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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


Or, perhaps, "dueling".

This event didn't seem to get as much play this time as it did last year. It was kind of a fun exercise last time around.

Alonso is so cuddly these days. Or maybe he's always been cuddly. Has this guy ever said the words kids and schools without putting great in front of them? If I had a penny for every time he says the word great, we'd have enough money to give my students PE more than once a week. I don't need more books in my room, or more computers, or some elaborate and politically interesting special project. Just more adults, please.

Do you mean "interesting projects" that arrive from North Avenue with none of the detail required of a professional,working teacher? State standards,objectives, a usable rubric, methods of differentiating in at least several ways, IEP goals and skills, motivation, procedure,assessment,and on and on. Usually by the time I write these plans I am out of time and energy to truly plan for the lesson, gather and make materials,shop for resources, guide and really assess children in a meaningful way. But,by golly, I have that plan. Hey, North Avenue, why don't your out-of- the-classroom folks model what they expect us to write each and every day for every subject. Let me go rewrite the travel brochure! Further, please stop forwarding lessons from 20 years ago! We recognize them.

@"a teacher" -
How depressing. Here's a program where teachers get to pick what they want in their classrooms and appeal directly to donors with a minimum of paperwork and about no bureaucracy. Plus you get the publicity of upper management that gets involved only to bring more attention to the projects. They don't get to say what should and shouldn't be funded. What's not to like in this arraignment? The CEO is too smiley and too cuddly for your tastes? That in times of incredible goverment shortfalls you're not getting staff increases? Neither one of those issues make these teachers' projects any less important.

I refuse to be brought down. This is a fun project and Donors Choose is the best way I know for fundraising to go directly to schools (as opposed to buying pizzas and candy bars). My spouse and I have both made donations and here's a link to the grower we're supporting (Baltimore's teacher of the year last year). If you want to pick another "grower" they're listed here.

This is a chance for those of us who aren't teachers (since teachers are already contributing to their classrooms by buying supplies) to pitch in and make a difference in City Schools.

@ a parent

Your response to my irony is reasonable and intelligent, though I sense that your child goes to a charter school. Now let me try to elaborate the pessimism I hinted at in my post. My school right now is without dignity. The violence, playful or intense, is unignorably pervasive. And I suppose I made a snickering comment about Alonso because he needs to give some authoritative power to non-charter schools.

Elisabeth's frustration is pertinent here, because she is alluding to the charade that North Avenue is playing. Alonso's need for illusion is very deep for him to be convinced that what I need is more money for special projects of even books in my classroom. People are more valuable--when I work one-on-one with almost all of my students, they are willing to learn. And I feel that if all the money on donors choose went to paying for more co-teachers, it would make Alonso's mustache game as heartening as he thinks it is.

@ a teacher

You're assumption that my "child goes to a charter school" is incorrect. I have 3 children who have gone to a total of 6 different schools between them over the last 10+ years. We have been enrolled in neighborhood, magnet, special ed magnet, special ed segregated, charter and choice schools. Of those types, charter has been for the shortest time and for only one child.

Donors Choose is not as philanthropic as everyone wants you to think. When I entered a project on their site, the price was 50% MORE than just purchasing it via Amazon. Say what???

As a fairly long term supporter of DonorsChoose I take issue with your comment. Certainly if you want to support a teacher by directly purchasing something they need (like the containers of disinfectant wipes I sent in last month) that would be the most efficient way to support a classroom. If, on the other hand a teacher has a more expensive project that you'd like to chip in towards I think donorschoose works very well. Details of project expenses are clearly stated. For example, the last project I contributed towards added 1.5% for 3rd party payment processing and $9 for postage/processing of thank-you package. Seems reasonable to me.

Per their website they are a BBB accredited charity and have a 4 star (highest) charity navigator rating.

I urge anyone considering donating to check out the website ( and decide for themselves.

@GottaBeKidding- You may be right about Donor's Choose but at least it is voluntary all around. The one that pisses me off is K12 Buy; one big way we order things in BCPSS. I could buy almost everything much cheaper if allowed to shop myself!

@ a parent

Ok, let me be unambiguous. You've had your kids attend or have attended a Title I middle or high school in this city?

I don't take issue with donors choose. I take issue with Alonso's and anyone else's assumption that what the aforementioned schools need is more materials. His piety, and yours, is misplaced and representative (I think) of a lot of reflective, well-intentioned people. I say this because I was one of them until I saw what's taking place.

An unambiguous response (I hope) - A Title I elementary school in the city, not middle or high. And Title I does not preclude charter schools - free lunches are free lunches as far as I know. I'm not sure how we got here as your original statement was about charter schools.

I really don't want to argue, but I'm not sure how I qualify as pious. I'm just trying to figure out a way to get my kids a decent education in Baltimore's public schools because I believe in public education and I want to live in Baltimore City. I was doing that before Dr. Alonso came to Baltimore. From my perspective things are turning around; maybe not in every classroom in every school, but overall. I might be mistaken, but I'm committing my kids' education and I need to feel ok about this choice.

@ a parent

I'm sorry if you feel I've put down donors choose. You make sense and are obviously a bright, caring parent. My remarks were directed at Alonso and the public relations rodeo that has been at best diversionary. Do tell me how things are getting better, and how this improvement was set in motion. Do you find the test scores reliable? Not simply reliable in the what-have-they-measured sense, but mostly in the whose-hand-filled-in-bubbles sense. Do you find the decrease in suspensions/expulsions to be a sign that school violence is diminishing? I hardly mean to be a smart-aleck, though I fear such a tone will be inferred from this post.

Much of what bothers me about Alonso's efforts, and those of other police of political correctness, is that giving a school or a person a positive tag will fundamentally change that school or person. There is so much name changing going on that schools are hardly to be recognized as schools, given what they're called. Success Academy, Freedom Academy, Homeland Security School, Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship. Why pretend that the students at these schools, who aren't getting their core social or academic needs met, are ready to go pitch ideas to Steve Jobs? Even if they graduate, they'll be literally all dressed up with nowhere to go.

I meant to say that it bothers me how Alonso believes name-changing will change a school or person. My implication was unfortunately otherwise in the first sentence of the second paragraph.

Positive things(in my opinion):
- special ed services and test results of special needs students are improving and maybe Baltimore will not be under the consent decree much longer
- school funding decisions are being made at the school level rather than at North Ave. If you've got good school leadership, this is great. If you've got poor school leadership the North Ave direction wasn't enough to help you anyway
- school choice is a reality for high school students and is becoming one for middle school students. It's no longer a matter of where you live to go to the school you want to
- as some schools are perceived to be more successful other schools have the discretion to model themselves and attract more students
- funding is more transparent and based on the number of students who attend a school (and their needs -- advanced or remedial)
- test scores don't tell the whole story, but it's good that they're going up
- North Ave is being trimmed to have more funding (and presumably more staff) closer to students

I could tell you things that disappoint me as well, but that wasn't your question and this comment is long enough already.

@ a teacher - I'm actually sick now after reading this. Thanks for ruining my dinner plans. I am one of those growers, and one of those teachers who have benefited from Donor's Choose projects. You are never going to get everything perfect in a large system such as this - there will always be inequities. But for the first time that I can think of teachers are in the driver's seat to get small donations that can actually make a change in their classrooms - without doing the run-around. Sometimes, and I'm sure you understand this, a small victory in the depths of the school year are all it takes to make the year a success. We can't individually turn around our schools - but we can make immediate changes in our classrooms, which takes a lot of unyielding positive energy. But, as a whole, the energy that you are pouring into this blog certainly isn't what's needed. This is how systems get held back. I'm sure that if your school was cleared to hire more personnel (which, by the way is not Alonso or North Ave's decision - see FSF?) you would find something else to complain about.

A Teacher - you seem to be using a soap box to broadcast your displeasure about our leadership. Have you gone to the leadership and voiced these concerns in a coherent and cogent way, with factual support of all claims? I have, and and I've found that all intentions of the system, while I may not agree at all times, are for what's in the best interest of the students.

Oh - and don't forget that M4K was supposed to just be something fun and positive. It's a national initiative and is something that Alonso got into last year - the school system had nothing to do with it. It's completely separate from the system - but benefits the system. The way I see it some small victories can be born out of this and will allow some of our systems great teachers to put off burn-out for another year or two.


If I put you off your steak tartare, that's just too bad. Working in the city schools has been a good weight loss program for me, incidentally.

You say I'm wasting my time trying to be eloquent on this blog, all the while you are spending time on this blog, trying to be eloquent. I don't take these comments to North Avenue because I've already tried, and the social pressure isn't high enough for comments like these to matter to bureaucrats. That's what I like about this blog. I get to talk to people without thinking of myself as running for office or as some kind of martyr, which is precisely what one feels like showing up all self-righteous at North Avenue.

But all one has to do is read the newspaper to see that an Alonso type isn't just restrained by policy, as you point out, but also by willful blindess. Do you remember how he answered reporters' questions at the press conference about the Lemmel murder? Great teachers, great kids, great schools, etc. Do you remember how he answers any question? I wouldn't be suprised if this is what he tells the intercom at Burger King drivethroughs.

If I really wanted a soapbox, I'd try to become the next Alonso. In other words, I'd address the masses with the language of the masses through the media of the masses--TV, emails sent to thousands of people a day, speeches at education conferences. But no, there are probably few more people reading this than you and me, and that's fine with me. Better to make oneself understood to an individual than to broadcast nonsense to the millions.

I do hope that when I'm older I will have a family to go home to and a steamy dinner waiting for me. But that will mean I'll have to have a different kind of job. As things stand, I feel like a responsible adult during the day and a crank at night.

@a parent
If it's truly true that North Avenue is being trimmed in order to get more people closer to students, that's great and a sure sign that things will get better. Your other points are just a bit too unreliable for my taste.

@a teacher -
So you ask me to list why I think things are improving and then you wave all my comments away with "bit too unreliable for my taste"? Seems like most of your comments are not based on hard numbers either.

My experience over ten years has been that real problems in the schools (and we've seen quite a few) are more likely to be tied to school leadership than school system leadership. This is only going to be accentuated by "Fair Student Funding" where more power is put in the hands of principals. This is why school choice is so important from my perspective. As a parent, if you find got poor school leadership, you need to have alternatives.

@a parent

I waved away all but one of your comments because I find all but one of them to be based on unlawful laws or unreliable information/systematic deceit. Besides, must the truth always be based on hard numbers? How about good old perceptions?

I do like the notion that principals will soon have more power than they do. More power, I hope, to suspend/expel students and to hire teachers instead of buy computers. It will in many cases come down to that kind of either/or, don't you think?

@ a teacher

Sorry I'm late to this, but I still want to respond.

It is an undeniable true fact that BCPS has removed itself from some number of however many mandates of the special ed consent decree, meaning we are closer now to being rid of it than before.

Budgetary decisions ARE made at the school level. Principals already make decisions about how many staff to hire and what materials to purchase and can move this money around as they see fit. This is a drastic change from previous protocol. If you have a problem with your school buying too many computers and not enough teachers, don't blame Alonso; the responsibility lies only with school leaders.

Before, students who were not accepted to city-wide schools were assigned to their "zone school." No more. Students can choose to go to any school in the city and hopefully are choosing ones that fit their interests and their needs.

The formula for determining how much money schools get through FSF is public knowledge and IS based in part on the number of students who receive special education services and to what degree.

All of these things are public policy of BCPS. How can the system be "deceiving" everyone into thinking there's school choice when there's not? Or that schools make budget decisions when they don't? Or that we're moving out from under the consent decree when we're not? The only thing that could possibly be "deceptive" or "unlawful" is something you mentioned earlier that I MUST take issue with:

I cannot stand it when someone levels vague accusations of systemic cheating on standardized tests for many reasons. First (and this is not about you, a teacher, but about these claims in general), should Montgomery or Howard County have the kind of improvements Baltimore City has had, no one would raise an eyebrow. But God forbid the poor students of Baltimore could be making these gains! It must be cheating! Second (this one IS leveled at you, a teacher), coming on this blog and anonymously leveling this SERIOUS accusation shows either an absolute disrespect for the children and teachers of BCPS or a complacency in the act on your part. If you know - really know - of systemic cheating going on, you have a VERY real responsibility to bring your evidence - even just your suspicion - to the proper authorities. And if you think everyone at North Ave is in on it, bring it to the state. If you know someone is cheating and you do nothing, you're a coward and an accomplice. I cannot overstate how irresponsible it is of you to say you think these gains are due to cheating without any proof to back that up. All you do is take away from the honest achievements of hard-working students, parents, teachers and principals (and North Ave administrators) by recklessly calling into question what they have worked to achieve. I ask you to clarify: are you a person who knows of real cheating going on but has done nothing about it, or are you a person who has only suspicion and you're just running your mouth? Either way, I think you owe someone and apology.


I take issue with the law, and you think I take issue with how schools deal with the law. A school is not truly fiscally autonomous if it can't employ the number of teachers it sees fit. And when new educational programs (tested in suburbs, not the cities) come down the pipes, requiring schools to have more and more computers, the school is not actually deciding that computers are somehow more important than teachers. The school buys computers in order to follow the law. When the state or city sends education PhDs with clipboards into classrooms where the observer's obejctive is to determine the suitability of the learning environment according the physical criteria (computers, acronym-toting posters), the school's hands are still fiscally tied.

Your outrage is histrionic, a rhetorical shortcut, and very much like what Alonso uses. You say you "cannot stand" my vague accusations, but of course you can stand it. You want them vague, and so does anyone else who wants to imply that my skepticism is racist. Montgomer and Howard County have less at stake than does Baltimore City--that's why I'm skeptical. In order for a school's administrators and teacher to keep their jobs, the said school has to produce certain results by a certain point.

Of course I'm complicit in cheating. I have two reasons for not saying anything. The first is that the biggest-hearted, hardest-working people I've ever seen work in these schools, and their jobs are in jeopardy because the public wants to see numbers instead of human suffering on a third-world scale. I also don't want to spend the next handful years of my life as a whistle-blower, explaining to bourgeois moralists that schools can't be held accountable as schools until neighborhoods are revived and schools are allowed to separate students who want to learn from corner kids who don't.

@Simon, Thank you for saying so aptly all I wanted to say but was too outrage to find th ewords! Every word you write is true! One clarification-cheating does occur. And yes, I reported what I observed several years ago. Appropriate responses occured.

@a teacher-I believe you have children at heart but you do need to articulate your thoughts more carefully, be specific, and take action when necessary. @a teacher,please reread Simons post with an open mind. His points are all valid.

What isn't articulated sufficiently? If you want me to take you seriously, be articulate yourself. Don't just demand articulation. You and Simon want the moral high ground to be within easy reach. I do too. But I don't think it is. And that's what my previous post was about.

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