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March 31, 2009

Maryland will get a new data collection system

Maryland just got a $6.5 million federal grant to build a new longitudinal database. That might sound dull, but it will have major implications for the state's school kids.

First, it will give the state the ability to track the progress of individual students or groups of students over time. Anyone who has followed the state board closely knows that the only way to get exact data on how many students had yet to pass the HSAs was to call more than 200 schools one by one.

Right now, the state gets virtually all its data from its 24 school districts, which don't always use the same methods to keep it. There is no way to track students moving from one jurisdiction to another. But the new system will allow the state to do that. In turn, the data will help Maryland keep better track of the graduation and dropout rates.

The system might make it possible to link student progress over a number of years to the work of individual teachers.

In a press release put out today, Nancy Grasmick said the tracking system "will better illuminate what works in our schools." But most important, perhaps, is that Maryland needs to be working on such a data system to make the state competitive for a number of stimulus grants.

It will be finished by 2014.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:46 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

Baltimore kindergartners' school readiness improves

Children's readiness for kindergarten is on an upward trajectory across Maryland and particularly in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, according to a new state report.

Each fall, the state tests incoming kindergartners' social and academic skills and judges whether they are "fully ready" to succeed in kindergarten. The city's performance has improved enough that it now approaches the statewide average. At the start of this school year, 65 percent of children tested in Baltimore met the "fully ready" standard, up from 57 percent last year. Statewide, 73 percent of children met the standard, compared with 68 percent a year prior.

The city and Baltimore County have shown the most growth since the assessment was first administered in 2001. That year, the city's pass rate was 28 percent. The county's was 32 percent, compared with 80 percent today.

City officials say the growth is linked with the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

Meetup recap

Thanks so much to everyone who came to last night's InsideEd meetup. Over the course of the evening, we had about 10 folks in our corner at Teavolve, plus me, Arin and our editor, Patricia. We had one math teacher trying to recruit The Smallest Twine to write curriculum for city high schools. We had an English teacher, a school social worker, a community organizer/blogger and a parent. Nobody stepped up to debate Bill, so we talked about his 5-month-old puppy instead, and his fiancee told us about her first day working at North Avenue. We also talked about literacy curriculum, teacher retention, Tweeting, the mores of Facebook friending, and the ethics governing blog comments.

I really enjoyed the company and conversation and look forward to another meetup soon!

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (4)

March 30, 2009

Schools' new budget battle

Once again, Maryland schools are facing budget cuts. And once again, Baltimore would be hurt disproportionately. If proposals pending in the General Assembly are approved, the city would have to cut at least $12 million out of the budget the school board approved last week.

Late Friday night, the state Senate's budget and tax committee surprised everyone in the education world. Rather than adopting its subcommittee's recommendations for school funding as expected, it passed a modified version including deeper cuts. It would fund GCEI at 60 percent next year, rather than the 100 percent pledged by the governor, and use the remaining 40 percent (or about $50 million) to cover planned school construction costs. That alone would require the city to cut $8.8 million -- meaning more job cuts at North Avenue or cuts to schools.

Then, the Senate budget committee would limit in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 the annual inflation increases to school districts that were supposed to return next year. It was the capping of these inflation increases that led to the $50 million-plus shortfalls in the city schools for each of the past two years. Continuing the cap would lead to huge shortfalls again the next two years. It would save the state an estimated $95 million in fiscal year 2011.

I asked Gov. O'Malley about the committee's vote today at Frederick Douglass High School, where he and several other public officials were on hand for the opening of a computer lab sponsored by Verizon. He said he hadn't seen the specifics yet, but he was concerned about any change to GCEI. However, he said several lawmakers don't believe that the state should be guaranteeing inflation increases to any agencies -- school districts included -- until the economy improves. He's inclined to agree. He didn't think schools would be hurt over the next two years because of the stimulus money -- but, as I've noted before, the stimulus dollars come with strings attached, while the money an inflation increase would bring would go into the general fund.

The committee's version of the budget, which now goes to the full Senate for a vote and is likely to pass, also includes a provision from the House of Delegates' bill that would change the formula governing who pays for private school placement for special education students. The state now pays 80 percent of the cost and districts pay 20 percent. The House changed the ratio to 70-30, which would cost the city $3 million next year. The Senate committee and the House would also require 17 districts -- Baltimore not among them -- that received overpayment this year through a budget error to repay the money, contrary to a promise from the governor that they wouldn't have to.

Once the full Sentate approves its budget bill, the House and Senate versions will go to a conference committee.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

Baltimore County's plans for a virtual classroom: a peek (sort of)

My story last week on plans to create a virtual classroom at Baltimore County's Chesapeake High School described what the space would look like, based on some drawings provided to school board members. 

But now I can do one better: Thanks to a post on D'bo's Soapbox, you can get a visual on this classroom, which is modeled after a setup at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Teavolve. Tonight.

5:30-8 p.m. Be there for the first InsideEd meetup.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Jimmy Gittings: "The Essence of a Man"

Jimmy Gittings called last week to personally invite me to his retirement party. Four city schools CEOs would be there, he told me. How could I say no?

So on Friday night, off I went to Martin's West in Woodlawn. In regular work clothes, I felt underdressed in the crowd of nearly 200, many of them past and present city schools administrators. Gittings looked dapper in a black tux with a white scarf and red bow tie. (For the record, he is not retiring from his position as president of the administrators union, PSASA, though he contemplated that in recent weeks because his wife has been ill. He only left his day job in the Title 1 office.)

The four CEOs -- Walter Amprey, Bonnie Copeland, Charlene Cooper Boston and Dr. Alonso -- sat with Gittings and his immediate family at the head table. Orrester Shaw -- vice president of PSASA, principal of Pimlico Elementary/Middle and Jimmy's friend since age 11 -- served as master of ceremonies. (In college, Gittings was president of their fraternity chapter and Shaw was v.p.)

The title of the program was, as my headline indicates, "The Essence of a Man." Each of 15 speakers, the four CEOs among them, had two minutes to sum up the essence of Jimmy.

Two of them, Copeland and Fred Cusimano of the Title 1 office, wrote poems. Copeland's was sweet. She picked a word for each of the letters in the acronym PSASA to describe Gittings: Professional, Smart, Articulate, Sensitive, Anti-Socks. In honor of Gittings' trademark shoes-without-socks sartorial style, Copeland got a pedicure and did not wear socks herself Friday evening. "Jimmy, The Essence of a Man, A Poem by Fred Cusimano" had more of an edge, with lines such as, "someone's gonna get fired/ Jimmy gets 'em back/ and gets the cousin hired." Cusimano got a standing ovation.

Amprey (who was actually the city's last superintendent before the CEO title came into vogue) talked about an old friendship between his parents and Gittings' parents, who were maid of honor and best man in the Ampreys' wedding. Gittings' father was the city's first black assistant superintendent. His mother was a member of the prominent Mitchell family. Amprey recalled a time when hard-working families ran the school district to "take care of each other and take care of the children." Shaw gave the audience a pop quiz: Name the Mitchell family member who served at each level of government. (Parren: federal, congressman; Clarence III: state, senator; Michael: local, city councilman.)

There were several mentions throughout the night of the photos of Gittings and Alonso that accompanied my Alonso series in The Sun last month. Alonso said that, contrary to public opinion, he and Gittings collaborate 95 percent of the time, and the remaining 5 percent, they're just doing their jobs as superintendent and union leader. I wonder if they'll remember that in the coming weeks as Gittings challenges the central office reorganization... Alonso had someone add up the number of kids Gittings would have impacted in 37 years working for the school system. The total was two million. "I don't know why you say you're retiring," Alonso said. "I see more of you than I ever did before."

Michael Mitchell reminded Alonso that "Jimmy was raised at North and Ruxton... we didn't believe in nonviolence." But, he said, their great-uncle was part of a group that fought to liberate Alonso's native Cuba, and another distant relative was a nun who helped start Cuba's education system. So, he concluded, "we might still have some relatives over there." Perhaps they're family after all.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 27, 2009

Middle school girls visit women in prison

I meant to link earlier today to Peter Hermann's column and blog post about his visit to the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women with 32 girls from city middle schools. The visit was through a program called Prisoners United Sharing Hope.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:55 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

New York KIPP schools fight over unionizing

There's an interesting battle playing out at the KIPP schools in New York City. At Brooklyn's KIPP AMP school (AMP is short for "always mentally prepared"), teachers want to unionize and KIPP is resisting. Teachers at two other KIPP schools that are already unionized want out, and the union's leaders are angry.

Unionizing is a tricky subject for KIPP's national network of 66 schools, which require their teachers to work long hours and be available for students in their spare time. That commitment has led to high turnover in some cases, but also is a factor in the schools' success in getting poor, minority children to college.

Meanwhile, KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin have been named the winners of this year's Charles Bronfman Prize, which awards humanitarian work of people under age 50. They will use part of their $100,000 award to set up a KIPP-inspired school serving Jewish and Arab children in Israel.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools

March 26, 2009

Blogroll update

I've added The Compass (even though it's not really a blog) and -- to expand our national perspective -- Gotham Schools and This Week In Education. Gotham Schools focuses on education in New York City, which, as we all know, is significant for Baltimore. It also has education headlines from around the country.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:39 PM | | Comments (3)

Baltimore schools chef Geraci on Diane Rehm

Baltimore schools nutrition director Tony Geraci was on The Diane Rehm Show this morning as part of a panel on sustainable food and Michelle Obama's vegetable garden. He talked about the city schools' 33-acre organic farm, where schools can have their own gardens, as well as plans for "farm to fork" vocational programs and three kid-run cafes. He said more than 1,000 Maryland farmers responded to an RFP to serve locally grown produce in city schools, and the city is trying to identify plots of land for urban agriculture projects. Listen here
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:13 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

Edison's woes extend to Philadelphia

The Notebook blog about Philadelphia public schools linked to my Edison coverage in an entry that goes on to describe the company's woes there.

Early this decade, Edison made a pitch to privatize the entire Philadelphia school district. Instead, it got a contract to run 20 schools. The post notes that, in securing that contract in 2002, Edison touted its work in Baltimore "as a model of its ability to turn around struggling urban schools." Last year, schools chief Arlene Ackerman ended contracts at four Edison schools and put another dozen on one-year probation. The writer counts 62 schools nationwide that Edison is now managing, down from more than 100.

UPDATE: I got this e-mail from Edison spokesman Michael Serpe:

First off, Helen Gym is not a reporter; she is the head of a parent group she founded.  While she is provided a forum by The Notebook, and has every right to express her opinion and continued dislike for our organization, she in no way should be considered an objective journalist.

Second, the number of schools EdisonLearning partners with nationwide is not 62, and Philadelphia does not represent one-fourth of the total.  Earlier this week I provided you a full detailed listing of our work nationwide – 120 schools in 24 states, with 35 of those schools located in Hawaii.

Obviously, these totals for the current school year do not reflect the coming change in Baltimore.  However, they also do not reflect the addition of 2 new charter schools – 1 in Denver and the other in York, PA; with a number of others awaiting final approval.  These numbers also do not reflect the new online high school in South Carolina that will open this fall, or the online high school to open in Colorado in 2010, that together will offer a new educational option for 1,500 high school students.

One final point of misinformation, this organization does not provide “online consulting” as Mrs. Gym speculated.  “Online education” is the accurate description.

This email is in no way designed to counter one’s opinion of our organization, or any organization that seeks to offer a different approach to public education – be it for-profit or not-for-profit.  EdisonLearning has its critics – as does The Sun; and we have supporters – as you saw at the recent School board meetings.  All I am asking is that people get the basic facts right.

UPDATE, 3/31: Here is a reply from Notebook editor Paul Socolar:

It looks like Serpe is charging "misinformation" based on two items in Helen Gym's post and one in your post.

He goes on at length about the number of schools Edison partners with.
In Philadelphia, what we focus on is school management contracts because that's what Edison came to Philadelphia to do and still does here - run schools. Edison's website indicates that you are correct in your statement that Edison manages 62 schools, which is down from more than 100 (when they first came to Philadelphia). Those are the numbers Helen quoted in her blog. Now that what used to be ancillary services for Edison have become a major part of their business, Edison may now be more interested in citing how many schools they have contracts with, including contracts for "achievement services" and "extended education".
But it's accurate to say the Philadelphia accounts for about 1/4 of Edison's school management contracts.

I won't dispute Serpe's point that "online education" may be a better term to describe what Edison does than "online consulting." I've changed that word in Helen's post. But I hardly think that qualifies as misinformation.

Serpe is also correct that Helen Gym is not a Notebook reporter, nor does she claim to be ... a majority of our bloggers are regular online guest columnists. However, as an editor, I make every effort to ensure that our bloggers are factually accurate. Serpe or his colleagues are free to challenge the accuracy of this post and our coverage of Edison in Philadelphia on our site, and to date they have not.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:54 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

Come early to the InsideEd meetup

I was bummed to learn that we scheduled the InsideEd meetup for the same night that Paul Tough, author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, will be speaking at Hopkins.

To accommodate those of you who want to attend both the meetup and his talk, which starts at 7 p.m. Monday, I've called Teavolve and changed our reservation to 5:30 (rather than 6). I'll still stay until 8 as planned, so come by whenever you can.

Tough's talk is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required and already sold out. A small number of unclaimed tickets might be available that night. But why risk it? If you don't already have a ticket, come to the InsideEd meetup instead! We won't turn you away.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (8)

March 25, 2009

Figures on schools' HSA improvement

Here are data from the state showing how many seniors in Baltimore high schools have gotten through the HSA requirements since earlier in the year. (Note: The number of students considered to be part of the class of 2009 increased over the course of the school year, which is why the number of students who have not completed the HSAs increased in some cases. Figures do not account for the 1,759 Bridge projects just submitted, to be graded this weekend.)


Fall no. w/o HSA

Current no. w/o HSA


Academy for College and Career Exploration




Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts




Baltimore City College




Baltimore Freedom Academy




Baltimore Polytechnic Institute




Baltimore School For The Arts




Baltimore Talent Development




Carver Vocational-Technical High




Coppin Academy




Digital Harbor High School




Doris M. Johnson High




Dr. Samuel L. Banks High




Edmondson-Westside High




Forest Park High




Frederick Douglass High




Harbor City High School




Heritage High School




Homeland Security High School




Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship




Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High




National Academy Foundation




New Era Academy




Northwestern High




Patterson High




Paul Laurence Dunbar High




Reginald F. Lewis High School




Southside Academy




W.E.B. DuBois High




Western High




All schools




Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

How many seniors at your school haven't met HSA requirements?

Check out this chart for the number and percentage of seniors at most high schools in the region who had not yet met High School Assessment requirements as of earlier this month. The numbers are constantly changing; since these figures were calculated, 1,759 projects have been submitted in the city alone.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:53 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region, Testing

Does anybody care about spelling?

Interesting discussion on the Read Street blog yesterday under the headline "Is spelling ded?" In a world where we fire off e-mails, text messages, Tweets and Facebook updates, does anyone care about accurate spelling anymore?

I'd be curious to hear from teachers about how much spelling is emphasized in your schools. If you're trying to get kids interested in writing, how much spelling correction is appropriate? There was a huge debate about this a couple of years back when I wrote about the Studio Course curriculum being used in Baltimore middle schools that urged teachers to let spelling errors go.

But then, the educators need to spell accurately, too. A few weeks ago, I saw a letter to the editor from a prominent local educator (who will remain nameless in this post) that was filled with spelling mistakes when it was submitted. I'm hoping the issue was lack of interest rather than lack of knowledge. The Sun's letters editor does, after all, clean up spelling and grammar before publishing -- unlike InsideEd.  

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:21 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

March 24, 2009

State: 4,660 seniors yet to pass HSAs

Liz reports that, according to state officials, 4,660 seniors of 53,000 in the class of 2009 have yet to pass the HSAs.

In the city, though, 1,759 Bridge projects were submitted in March, and more than 75 percent of seniors have fulfilled their HSA/Bridge obligations. With one more test administration and two more project submission dates to go, Dr. Alonso says he's optimistic. As I mentioned yesterday, Northwestern had further to go than nearly every high school in the state last fall, and most of its seniors have gotten through; the principal predicts that only a handful of students who blew off opportunities for extra help will be denied diplomas.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

Board approves budget, ends Edison's role in 2 schools

Edison supporters packed tonight's school board meeting (I had to negotiate with a school police officer to even get into the room because it was over capacity), but to no avail. The board voted 8-1 to approve Dr. Alonso's budget, which included ending Edison's management of Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor elementary schools. Edison will stay on at Montebello under a new contract to be negotiated. George VanHook was the board member who voted no.

The board also followed Alonso's recommendation and gave MATHS a two-year contract extension.

Public comment was quite lively, though shorter than it could have been if not for a new board regulation permitting only one speaker on any given topic. PCAB representatives urged the board to delay its vote on the budget, saying insufficient details had been made public and they hadn't seen an analysis of the first year of Fair Student Funding. Kids from Gilmor urged the board to "please, please, please" keep the company on. The activist Grandma Edna accused the school system of setting its children up for incarceration and murder in railing about her 10-year-old granddaughter allegedly being dragged into a school bathroom by three boys. She said she is seeking federal protection for her family and fears they could be the next Dawsons. And the mother of a boy at Carver Vo-Tech took Brian Morris to task when he tried interrupting her as she demanded private science tutoring for her son, charging that the school is incapable of providing him with a decent science class. She recalled her own experience as a student at Dunbar High years ago being passed on from one math class to another despite not learning anything.

In personnel moves: Lea Smith (Bill Ferguson's fiancee) was named assistant to interim chief of staff Tisha Edwards.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:55 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Are jails built based on elementary test scores?

In my Sunday story about Edison, I quoted Dr. Alonso responding to a Furman L. Templeton teacher at a budget forum. The teacher said the system shouldn't judge her school on its test scores. "In the United States of America, we build jails on the basis of the third- and fourth-grade scores," Alonso replied.

Do we? Alonso says he got the information in a New York Review of Books article in the 1990s on the proliferation of jails and the growth in jail populations. He never had reason to doubt it.

But as it turns out, the Education Writers Association had a discussion on its listserv just last week about how educators make this statement all the time, but no one knows whether it's actually true. (I am a member of EWA but got booted off the listserv a few months ago when I let my dues lapse. Bad Sara. I've since paid up but had not re-subscribed to the listserv until yesterday -- when I found out what I missed last week.)

No one disputes that low test scores in elementary school are cause for alarm and can predict all sorts of problems down the road. But as a result of the listserv discussion, EWA public editor Linda Perlstein and other members of the organization decided to "truth-squad" the jail claim. They checked with the U.S. Department of Education's press office; the National Center for Education Statistics; the National Institute for Literacy; researchers Lesley Morrow, Russ Whitehurst and Catherine Snow; and various state officials. Pearlstein told me yesterday that nobody could offer any specific examples where a jail was built based on elementary test scores, just that lots of people have said this is the case.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 23, 2009

Another side of Northwestern High

I talked to Jason Hartling, principal of Northwestern High School. He says there were between 12 and 14 girls involved in Friday's cafeteria fight. School police maintain that it was at least 30. Hartling said the situation was contained and students were back in classes learning within 15 minutes.

In any event: As some of the teachers mentioned in comments, there is reason to celebrate over the school's success with Bridge projects. When Liz wrote about Northwestern in October, 165 seniors had not met graduation requirements either by passing the HSAs or earning a minimum combined score. Since then, Northwestern seniors have submitted 561 projects -- more than any other school in the city and more than all the schools combined in some other districts.

With about a 90 percent pass rate on the projects, more than 200 of Northwestern's 278 seniors now meet the requirements for graduation, and Hartling said another 50 are close -- with another project or two to finish up. He estimates that only a handful of seniors won't graduate because of the HSA requirements, and they're the ones who have not done what they're supposed to do. Seniors are giving testimonials to underclassmen about the importance of taking the HSAs seriously so they won't have to do the projects next year.

Getting to this point has been a ton of work, by staff and students. "We’re here on Saturday; we’re here after school," Hartling said. "I would put my staff up against any staff in the state. They just work incredibly hard."

And while we're on the subject of Northwestern: I've mentioned here before how impressed I am with its student newspaper, The Compass. And now, The Compass is online. In the current issue, students take their administration to task in an editorial for not having more Black History Month activities. Stories include a first-person account of attending President Obama's inauguration and a piece questioning whether it's right to lock student bathrooms during the day.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:18 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof), Testing

Were those MSAs really shorter?

We received a response from the Maryland State Department of Education concerning the post last week about the length of the Maryland School Assessments now underway.

Yes, those teachers who thought the tests were shorter were right. The reading MSA was slighly shorter than last year by about six to nine minutes, depending on the grade being tested. The state department's spokesman, William Reinhard, said that's because officials did not need to "field test" as many items as last year. Every year the state adds questions that won't be counted in the result to see if they work. If they do, the questions will be used on subsequent tests.

So what was the difference? For third graders, the first day of testing was about five minutes shorter and the second day was four minutes shorter.

There was no change in the length of the math sections.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

Edison jumps the gun evaluating its evaluation

Dr. Alonso's recommendation not to renew EdisonLearning's contract at Furman L. Templeton and Gilmor elementaries was based on the results of an evaluation, with the same rubrics the system uses to evaluate its charter schools.

It's just like a class: The maximum number of points a school can earn is 100, and a passing score (earning a recommendation for a contract extension) is a 60. Except: Eight possible points come from a school's ability to keep its enrollment up. That part of the evaluation was discarded for Templeton and Gilmor since they are neighborhood schools; therefore, enrollment is more a reflection of their neighborhoods than it is for most charters, which recruit students from all over the city.

So the maximum number of points Templeton and Gilmor could have earned was 92. For them, a passing score would have been 55.2 points. Gilmor scored 52.72 points (57.3 percent of 92) and Furman L. Templeton scored 53.8 points (or 58.5 percent of 92).

Got that? Edison's senior vice president and regional officer had a bit of trouble. After being presented with the evaluation on Friday, Marlaina Palmeri copied me on a string of e-mails over the weekend that she exchanged with senior school system staff. Unfortunately, they did not help her case:

"There is a major error," she wrote in the first message, contending that the eight points had not been taken into account. By her (erroneous) calculation, a passing score should be 52, in which case both schools would have made it, though just barely. "Please review and get back to me as this sheds a totally new light on our renewal," she wrote (emphasis hers). "We have been consistently reminded that 'the rubric is the rubric,' so I know you would agree we should be treated fairly since this means our very survival in these schools."

Laura Weeldreyer, Alonso's deputy chief of staff, wrote back explaining that the eight points had indeed been taken into account, and the schools still fell short. "We cannot possibly be in a position of renewing schools that score below 60%," her e-mail said. "To the public, that reads as schools that made an 'F.'"

Palmeri replied that she was "sorry for jumping the gun."
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Nepotism concerns at MATHS

The Baltimore school board will again vote tomorrow night on whether to extend or end its contract with the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences, or MATHS, the charter high school with the high suspension rate.

The CEO's recommendation the last time the board voted was a two-year contract extension for the school. Now, according to the BoardDocs Web site, he is asking the board "to approve a two-year extension for MATHS with several stipulations and timeline including ameliorating nepotism concerns, restructuring its governing board, and developing and implementing school culture plan."

Nepotism concerns? What does that mean? I'm told that school board members have concerns about personal relationships among the MATHS board members, school staff and non-profit staff working with the school.

As for the commenter yesterday wanting to know why Dr. Alonso wants to take Edison's contract away at two struggling schools but extend the contract for MATHS: I think it's worth pointing out that Edison has been running its schools for nine years; MATHS has only been in business for two.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 22, 2009

Edison's role in Baltimore schools at crossroads

Nancy Grasmick says she never intended for Edison to stay forever. When she hired the for-profit company in 2000 to run Montebello, Gilmor and Furman L. Templeton elementaries, she hoped that one day, the city school system would improve enough to take charge again.

Two years ago, she gave control of the state-takeover schools back to the city board of ed. Now, Edison's two-year contract is coming due. And as I report in my story today, its time at Gilmor and Templeton might be up. For Montebello, the days of getting more money than other city schools would be over under Dr. Alonso's recommendation to the school board, which will effectively be adopted when the board votes on the budget Tuesday night.

Grasmick says that Edison did tremendous work in improving the schools' climates after she hired the company, but that if the schools aren't performing up to standards now, she supports Alonso making a change. Last year, Gilmor and Templeton did not progress nearly as fast as the system as a whole in reading. In math, they declined. The results of the MSAs currently underway will come back too late to impact the decision about the company's role.

For the years that Edison was under state control, it effectively operated as Maryland's 25th school district, with test scores and data kept entirely separately from the rest of the city's. The year the schools went back to city control and the school board dragged its feet in signing a contract with Edison, 75 percent of the staff left amid the uncertainty. 

I visited both Templeton and Gilmor last week. It's clear that both have caring principals still new in their jobs (Templeton's Ken Cherry is in his second year; Gilmor's Ledonnis Hernandez is in her first), working hard to mobilize their young staff and parents in some of the city's toughest neighborhoods. Cherry has formed a partnership with the Maryland Food Bank. Parents' incentive for volunteering: They get canned goods to take home.

If Edison goes away, these principals -- assuming they stay -- will need a lot of support from the school system and the community. The schools have come a long way since 2000, but they're still nowhere near where they should be. Alonso says the system is prepared to help.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:35 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 20, 2009

Tragedy strikes Mervo twice

The school lost two of its ninth-graders this week: On Monday night, 16-year-old Anthony Peoples was fatally struck by a car. And then on Thursday, Khadija Hughes died after suffering a stroke.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:44 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

30 girls involved in Northwestern cafeteria fight

Spring arrives, kids get crazy: Eight girls were arrested after a fight in the cafeteria at Northwestern High this morning. Thirty girls were involved in the incident, and mace was used (by school police, and by someone else unidentified) to break it up. One girl was hospitalized for a broken nose.

Meanwhile, a boy was arrested at Booker T. Washington Middle today after an altercation with a teacher.

UPDATE, 3/23: Northwestern's principal says 12-14 girls were involved in the fight, but school police are sticking to the claim that it was 30 or more.

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

Arts coordinator to remain -- in some capacity

It was a full house at last night's school budget forum. Most of the people filling the room were protesting the elimination of the fine arts coordinator position, and many of the rest there to advocate keeping Edison's contract to run three elementary schools. I'll be writing more about Edison in the next few days.

As for the arts coordinator: Dr. Alonso said it was an oversight that the position was cut from the organizational chart, but he never intended the function to go away. He would not guarantee that a person would be in the position full-time but said someone will still be in charge of the outside partnerships, event coordination, professional development, artwork display, etc. (A few kids had some very cute testimony about how good they feel to see their artwork displayed at North Avenue, all thanks to the arts coordinator, even if he did spell one boy's brother's name wrong on the display in the hallway.) Many in the audience were dressed in orange because, as one of the commenters told us yesterday, it is arts coordinator Larry Friend's favorite color.

Even after Dr. Alonso assured the audience members that he shares the commitment to the arts and was supporting their cause, the testimony continued -- and morphed into pleas for more arts coordinators in the central office like there used to be. Alonso grew more and more visibly annoyed as the night went on, reiterating that 1) the overwhelming majority of resources need to be in schools, 2) he needs to create a model that's sustainable in uncertain economic times and 3) having a bunch of arts coordinators in the central office before did not bring about a system of great art programs. The quality varies greatly, he said, but more schools have arts programs and partnerships this year under the decentralized funding model than in the past.

No one testified about the downsizing of the other content-related offices at North Avenue, but Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, wrote a letter to the system this week questioning the merging of the math, science and technology offices.

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

March 19, 2009

Dispatches from the FIRST robotics competition

This is a guest entry from Sun metro editor Maryann James, who is at the FIRST robotics competition in Annapolis today. Her boyfriend is a volunteer with the team from Dunbar and Patterson high schools. She's also Tweeting about the competition

I'm here at the Field House in Annapolis, hanging with the Patterson/Dunbar team.

It's a low-key play day today, a time for the students to run scrimmages with their robots, get them inspected and scout out other teams to possibly align with later in the competition.

Teamwork and camaraderie are key in this competition. When I visited last year, I was struck by that -- students proudly wearing other teams' buttons, genuinely wishing each other good luck. If a team needs a spare cable or actuator, another group will gladly share.

I chatted with Rob Zienta from Owings Mills High School, whose first-year team has benefited from the help-all attitude. When a pipe burst, flooding the team's build room with four inches of water, Baltimore-area schools -- Liberty and Woodlawn high schools in particular -- came to its aid, he said, working until 1:30 on the weekends to fix its robot in time.

"Woodlawn helped get us in this mess," Zienta said, laughing. 
(Woodlawn convinced Owings Mills to start a team this year.)

I'll try to post more updates later. If you'd like to know more about a certain team, let me know!

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Advocating for an arts coordinator

Of all 179 North Avenue jobs slated to be cut this year, the one I'm hearing the most about is the district's fine arts coordinator.

The advocacy is being spearheaded by the nonprofit Arts Every Day. In an e-mail that's been widely circulated, the organization describes the job of the arts coordinator: overseeing professional development for 300 teachers, organizing citywide arts events, applying for grants, developing outside partnerships, providing overall quality control for visual and performing arts.

You know the response from Dr. Alonso: He wants to send as much money as possible to the schools and close a budget shorfall by cutting the central office. Charters and private schools don't have a central office person to coordinate arts (or math, or science, or social studies -- also positions targeted for elimination).

I hear that art teachers plan to turn out wearing orange (because it's a bright and artistic color?) at tonight's second and final public forum on the budget, to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the board room at North Ave. The board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 18, 2009

How is the testing going?

I've now heard from two teachers who say the MSAs seem shorter this year.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:13 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

Loyola education dean rethinks urban teacher prep

I met for coffee (actually, tea and orange juice) yesterday with Peter Murrell, dean of Loyola's new School of Education, set to open this fall. The College of Notre Dame will be launching its own education school at the same time, and both will have a focus on urban schooling.

Murrell has ambitious plans to work with the city schools, and he'll be meeting with Dr. Alonso next week to begin hashing out details of a partnership. He envisions creating a professional development institute for city teachers -- only he hesitates to use the term "professional development" for fear that it implies "experts" lecturing; he wants a much more collaborative approach, along the lines of Linda Eberhart's Math Works (my comparison, not his). Then, Loyola would partner with one -- and down the road more than one -- struggling elementary/middle school where the concepts explored in theory at the institute could be put into practice.

Murrell believes that teachers need to be trained not only in content but also in children's socialization and development process. In a letter to the editor of The Sun last month, he wrote that "frankly, the way we've been preparing teachers is not wholly adequate to the challenges we still face in urban teaching, learning and schooling. We must prepare a new generation of teachers who understand the dynamics of race, culture and academic identity and how they impact students' achievement success in school."

At a time when teacher training seems to be Maryland's Achilles heel in national rankings, I'd think these new education schools would be a welcome addition.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 17, 2009

Mervo tops eighth-grade choices

The Baltimore school system mailed out 5,400 acceptance letters Friday afternoon to the eighth-graders who submitted high school applications this year. The letters came about two weeks earlier than they've gone out in previous years, but about two weeks later than officials hope to notify students and their families next year.

I talked last night to Jonathan Brice, the school system's executive director of student support. He gave me some interesting information about the students' choices and assignments:

-- Of this year's eighth-graders, 96.8 percent submitted a choice application this year, up from 91.2 percent last year.

-- Seventy-nine percent got the first choice for which they are qualified. (In other words, if I put Poly as my first choice but didn't have the scores to get in, and Digital Harbor was my second choice and it doesn't have entrance criteria, Digital counts as my first choice for the purpose of this calculation.) Ten percent got their second choice. So, nearly 90 percent received either their first or second choice.

And what school was most sought after? As you can see from my headline, it's Mervo (which happens to be Brice's alma mater). Despite the school's troubles, it received more than 2,200 applications for 400 spots. Clearly, families still want the vocational training it provides.

City and Poly each received about 1,900 applications for 500 seats. Digital Harbor had 1,700 for 300. Western, which has had low enrollment in recent years, got 900 applications and filled 90 percent of its seats with girls meeting its entrance criteria. Dunbar got more than 1,100 applications and filled all of its seats.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:22 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore mentoring program makes national news

My Sister's Circle, a long-term mentoring program for Baltimore girls that I profiled last spring, was featured Friday on NBC Nightly News. Here's an extended interview that the network did with the program's founder, Heather Harvison.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 16, 2009

Podcast with Baltimore County superintendent -- and others

Came across this new podcast with Baltimore County’s Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. In an interview, Hairston discusses his tenure in the school system and the meaning of the election of President Obama.

The site, aptly called District Leader's Podcast, features a number of other interviews with education leaders from around the nation. For those school junkies out there, it might be interesting to tune in to hear superintendents present and past, sharing their thoughts on leadership and education.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County

Mark your calendars for InsideEd meetup and Jonathan Kozol

The first InsideEd meetup will be from 6 to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 30 at Teavolve, 1401 Alicianna St., on the ground floor of the Eden apartment building. Hope to see you there!

And while you've got your planners out... you might want to mark that Thursday, April 2 as well. Jonathan Kozol will be the keynote speaker at a symposium on the dropout crisis sponsored by the Center for Families, Children and the Courts at University of Baltimore's law school. The event goes all day, with panelists including Katie O'Malley, Dr. Alonso and Donald DeVore of DJS. But for those of you who will be in school or otherwise working, Kozol's talk is last on the agenda, starting at 5:30 p.m., and you're welcome to go just for that. It's free and open to the public, but pre-registration is recommended.

I've heard that Kozol is researching the Baltimore schools to make his address relevant locally. I'll get to interview him for a little while beforehand, if anyone has any questions you want to recommend that I ask. I've long admired Kozol's work; Savage Inequalities was the first book I read after being assigned to the education beat nine years ago.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:32 AM | | Comments (2)

Alonso, Gittings bet over bourbon

I would've liked to be a fly on the wall at Friday's meeting between Dr. Alonso and Jimmy Gittings, head of the city schools' administrators union. Their public exchanges are always so engaging. They met Friday about Gittings' concerns over Alonso's proposed organizational chart for next year. In particular, Gittings says the federal stimulus money was supposed to prevent the job cuts that Alonso is proposing. And he is furious that the administrators in the new support networks would not be affiliated with a union. He contends that everyone in the system except Alonso, HR director JoAnne Koehler and a handful of others should be in a union. Alonso disagrees. So they bet: over a fifth of the premium bourbon Woodford Reserve. Not sure how it will be determined who wins, but Gittings says he's willing to go to the state's highest court if necessary (not really for the booze, of course, for the principle).

He also says they'll be meeting again on Thursday, this time with lawyers.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 13, 2009

What's going on at Mervo?

Powerful entry on The Challenge to Care in Charm City blog from a teacher at Mervo who says the student behavior is out of control and half the staff has been placed on performance improvement plans.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:08 PM | | Comments (32)
Categories: Baltimore City

Could North Avenue get too small?

At last night's budget hearing, Dr. Alonso said he's proud to likely be the first city schools superintendent accused of shrinking the bureaucracy too much. The most protest seems to be coming over the downsizing and merging of the content-related offices: science, social studies, math. Science, technology and math would be consolidated into a new STEM office, and social studies would fall under humanities. These are not big offices to begin with, and under the proposal, they'll only have a few staff members each. Alonso points out that charter schools don't work with content specialists at a central office, and the instructional leaders on the new support networks can help principals work through specific issues.

Bebe Verdery of the ACLU testified at the hearing about how helpful the staff from the math, science and social studies offices have been in training teachers to get kids to pass Bridge projects. Without that help available, she questioned whether as many seniors would be on track to graduate and whether students would be put at a disadvantage next year. When Alonso made his comment about being proud to be told "how I shouldn't be cutting the bureaucracy, how I should be restoring North Avenue," Verdery responded: "I don't see these people as bureaucrats. I see them as educators who are doing a good job."

Once again, you can get your budget documents -- including the proposed organizational chart -- here.

There will be a second budget hearing same time, same place next week (6 p.m. Thursday at North Avenue). The hearings on school closure and mergers will be at 6 p.m. April 16 at Poly and at 9 a.m. April 18 at the Lake Clifton complex.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:28 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Baltimore City

InsideEd meetup?

After a heated conversation with Wise Educator the other day, Bill suggested -- and I endorsed -- the idea of an InsideEd meetup. If folks are interested in getting together over food or drinks for an in-person conversation of some of the issues we discuss here, I'd love to coordinate it for us. I know some of you will be concerned about confidentiality. You'd be welcome to identify yourself in person by your blog alias, or your real name, or not at all. Everything would be off the record.

Sound good? Give me your thoughts on a convenient time and place.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 12, 2009

D.C. would change teachers' evaluations

The Washington Post reports today that the District of Columbia schools chancellor wants to evaluate teachers on how well their individual students and their school as whole performs. The new evaluation system under consideration would include much more intensive classroom visits that might be conducted by professionals who don't work in the school. In most districts, principals and assistant principals are usually responsible for teacher evaluations.

In addition, Michelle Rhee said student test scores would be one part of the evaluation, but she said she believes the school district should focus on how much progress students make over time.

Rhee has been in negotiations with the union on a number of issues, but the evaluation system does not come under the contract, the Post reported.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Mum's the word on Edgewood Elementary incident

Baltimore school officials are not answering questions about an incident at Edgewood Elementary last week where a child was allegedly tied to a chair. Brent Jones, my colleague and former partner on the city schools beat, asked school police chief Toby Goodwin about it last night at a City Council education committee meeting. Goodwin would confirm only that school police had turned over a child abuse case to the Department of Juvenile Services and the city police department.

Goodwin and the system's executive director of student support, Jonathan Brice, updated council members on the new school safety hotline, 410-396-SAFE. Between November, when the hotline started, and February, school police fielded 303 calls, with about 56 percent related to bullying/harassment, Brent reports. Very few calls involved the issue we all know is a huge problem: gangs. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she'd like to see anonymous text messaging (oh, no! text messaging!) added as another way for students to communicate possible problems in their schools. A similar system is in place in Broward County, Fla.

Students made between 60 and 70 percent of the hotline calls. A breakdown of the categories:

Bullying/harassment: 56 percent
Physical violence: 20 percent
Gangs: 7 percent
Drugs: 6 percent
Property: 4 percent
Weapons: 3 percent
Homelessness: 1 percent
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:45 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Get your Baltimore school budget documents here

The school system has posted several budget documents on its Web site.

In response to the confusion yesterday about the savings from each of the 179 jobs: The system has a $55 million shortfall, $40 million of which would be closed by cutting the central office. It's not just job cuts; there are operational trims as well.

A few of the cost-saving measures that stuck out as interesting to me: 1) The system would discontinue the use of the TerraNova for eighth-grade admissions to citywide high schools, using seventh-grade MSA scores instead. 2) Because the system did not need to hire nearly as many teachers as expected this year and ended up with a number of people in co-teaching positions, it would cut its contract with Baltimore City Teaching Residency and recruit fewer foreign teachers (except in special ed).

I'm still plowing through the reorganization chart, but as you'll see in my story today, Dr. Alonso is proposing a new structure to support principals. Each school would belong to a "network" with four administrators: two providing instructional support, one specializing in special education, and one to help with budget and facilities. There would also be a new accountability office.

If you didn't already see our map of the proposed school moves yesterday, make sure to check it out.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:14 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 11, 2009

Tracking school data becomes a pet project

There's a lot for Gov. Martin O'Malley to love about the latest proposal by the Obama administration to require a longitidunal tracking system in order for states to apply for stimulus funds.

The governor's always liked data collection. First there was CitiStat, a computerized tracking system he started when mayor of Baltmore that was designed to make government more efficient. Then came SchoolStat for the Baltimore city schools and then StateStat.

Not surprisingly, state school board president James H. DeGraffenreidt, Jr., stressed several times at the board meeting today how important it was that Nancy Grasmick keep the governor informed of all progress involved wiith getting the state database started. With a smile on his face, DeGraffenreidt described how O'Malley asks him about it right after he says, "Hi, how are you?" and suggested that perhaps he and Grasmick wouldn't get so many calls from the governor if they kept him regularly updated.

So let's see, what could the governor name this new teacher and student database? Any ideas?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

MATHS must wait for decision on charter extension

With one member absent, the eight city school board members at last night's meeting were evenly divided over whether to give the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences a two-year contract extension or shut the school down. Four were in favor of the extension, two were opposed, and there was one abstention and one recusal. So, the motion for the extension did not carry. Dr. Alonso said he'll bring the matter back before the board in another two weeks, when hopefully all nine members will be present and the vote will go one way or the other.

Alonso is recommending the extension for the city's first charter high school despite its alarmingly high suspension rate. He says it's a school that parents want to send their kids to, so he's willing to work with it to fix its problems. Some board members disagree, since charters are supposed to be shut down if they don't produce good results.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:24 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 10, 2009

Alonso proposes massive school reorganization

I think I'll have about a month's worth of blog entries and stories out of tonight's city school board meeting. The proposed budget for next academic year, including 179 central office jobs slated for elimination, would ordinarily be big news on its own. But it pales in comparison with the facilities plan presented tonight, which involves the closure, relocation, opening, merger or expansion of about three dozen schools. Bottom line: Failing schools and schools that students are not choosing to attend close. Successful and popular schools expand, in some cases merging with and taking over failing schools. Lemmel Middle, Thurgood Marshall High, Samuel Banks High and Harriet Tubman Elementary would be gone. Paquin, which at this point has become an institution for its 40 years serving pregnant girls and teen mothers but only uses a fraction of its building capacity, would merge with the Baltimore Rising Star Academy.  The National Academy Foundation high school would move and take over struggling Dunbar Middle, paving the way for both it and Digital Harbor High to expand.

Read on for specifics. Check out this map we've done online. And see my story in tomorrow's paper.

Proposed facilities reorganization 

The thriving William Pinderhughes Elementary would move out of its existing building and move into the building now occupied by struggling George Kelson Elementary/Middle. Pinderhughes would absorb Kelson’s student body, expanding from 176 students to 481.
Harriet Tubman Elementary, a low-performing and under-enrolled school, would close. Students would be sent to Harlem Park Elementary/Middle, Bentalou Elementary and Lockerman Bundy Elementary.
Middle and high:
William H. Lemmel Middle would close, but its building would remain open for other schools. ConneXions Community Leadership Academy, a charter middle/high school whose middle school portion is now located in Lemmel’s building, would move its high school program there as well. The Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship (IBE) would move from the Walbrook building to the Lemmel building. A new alternative school run by Diploma Plus would also open. The alternative school currently in the Lemmel building would move to an unused portable at 5000 Gwynn Oak Ave.
Homeland Security Academy in the Walbrook building would close. With the relocation of IBE to Lemmel, the Walbrook complex would be empty for a year. In the summer of 2010, a new middle/high school by Bluford Drew Jemison as well as the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women would move in. For the 2009-2010 academic year, the new Bluford school would be located alongside Diggs-Johnson Middle. The Baltimore Leadership School would be located in Western High.
The National Academy Foundation High, currently located alongside Digital Harbor High, would move into the Dunbar Middle and former Thomas G. Hayes Elementary buildings. (Hayes already had closed, and Dunbar High has been located there temporarily during a renovation of its building.) NAF would become a combined middle/high school, absorbing the population from Dunbar Middle.
Digital Harbor High School would expand using the space vacated by NAF.
The Baltimore Rising Star Academy, an alternative school for over-age middle school students now located at Chinquapin Middle, would move to the building now occupied by Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High, a school for pregnant girls and teen moms. Paquin is under-enrolled while Rising Star needs more space.
Thurgood Marshall and Samuel Banks high schools, located in the same building, would both close. Maritime Industries Academy would move out of its space in a strip mall and into the Marshall/Banks building, tripling in size. In the summer of 2010, a second school – possibly one of the new middle/high schools to be run by the College Board – would also open in this location.
The Reach middle/high school would move from the Southeast Middle building to the Lake Clifton campus, sharing space with the schools already there. The new One Bright Ray alternative school would open in the old Reach space at Southeast.
A new middle/high school run by Northwood Appold Community Foundation would open in the system’s Professional Development Center alongside the Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology.
New Era Academy would expand in its existing location to include a middle school.
A second new alternative school run by Diploma Plus would open in the Fairmount-Harford building, alongside the Achievement Academy at Harbor City High.
A new school run by East Baltimore Development Inc. would open on the grounds of the former Elmer Henderson Elementary.
A second City Neighbors school would open in the Hamilton Middle building.
The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) would open an elementary charter in the former Malcolm X Elementary building.
Southwest Baltimore Charter would relocate from its space in James McHenry Elementary to a building not owned by the school system.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:05 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore City

Obama supports longer day, merit pay for teachers

In a speech this morning, President Barack Obama said he supported extra pay for "excellence in the classroom,"  an idea that has been opposed by some teachers' unions.

Obama said he also suggested that teachers who aren't performing well in the classroom shouldn't be there, according to an Associated Press story.

The remarks, made to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, were part of his first major talk on education and are expected to start a round of criticism from some unions.

The AP also reported that the president said school districts shouldn't put a cap on the number of charter schools that can open in their districts and needed to think about a longer school day and school year.

Some school systems in Maryland have offered merit pay to teachers who chose to teach in low performing schools, but I am not aware of any school system that has seriously considered a longer school day or school year.

While charters are common in Baltimore, applications to open charters in Harford and Frederick counties have been blocked by the school boards there.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:12 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation

Changes at Dundalk High School

Tonight, the Baltimore County school board is supposed to consider a plan to give Dundalk High School something of a makeover - or what is officially called an "alternative governance plan."

As I mention in today's story, Dundalk has already had a new principal since July - and school officials are now in the process of interviewing and selecting teachers to replace the 20 to 25 percent who are leaving. Several other changes already have been made during this school year, including the use of a 90-minute daily reading instruction program to improve student performance in that area; HSA tutoring after school, Saturdays and in the summer; and professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs.

But there are a number of other steps proposed in the plan, which officials were required to develop because Dundalk has not made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for its graduation rate, special education students and English language learners over the past five years (at different times).

Those steps include:

*Changing the department chairs in core subjects to 12-month employees, to enhance their effectiveness

*Collaborating more with fellow English-language-learner programs.  Dundalk is an ELL cluster school.

*Increasing the number of advanced placement courses offered. The plan includes a goal of raising the number of students enrolled in honors, gifted-and-talented and AP classes by 10 percent each year.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

MTA bus pass extension to begin April 1

The Algebra Project has announced that the three-month trial period where city student bus tickets will be extended from 6:30 to 8 p.m., without a stamped exemption, will begin April 1, a month earlier than scheduled. The advocacy and tutoring group fought for the extension to give students greater opportunities to participate in extracurricular activites.

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

March 9, 2009

Stimulus cash will provide help to Maryland schools

Get ready for another wave of educational change in Maryland. Just as No Child Left Behind changed the landscape in the state's schools, the stimulus money has the potential to revamp education here. The emphasis will be to make standards in the region, and perhaps the nation, more uniform and to improve teaching. This time though, the feds are dangling a carrot (in the form of money), and it will be the state governments that make more of the decisions about what the standards look like. See my story for more details of how this could play out.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Remembering Mary Ann Winterling

To learn more about the Bentalou Elementary School principal who died of cancer last week at age 65, see the obituary in today's Sun. There's talk of renaming Bentalou, where Winterling had worked since 1974 and been principal since 1980, in her honor.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore students on texting in class

A few weeks ago (I meant to write this post sooner), I was delighted to find in my snail mailbox -- amid the stack of education publications and PR pitches -- a package from the student journalists at Northwestern High School. They sent me copies of all the editions they've published so far this academic year of The Compass, their school newspaper. For a group of students new to journalism, they're doing a great job exploring issues important to their school.

One of the articles that caught my eye, published a couple of months back, involved a topic that I'll bet is a pet peeve for some of you here: the prevalence of students text messaging on their cell phones while in class. The article says that students are drawn to texting "because the classroom can be a very boring place," and unlike having a spoken conversation with a friend in class, texting doesn't interrupt the teacher's lesson. Teachers, clearly, begged to differ.

The article quotes students giving tips on how to text in class and get away with it: "putting your phone under your desk, or in your bag, and you can even put a book to block the teacher's path from seeing it." One student is quoted saying that texting should be allowed "as long as you're still doing your work."

Unless, of course, you're sharing the answers.

The Smallest Twine wrote last week on her blog about incorporating texting into a math assignment, rather than trying to fight the kids on having phones in class. UPDATE: Here's a new post about the results of her experiment.

UPDATE: In-class texting has sparked a bill to ban cell phones in schools in Iowa.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:46 AM | | Comments (39)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 7, 2009

Musings on the special ed report

In the wake of the Michael Steele flap, the special master's encouraging report on special ed progress in the city was more good timing for Dr. Alonso. He vowed to be out from under the quarter-century-old lawsuit by 2011.

Yesterday's press conference at Maryland Public Television -- Alonso and Dr. Grasmick were there anyway for a state superintendents meeting -- was a lovefest between city and state officials who, as Steele reminded us this week, couldn't stand each other just a few years back.

For anyone with a lot of extra time this weekend, I'm posting the special master's report. For everyone else, here are some things that stuck out to me that didn't get into my story today -- including more details of the problems with special ed in the city's secondary schools, which are not recommended for court relief:

-- The report says there is “serious engagement in work focused on meeting the objectives of the (court case) and marked progress in a range of areas.”
-- As the system continues decentralizing, “the big question is whether local schools will be able to step up to the challenge” of meeting the court’s requirements on a sustained basis.
-- It's clear that the central office is now “capable of driving improved compliance in any specific area for particular audits or time frames through focused, intense work. Yet as Dr. Alonso has recognized, at bottom line, local schools must be capable of implementing appropriate delivery of special education and managing legal compliance.”
-- The system's improvement in MSA scores last year was better than the state average, but it's easier to improve from a lower starting point.
-- Some charter and contract schools “effectively refuse to modify their programs to accommodate special education students in anything but a straght general education program.”
-- To get into compliance with the measures monitoring graduation and school completion, the system must increase the graduation rate for students with disabilities from 32 percent to 42 percent. It must increase the school completion rate from 50 percent to 57 percent. Attendance, choices, access to curriculum, outcomes are “clearly improved... Yet, the annual exit data also depicts the grim reality that significantly more BCPSS students with disabilities dropped out last year, as in preceding year, than the number and percentage who graduated with a diploma.”
-- Forty-two percent of high school students were absent more than 20 days last school year.
-- Concerns remain in secondary schools about unofficial short-term removals that aren’t recorded as suspensions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:56 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City, SpecialEd

March 6, 2009

Jemicy School's acquisition of Ruxton Country School

In a story in today's paper on Jemicy's plans to acquire Ruxton Country School in Owings Mills, I mentioned that, after the 2009-2010 academic year, Ruxton Country students would be helped with placement at another school - or accepted at Jemicy.

Jemicy's Head of School, Ben Shifrin, told me this morning that Ruxton students would have priority, provided they meet the admissions criteria.

"I think that’s only an ethical and fair thing to do," Shifrin said.

Until that time, the two schools will remain separate entities.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:53 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

A promising development in Baltimore's special ed suit

Amy Totenberg, the special master overseeing the 25-year-old Vaughn G. case, has issued a report recommending less oversight in most elementary schools over discipline and least restrictive environment. See my online story here. The report makes clear that the system still has a long way to go, especially in secondary schools, but is very complimentary of reforms under Dr. Alonso.

I'm headed now to a press conference on this called by the school system and the state education department, co-defendants in the federal class-action case. More to come...

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Teach For America sees record number of applications

The lousy economy isn't just good for public school enrollment. It -- along, perhaps, with President Obama's call for public service -- is also drawing a record number of college graduates to apply to teach in tough urban schools. Teach For America reports that it received more than 35,000 applications this year, surpassing last year's record of 25,000, of which 3,600 were selected. At least 10 percent of the senior class at 33 colleges and universities applied to join TFA, as did more than 11 percent of all seniors at Ivy League schools.

In Baltimore, applications came from more than 4 percent of seniors at Hopkins and 6 percent at Loyola.

The organization also says it's seeing more African-American applicants, including a quarter of the graduating seniors at Spelman College.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:09 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

March 5, 2009

Online schooling in Maryland, part deux

Got an interesting call related to the online learning advocacy group I wrote about earlier this week.

Maryland Senator James C. Rosapepe filed a bill today titled "Funding Formula to Expand K-12 Online Education," which he says aims to build on the state’s already existing Maryland Virtual School. MVS provides online classes at the high school level.

"Basically, Maryland is way behind" when it comes to promoting online courses in public schools – especially when compared to states like Florida and other countries, Rosapepe said in a phone interview.

Part of the reason for that, Rosepepe said, is that the funding structure hasn’t kept up with the kids. So he’s drafted a bill to start catching up, and provide the money for virtual schooling to grow swiftly as the demand increases. For the students taking online classes, he proposes, 90 percent of the per-pupil spending that would normally go to the traditional schools would be directed to the virtual one. In other words, he said, the money would follow the student.

The proposal also calls for some money for an initial expansion of course offerings, ideally coming from the federal education stimulus funds, he said.

Besides providing access to more courses – including the ones that usually don’t get enough students enrolled for a traditional classroom – the virtual school also has the potential to save taxpayers money in the long run, Rosapepe said, citing the hundreds of millions state and local government pay annually for school construction.

When I get an official number for the proposed legislation, I’ll post a link.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:03 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

Bentalou Elementary principal dies

Mary Ann Winterling, the longtime principal of Baltimore's Bentalou Elementary School, died yesterday. I'm told she'd been sick for some time, though she continued in her job. She worked for the city school system 44 years, 35 of them at Bentalou and 29 as the school's principal. Under her leadership, Bentalou was named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School in 2003.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:40 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

For O'Malley and Alonso, Steele's remarks common ground

Things just have a way of working out sometimes. Like the rift between the governor and Dr. Alonso over O'Malley's proposal to change education funding formulas in a way that would have hurt Baltimore. Since the stimulus has saved the day and the formula proposals are history, the rift was already mending. And now Alonso and O'Malley have common ground: their outrage over Michael Steele's comments about Douglass High on CNN. During Alonso's comments at last night's town hall meeting, he said it's important to remember who your friends are. In other words, O'Malley = friend; Steele = not a friend. O'Malley quoted Frederick Douglass himself: "We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other if we are to succeed."

It also just so happened to work out that O'Malley, a longtime political opponent of Steele, had already planned to host the town hall meeting at Douglass before the RNC chair made his dig. And, the governor had already recruited Verizon as a partner for the school. The company has furnished a new computer lab and is helping to train teachers to use the technology. Steele had promised the school new computers back when he visited in 2006 but did not deliver.

It's worth noting here, as I did in my story today, that Douglass had a double-digit percentage point increase in its graduation rate last year, one of the biggest gains in the city.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:24 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

Can school districts pay teachers $135,000?

That is the question that Washington's schools chief will have to answer if she is going to forge ahead with the plan to use $100 million in private funds to increase pay to teachers over the next five years. Michelle Rhee said on the radio the other day that she has a consultant's report that shows this salary level is sustainable, according to a story in the Washington Post. But she won't make the report public yet.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 4, 2009

Alonso demands Steele apology

Both the CEO and the governor had harsh words for the RNC chair tonight over his comments on CNN about Frederick Douglass High. And Douglass Principal Clark Montgomery said Steele can "eat it" as he gave Gov. O'Malley gear from the school at tonight's town hall meeting.

More to come in the newspaper in the morning (and on tonight)...

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

City Neighbors students take over a courtroom


Trinisa Brown, a City Neighbors Charter School parent, who played the judge, examines the judge's gavel with students Taylor Bishop, left, and Ryan Becker.
(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun photographer)

This is a guest entry from my editor, Patricia Fanning: 

Eighth-graders at Baltimore's City Neighbors Charter School had to ditch their plans to study the Sixties on a field trip downtown when Monday was declared a snow day. But things turned out for the best the next day when the seventh- and eighth-grade classes of teacher Peter French got to see each other in action and compare results.

More than two dozen students in both grades re-enacted the trial of Lt. William Calley, who was accused of murdering civilians at My Lai in Vietnam. The back-to-back trials were decided very differently by a jury of mostly parents. The eighth-graders got a hung jury. For a view of their re-enactment, take a look at photographer Amy Davis’s photo gallery. The seventh-graders got a unanimous conviction. Why the contrast?

In a critique after the cases were heard, the jurors leveled with the students. "The eighth-grade brought a lot to the table," said one, revealing that the panel had gone 9-1 to acquit. In that case, the soldier’s orders were made clear and the evidence laid out that he was essentially following them. In the seventh-graders’ version, Calley "didn’t really know what his orders were," a juror told them. (In real life, he was found guilty and held under house arrest until 1974.)

City Neighbors students responded with an assessment of their own, saying the exercise made them think. Another said "It was fun." And the parent who presided, Trinisa Brown, rarely had to demand, "Order in the court." Sitting in the chair normally occupied by Baltimore Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon, Brown was firm from the bench. She even told her daughter, Tacara Brown, one of the seventh grade prosecutors, to stop badgering a witness.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Michael Steele takes a cheap shot at Frederick Douglass High


Michael Steele, the RNC chairman and Maryland's former lieutenant governor, took a shot at Frederick Douglass High this week during an interview with CNN's D.L. Hughley. According to the transcript, he said that "you don't get anywhere without an education. I can take you right now to Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore City, where the educational system that's supposedly training and teaching the future generation of black folks ain't doing that. It's not doing it at all. So the question then becomes -- and Republicans aren't running the City of Baltimore. So the question then becomes, how do we as a community become self-empowered to make the system, whether it's run by Democrats or Republicans, work for us?"

Recall that in February 2006, Steele visited Douglass and pledged to personally work to turn the school around. When students asked if he'd make the commitment in writing, he looked them in the eye and told them, as I reported at the time, that "I'm asking you to check me on it. My word is my bond." But he did not follow through.

Here's a transcript of Steele's CNN interview. (If you do a search for the school's name to get to the relevant part, it's misspelled "Douglas.") And above you'll find it on video; comments on Douglass begin five minutes and 35 seconds in.

I wonder if this will come up at Gov. O'Malley's town hall meeting at Douglass tonight.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:05 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

Pushing for online instruction in Baltimore County and beyond

A handful of Baltimore County parents are in the process of incorporating a group to advocate for access to alternative education - particularly online instruction - for all Maryland students.

The idea for Emerging Minds of Maryland was born sometime last fall, said Kia Drake-Cummings, the organization's president and a mother of seven.  Drake-Cummings and several others regularly spoke at county school board meetings for months, asking board members to reconsider funding the Baltimore County Virtual Instruction Program - a one-year pilot done in conjunction with the Baltimore-based, online Connections Academy

When it became evident that they were getting nowhere, Drake-Cummings said she began thinking about forming a cooperative program, as home-schooling parents do to help socialize their children, or to exchange services and academic skills.  But then she realized this was "more than just a co-op," she said.  "We need to be working toward some other things."

She and a few others decided they needed strength in numbers - and a more official platform - to fight for their cause.

One of the key goals of Emerging Minds is to get access to online instruction for public school students - an appealing element of the county pilot.

Living up to their online emphasis, the founders have launched pages on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Parents

Stimulus a victory, but not for school construction

At last night's Baltimore Education Coalition event (culminating in a riveting sermon by BUILD co-chair Bishop Douglas Miles... wish I could post an audio recording on the blog), organizers vowed to keep working together to keep fighting for the city's schools. Among the reasons that's a good thing: While the stimulus money will help on the operations side for the next two years, the capital budget is still sorely lacking.

Last night's event at Fort Worthington Elementary was focused on the victory of fending off changes to funding formulas that would have disproportionately hurt Baltimore and Prince George's County. But let's not forget: Stimulus money that Gov. O'Malley could have given as direct grants for school construction is instead going to community colleges -- another worthy cause, I know. The stimulus gives school districts the ability to get zero-interest bonding authority, but they'd still need to pay that money back. And as we all know, Baltimore's school buildings need a ton of work.

The Baltimore Education Coalition, which brings more than 30 advocacy groups together, has clearly caught politicians' attention. John Sarbanes was there in the Fort Worthington auditorium, and Barbara Mikulski sent a representative.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:06 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 3, 2009

Maryland honors schools for achievement on tests

The state has put out its yearly list of schools being honored for achievement on the Maryland  School Assessment and the High School Assessment. This year, 38.6 percent of high schools and 41.7 percent of elementary and middle schools are on the list.

To get on the list, schools either have to have a high level of achievement or have improved the achievement of students in one of several special populations such as English language learners and poor, minority and special education students.

There are 536 schools across the state in all that are being recognized, but only Title I schools servng a high percentage of poor children will get a small amount of money.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Private schools feel the pinch

It seems like The New York Times has had a lot of features lately about rich people who can't live quite as extravagantly as a result of the economic downturn. On Sunday, the lead article in the Style section was about parents who will have to resort to public schools because they can no longer afford private school tuition.

Not surprisingly, Baltimore's private schools are feeling the pinch as well. I've heard the most about the plight of the city's Catholic schools. Mount St. Joseph High sent an e-mail to alumni today saying that the president and principal will both take an 8.5 percent pay cut and the rest of the staff will see wages frozen this year, as the endowment is down 24 percent. This despite the fact that alum Mark Teixeira has a $180 million contract from the Yankees...

The city's Catholic schools have formed a blue ribbon task force to develop a strategic plan. The committee includes leaders from public education, among them Nancy Grasmick, Joe Hairson and Andrés Alonso. I find Dr. Alonso's placement a bit ironic, since he likes to joke that he wants to put all the private schools in Baltimore out of business. (Seriously, he says, he's trying to develop partnerships.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

A shrewd move by the Baltimore Education Coalition

Tonight was supposed to be the Baltimore Education Coalition's big rally in Annapolis to protest potential cuts to city school funding. Since the stimulus saved the day, there's no need. So instead, the coalition is holding a celebration at 6:30 tonight at Fort Worthington Elementary. But celebrating is only part of the point. By bringing hundreds of people together, the 30-plus groups that make up the coaltion are still demonstrating their organizing ability, the likes of which Baltimore schools haven't seen before. And if Gov. O'Malley, or anyone else, should pose a threat to the city schools again (in two years, for instance, when the stimulus money dries up), they'll be ready to fight back.

O'Malley isn't expected to be in attendance tonight, but he will be at Frederick Douglass High tomorrow night for a public "town hall meeting" on education and the economy, also starting at 6:30 p.m.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 2, 2009

Welcome us to the 21st century

Trying to increase our visibility in the blogosphere, Arin has created a Facebook fan page for InsideEd. Check it out and please sign up as a fan so we don't look sad and pathetic. And I am going to take a stab at Twitter to complement my coverage here. Sign up to follow me.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:34 PM | | Comments (0)

Read Across America highlights newspapers

Now here's an idea that we here at InsidEd can get behind.

Senator Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, sponsored legislation that the Senate approved that designated today as Read Across America Day. That isn't particularly news. We've been celebrating reading on a special day since 1998. You may recognize it as Dr. Seuss day.

But what is different this year is that Reed is encouraging adults to read newspapers to their children.

Yes. We say Hoorah! Newspapers need a little help these days.

Here's what Reed's press release said:

"Read Across America Day is a national celebration of reading.  This year I encourage people to celebrate by picking up a newspaper and sharing it with a young person,” said Senator Reed.  “Newspapers are vital to our communities.  They are also a great tool for teaching kids to read and encouraging them to learn about the world around them.  Getting young people to incorporate reading the newspaper into their daily routine can help them open up a world of opportunities.”

Started in 1998, and sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA), Read Across America Day has become the nation’s largest reading celebration with more than 45 million readers nationwide participating at schools, libraries, hospitals, and community centers.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:22 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

Baltimore schools report high Bridge project pass rate

Of the 1,333 Bridge projects submitted by city seniors in February as alternatives to the HSAs, the school system reports that 1,180 -- or 89 percent -- were accepted as passing. A total of 3,014 projects have been submitted for grading this school year, with a pass rate of 81 percent. Here's a breakdown by subject and subgroup:

Government: 362 accepted, 172 rejected, 68 percent pass rate
Biology: 483 accepted, 75 rejected, 87 percent pass rate
Algebra: 1,032 accepted, 74 rejected, 93 percent pass rate
English: 632 accepted, 184 rejected, 77 percent pass rate

Special education students have submitted 1,022 projects; 836 were accepted and 186 were rejected, resulting in an 82 percent pass rate.

English language learners have submitted 58 projects, of which 49 were accepted and nine rejected, an 84 percent pass rate.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City
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