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January 30, 2009

Baltimore County school board on budget details

The Baltimore County school board’s work session last night focused a lot on the details in the $1.32 billion proposal for the 2010 fiscal year, as I noted in today’s story. Their interest in the small stuff reflected their awareness of tight financial times – and the limited funds at their discretion.

Member Meg O’Hare, in particular, observed that while the budget isn’t normally her forte, she’d made a point of examining it more closely this time around. She wanted to make sure that money was going toward things that have been proven to work – especially when it came to money allocated to elementary-school language arts. Many of her questions were about reading: 

O’Hare wanted to know how many schools would be getting the 100 Book Challenge, a reading program introduced a few years ago that has since expanded to more than 20 elementary schools and that I wrote about in a story last week. 100 Book promotes independent reading among children, encouraging them to choose fiction and non-fiction books of interest that are written at their individual reading levels.

O’Hare questioned why only 13 additional schools – out of the district’s more than 130 – were getting the program next year. She also asked how many schools had requested it.

School officials said their ability to expand the program to more schools would very much depend on the available funding once the budget is approved. Barbara Burnopp, the chief financial officer, said 30 schools had expressed interest in getting 100 Book.

"Reading, comprehending and writing are the foundation for critical thought…I don’t want to wait for 100 years for this to get implemented," O’Hare said. "When we have something that works, it seems it’s a good idea to put the little bit of money that we have" into that.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:20 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

Maryland school rankings the politicians won't mention

So we all know that Maryland schools ranked No. 1 in the recent Education Week Quality Counts report. And in case we'd forgotten, Gov. O'Malley reminded us yesterday in his state of the state address. Now, some new rankings are out, highlighting what seems to be a pretty big weakness for Maryland: teacher recruitment and retention.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, which has had reports critical of Maryland education policy before and is headed by Maryland state school board member Kate Walsh, is giving the state a D-minus for its policies involving new teachers. In particular: Maryland gets an F for "identifying effective new teachers," a D-plus for "retaining effective new teachers," and a D-plus for "exiting ineffective new teachers." Look here to see how other states compare. The average grade was a D-plus.

Keep in mind that the "teaching profession" category was where Maryland fared worst in the EdWeek rankings. If you recall, even though we were No. 1, we only got a B grade overall, largely because our average was brought down by a C-minus in that category, which measured essentially the same thing as the council's new report.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region, Teaching

January 29, 2009

The state of education, according to O'Malley

Boy, the condition of Maryland's schools sure sounded great listening to the governor's state of the state address today. Children from Armistead Gardens Elementary were on hand as he praised them for their high math scores -- the best in Baltimore, he said -- and touted the state's No. 1 ranking by Education Week. "Let's say it again, shall we?" he said. "Maryland has the best public schools in America." Later, he said that "we are proposing the largest investment our State has ever made in our public schools of $5.4 billion, even in these tough times."

Gov. O'Malley did not mention the $69 million in cuts he has proposed to education, including $23 million to Baltimore. The cuts would be the result of proposed changes in funding formulas that would leave the city and Prince George's schools closing budget shortfalls for years to come -- in spite of short-term aid from the federal economic stimulus package. Dr. Alonso spoke out strongly again this morning on the Larry Young Show on WOLB-AM, and it looks like a coalition is starting to form around him. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham of the Baltimore NAACP called in at the end of the radio segment to lend his support.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:33 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

Algebra Project lobbies for bus pass extension

Paul Wiedefeld can be glad for the bad weather this week. As a result of the snow, the Baltimore Algebra Project canceled a protest it had scheduled outside the MTA administrator's office. The group is lobbying for the MTA to extend the time that student bus passes expire from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 to make it more affordable for students to participate in extracurricular activities. Wiedefeld denied a request by the school district to extend the passes until 8 p.m.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:47 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

High School Assessment snafus

Several readers, including a parent, have e-mailed me about issues they are having with the state's High School Assessment requirements. They are concerned about a lack of organization and uncertainty they say reaches from the state down through the local school systems and into high schools.

The parent, who asked not to be identified, said his son began his senior year having passed three of the four tests. He only needed to up his score on the algebra test by five points to be done with the requirement. He retook the test in the fall with high hopes, but later found out that his answer sheet had been lost.

So now he is in the position of not knowing whether to retake the test or start a Bridge project to make up the points he needs to get a passing score on the math portion and his diploma in the spring.

I wonder if other readers have tales to tell about the HSAs. Is it going well in some schools? Are students worried?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:04 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

January 28, 2009

Reflections of a Homeland Security student

One of the comments posted today struck me as worth calling to your attention. It's from Homeland Security senior Larry Jackson, 17. I met Larry when I visited the school's journalism class earlier this month. He is a very impressive young man. Here's what he has to say:

Many times I've wondered what decision would I have made if I was an underclassman who ran across the same situation that is now causing hundreds of students to transfer. I would have been more than happy to transfer to another school, because of the simple fact that Walbrook is not best known for learning, but causing violence.

Because I am a senior, I will remain at Walbrook, "because I am a senior."

Now a days, there are less students roaming the hallways. This makes it much easier to concentrate on instruction, even though at times witnessing a fight from the doorway was more interesting than reading a book that had no relation of my life experiences. Yes, I still do learn, but the school no longer feels like a school.

Despite the corruption of Walbrook, there are great teachers who are very well respected for their great teaching skills, and for their attempt to make us students learn something new before the bell rings.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore and Carroll counties' board meetings canceled

The Baltimore County work session has been moved to tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., weather permitting.

The Carroll County Board of Ed's meeting this afternoon is also canceled.  It's been rescheduled for Feb. 4 at 5 p.m., with an operating budget hearing and work session to follow.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

No meeting? No problem.

To anybody who was planning on going to last night's city school board meeting and is suffering withdrawal from all the good news that would have been presented at the beginning of the evening: You can get your fix from this 40-minute -- 40-minute! -- newscast by Poly and Renaissance Academy broadcast students.

Enjoy the day off.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Rodgers Forge update: The first parent meeting

Baltimore County schools officials said they would seek to better communicate with Rodgers Forge parents, at the first of several meetings for those affected by plans to move fourth-graders down the road to Dumbarton Middle School this fall.

A number of parents at the more than two-hour meeting, which took place Monday night at the elementary, said they felt they’d been left out of the decision-making process. One mother described the letter sent home to parents about the move as "a bomb."

In response to a request from several of them, school officials in attendance agreed to be better about keeping them in the loop – particularly with regard to the timeline for building the new Towson elementary school slated to open Aug. 2010.  One father suggested forming some kind of parent group to be more involved in the planning process moving forward – an idea to which Lyle Patzkowsky, the central area assistant superindent, seemed amenable.

The communication issue was one of several questions, concerns and comments the 70 or so parents had for school officials in attendance.  Besides Patzkowsky, Susan Deise, the Rodgers Forge principal; Nancy Fink, who heads Dumbarton; and Michele Prumo, executive director of the planning department were there. Some of the other highlights follow:


***The new school was a semi-heated point of discussion. Deise noted that Rodgers Forge is now the most overcrowded school in the state, about 80 percent overcapacity. Many parents said they don’t see how the school, meant to alleviate the problem, can open on time, given the unpredictability of construction schedules, weather, etc. With that concern, several asked for some kind of guarantee that their children wouldn’t be at Dumbarton for two years instead of just one.

Patzkowsky declined to make such a promise, saying that they are operating with the understanding that all is on schedule now. Any plans to extend the Dumbarton move because of unexpected developments would be made further down the road, he said.

***The shuttle. Several expressed their concerns about the two-minute shuttle ride taking their kids from Rodgers Forge to Dumbarton. One mother said she wanted to drop her child off at the school where he’d be for the day, not rely on the school to get him there. Another said the shuttle plan wasn’t environmentally friendly, and suggested the kids should walk.  (Deise said that was one point she wasn’t as willing to budge on, primarily because of safety. There's difficulty in ensuring that 120+ kids would make it over to Dumbarton safely on foot. Time is also a factor, as I noted earlier this week. It would take longer for that many children to make their way over to DMS, which would, in turn, disrupt the class schedule and instruction time, Deise noted.)

***The options. Patzkowsky briefly ran through the various alternatives considered when dealing with an overcrowding situation. School officials can consider redistricting, using portable classroom buildings, building an addition to the school or building a new school. Then there is, of course, the option chosen for next year - to move some kids to another school.  Patzkowsky said school officials usually start with the most simple and move to the more complex. 

Rodgers Forge already has portables – and no space for more – and has reached the point where there is simply no more classroom space to spare, Deise has said.

***And finally, for a bit of levity, here are some of the comments Deise got from the third-graders as she made the rounds, explaining their upcoming move:

  • "Can we take our school pictures at Dumbarton and be in their yearbook?"

  • "Is it possible to have a Disney shuttle bus instead of a regular old yellow school bus? What is a shuttle bus anyway?"

  • "Will Mrs. Deise still be our principal and Mrs. Brown our assistant principal?" (Yes.)

  • "Is it true that we can use the DMS snack machines?"

  • "Can we go to Dumbarton as soon as possible? It really is too crowded at RFE. I was wondering when someone was going to do something about this problem."

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 27, 2009

City schools budget: not out of the woods

It sounds like good news that the governor's proposed cuts to schools -- namely, Baltimore and Prince George's -- are on hold awaiting a federal economic stimulus package. But the state's two poorest school districts aren't out of the woods yet.

If the changes that Gov. O'Malley has proposed to school funding become law, Dr. Alonso said today, the city schools would be crippled for years to come. And even without that, if state education funding remains flat as the system's enrollment and labor costs increase, the city schools would have to cut tens of millions of dollars a year every year.

The federal stimulus money might not help much: If it's earmarked as Title 1 and IDEA funds, it can only be used for limited purposes. It can't help cover salaries.

"The present formula is gonna force me to be at the back of the line every year with a tin cup," Alonso told the state school board this afternoon.

Alonso was at the state board meeting to give an annual update on the system. In a 40-slide Powerpoint, one of the statistics that stood out most to me was one showing that still only 51 percent of city teachers are designated "highly qualified." As the system works to increase that number, it's going to have to pay teachers more.

Alonso said the Baltimore Teachers Union is willing to work with him and forego a raise this year, but he can't keep asking teachers to do that. If the city schools can't pay its teachers a decent wage, he said, they'll never be able to compete with suburban jurisdictions that can go to their county executives for money. In Baltimore, City Hall's contribution to the schools has been flat for a decade.

So, Alonso argues, don't be fooled. What will be the system's deficit three years down the line? And why should poor jurisdictions get stimulus money to break even when everyone else gets it as something to build on?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

High turnout at Homeland Security transfer fairs

About 130 parents turned out at last night's transfer fair at Homeland Security Academy and another 50 came this morning in spite of the snow, the city school system reports. As of today, 195 of the school's 450 underclassmen have requested transfers to other city high schools. Officials are making phone calls to the rest. Students will start at their new schools next week.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:29 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore schools open, close early

Judging by my own experience driving around today, I think the roads were probably worse this morning while everyone in the city was going to school than they are now that you're going home two hours early. But the city school system officials had lots of complaints about why they were staying open when most of the other districts in the area had closed. I got some myself. "This is absurd!" wrote one teacher. Another reported that "the roads are in bad shape (on my drive in at 7:45), kids are NOT in school (my first class with a roll of 31 has 9) and it's a danger to staff and buses to have to ride on these soon-to-be treacherous roads."

The city school board meeting for tonight has just been canceled.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:07 PM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Baltimore City

Wolfe Street Academy featured in Obama video

Salma Ruiz Cruz










 Arlis Amaya










Emily Troutman, a 29-year-old writer and photographer living in Washington, spent last week going around with her video camera asking people to choose among 26 words to describe how they feel about President Obama's inauguration. As she explains on her blog, she paid a visit to Baltimore's Wolfe Street Academy, where her sister, Lauren Troutman, teaches first grade in a class where most students are learning English as a second language. When she sent home permission slips for children to be included in her video with a picture of an Obama "Hope" poster, she writes, "the kids thought that Barack Obama was coming to school for pictures and my sister had to break their hearts! The new President is generally known in her class as, 'Rock Obama.'"

A full-screen version of her video is available here. Above are photos she took of Salma Ruiz Cruz, 6, a student in Lauren Troutman's class, and Arlis Amaya, 8, the brother of one of Lauren's students.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 26, 2009

Rodgers Forge fourth-graders: on the move

The first of several meetings on the plan to move Rodgers Forge Elementary’s fourth-graders to Dumbarton Middle for the 2009-2010 school year is tonight at 7 p.m. at the elementary school.

Why move fourth-graders, as opposed to another class? Rodgers Forge Principal Susan Deise offered several reasons. School officials eliminated students who wouldn’t fit in the "general setting" at Dumbarton. For example, kindergartners couldn’t go because they can’t be on the second floor. And then they also had to consider whether the kids could reach the lockers designed for middle-schoolers.

Officials – and parents – didn’t want fifth-graders robbed of the perks of their final year: the clubs, concerts, field trips and special events that "culminate the elementary experience." Fifth-graders also get to do safety patrol.

Fourth-graders were a good fit for the space available at Dumbarton. They will need five classrooms – which is exactly how many the middle school is offering, Deise said.

"We really care about the children and we wanted to do what was fair, what was best and what made sense," she said.

Deise also told me the teachers who’ll be moving to Dumbarton with the kids this fall were hand-picked and have already responded with a lot of creativity and support in preparation for the next school year.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Parent: Funding vital for continued city schools renaissance

Here's the view of Bobbi Macdonald, president of City Neighbors Charter School, co-chair of Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools, board member of Maryland Charter School Network, and mother of Sadie (11), Eve (9) and Ramsay (6), all City Neighbors students: 

The proposed education budget cuts to Maryland’s poorest counties shows poor timing. Baltimore City and Prince George’s County would lose nearly $59 million, 80 percent of the total cut. Meanwhile, the state’s richest counties -- Montgomery and Howard -- will have their funding increased by an additional $28 million.

There was a time when Annapolis could vote to under-serve the poorest counties. Back then, Baltimore City and PG County folks weren’t organized, and many families in the city were not participating because the system was unresponsive to change. But the times they are a-changin’ because now the public school system happens to be in the midst of a beautiful transformation.   

Now Baltimore has schools of choice with varying levels of autonomy. There are close to 30 charter schools in the city, and 15 more transformation schools, and 10 more innovation schools, and still some New Schools Initiative schools. Even the traditional “system” schools are getting site-based management and more power over how their funds are spent.  The schools of Baltimore are expanding, integrating and rising up. System-wide enrollment has increased for the first time in decades.

Now there is a growing and organized force of creative, inspired, dedicated parents and educators who are thinking, dreaming, and working tirelessly to make our schools serve our children. Now Annapolis is dealing with public schools that are filled with people all organized around an ideal. And we have our visionary leader, Dr. Alonso, who is willing to make tough decisions, who believes in all of us, and in the capacity of our children. We must support him from the State House to the row house. 

Governor, 10 years ago, as mayor, you invited the “Creative Class” into your city. We came. We got organized.

Now, you are a creative person. Please find another way. 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:32 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Two voices opposing city schools budget cuts

Over the weekend, I received essays from a teacher and a parent in opposition to the governor's proposed budget cuts to Baltimore schools. I'll post one now and the other later this morning.

The first is from David Donaldson, English teacher, varsity baseball coach and Teach for America corps member at Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences (MATHS):

Friday, I just completed my first semester as a BCPSS teacher. I consider this an accomplishment that is not rivaled by anything else I have ever done. My students are inspirational, amazing, and the future leaders of this city and world. There is an attachment to them that has formed throughout the toil of each lesson administered and every hallway interaction. They deserve my all and the state's best resources.

To my dismay, Governor O'Malley's proposed budget for 2009 will result in $23 million in cuts for Baltimore City schools. This is unacceptable. For the first time in four decades, there has been an increase in enrollment. The students have shown signs of growth on standardized testing and in their maturity levels. The audacity of hope and message of change by Barack Obama has inspired city students everywhere that anything is possible. However, anything is much more attainable when the resources are available. What message are we sending our students when we tell them to dream big dreams but do not give them the tools needed?

The common retaliatory remark is that we are all hurting, so Baltimore must understand that everyone needs to take a hit. Well then, why is Montgomery County receiving a $27 million increase in funding? That is a 6.4% increase in funding while Baltimore will be decreased by 2.8%. Explain how one of the richest counties in Maryland receives a large increase while everyone else is raped of funding.

I come from a city that continually gets left behind, Detroit. We have had our fair share of school troubles, mayoral scandals, and economic hardships. However, we have never been known to walk around with our heads down or to leave anyone behind.  As a former mayor of Baltimore City, O'Malley should not be leaving Baltimore schools behind.

Dr. Alonso and the school board have been responsible stewards of the money given to them. So, why would you take money out of your best investment? If you disagree, step into a Baltimore City classroom. Go to a BCPSS school board meeting where students are featured at the beginning of every meeting. The future of our students cannot be sacrificed now for a temporary solution.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:56 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 24, 2009

Kim Lewis takes the plunge

In more ways than one... First, she gave up her job monitoring special education in Baltimore schools for the Maryland State Department of Education to actually run city special ed herself.

And now today, Lewis is participating in the Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge. In 30-degree weather, she'll be stripping down to a bathing suit and jumping into the Chesapeake Bay to raise money for Special Olympics. People were slipping her checks at the school board budget work session the other night. If you'd like to sponsor her yourself, you can do so through her office or directly here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 23, 2009

What's behind the city's budget pain

Martin O'Malley was not a popular guy at last night's city school board budget work session, where details were provided on at least $21 million in proposed new state cuts, maybe more depending on whose documents are in hand. Board chair Brian Morris, an ally of O'Malley when the governor was mayor, called it "outrageous" and "absurd" and "very, very hurtful" that the state would put the city schools in such a position. Dr. Alonso said that, when the two neediest districts in the state (Baltimore and Prince George's) take the bulk of the cuts, "something smells." And board member George VanHook called the state action "unacceptable" and "unconscionable." He says that unless the city schools stand up for themselves, "we will continue to get what we have always gotten."

The governor is fighting back today, reaffirming his commitment to funding education. But given that state funding of city schools has never met the official definition of adequacy, I could see the Bradford school funding case ending up back in court if these cuts stand.

O'Malley and Alonso spoke this morning, and Alonso asked him to reconsider how the funding formulas are calculated so as not to disproportionately hurt the neediest districts.

There are three major factors contributing to the city schools' budget pain:

1) O'Malley proposes changing the payment structure when severely disabled students require private school placements. Right now, the state pays 80 percent of the cost and local school districts pay 20 percent. The proposal is to change to 50-50.

2) O'Malley proposes a reduction of the phase-in of GCEI, or Thornton's geographic cost index, which gives more money to school districts with a high cost of living. He might also take back GCEI money for the current year.

3) While the governor says he's leaving the base allocation to schools the same, he's now including in that base the cost of teacher pensions, which the state continues to cover in its own budget.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:59 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

A Homeland Security teacher's take on my story

I just received this letter from a teacher at Homeland Security Academy in response to my article today:

As a teacher at Homeland Security Academy, I am writing to correct the sense of the article by Sara Neufeld in this morning’s Sun, “Alonso urges students to transfer….”  While many of the discrete facts recited in the article are true, the arrangement leaves the completely inaccurate impression that the school’s administration and faculty sat on our collective hands, allowing the situation to “…spiral further out of control…” until the saving grace of North Avenue appeared to end the madness.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Arnetta Rudisill is and was during her tenure at this school a driven, powerful woman with a firm sense of mission for this school, its students and faculty.  Despite being limited in mobility from a serious ankle injury, she was a constant and consistent force in the building.  She encouraged faculty and students both to pursue excellence and, at the same time, strove to control and to eliminate gang activity, vandalism, truancy and violence.  Many of us on the faculty worked with her to the degree of our own skills, balancing teaching planning and preparation with police work. 

Homeland Security was a repository for students from around the city who had shown their inability or unwillingness to conform to the requirements of other schools.  Students routinely walk out of class, walk out of the building and back in, disregard legitimate directions from teachers.  They do so in the sure and certain knowledge that there are no meaningful sanctions awaiting their misbehavior. 

North Avenue has directed that all suspensions of any students must be cleared and authorized through its offices.  Many of our students, otherwise inclined to work and study, see their fellows tossed from a class for grossly disrespectful or other disruptive behavior and immediately returned to the class without any meaningful sanction whatsoever.  They quickly learn the underlying lesson; there is no rule which they must obey.

Numerous factual errors persist in the article.  Homeland Security has a wide array and large number of afterschool activities, including two that actually pay students to participate.  Many of my students have told me that they would like to participate but that they fear for their safety.  That fear is not within the building but waiting for the bus on the meanest of gang-ridden streets.  The ‘crime scene tape’ reported was to deter student from using the main building entrance while the outer steps were being demolished and rebuilt.  The only crime involved was that the deterioration of the stairs had gotten as far as it did, a North Avenue issue, not within Ms Rudisill’s control.

Homeland’s administration, specifically Ms Rudisill, requested additional resources from North Avenue to assist with hallway control, gang prevention and other issues of atmosphere and tone.  Many members of the faculty, this writer included, wonder whether the situation would have deteriorated to its present level had those requests been honored in September, rather than being withheld until the crisis crested. 

The article observes that five principals have gone through this school in four years.  What more evidence of a critical problem did North Avenue need?  Why did the city’s schools administration not account for the fact that with so many troublesome apples in one basket the basket required enormous if expensive oversight? 

In the opinion of this writer, far too much blame for the faculty and building administration has issued from North Avenue and far too little support.  Are we all perfect?  Far from it; and we know it and work diligently to improve our skills.  Have we received, as a school, the support needed to correct serious problems?  No.  In whose hands was the control of that support?  Clearly, not ours.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:39 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Homeland Security's receiving schools

These are the 21 schools that are taking students who decide to transfer out of Homeland Security Academy. They all have extra space and are deemed by system officials to be stable. Interesting that some of these -- Edmondson, Carver, Dunbar -- are schools with entrance requirements. I'm told that no school will receive more than 20 students.


Coppin Academy
National Academy Foundation
Renaissance Academy
Frederick Douglass
New Era Academy
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Digital Harbor
W.E.B. DuBois
Baltimore Talent Development
Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts
The Reach School
Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship
Carver Vocational-Technical
Harbor City
Southside Academy
Academy for College and Career Exploration
Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology
Masonville Cove Community Academy
Friendship Academy of Math, Science and Technology
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:32 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 22, 2009

Big budget cuts proposed

I'll provide details tomorrow, but for now suffice it to say... it's more than a little disingenuous for the governor to claim that he's increasing education funding. The proposal that came out this week would strike a serious blow to the state's two neediest school districts: Baltimore and Prince George's County. It would cost the city schools $21 million more than the system had previously expected to cut, leading to about $85 million in reductions and making it impossible to limit the pain to the central office. Prince George's would fare even worse.

On the Baltimore school system's Web site, Dr. Alonso posted an open letter tonight outlining the impact on the city. "It's the end of Thornton as we know it," he told me earlier this evening.

UPDATE, 1/23: See our story today.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

Phasing out Homeland Security Academy

Homeland Security Academy is on the way out. Underclassmen at the troubled school are getting the option -- strongly encouraged -- to transfer for the second semester to one of 21 other high schools. And Dr. Alonso is recommending that the board of education close the school this summer.

More to come in tomorrow's paper. In the meantime, see below for the press release just issued by the school system. And here's more on my recent visit to the school.

Baltimore City Public School System press release on Homeland Security Academy: 

For Immediate Release:  Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009
City Schools to Recommend Closure of High School,
Offer Midyear Transfer Options for Students
(Baltimore) — In a step marking its firm commitment to providing all students with an opportunity for a great education, Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) intends to seek the approval of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners to close Homeland Security High School.
Citing the history of low student achievement and unacceptable learning environment at the school, City Schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso will recommend to the Board that the school be permanently closed at the end of the current school year. In accordance with required policies and procedures, this recommendation will formally start a school-closing decision process for Homeland Security, one of two schools located on the former Walbrook High School campus in Northwest Baltimore. 
As part of this process, City Schools officials are offering all Homeland Security students in grades 9, 10 and 11 the option to transfer immediately, so that they will have better opportunities at other schools available to them as soon as possible.
While it makes sense for Homeland Security’s approximately 125 seniors to stay on at the school through graduation this spring, City Schools will offer the approximately 450 9th-, 10th- and 11th-grade students who will likely need to transfer next year anyway the option to move to schools where they have a better chance at success sooner rather than later.
“To recommend the closure of a school due to poor performance, and to encourage the immediate transfer of hundreds of students midyear—these are bold actions. But this is a case where nothing short of bold action is needed,” Dr. Alonso said. “Every single one of our kids should have the chance to attend a school that works for him or her. Right now, Homeland Security is not working for too many students, and it is time to say enough is enough and do right by our kids.”
Homeland Security opened in 2005-06 as part of the conversion of Walbrook High School into smaller high schools. Today, two schools remain at the former Walbrook campus: Homeland Security and the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship.
Instability and poor performance have been hallmarks of Homeland Security since its inception. There have been four changes in school leadership in four years, and the school’s original partners have left, leaving its thematic program nonexistent. Against this backdrop, student achievement at the school has consistently lagged, with state assessment scores significantly below the City Schools average. The climate at the school has created an unsafe environment for students and staff, making the ability of students to learn and grow impossible. And given its unwieldy physical structure, the school currently is extremely difficult to secure, making it impossible to transform Homeland Security’s climate. 
“We don’t have time to waste. If we are able to give Homeland Security students other, better options now, in the middle of the school year, it is our responsibility as adults and educational leaders to do so,” Board Chair Brian Morris said. “In the meantime, the Board will carefully weigh Dr. Alonso’s recommendation to permanently close the school at year’s end.”
The school-closing process for City Schools and the Board includes the following:
 Upon completing the initial school-closing study/report, the CEO provides a copy to the Board. This report is made available to the public.
 A steering committee composed of school personnel, school parents and guardians, and central office leadership is formed.
 A formal public hearing must precede any final decision.
 The CEO’s final recommendation(s) and the Board’s ultimate decision must consider several factors, including: student enrollment trends, age/condition of school buildings, transportation, educational programs, student relocation and the impact on the school community.
 The final decision by the Board must be made at a public session and be supported by a written decision.
By necessity, this process is lengthy and involved. In the meantime, all Homeland Security seniors will be encouraged to stay on through graduation this spring—within their community and with all the necessary supports to ensure a fulfilling senior experience—and those students who are not seniors will be offered the option to transfer. City Schools is committed to doing everything possible to support and ensure a smooth transition for all Homeland Security students and their families.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, City Schools officials began meeting with Homeland Security students and their families, as well as with school staff and principals at schools likely to receive Homeland Security’s transferring students. In the days ahead, it will hold a meeting for senior students and their parents and at least two placement fairs for transferring students. Guidance and student support staff have identified sufficient slots for all Homeland Security 9th-11th graders at other high schools, and at the placement fairs, students will be given options based on their individual interests and needs.
A number of Baltimore public high schools were funded under Fair Student Funding this year for student slots that are not currently filled; this affords City Schools an immediate opportunity to transfer Homeland Security students without overburdening or stretching the resources of receiving schools. City Schools officials expect the majority of Homeland Security students to take advantage of the voluntary transfer option, and anticipate that approximately 10 to 20 students will transfer to each of some two dozen receiving schools on Feb. 2.
The Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship, Homeland Security’s neighboring school, is unaffected by the recommendation to close Homeland Security in June, though it may receive some of Homeland Security’s transferring students in the days ahead.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:47 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Baltimore City

T-shirt helps kids, commemorates history

The hottest T-shirt in town to commemorate Barack Obama's inauguration is designed by ... a seventh-grader from East Baltimore. Jazzmine Alson, who now attends Pikesville Middle School after her mother's move from the city to the county, painted an amazing portrait of Obama last summer while participating in the Bridges program at St. Paul's School.

Bridges is a summer program at the private school serving 124 rising fourth- through ninth-graders from Title 1 schools in East Baltimore. It's also starting a job placement component for older kids. During the academic year, it has after-school tutoring, mentoring and sports for about 30 fourth- and fifth-graders. Jazzmine was at Govans Elementary when she entered the program.

So, about this portrait Jazzmine painted. You can see for yourself. Incredible, right? So much so that the folks at Bridges decided to have it turned into a T-shirt. They had 400 printed off the bat and they sold like hotcakes for $12 apiece -- at the mayor's office, the Mt. Washington Whole Foods, Evergreen Cafe, Greg's Bagels, and on the streets of Washington.

Now, they're setting their sights higher. Amid the economic downturn, the sale of the shirts will help keep Bridges  afloat and send Jazzmine to college one day. The shirts cost $4.50 each to make. A dollar from each sale is going into a college scholarship fund for Jazzmine; the remaining $6.50 goes to Bridges.

Want to buy one? The shirts will be available for order here starting later today.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:29 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

January 21, 2009

Baltimore Freedom Academy goes to Washington

Here is some video provided by Chip Dizard in the city schools' communications office from Baltimore Freedom Academy's trip to the inauguration -- starting at 3:30 a.m.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 20, 2009

Bill's inauguration essay secret revealed

So, dear readers, I admit. I withheld information from you. Yes, it's true that city schools intern and InsideEd commenter Bill Ferguson does not have a copy of the winning essay he wrote for the Ticket to History contest that scored him two V.I.P. tickets to today's inauguration. (He filled it out as part of an online form.) But we knew what it was about his essay that made it stand out among 250,000 applicants:

He wrote that he planned to propose to his girlfriend at the inauguration.

Laura Vozzella just spoke with Bill, who confirms the proposal to Lea Smith went off as planned, even if he was nervous about getting the ring through the metal detectors without her noticing. After President Obama finished his inaugural address, Bill -- who estimates they were about 200 feet from the podium -- got down on one knee and told Lea he wanted to remember this moment forever. Out came the ring and down came the tears.

Bill and Lea, both 25, met when they were in Teach for America and had classrooms next door to each other at Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. In addition to interning in Dr. Alonso's office, he's now a law student at University of Maryland. She works for the Open Society Institute-Baltimore.

All our best wishes to the happy couple!

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:38 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 19, 2009

MLK Day rally for educational equality

Today, the observance of Martin Luther King's birthday and the eve of the historic inauguration of the nation's first black president, a group of political and educational heavyweights will try to bring attention to the distance yet to travel. Dr. Alonso will join a rally in Washington today organized by the Educational Equality Project, founded by New York City Chancellor Joel Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton. "We cannot ignore the achievement gap and the work that remains to fulfill Dr. King’s dream," says a press release from the group, which says it "considers fixing the nation’s schools to be the critical civil rights challenge of our time."

Among those scheduled to attend the rally: Martin Luther King III, John McCain, Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and the mayors of Newark and Philadelphia. It will be held at 12:30 at Cardozo High School in D.C.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:49 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

January 18, 2009

Another furor at Western

Peter Hermann's column last week created quite a stir at Western High School and particularly for 16-year-old Chante Bonner, who was quoted saying at a forum on the city's juvenile justice system that the school's police officer doesn't do much. The principal of Western insists that isn't true, and Chante has since said she felt bad for making the school look unsafe, which it isn't. But her father also tells Peter that she was pulled out of class and chided by the principal for her comment, which was a response to a question from the school police chief -- not a deliberate statement to a reporter. The principal denies that, too.

Peter writes another column today about the fallout.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:25 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 16, 2009

Repercussions of math error ongoing

The Post reports today that the math error leading to a $24 million underpayment to Montgomery County schools this year and overpayment to 17 others is continuing to cause problems for next year's budgets.

I obtained a copy of a Dec. 22 memo that MSDE sent to local school districts detailing projected state aid for FY2010. I'm having trouble understanding the rationale behind a chart showing how much new aid districts are tentatively slated to receive. It shows Montgomery County getting the vast majority of the statewide increase -- $69 million -- while other systems get next to nothing. The chart shows Baltimore getting only a $4 million increase, even though the system's enrollment went up by 1,000 students this year, which presumably means it should get more money. Baltimore County would only see an increase of $37,000.

Even Jerry Weast, Montgomery's superintendent, is doubtful about the figures and did not count on all the money the state says he is to receive in his proposed budget. I'm posting here a memo he wrote to his school board explaining that decision, as well as the Dec. 22 memo to school districts. (See the second-to-last page for the chart showing the projected funding increases to each district.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Bill wins a Ticket to History

Our own Bill Ferguson -- former city school teacher, University of Maryland law student, intern in Dr. Alonso's office and one of the most prolific commenters here on InsideEd -- is one of 10 winners of the Obama inaugural committee's Ticket to History contest. He was among 250,000 people who submitted essays about what the inauguration means to him. The contest was a fundraiser in part; participants were given the option of donating to cover the cost of the inauguration. The winners each get two tickets to the inauguration. Bill was planning to go anyway, but now he'll have a better seat.

I wanted to post his essay here, but sadly, he doesn't have a copy. "In full blog fashion, I just wrote it in the text box and sent it through the online form," he said in an e-mail yesterday to me and Laura Vozzella, who wrote about his award in her column today (see the second page).

For now, suffice it to say that Bill's submission talked about his experience in Teach For America from 2005 to 2007, when he taught social studies at Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. He promises he'll try to recreate what he wrote for us soon.

Congratulations, Bill!

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:31 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

Begging season begins

What was unfolding last night in Annapolis took me back to Tuesday night's city school board meeting, which at times took on the tone of a beg-a-thon. A music education group whose kids performed during CEO's comments took the opportunity to ask for money. Operators of an early literacy program, including a top system administrator, made a pitch during public comment, as a principal in the audience said the program had helped her school immeasurably yet she couldn't afford to pay for it in her budget. Dr. Alonso, who has to cut more than $50 million out of the system's budget again this year and is letting principals decide what programs they want, seemed a little annoyed.

Last night, Alonso joined about 400 parents, teachers, kids, etc. for a rally at St. Anne's Episcopal Church (the church dominating Church Circle) in Annapolis. The event was organized by BUILD and its two sister organizations in Howard and Montgomery counties. As I've said here before, BUILD really knows how to turn out a crowd. It sent seven buses from Baltimore alone. The purpose of the evening was to show state lawmakers that people will put up a fight if they try to balance the budget on the backs of kids. BUILD and its allies also want the state to commit a third of any federal economic stimulus funds it receives to repairing schools and building youth community centers. Will those pleas be heard? It's too soon to say, but one BUILD organizer announced at the event that Gov. O'Malley is saying he not only doesn't plan to cut education funding, he might add to it. That sounds good, but there are lots of ways to work the numbers. Would no cuts mean the geographic cost index of Thornton is funded? What about the inflation increases that Thornton provided for? Because school systems have increased costs each year, particularly for salaries, holding the line still means cuts.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

January 15, 2009

Five high schools make Business Week list

Business Week just announced its first ever high school rankings today. Five high schools in Maryland excelled in different categories. The state-by-state listings are interesting because they take into account, to some degree, parent opinions. River Hill High School in Howard County received the ranking of best overall high school in Maryland. Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore was named the best school with the highest number of low-income students. Liberty High School in Sykesville was given the award for the most improved school. Two awards were based on the parents' choice for best public and private schools. Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville received the highest parent ranking for a public school and Glenelg Country School in Ellicott City, for a private school. There is a caveat for the parent ratings, however. GreatSchools, an organization that rates schools and provides an online community for parents, determined parent choice by looking at how many parents had written positive reveiws of their kids' schools on the organization's Web site. In some cases, the organization points out, no parents had reviewed their school.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Choice extends to middle schools

For a while now the city school system has been pushing for all eighth-graders to select the high schools they want to attend. Now it's promoting the choice concept among younger students as well. Next Saturday, the system will hold its first annual middle school fair for fourth- and fifth-graders and their families. Information will be available on charter, transformation and other middle schools of choice. Students who don't submit an application will be assigned to their neighborhood middle schools.

The fair will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 24 at the Roland Patterson complex, 4701 Greenspring Ave.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:09 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 14, 2009

A math mess in Montgomery County

The Washington Post reports this week on a math error by the state taxation department, which overstated the wealth in Montgomery County by $16 billion. Because state aid to schools is based on local wealth, that meant that Montgomery County schools were deprived of $24 million in state money to which they were entitled this year. And 17 other school districts got more money than they were supposed to, resulting in overpayments of $31 million.

 That's a pretty big mistake any year, but particularly in this economic climate. Gov. Martin O'Malley has promised to repay Montgomery schools and not to take away from the systems that got extra money.

And then, The Post reports, MSDE got state figures on which to calculate aid for next fiscal year. This time, Montgomery appeared less wealthy than the rest of the state and would be due to receive most of the state's new funds while other districts were short-changed.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Remembering the city's lost children

City school board Chairman Brian Morris begins each board meeting with a moment of silence for those associated with the school system "who have passed from labor to reward."

Last night, he asked the public to keep in its thoughts the 11 city youth who have died since the board's last meeting Dec. 9, nine by homicide, one from medical problems and one from an unknown cause.

Board member Maxine Wood pointed out that they were too young to have labored.

Morris read the names and ages of all 11 and the schools most of them attended. W.E.B. DuBois and Francis M. Wood high schools both lost multiple students in the past month.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore County budget: let the season officially begin

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe Hairston has presented his proposed operating budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

One of the bigger items in the spending plan: long-sought pay increases for teachers (and all other school employees). Hairston calls for about $23.5 million to restructure employee salaries.  No word yet on what percent increase this would translate into for the individual, but this development should please many in the district.  The decision last year to provide no more than step increases was met with quite a bit of protest - and at last night's meeting, the teachers union again emphasized the need for salary increases.

Overall, Hairston is asking for about $74 million more than the current budget.  At a time when districts throughout the state are trying to figure out what exactly they can fund in these tight times, it will be interesting to see how this public portion of the budget cycle goes. Hairston said last night that the fiscal responsibility that BCPS exercised for the current budget has allowed the system to propose pay raises. But he also indicated that things on the revenue side remain uncertain. The state, for instance, has yet to decide what cuts in local funding might be coming.

Tonight is the public hearing - 7 p.m. at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson. Will keep you posted.

And btw: Carroll County Superintendent Charles Ecker is up next, with his own presentation tonight.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 8:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

January 13, 2009

Bad week for the mayor, good week for charter schools

Despite the lousy week she's having and despite the city's budget woes, Mayor Dixon brought good news to nine charter schools today (and, yes, this was planned before her indictment). She is committing $700,000 for building repairs at charters located in city or school system facilities. Here's a list of who's getting what:

Rosemont Elementary: $78,019 to replace all exterior doors and install a closed-circuit TV security system
KIPP Ujima Village Academy: $63,000 to replace ceiling tiles, window glass and its main entrance doors
MATHS: $65,000 for ceiling tiles, door hardware and other improvements
Independence School: $64,950 to replace lighting fixtures and ceiling tiles and upgrade plumbing 
Empowerment Academy: $101,000 to build a new playground and upgrade its electrical system to allow the installation of air conditioning  
Bluford Drew Jemison: $85,000 to renovate its kitchen and dining areas 
Montessori Public Charter: $110,000 toward a roof replacement project 
Hampstead Hill Academy: $100,000 toward a $2.8 million renovation project to create a new early learning wing
Baltimore Freedom Academy: $32,720 for improvements to the gym and auditorium and for new ornamental fencing of the outdoor courtyard

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:48 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools

HSA update for city's seniors

Tonight's city school board meeting agenda includes an update on where students who began high school in the fall of 2005 and are still enrolled in Baltimore schools stand on the HSA requirement. Among those who have made it to senior year, data on the BoardDocs Web site show, 100 more had passed all four tests by December than in October. Another 172 have now met the minimum composite score. Still, there are 620 seniors who haven't passed a single one of the exams. More concerning still are the 245 students who began high school in 2005 yet are still freshmen; 184 of them haven't passed any test.

On the projects students can do as alternatives, 79 percent of those submitted so far -- including 880 submitted in December -- passed. The pass rate was 92 percent in algebra, 72 percent in biology, 75 percent in English and 58 percent in government

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

How far should schools go to make classes interesting?

Our discussion yesterday about how to engage students and whether school is supposed to be fun made me think of this article that I read in the Style section of Sunday's New York Times. It's about the craze over the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, and it starts by describing a 10-year-old boy who generally hates to read but was so hooked on his Wimpy Kid book he wanted to bring it in to a restaurant.

The hero of the books is by no means a role model. "Some parents object to the way the books celebrate a disrespectful, mean-spirited kid," the article says. "Others deplore its cartoons as pandering to young readers, a dilution of text and language."

But if the books engage disengaged kids, is it worth it? And should kids be reading such books in school, or only in their free time?

A few years ago, I wrote a series of controversial articles about the Studio Course curriculum that Baltimore middle schools were using at the time. The curriculum, which was thrown out after my stories were published, focused heavily on cultivating kids' interest in reading, even if some materials were questionable. Perhaps the juiciest detail was that kids were allowed to read CosmoGIRL magazine in class, with features on such topics as how to make out.

Where to draw the line?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 12, 2009

A teacher on two students who give her mobility

The More Humbly Did I Teach blog points us to this very moving essay by a young Baltimore teacher with worsening multiple sclerosis about two students who help her through each day. She calls them her "special agents." They get her out of her car and into her wheelchair in the parking lot each morning, carry her heavy backpack, straighten her classroom, bring her coffee. She writes that "even if I write them the two most glowing college recommendations in the history of college recommendations, I still could not ever adequately express my appreciation to my Agents."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:17 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 11, 2009

How disengagement leads to crime

Check out Peter Hermann's column today about a forum he went to last week about the city's juvenile justice system. The headline is "Kids tell us why they've given up on school." Peter quotes a student from Western High who claims the school police officer there doesn't actually patrol. He quotes a student from New Era Academy who is bored and has stopped showing up. And he quotes a second New Era student who says a class he's taking on the Middle East isn't relevant to his life.

Sounds like a pretty depressing meeting.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:05 AM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 9, 2009

We're No. 1, but we only get a B

For the record, I figured I'd post the letter grades that Education Week gave Maryland schools in its annual Quality Counts report released this week. Though we rank No. 1 among states, our schools still only have a B average, compared with a C for the nation as a whole.

Our best showing is in the "chance for success" index, measuring such things as parent education and children's access to preschool. We get an A; the nation gets a C.

For school finance, Maryland earned a B, the nation C-plus. K12 achievement: a B for Maryland, a D-plus for the nation. Standards, accountability and assessments: B's all around.

In the "teaching profession" category, measuring accountability for quality, incentives and efforts to build and support teaching capacity, we're actually below the national average: a C-minus, compared with the country's C.

Is this a report card worthy of a valedictorian?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:02 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

Happy birthday, No Child Left Behind

George W. Bush delivered what he called the "last policy address" of his presidency at a school in Philadelphia yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of his signing No Child Left Behind into law. You can read what he said here, or I'll spare you the task: He thanks everyone under the sun, defends the premise of testing and talks about how much NCLB has improved America's schools. He says that now is not the time to retreat to the "soft bigotry of low expectations" by weakening the law.

Groups including the National Education Association promptly issued statements decrying the havoc NCLB has wreaked. "President-elect Obama views children as citizens of the world, not just standardized test scores," NEA's statement says.

Find more about NCLB's birthday on this Education Week blog.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB

January 8, 2009

Tonight: Calvert Hall marching band at the BCS Championship game

For those of you watching tonight's BCS National Championship football game between the Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners, pay extra special attention at the start and during halftime.

On the field will be Calvert Hall's competition marching band, which won the Band Championship Series National Championship in Miami yesterday with awards in five of six areas: music, marching, percussion, color guard and general effect. The band championship is hosted by BCS (the Bowl Championship Series) and another partner, and involves bands throughout the country.

Calvert Hall will join fellow bands to peform the national anthem before the game, and will also perform during halftime, after the college bands.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:25 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

Active portrait of Harford superintendent emerges

Hundreds attended a memorial service for Harford County Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas yesterday. To see photographs, go here and view images 7 and 8. Among those present was Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare, who shares the following observations:

Hundreds participated in the celebration of life for Dr. Jacqueline C. Haas Wednesday at Aberdeen High School. Floral tributes filled the gymnasium. Boys, from a club that Haas helped found, served as ushers. The North Harford choir sang a favorite aria and put a familiar Irish blessing to music. Haas' pastor encouraged the crowd to honor her memory by moving forward mindful of her strong work ethic for children and her steadfast values. Numerous speakers offered glimpses into Haas' life.

But it was the crowd that gave greatest testament to a life of service, a life well lived and a legacy that will continue.

"This outpouring of love reveals the impact she had on all our lives," said Patrick Hess, president of the county Board of Education.

Hess called Haas "the consummate teacher and the lifelong embodiment of a lifelong learner. She showed us all how to take advantage of teachable moments."

County Executive David R. Craig told of frequent meetings with the superintendent that always began with brief updates on his grandchildren and her sons. They also spoke of his love for the ocean and her fondness for the mountains. Craig was unpacking his car the night Haas was stricken with a fatal asthma attack. His wife tossed a photo she found in the trunk at him. It showed Craig and Haas, both smiling broadly and dressed in what he called "purple majesty" at a 2007 rally for the Ravens. That same photo figured among many during a video tribute to Haas.

When David J. Sigworth, student member of the board, traveled to Ocean City for the teachers convention last fall, his car broke down. He called Haas, who told him how to check the engine and then sent someone to pick him up. When the car was not fixed at the end of the convention, Haas gave the student a ride home.

"She even offered to drive me and a date to homecoming," Sigworth said, a comment that generated a laugh during the somber ceremony. "That was one offer I declined."

He praised her devotion to all Harford County's 40,000 students.

"We are the key reason she went to work for 36 years," he said.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:54 PM | | Comments (0)

Thornton's results

If ever there were a validation of the work that teachers do and the need to increase salaries, training and support for teachers, it can be found in the MGT report that was released yesterday at a news conference in Annapolis.

The report, written by a consultant hired by the Maryland General Assembly for just under $3 million, says that about half the Thornton money was spent on increasing salaries and benefits. The result of all the money was a marked increase in the scores of students in reading and math.

The report also gives details of a survey of what 16,000 teachers in the state said they think works. They believe the best practices should include cooperative planning among teachers and teacher analysis of data. Not surprisingly, the survey also says it helps to make sure teachers are qualified and have a good principal.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

January 7, 2009

At Western, much ado about... what?

I sat through more than two hours of the meeting that City Councilwoman Sharon Middleton called at Western last night for system officials to explain their plan to put a new all-girls middle school in the building for two years. About 200 people were there. At the end of two hours, I still had trouble understanding what the problem is, except that students and alumnae of an excellent school are extremely defensive about it.

According to a slide in a PowerPoint that Dr. Alonso presented at the beginning of the meeting, Western's enrollment has declined from 1,400 in 1993 to 800 today. Its capacity is 1,300. There have been extensive heating problems in the building shared with Poly -- two of the four boilers don't work at all -- but the school is not eligible for state construction money because its enrollment is too low. The plan is to increase enrollment for two years by placing the new Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women in the building: next year with a sixth-grade class, the year after with sixth and seventh. In the meantime, Western will be charged with coming up with a plan to increase its enrollment over the long term. Alonso said he's open to the idea of extending Western to the middle grades (with its admissions requirements) if the school supports it.

Opposition to the temporary placement of the new school is fierce, but the reasons given for the opposition contradicted each other. On one hand, people in the long line of speakers said they didn't want a school without admissions requirements in their building, essentially saying it would ruin the culture of Western. (The new school, which will eventually serve grades six to 12 in a permanent location, is being modeled on a school in East Harlem with a 100 percent graduation and college placement rate.) On the other hand, they were afraid the new school would provide unnecessary competition for Western and put the school out of business that way.

To me, the low point of the night happened when Alonso asked the principal of the new school, Lorna Hanley, to come to the stage to talk about her program. There was a gasp in the room -- people clearly didn't know the principal was there -- and a few of them booed. Others tried to compensate by clapping tepidly.

At the end of two hours, with the line of people to speak still extending midway through the auditorium, Middleton announced that Alonso had to leave and his many cabinet members in the audience would continue answering questions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:05 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

Maryland ranked No. 1 by Education Week

If you read the fine print in the Quality Counts state rankings posted this morning on Education Week's Web site, you'll see that Maryland ranks No. 1 overall.

The report is an annual accounting of how the states are ranked on 14 different catagories. The data are massive but worth reading to see where the state's strengths and weaknesses are.

Sterling Lloyd, a senior researcher at the Educational Project in Education, the parent company of Education Week, said the analysis shows Maryland and a couple of other states are not very different.

"Maryland fared very well compared to states across the nation and Massachusettes and New York were not far behind," he said.

State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said in an interview last night that she is "very happy." She said it reflects on the state's progress in setting pollicy. If there is one area she said needs some improvement it is in setting more rigorous standards in high schools so that more students graduate ready to go to college or into the workplace.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 6, 2009

My morning at Homeland Security Academy

I visited two journalism classes this morning at Homeland Security Academy in the Walbrook complex, the same classes that crime columnist Peter Hermann visited in the fall. After Peter's visit and the column he wrote, the principal was removed and, from all the accounts I've heard, the school continued to sink into chaos. Before the winter break, there were several top administrators from North Avenue stationed there. Several hall monitors and mentors were brought in to bring the school under control.

When I arrived today, the halls were quiet. And the students in the classes I visited were terrific: bright and intellectually curious. They peppered me with questions about both journalism and the city schools. Do I think press coverage has the power to swing an election? With the newspaper industry ailing in the Internet age, how else can I present information? How does my experience with investigative reporting compare with Woodward and Bernstein's? Who's responsible for their having to take the HSAs? How much money does Dr. Alonso make?

One of the kids asked me, if I were writing a story about their school, what negative things had I seen today that I would include? My answer: nothing. I said I'd heard the school had a lot of problems lately, but that I hadn't observed them yet on this visit. If I saw something on my way out, I added, it would be fair game.

And sure enough... As a mentor was walking me out, talking about how the school climate has improved, we bumped into police officers escorting a boy in handcuffs to their car outside. School system officials would say only that he was asked to leave the premises; he refused and was transported to DJS.

The front entrance to the school was blocked off with yellow crime scene tape. A school employee said the tape was to prevent kids from leaving; it wasn't really because of a crime. But what kind of message does that send? The students I met talked about how badly they want to stop the violence that pervades their community. Do they need the yellow tape as a reminder?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:01 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 5, 2009

Colorado district eliminates grade levels

The struggling Adams 50 school district, which serves a working-class suburb north of Denver, will eliminate grade levels and begin grouping students based on ability, according to this article in The Denver Post. The Gates Foundation has paid for some school districts in Alaska to try the same thing.

We all know the challenges teachers face when presented with a class where some students are academically prepared and some aren't. But clearly, grade levels also play a big role in the socialization process. The problems leading to a high dropout rate among the many over-age students in Baltimore aren't just academic; it's socially awkward for them to be in class with kids who are significantly younger. On the flip side, what would happen to an academically gifted child if placed alongside classmates who are much older? 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 4, 2009

Why HSA projects are easier to pass than tests

In my story today for The Sun's Closeup section, I went into a bit more detail than we have previously about these Bridge projects that students can do if they can't pass one or more HSAs. So far, it seems, many students are having an easier time submitting an acceptable project than they are passing a three-hour test. In Baltimore, officials believe that the seniors who don't graduate this year will be held back for reasons other than the HSA requirement.

Of 298 projects submitted in the city between August and November, the pass rate was 62 percent: 84 percent in algebra, 68 percent in English, 75 percent in biology and 20 percent in government. But officials say they've had extensive professional development for government teachers this fall, and they expect that the pass rate (in government and overall) went up significantly for the 880 (total) projects submitted in December.

There are many reasons it might be easier to pass a project than an exam. Besides the fact that a project doesn't have to be done in one sitting, adults are supervising the work to make sure the students are following the correct steps. If a project is deemed unacceptable, a student needs only to redo the portion of the project that was unacceptable, whereas students who fail a test must retake the whole thing.

Not being an Algebra 1, English 2, American government or biology teacher myself, I was interested to read the sample projects available on this Web site.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:24 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

January 1, 2009

Putting the best SAT score forward

Happy new year! Moving now to the national education scene... The College Board has created a stir with a recent decision to let high school students pick which of their SAT scores get sent to colleges. In other words, students who take the test multiple times can opt to have only their best score show. Critics say this is unfair to low-income students who can't afford to take the test over and over. Some have gone as far as to call it a money-making scheme for the College Board by encouraging students to keep retaking the test.

As a New York Times article this week explains, some selective colleges have already decided not to participate in the new Score Choice plan, insisting on seeing all the scores a student earned.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing
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