a sixth-grade teacher from Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle showed up to meet with the fifth-grade teachers, saying he wanted to look into remedial work for his pupils. Eberhart introduced him to Sarah Kenders, who was moderating the fifth-grade discussion but now teaches sixth grade at Waverly Elementary/Middle.

    "I'll get a blank CD for you," Kenders said. "I'll give you all my stuff."

    In the Mount Royal library, fifth-grade teachers were comparing the food they use to help their pupils understand fractions: Hershey's chocolate bars, Skittles and pizza. "If you don't want to use candy, you can use [poker] chips," one teacher offered.

    Upstairs in the third-grade session, Yolanda Jenkins was talking about a game she plays with popcorn to ensure that her pupils at Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary master their multiplication tables. "It's going to burn if you don't answer quick," she said she tells them.

    LaShella Stanfield of Harlem Park Elementary told the group about "King Zero," who "makes everyone be like him." In other words, when you multiply by zero, the answer is always zero.

    As they do every month, they were sharing "hot spots" - concepts that kids routinely have trouble understanding. And they were dissecting their pupils' answers to "brief constructive response" questions - word problems - in the format that will appear on the state's standardized tests.

    After the grade-level breakout sessions, the last before next month's Maryland School Assessments, Eberhart gathered all the teachers in the auditorium to give them tips on getting ready for the tests.

    She showed them how she analyzes data to determine what to work on in the final weeks.

    She suggested feeding pupils protein in the morning on test days, followed by carbohydrate-rich snacks to sustain their energy, plus plenty of water. Opening the windows also helps, she has found.

    She reminded everyone that a child needs to get only about 40 percent of the problems correct to pass the math exam. "This is something that is really doable," she said.

    The trick, she added, is to instill kids with confidence before the test. A teacher in the audience stood up and showed everyone some little buttons she bought at Lexington Market. They light up, and she gives them to children as rewards during review sessions.

    Eberhart was delighted. She said she was going out to buy some light-up buttons herself.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 5, 2008

Smallest Twine, welcome to the blogosphere

Thanks to Teach Baltimore (formerly Epiphany in Baltimore) for keeping track on his site of other new blogs by teachers in the city. He's introduced me to The Smallest Twine, written by a teacher entering her second year teaching math in a Baltimore school. Good stuff so far.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Is there a PTA council, or isn't there?

Though the Maryland PTA has made the Baltimore City Council of PTAs an inactive organization, the council's president, Eric White, is acting as though nothing has changed. He was at yesterday's City Council education committee briefing on back-to-school preparations, and he introduced himself as PTA Council president when he spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. The mayor's office also invited him to be on a school board interviewing panel as though he were still the president of an active parent group.

The Maryland PTA says White is not supposed to be acting as though the PTA Council is still operational. But will it use its authority to stop him? Will school PTAs continue paying their council dues? 

Conveniently, the PTA Council office at North Avenue just so happens to be in the wing being converted into a new alternative school. Office space aside, will the school board continue giving White a slot when organized parent and employee groups speak at its meetings?

This promises to be an interesting saga to follow as the new school year approaches.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:44 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 4, 2008

PSASA president says he was shunned

The executive board members of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association are incensed. For the first time in the history of an annual back-to-school event for Baltimore's principals, assistant principals, and other middle management, the president of their union will not be permitted to bring greetings.

Jimmy Gittings, president of PSASA, says he was told late last week by Dr. Alonso's executive assistant that only Alonso and Brian Morris, the school board chairman, would speak at the "CEO's Academy," to be held Aug. 12 at Morgan State University. Gittings has spoken at the event every year for the six years he's been in his position, and he said his predecessors spoke every year before that.

A letter went out today to all PSASA members saying, "Jimmy's voice will not be silenced." Gittings has arranged to deliver his back-to-school address at 7 p.m. Thursday on Morgan's radio station, WEAA (88.9 FM).

For those of you who haven't been tuning into city school board meetings in recent months, Gittings and Alonso have had a series of heated public exchanges about the future of the system. Gittings has been a strong critic of Alonso's budget reorganization because of the extra responsibilities placed on principals, and he generally believes the CEO is changing the system too fast.

Don't expect Gittings to mince words when he goes on air. He wants to give credit for the recent increase in test scores to the two previous CEOs, Bonnie Copeland and Charlene Cooper Boston, and the administrators who worked under them. He said he won't "sit back and let the public think that this administration is responsible."

Gittings and Orrester Shaw, the vice president of PSASA and principal of Pimlico Elementary/Middle School, said they believe Alonso and Morris are trying to quash the union. (Shaw said he was contacting the media on behalf of PSASA's executive board.)

Alonso said they're overreacting. "It just completely misunderstands how I think and how I function," he said. He said the CEO's Academy has traditionally been a ceremonial event, but this year, he wants it to be a day of meaningful professional development -- meaning he needed to cut back on the number of speakers. He said his own remarks will be about data analyzing student performance. "This is a day of professional develpment," he said, "and I didn't want to make it ceremonial." Learning of the planned radio address, Alonso said Gittings will have a far bigger audience.

Meanwhile, Alonso is traveling to Atlantic City tomorrow to address the other union he's clashed with in the past year: the Baltimore Teachers Union, which is having its annual convention there.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:38 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 1, 2008

Mike Adams, an editor who knows the system

Today is the last day at The Sun for more than 40 of my colleagues who accepted a voluntary buyout. One of them is Gina Davis, who's done a great job covering Baltimore County education the past few years. Someone else leaving has been integral to this blog, though you've never seen his name on the site.

Mike Adams, a quarter-century veteran of the newspaper, served as our education editor, and since I started covering the Baltimore schools three years ago, he's been my direct supervisor. In recent months, he overcame his aversion to technology to edit and schedule our daily postings.

A native of Turners Station, Mike comes from a long line of educators in Baltimore city and county public schools. I first sent him an interoffice message when I was working in the Towson bureau and trying to land an interview with his cousin, who was principal of Woodlawn Middle School at the time. 

Mike was a terrific choice to oversee a young out-of-towner like me because he has so much institutional knowledge to share – about our workplace, the city schools and Baltimore in general. And as a white reporter covering a predominantly black school system, it was extremely helpful for me to have an African-American editor with whom I could frankly discuss racially sensitive issues.

I love how Mike knows the history of seemingly every person whose name is on a Baltimore school building. The first time I wrote a story about Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, he told me about how Sam Banks used to write long-winded letters to the editor of The Sun using the biggest words in the dictionary. Once, when an article of mine mentioned Tench Tilghman Elementary, Mike was upset he didn't know who Tench Tilghman was. We had to stop right there and look it up. (We learned that Tilghman was an Army officer in the Revolutionary War who was born in Maryland.)

Can you tell we had fun?

Mike's wisdom and insight helped me to tell stories with greater nuance and sophistication. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:37 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

Presidential candidates promote merit pay

National Public Radio had a story earlier this week about Barack Obama and John McCain's education platforms. A transcript is posted here, along with an audio link.

A couple interesting points the story made: Both of the candidates support merit pay for teachers. Obama has taken this position even though unions tend to oppose merit pay and the two major teachers unions are supporting him.

Obama has also proposed requiring all colleges of education to be accredited and rating how they do in preparing teachers. According to the story, one of his advisers is Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor who believes strongly in the importance of teacher preparation. Darling-Hammond is a leading critic of alternative certification programs such as Teach for America (which, incidentally, is holding a press conference in Baltimore today to announce financial support for the program from the City Council). However, another of Obama's advisers is Michael Johnston from New Leaders for New Schools, which is essentially an alternative certification program for principals.

Both Obama and McCain support changing No Child Left Behind, but neither wants to scrap it altogether. McCain is interested in providing more tutoring to struggling students. Obama says NCLB is inadequately funded, and he wants to work with states to develop better tests measuring what students have learned and where they have weaknesses.

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