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November 30, 2009

Alcohol-related accident takes life of River HIll student

Today, we report about the sad death of a River Hill High School football player over the weekend. The driver of the vehicle was a River Hill graduate and former football player. He is now facing charges of vehicular manslaughter and drunken driving. The accident came a day after the Howard County state championship team had lost a key game.

River Hill's principal and staff were at the school yesterday preparing for the sadness and emotional turmoil that might erupt today from students who are grieving the loss of a friend. 

While we don't know whether the two teenagers in the car were drinking or not, this accident again reminds us of the issue of teenage drinking. Surveys report an increase in binge drinking, and so I would like to hear from administrators and parents on the issue of what role schools can or should play in trying to control it. Students learn about it the issue in most health classes. Should administrators do anything else? Is this a parental issue and not a school issue? What role can coaches play in trying to reduce drinking?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:45 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Region

November 24, 2009

A CollegeBound scholar who is grateful she got to college

Before everyone in schools heads off for a much-needed Thanksgiving break, here's some thoughts from Glenda Cornish, a CollegeBound scholar, who can remind everyone why they can be grateful for those who work with young people. She wrote this for the CollegeBound newsletter:

"Every young child has some idea of what they want to become when they get older. I was no exception. For as long as I can recall, I wanted to be a lawyer. But how I was raised totally changed that idea. I was raised with an alcoholic father. My mother was addicted to drugs and wasn't in my life. For nine years my younger sister and I lived in this hostile, saddening environment. I was subjected to a lot of cursing and verbal abuse.  What made it worse was that my sister got the worst end of things, most of the time, and wasn't able to adapt under the conditions as well as I did. Even after we moved from my father's home, I could tell that she was still affected by what had happened. Even though going to college has been my dream since I was a child, I also know that I have no other option, due to the life that I have lived. I knew that I have to go to college to not only make sure I survive as an adult, but also to be an example to my sister. I want to show my sister that you can become something great in the future, if you had a horrible past. At Bowie State University, I am studying pedology because I want to become a child psychologist or counselor. Pedology is the scientific study of the life, development, and socialization of children and adolescents and Bowie is the first university in the nation to offer this program. I love children, and I think I would enjoy working in either an elementary or middle school. Most importantly, I realize that children are affected tremendously by their environment, and I want to help children who live in troublesome environments and are starting to go down the wrong path. I want to do for other children what I couldn't do for my sister."

Glenda Cornish is a sophomore at Bowie State University. She is a recipient of The Leslie Moore Foundation Scholarship, Anna and Eli Berkenfeld Memorial Scholarship, and the SHERO Scholarship.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

November 23, 2009

Maryland at the bottom in Race to the Top?

The editorial page is writing an editorial about Maryland's slow take-off on trying to get Race to the Top funds from the U.S. Department of Education. If successful, Maryland would get as much as $250 million in stimulus money next year, but the state appears to have been slow to position itself for the funds.

A preview of the editorial is here. Tell the editorial board what you think about this issue.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

November 20, 2009

Early exposure to language critical later

Silence is apparently not a good thing when it comes to babies.


Children between the ages of 2 months and 6 months who have a lot of exposure to language are more likely to have advanced language skills later in life, according to research being released this weekend. The research suggests that parents should be trained to make sure infants, particularly those at high risk, are around a lot of talking even before they can speak.


The researchers, who presented their work at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association meeting in New Orleans this week, said babies who heard many different words had more advanced skills by the time they were 18 to 32 months old.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 19, 2009

Exercising choice

This weekend, eighth-graders who live in Baltimore City will be taking the first steps toward exercising a choice that wouldn't have been open to them a decade ago. The city school system is holding its high school fair and about 4,000 students are expected to come with their parents to see what schools they might be interested in attending next fall.

The choices are staggering for any teenager. Do you want a large, comprehensive high school where you have many course offerings, a marching band and multiple varsity athletic teams? Or do you want a small intimate high school where you get to know your teachers and you can get that extra help you may need? There are high schools for those interested in the medical professions, those who want to be artists and those who think that getting through high school in two years is a good idea.

The event is being held at the Poly-Western complex and is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Mayor Sheila Dixon will be there in the morning to help judge which high school has the best display at its booth.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 18, 2009

An opportunity to see what really goes on in classrooms

I don't usually share my personal opinions or experiences on this blog, but today I want to encourage all parents to take advantage of the last two days of American Education Week and go visit your child's classroom. No matter how busy you are, adjust your schedule and get there.

For those of you who have never been, I promise you will leave wiser about both your school and just how well your child is doing in the classroom.

There's really no better way of seeing what is going on than spending a day following your kids around. It is a wonderful idea, and I wonder why the private schools have not adopted it or why the private school parents don't demand it.

Until my children got to tenth grade and told me they would die a million deaths if I showed up in their classrooms, I never missed this opportunity. I remember the moment when I dreaded spending 45 minutes in Algebra II. I was one of those kids who wasn't happy about math. I admit it. But this math teacher was so inspired that the parents in the back of the classroom began to whisper, give each other smiles and wish that they had been so lucky when they were in eighth grade. Wow. No one could believe how good he was! I thought maybe this was a special lesson, but no, my daughter told me her math class was always like that. I doubt any parents there that day cut their child much slack about math, knowing they were in a class with a gifted teacher. I saw other classrooms over the years that were just plain dull, and I took pity on my kids. In another case, I saw another new teacher who barely had control.

I also had moments when I watched and suddenly "got it," realizing why my elementary school child was struggling and why we needed to work harder on something at home.

Whatever those classrooms were like, I had been there and had a glimpse into their world that helped me better support my children. The experience left me able to understand and be kind when they had had a bad day with Mrs. James, or to be less than sympathetic when they had forgotten an assignment because I knew it was probably posted up there in the left-hand corner of the board.

A friend of mine just reported that her trip to school this morning included watching a child with disabilities fall apart and have to be taken out of the room. She had a new appreciation for the dynamics of her son's classroom and what the teacher had to juggle.

I would love to hear comments from parents here who have been to classrooms this week. Give us a short description of your experiences. And go ahead and criticize me for chickening out and not going during those later years of high school. I can take the heat.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:57 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

November 17, 2009

Mustache growing race raises money for classrooms

And you thought that city schools chief Andres Alonso and Omari Todd, director of Teach for America Baltimore, were on the same side when it comes to kids. Well, think again. They are dualing it out for the Mustaches for Kids program, beginning tonight when they will make their chins and upper lips free of all facial hair so that everyone has a fair start in the race to grow a mustache. So will other men around Baltimore who are participating in the program.

Those men participating, called Growers, will ask friends and family to donate money to buy needed supplies for classrooms around the area. Teachers will post their needs on the Web site.

It is a bit like a runner gathering donations to run a marathon, except that this race is a month or so long so we won't know who grows the better mustache for awhile. We will keep you posted about the results as soon as they are in. In the meantime, teachers get out there and put your requests up!


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:23 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Region

November 16, 2009

Gov. Martin O'Malley says Maryland is not behind

We wrote in Saturday's paper about the fact that Maryland appears to be lagging behind other progressive states in positioning itself to be competitive in the race to get a portion of $4 billion in federal funds. Education advocates around the state have questioned why Maryland has not been more proactive in talking about the competition for dollars that the Obama administration is saying could start a revolution in education.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like, for instance, to have every state have a data system that has the capacity to say how much progress a student has made in the past year of school. This involves being able to look at the test scores from one year to the next and draw conclusions. The "growth" a student makes, Duncan says, should be part of a teacher's annual evaluation. I am not aware of any school system currently creating this link between test scores and teacher evaluations and it is a concept that is deeply concerning to the Maryland State Education Association, which is part of a national teachers union.

Gov. Martin O'Malley quickly responded to the criticism this morning and Laura Smitherman's story is now up on the Web site.


Perhaps Maryland is further ahead than people believe. A first test will be whether the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hands any money to Maryland to hire a consultant to help write the application for the Race to the Top funds. Gates had chosen 15 states to give grants to earlier this fall and Maryland wasn't one of them. Observers thought that was a bad sign for the state because Gates appeared to picking the states it believed to be the most competitive. After some cries that the grants gave those states an unfair advantage, Gates opened up the process and Maryland is now applying for the money. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she expects to know by Dec. 1 whether Maryland will get the Gates dollars, but if the answer from Gates is no, she says she hopes to have raised private dollars.

In Colorado, the New York Times reported, the governor had devoted $7 million to improving the state's chances of getting a piece of the $4 billion and put the lieutenant governor in charge of a public campaign. Other states have gotten legislators to pass or rescind laws that were seen to be stumbling blocks to getting the money.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

November 12, 2009

Baltimore appoints new chief of human resources

The Baltimore City school board has appointed Shawn Y. Crowder as the new Chief of Human Capital, a new name to describe the human resources chief. Crowder was the former chief of staff and head of human resources for the Philadelphia school district before being assigned to her current job as deputy for Strategic Partnerships for the Philadelphia school district.

She also spent 13 yeras with Cigna Insurance Co. where she oversaw recruitment and customer service operations. She is scheduled to begin on Nov. 30.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

High school years remembered

Our colleague, reporter Mary Gail Hare, wrote an op ed piece this week about her 45th high school reunion from the Institute for Notre Dame, an all-girls school that has educated many Baltimore women.

The response from readers surprised her. She got more than 50 e-mails in one day, which just goes to show how powerful a time in our lives high school is and that our memories of those times survive whether we like them or not. In this case, most of those who wrote to Hare had happy memories.

Here's one of the comments:

"I graduated from that wonderful institution 64 years ago! Yes, it will always be a thrill to return to that warm, inviting, challenging building, remembering the special nuns who taught us. Aren't we lucky that IND is still viable and that we can still visit there. I did have to smile when you wrote that in 'your day' the tuition was $200 a year. When I graduated, the tuition was $60 a year, and my mother went to work so my family could afford to send me to the 'Institute.' I worked in the summer to pay for my organ lessons there, which also cost $60 a year. My how times have changed."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 9, 2009

The chocolate milk debate

The National Dairy Council is fighting back. They sent information out today to try to combat what they see as the growing threat to milk drinking in public schools. The food activists who got soda out of school cafeterias may be moving on to chocolate milk. Horrors.

But the National Dairy Council says if we take the chocolate out of the lunch line, kids will stop drinking milk, which everyone seems to agree has some nutrients students need. The Dairy Council is launching a "Calling all moms to raise their hands for chocolate milk" campaign. Even though flavored milk has sugar in it, the council says studies show that children who drink chocolate milk don't have overall higher intakes of sugar than kids who drink plain old white milk.

About 70 percent of the milk that kids in the lunch line are choosing is flavored, they say.

So what do parents think? If chocolate milk wasn't an option, would your children drink white milk instead or reach for juice or water?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:50 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 6, 2009

Most states offer alternatives to high school tests

The Center on Education Policy, a non-partison group that has tracked the No Child Left Behind Act since its passage, has come out with a new report on how states are doing with high school exit exams. Maryland is now in its second year of requiring that students pass the Maryland High School Assessments.

The report doesn't have any shocking news, but it does say that 22 of the 26 states now offer some alternatives for students with disabilities. And there's a growing trend among states to offer struggling students alternative assessments, different diplomas, flexible cut off scores and waivers. In Maryland, we have the bridge plan, which allows students to work on projects instead of passing the exams.

CEP also says across the nation students are more often passing their high school tests on the first try, an encouraging sign.

CEP recommends that states begin looking at increasing money for remediation of students, do a better job of collecting data on pass rates and spend some time researching the effects of the exit exams on students.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:50 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 3, 2009

Should the age for mandatory attendance be raised?

The Associated Press reported recently that Montgomery County's school board has made a  symbolic push to get the Maryland General Assembly to raise the age a student must stay in school to 18.

Currently, students can drop out at 16 and, the AP reports, only the legislature can change that. But Montgomery County, whose graduation rate has fallen to its lowest level -- 87 percent -- this spring, is hoping to change the tide by voting on a measure last week to make the change to age 18. Most of the students who drop out in the county are 16 and 17 year olds.

Should other school boards take the same stand to encourage the state legislature to pass a bill requiring all students to be in school until 18?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:06 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region

November 2, 2009

Loyola professor sounds off on teaching math

On the paper's editorial pages today is a column by Loyola University's Joseph Ganem about the teaching of math.

He argues that some students are being taught overly complex math at too young an age. It is an interesting piece to read, although some commentors have suggested that perhaps his premise is wrong. Are we really teaching difficult concepts too early because of tests?

I wonder if that is correct because last week we wrote that the Maryland School Assessments for fourth-graders are some of the easiest in the nation.

What do math teachers think of Ganem's argument?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region
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