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September 30, 2009

Baltimore eighth-grader dies of swine flu

A middle school girl who was hospitalized with the swine flu last week died yesterday, according to a statement by Andres Alonso. The CEO said staff would be providing families and students in the school support in the coming days. The school system is working with the health department to inform families about what can be done to reduce the risk of getting the virus.  The girl is the second child to die of swine flu in Maryland. The first child had an underlying medical condition. The health department has not released a statement yet.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:28 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 29, 2009

Leading author says reduce teacher workload

William Ouchi argues in a new book coming out this month that one of the keys to student achievement is decreasing the Total Student Load or TSL. He says teachers should teach no more than 80 students at a time. The reason this book may be of interest here in Baltimore is that Ouchi's first book, "Making Schools Work," touched off a change to decentralization in New York and other major cities. Andres Alonso, who came here from New York, immediately gave principals more authority over their budget and their curriculum. And that, Ouchi argues, often has led to principals making decisions to hire more teachers and reduce other staff in the building so that teachers have fewer students. This change does not mean that classes are necessarily smaller, although I guess it could. Rather it means that the typical high school teacher may teach fewer classes. So instead of having to grade 120 student papers, the teacher only has to worry about grading 80.

This research is written about in a recent piece in Education Week. The work follows from a report done several years ago in Maryland on writing that concluded the most important changes that could be made to improve writing would be to reduce the workload of English teachers. I haven't heard that happening around the state, but I may have missed a trend.

I wonder if any city teachers have seen a reduction in their workload as a result of decentralization? What is happening to teachers in surrounding counties? Is your workload increasing?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 28, 2009

Riderwood Elementary's media specialist in action

The Red Reader, aka Bob HallettI recently wrote a story about Bob Hallett, a dynamic, quirky library-media specialist at Baltimore County's Riderwood Elementary who was recently diagnosed with a rare leukemia.  A few years ago, Hallett helped invent - and then play - a superhero called the Red Reader, who was part of a motivational reading show on the school system's Education Channel.

The folks at the Education Channel were kind enough to point us to one of Hallett's performances, this one on a show called Math Homework Helpers, in which he regularly gives voice to a puppet named Professor Q.

Just thought I'd share.

Professor Q on Math Homework Helpers



Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

Longer school days? Oh boy!

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the Associated Press that he thinks maybe the nation's schools should lengthen their days and school year. Duncan said schoolchildren in foreign countries are going 25 to 30 percent longer than students here. The AP reports that while it is true that students go to school more days in other countries, American students spend more hours overall in school during a year.

I guess we just cram all that learning in to fewer days.  But the idea is gaining some momentum, particularly in urban systems. Students there often don't have the same access to programs that will continue their learning during their long summer break. Studies have shown that some city students actually fall behind during their summers while suburban kids gain.

So do parents, teachers and students want more hours in the classroom? More days in the school year? A shorter summer vacation?

I'm guessing I know what students will say, but it would great to get a comment from a student!

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:00 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 25, 2009

Montgomery County superintendent in Ireland

A Montgomery County parents group that is vigilant about keeping track of what goes on in the school system there sent an e-mail message out yesterday morning saying that Jerry Weast is in Northern Ireland advising the school system there. They are asking why he isn't in his office in Montgomery County doing his job.

They provided a video of him being interviewed as an education expert on the Belfast evening news as proof. County taxpayers are not footing the bill for the trip, says a Montgomery County spokesman. The Northern Ireland government is paying for the weeklong trip.

In any event, I thought readers might be interested in the video.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region

September 24, 2009

Algebra Project students demand a better education

Students from the Algebra Project were at the city school board meeting on Tuesday night asking the board to sign a Student Bill of Rights. The students say they deserve a better education.

They say the city's school buildings are crumbling, the school bathrooms don't have soap and paper towels and the school lunches aren't edible. They also said there aren't enough textbooks, a problem that was rampant a decade ago, but was supposed to be fixed. They said they had written a letter to Mayor Sheila Dixon and wanted the board to sign it as well. "The students are not going to stand around and watch our buildings crumble along with our education," one student told the board.

The city school board welcomed them to the meeting, but didn't sign the petition. The chair of the board, Neil Duke, said he didn't want to wait for legislative action. "Let's fix the problems you just highlighted," he said.

Duke took the three leaders, one each from Poly, Civitas and Heritage High, into the hall and arranged to meet them later to hear a more detailed account of the issues they say they are having.

It will be interesting to see if the students can get their issues taken care of and whether they begin to understand better what power the board has or doesn't have over crumbling buildings.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:38 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 23, 2009

School board appears divided on permanent expulsion

The city school board is clearly having a strong internal debate over whether it is right to permanently expel students who are 16 and older if they have committed a serious offense. The expulsion issue began last year when schools CEO Andres Alonso decided to try to reduce the incidents of fire setting in the city schools and sent a letter home to parents saying he would permanently expel students who set a fire.


That left some students as young as 9 years old shut out of any city public school forever and produced such a round of criticism that Alonso had to back off the practice and propose permanent expulsion for those 16 and older. Everyone seems to have a strong feeling about whether this policy is right or wrong and so the testimony before the school board meeting last night included proponents and opponents of the policy.

At one point, David Stone, who opposes permanent expulsion, introduced a motion to put a moratorium on the expulsions until a formal policy is voted on by the board in the next couple of months.

The vote was 3-3 and failed. Stone, Bob Heck and George VanHook voted for the moratorium and Anirban Basu, Neil Duke and Maxine Wood voted against it. Jim Campbell abstained. Jerrelle Francois was not at the meeting.

If that was an early vote on the expulsion issue, then any future vote will be dependent on what side Campbell and Francois come down on. The school board only has eight members because the mayor and governor have not appointed a new member to replace Brian Morris. He resigned from the board in June.

There was a very testy exchange during the meeting between Basu and Stone. Stone noted that no one on the board is suggesting that students who set a fire in a bathroom trash can be allowed to stay in their school. The student should be sent to an alternative school, he said. But Basu contended that a student who is dangerous in one setting could also be dangerous in another environment.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:53 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 22, 2009

2009 High School Assessments

Liz Bowie had a story in today's paper about the 2009 High School Assessment results, which indicate that making the tests a graduation requirement hasn't presented as big of an obstacle to students as originally feared, according to data provided by state education officials.

This news has some folks wondering whether the bar is being set too low, particularly as state officials say only 11 students did not graduate solely because of the assessment requirement.

Liz will have another story in tomorrow's paper, taking a look at the future of the HSAs, and where we go from here. Stay tuned.  Also, you can check out the results on the state's Web site, which also has an updated state watch list for schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime...what do you think?  Do the HSAs set the bar too low?  What do you think about the small number affected by this requirement (the city, for example, reported no students kept from graduating only because of the HSAs - but did represent about 20 percent of the waivers given to seniors statewide)?

September 16, 2009

Asian Achievement on the PSAT

We spend a lot of time concentrating on how to improve the achievement of African Americans and Hispanic students, but when I pore over data sometimes I wonder: Why aren't we analysing the achievement gap between Asians and whites? We have worked to close the achievement gap because of the educational inequities that have existed for years in African American communities, but we might also look at what makes Asian families so committed to high achievement. The fact is that Asians have higher pass rates on most of the state and national tests that I have taken a look at in the last several years.

One more piece of evidence on this subject crossed my desk today, in the form of the list of Maryland's National Merit Semifinalists. Nationally, 1.5 million juniors took the PSAT last year. Out of that group, the National Merit Scholarship Program selected the top 16,000 semifinalists who will then go on to compete to become National Merit Finalists. The finalists receive college scholarships.

So to be part of this crowd, you have to be pretty academically gifted. Congratulations to all those students who are on the list.

As I went down the list of students, I noticed the number of Asian surnames among the semifinalists as well as the large number who come from Montgomery Blair High School. In that high school alone, it appeared that about half of the names were Asian. 

The percentage of Asians on the list seemed to be higher than the percentage of Asians in the general population in Maryland. I wonder what educators have observed in their schools and classrooms? 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:55 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region

Ridgely Middle rally update

The warm, sunny weather may have been welcome yesterday, but - as Baltimore County parents repeatedly noted - temperatures in the high 80s and above aren't quite so enjoyable inside a school building.

Dozens of parents gathered in the courtyard between the Circuit Court and county office buildings in Towson, once again calling on the county executive and schools superindent to do something to remedy the sometimes sweltering conditions at Ridgely Middle School.

As I've noted here before, a number of the county's schools don't have air conditioning.  And, according to school officials, at least six others - Dumbarton and Old Court Middle, Loch Raven and Southwest academies and Hampton and Johnnycake elementaries - have similar window systems to Ridgely's. 

But a couple mothers who surveyed the other schools said they found the situations in those other facilities were not as bad as at the Lutherville school, where half the new windows installed during a renovation a few years ago do not open - or only open a few inches.  That basically means the school is sealed up, hindering air flow, several folks said yesterday.

At a school board meeting a few weeks ago, Dr. Hairston warned against making the air-conditioning issue solely about Ridgely and focusing on "something that's just not going to happen right now." He pointed to furloughs, budget cuts and other challenges at the state level that indicate many of the items in the county's capital request won't necessarily get funding.

"It is unfortunate that Ridgely is not air conditioned...but I think it would be unreasonable for this board, or for me as the superintendent, to promise anybody anything," Hairston said, adding that the district has no ability to raise money on its own.

Last week, the board approved a state capital budget request that included installing chillers at Old Court Middle.  The board recently had a lengthy discussion confirming that Ridgely is not eligible for state funding because of the recent renovations, and would not be for more than a decade.  This means the county would have to come up with the funds.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:34 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 15, 2009

Baltimore County happenings

A couple noteworthy items for schools in Baltimore County today.

The governor, county executive and superintendent will preside over the groundbreaking for the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology building, which is to open March 2012.  The facility, which the school board has approved for LEED certification, is being built where the magnet's playing fields are now located.

This afternoon, parents from Ridgely Middle School plan to protest at the Towson courthouse, as they continue to push for air conditioning at the Lutherville school.  Several elected officials are expected to join them, including members of the local delegation. I'll be going, and will post an update later today.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents

September 14, 2009

Baltimore County to use progress-reporting system countywide

My story today highlights an online program in Baltimore County that outlines what students should be learning in every course - and includes a detailed progress-reporting system that tracks their progress in mastering those objectives. Even as students move from teacher to teacher and school to school, a running record is kept, showing the skills they have mastered and those they have yet to grasp.

The program, called the Articulated Instruction Module, also provides access to the district's entire curriculum, including sample lessons and questions that teachers can reference while crafting quizzes and tests. 

Even though the bulk of the county's teachers are in the process of learning how to use it, the module has been in place for several years at a few schools, particularly in the southwest area. This month, a couple thousand teachers are to be trained, and the school system expects the program to go countywide by the spring semester.  It is also supposed to be shared with all the other districts in the state for their own use.

The goal, according to county educator Barbara Dezmon, who created the program, is to ensure all children are receiving the same education, regardless of where they are going to school.  And having such a system also helps create some kind of record for homeless students, who sometimes are only at a school for a few days.

Several teachers I spoke with were looking forward to the benefits of the module: having a sense, from the beginning, of where their students need help - and the ability to access instructional resources.  But the teachers union has expressed some concerns about adding to workload.

What do you think?  Does the benefit of having much more detailed information about each student - for teachers and parents - outweigh whatever additional work might be involved?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:00 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, Teaching

September 10, 2009

Is unschooling school?

For those who read the unschooling piece in the paper last week, I thought you would be interested in what Checker Finn at the Fordham Institute has to say about unschooling. I would say he's not much in favor. Here's one quote, to entice you to go to the link: "I’m pretty sure, 'unschooling' resembles the Taliban’s idea of education for girls: Keep them home and keep them ignorant."
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:35 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

Debating health care and education

Last night, President Barack Obama made an interesting analogy in his address to Congress on health care. He suggested that those without insurance be able to get it through a not-for-profit public option that would be available through an insurance exchange.

The idea, he said, is similar to the system we have in this country for public and private education. "It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities," the president said. 

Does this analogy work? Is there competition between private and public colleges and universities and public and parochial or private schools? Are educational standards raised by that competition?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:51 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 9, 2009

No appointment to the Baltimore school board yet

Some months ago, we reported that the state school board had been interviewing and vetting candidates to fill the vacancy created by the departure of school board chair Brian Morris. We noted that no one had done a very good job of vetting Morris, who had a history of financial problems and other issues.

So here we are in the second week of September, and the word out of the Maryland State Department of Education is that the state board has not yet recommended names to the governor and the mayor. Those two officials must jointly appoint city school board members. We can't wait to see who will be appointed under the state board's more thorough vetting process.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:59 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 8, 2009

Technical difficulties prevent students from seeing Obama

Some Maryland students had difficulty seeing the president's speech today and it wasn't because their teachers weren't trying hard to get it to them. At three schools visited by Sun reporters this morning, the feed through the Internet did not work and students saw virtually nothing of the speech. At some schools, they saw bits of the speech, but teachers gave up after awhile and either read the speech or dismissed their students and said they would let them see it tomorrow morning.

Two of the schools were in the city and a third was in Anne Arundel County. All of the schools were attempting to get the speech over the Internet.

We haven't done enough reporting yet to tell you how widespread this problem was, but we would like to hear from you if your school had problems. And for those of you who heard the speech: What did you think?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:13 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Nation

At Woodlawn High, students watch as president speaks

Several of the Sun education reporters went to schools in different districts to sit in on classes as they watched President Obama's speech to them at noon today. I was at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, where several classes were able to watch the speech live - and where, according to Principal Brian Scriven, there were plans to record the address for those who had lunch at the time it aired.  Viewing the speech was voluntary - as it was throughout the county and in other school systems, too. 

I was struck by some of the insights the students had in a discussion prior to the address - and how seriously many of them took the exercise, and the speech (I do remember high school, after all).

Stay tuned...I'll have more to share as we continue working on this story.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:03 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore County

Harford County updates decision about Obama speech

Harford County, which had announced Friday that it would not air the president’s speech at noon Tuesday,  amended this decision Tuesday and will “provide its students the opportunity” to view the president’s address by the end of the school day Thursday, according to the school system’s Web site. Parents can still opt to have their children not watch the speech.

The county previously said it would not air the speech Tuesday because its guidelines for broadcasts and videos require previewing materials shown to children and giving staff time to formulate responses and work the items into the regular classroom curriculum. It said on its Web site Tuesday that schools will use materials from both the district and the U.S. Department of Education to discuss the address.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:52 AM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Around the Region

September 7, 2009

President Obama's speech to students

Here is the transcript of the president's speech, folks - also pasted below. 

I'm working on a story about this today and would like to get reactions from Maryland parents.  Please drop me a line or give me a call (410-332-6639).

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today. 

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.   

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year. 

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn. 

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox. 

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve. 

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. 

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. 

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide. 

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future. 

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy. 

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country. 

Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.

I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in. 

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse. 

But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right. 

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. 

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. 

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America. 

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall. 

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same. 

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it. 

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. 

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK.  Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." 

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying. 

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals. 

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. 

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?  

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:34 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

September 6, 2009

Addendum: President Obama's school speech

You just might be aware of President Obama's upcoming speech to students, which will be broadcast live this Tuesday.

A transcript of the president's remarks is supposed to be posted on the White House Web site tomorrow, for those who are curious.  I will post a link here once it's released.

On a side note, I understand several Harford residents - in addition to the parent mentioned in my story - plan to picket the Board of Ed in Bel Air during the speech, to protest its decision not to show the address in schools.  Harford seems to be the only Baltimore-area school system to have gone this route.  Most others are leaving it up to individual schools and teachers to decide whether they want to watch it.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:00 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

September 4, 2009

Poll: Should President Obama address schoolchildren?

Debate is swirling about President Obama's planned speech Tuesday to schoolchildren, urging them to take responsibility for their own education. Some school districts, such as Harford County, will not be broadcasting the president's speech, while others are allowing each school to decide. Parents also have the option of having their children excused from the speech. So what do you think?


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 4:19 PM | | Comments (120)
Categories: Around the Region

September 3, 2009

Free range schooling

George Provine, 6 (left), brothers Lance, almost 4, and Miles, 17 months, and mother, Suzy, look at a salamander George caught in Patapsco State Park.Sun reporter Joe Burris wrote today about an offshoot of homeschooling, "unschooling," in which all of the child's experiences are incorporated in the learning process. Taking a trip to Patapsco State Park can have as much value as following, say, a Hooked On Phonics lesson plan, its proponents say.

There are skeptics. Teri Flemal, whose company helps parents find home teachers, is one of them:

"I'm reading e-mail from unschooling parents who think having their kids remodel their house with them is 'school.' I'm sorry, but it's not," Flemal said. "Painting, hammering, measuring - hey, that was great in primary school. I love that stuff.  

"But I can tell you that it will not hold these kids in good stead as they compete with home-schoolers who are creating model video games, requiring them to know the ballistics of how fast and at what angle the bullets need to travel to create an impression of a certain size on the wall, or perhaps the home-schooler who has written a symphony."

I'd have to agree. There's something to be said for letting children be themselves and thrive in an open learning environment, but kids also need some structure. But I don't have children. Let us know what you think about unschooling. Do you think it's a viable learning method?

Baltimore Sun photo / Algerina Perna

Posted by Maryann James at 11:44 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Teaching

Obama to speak to school children

On Tuesday, September 8, President Obama will tell the school kids of America that they should take more responsibility for their success in school. The address will air on C-Span at noon and the U.S. Department of Education is going to provide materials to teachers in advance to encourage class discussion after the speech. Are teachers planning to have their classes watch this?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:25 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 2, 2009

KIPP Ujima in Baltimore gets national attention

The confrontation between the Baltimore Teachers Union and the KIPP middle school in Baltimore has gotten a lot of attention in the past several weeks as it did on this blog when I first wrote about it in The Sun.

This morning, CNN did a report on the issue, highlighting that KIPP laid off several teachers and shortened its school day in order to adhere to the union contract.  The CNN report followed others in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and other papers.

And today, David Miller, from the Maryland Charter School Network was asked to blog for the  National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. His post is here :

He says that the union shouldn't try to stifle the growth of the KIPP school.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 PM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Around the Region

Screening at the Charles of a new film by students

Last year, Collington Square Elementary/Middle School teacher Koli Tengella worked with students to make a 30-minute film that portrayed students participating in an academic contest they didn't think their school could win. The film explores the social stigmas many students face in schools, he said.

On Thursday, the Charles is allowing third- through eight-graders from Collington Square to view the first showing of the film. It won't be open to the public, but we will try to have it online here in the coming days. And Tengella said the the film will be shown again at the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Sunday, Nov. 1 at 2 p.m.

"I personally want these children to understand their world is much bigger than they think it is," Tengella said.

Tengella, Collington Square's theater arts teacher, said he was able to get the help of a filmmaker to work with the children. About 50 children act in the drama and only three adults.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 1, 2009

Andres Alonso talks with reporters

In a wide-ranging conversation this morning with reporters, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso said he believes some of the increase in test scores may have had to do with the fact that more students are coming to school regularly.

When he came to the district two years ago, he said, the schools had poor attendance. Each year about 8,000 students had been out truant or had missed at least 20 days a year.  That number dropped last year when 1,600 fewer students were truant. "If kids are in school more they are going to do better," he said.

He said the system has 1,000 fewer dropouts than it did two years ago, another indication that it is able to keep students in school.

In other subjects, Alonso predicted that there will be another increase in enrollment this year. Last year, the system had 83,000 students, the first time in decades that the system gained rather than lost students.

Parochial schools are losing enrollment, he said. "We have one competitive advantage: we are free." If parents are convinced that their children can get a good education in a public school, he said, they will send their children to city schools.

One other tidbit: He said about 40 percent of the principals in the system are new to their jobs since he took over. He said he has replaced some of them and others have retired or resigned.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:15 PM | | Comments (0)
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