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July 30, 2010

More scholarships for "Boys Hope Girls Hope" students

The students at the Baltimore-based Boys Hope Girls Hope group home are having quite the summer.

Not only are students celebrating a newly-renovated home by the biggest home remodeling network show in the country, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," but  their appearance inspired two local colleges to offer four-year scholarships to the youths who shared their stories on the show.

And another school has stepped up to help them prepare for their free college education.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School said this week that they are also providing a college preparatory education for the young men and women of Baltimore’s Boys Hope Girls Hope.  The scholarships will cover 100 percent of the cost of a Cristo Rey Jesuit education for four years, including tuition and books, as well as application, registration and SAT course prep fees.

The school, which two Boys Hope Girls Hope youths already attend, has also pledged to provide scholarships to Boys Hope Girls Hope scholars in the future.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 29, 2010

City notes high numbers of double-digit declines

As we continue to dissect our data of the Maryland School Assessments scores, there are lots of things that rise to our attention when comparing city schools' performance with the rest of the state.

Today, we wrote about Baltimore leading the rest of the state in the number of instances where schools noted double-digit declines. Our analysis was based on comparing 2009 and 2010 scores across all grades, all schools, and all subjects tested.

We did this for the entire state. Prince George's County saw the second highest instances of double-digit drops, with 131; Montgomery had 39; Anne Arundel noted 30; and Baltimore County had 26.

On the heels of a cheating scandal, and confirmation of a new investigation of a school's test scores, schools CEO Andres Alonso asserted that there are a number of reasons why these declines can take place. Below, I have provided Alonso's entire response, sent yesterday, about what could have happened in the schools that noted the top declines.

"There are many reasons why scores in schools can go down.  First at all, teaching is not an exact science. School experience variation. There are many schools that go up and then come down. What we hope, is that they go up over time.

"Staff might change, especially principals and teachers in tested grades. Given our retention rate for teachers, and how small some of our schools are, schools can experience very significant changes in staff from one year to another.

"Schools might have different programs, for example, when schools lose an after school program. There might be conditions that interfere with the testing process in a school in a given day.  Approaches to instruction might have changed.  Sometimes, in small samples of tested kids, a drop in the scores of a few, can mean large percentage points drops in the aggregate score of a school. 

"Under NCLB, school scores measure not growth for individual students, but scores for changing groups of kids. And changes within proficiency levels are not reflected, nor the fact that some children that might have just scored proficient a year ago can drop back to basic in the following year. When we look at a schools' scores, we examine all these variables and many others to look at the meaning of both improved and decreased scores."

"In terms of the greater instance of drops, they make sense in the context of flatter overall scores in reading, and more modest scores in math. Last year, there were simply more schools improving, across the board, reflecting the huge jump in the district average. Same for the year before.  There should have been more drops this year, given the overall scores for the district."

"Finally, once again, when we believe there are unexplained changes, we investigate and ask MSDE to partner with us in the investigation. We do not comment on individual investigations or provide information that can cast suspicion on a school without a thorough investigation and clear evidence. It is irresponsible for anyone to draw conclusions merely from a drop of scores."


Posted by Erica Green at 5:51 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

City school data guru, Ben Feldman, retires

Ben Feldman, a 34-year-veteran of Baltimore City schools, will no longer be the school system's official number cruncher.

The city announced Feldman's retirement as chief accountability officer late Tuesday -- a week after he did his final data compilation of the city scores for the 2010 Maryland School Assessments.

The city school board approved Feldman's retirement at Tuesday night's board meeting, where it was also announced that school performance consultant and strategic adviser Matthew D. Van Itallie will take Feldman's post on Aug. 2.

While there were dozens of principals who received shout-outs and ovations for their newly appointed positions at the school board hearing, Feldman did not attend and if Van Itallie did, the new chief blended in with the crowd.

Feldman, who is known throughout the system as the data and research guru, said in an interview Wednesday that he has cherished his time with the school system and praised his successor as a "rolling stone." 

“It’s a good time for a change," Feldman said. "I’m looking forward to some new opportunities, and hope that I can still contribute to city schools.”

Feldman said he met Van Itallie when he was a contender for a deputy schools CEO job about 8 months ago, and thought he was "of authentic intelligence," he said.

 “I think, for what Dr. Alonso wants to move the system forward, he’s recruited a very talented fellow," he said.

According to the release sent by city schools, Van Itallie comes from a background of politics, management and school reform. He obtained his bachelor of arts degree from Swarthmore College and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Van Itallie's background includes years advising public schools and school districts in the realms of strategic planning, organizational redesign and performance management.

Alonso said of the new appointment, "we as a district must be nimble, constantly stepping back and assessing whether we are doing everything possible to support teaching and learning and to bolster our students’ success. That kind of operational scrutiny and accountability will move us closer to our goal of becoming an entire district of great schools, and Matt has the skills and experience in those areas to lead the way."

Most recently, Van Itallie worked with Cleveland’s public schools to execute the closing and relocation of 16 schools as part of the district’s academic transformation plan, and to assist with a reorganization of the district’s operations.

His other recent experience includes work with the New York-based KIPP Foundation, advising their offices on budgets and strategic plan development. Other highlighted experience included his work with the New Jersey Department of Education, where he helped manage that state’s Round 2 Race to the Top application for federal funds in spring 2010, and D.C. Public Schools, where he served as Deputy Chief of Staff in spring and fall 2008, overseeing the closure of 24 schools, grade reconfigurations at 67 schools and major personnel changes at more than 50 schools.

Feldman said he believed that Van Itallie will carry the torch well in leading a team of "geniuses," in the accountability and research office. He said his legacy will undoubtedly be marked by the staff, whom he called, “my jewels, my greatest pride, and my greatest joys."

Feldman, a graduate of the last class at the old Poly building at the 200 North Ave. address, began his career in city schools as a teacher for more than 14 years before transitioning to the Department of Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability, where he stayed in numerous capacities from 1995 to this year -- only taking a short detour to help create the school system's Department of Third Party Billing.

Since 2004, Feldman has presided over city schools’ research and assessment efforts "at a time when the school system has moved aggressively to increase accountability throughout the agency, in part through the launch of data-driven initiatives, including Expanding Great Options and City Schools’ inclusion in the Nation’s Report Card’s Trial Urban District Assessment," according to a press release sent by the school system.

“Ben has been an integral part of our efforts in the last few years,” Alonso said in the release. “He has taught me a great deal about the school system and I greatly value his contributions to our reform efforts. I look forward to his continued contributions in other capacities moving forward.”

Posted by Erica Green at 12:15 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 28, 2010

Who is betting on Maryland as a RTT winner?

Now that Maryland has secured a spot as one of the 19 finalists for the $3.4 billion education give away, I'd like to hear whether readers believe the state will be a finalist. We were one of a very few states on the list that wasn't a finalist in round one this winter, so what is the chance that we wiill win? U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said between 10 and 15 of the second round finalists will probably be designated a winner, depending on how many of the top states have large or small populations. So if a small state like Rhode Island were to be one of the winners, more money would be left for another state to get some too.

The stakes are particularly high for Prince George's and Baltimore City as they attempt to accelerate the improvements they have made in those school districts. With diminishing tax revenue the state may have a hard time not cutting education funding next year. So any extra cash the state can bring in may reduce the pain on local governments.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:08 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

July 26, 2010

Race to the Top finalists to be announced tomorrow

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will announce in a speech scheduled to start at 1 p.m. tomorrow the list of states that are finalists in the race for a pot of $3.4 billion. Maryland could get as much as $250 million.  In its education blog, Ed Week predicts Maryland will be one of 20 finalists.

If there turns out to be as many as 20 finalists in the contest, then it would seem logical that Maryland would be one of them. The state legislature passed laws this winter that make the state much more competitive, but I am not making any predictions. Maryland's perceived weaknesses are its charter school law, and the lack of support from Montgomery County and most teacher unions.

We promise to give you the news as soon as it breaks.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

More about Anne Arundel MSA results

From Anne Arundel County schools reporter Joe Burris:

Hanover’s Chesapeake Science Point Charter School received the highest scores among all Anne Arundel County middle schools for the second consecutive year, school officials said.

CSP’s results come as county school officials recently announced that only five of its public middle schools reached Adequate Yearly Progress targets as a result of this year’s MSA scores.
CSP also outperformed other Maryland public schools by as much as 23 percent in all grade/subject areas. One of its most significant results were in the special education category; CSP’s special education students outperformed those in other Anne Arundel County schools by as much as 70 percent.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel

July 23, 2010

In letter to community, Alonso addresses test investigations

Baltimore City schools CEO Andres Alonso wrote a letter titled "Learning from our results" to the city school community today, where he discussed the city's 2010 Maryland School Assessment results -- which were released Tuesday -- and highlighted some successess and pitfalls in student achievement.

The CEO then went on to address the investigation into Abbottston Elementary School, whose scores plummeted in some grades from 100 percent this year. We broke the story last night that Alonso, who rarely ever will address speculation about a specific school, confirmed that the drop in scores raised red flags.

Read the CEO's letter below:

Dear City Schools Partners and Friends,
Earlier this week, I wrote to you with the news of Baltimore City Public Schools’ 2009-10 Maryland School Assessment (MSA) results. These results are both encouraging and important. They show continued growth, especially among student groups with a history of low achievement, a narrowing of the gap between elementary and middle school outcomes, and a doubling of the students performing at the highest level of performance in both reading and math over the past three years. They also highlight the critical role of attendance in student success in school.

This year’s MSA results show that of students who attended school regularly in 2009-10, 75.2 percent scored proficient or advanced on the reading MSA, compared to just 59.6 percent of students who were chronically absent, meaning missing 20 school days or more. In math the achievement gap was larger; of students who attended school regularly, 70.5 percent scored proficient or advanced on the math MSA, compared to just 48.9 percent of students who were chronically absent. And these gaps were even greater between students who attended school regularly and those who were truant or suspended.

The significance of attendance in City Schools has never been clearer: When our kids are not in school they do not achieve. And the responsibility of the City Schools community has never been starker: We must work to ensure that our kids are in school.            

This year’s MSA results also highlight the performance of individual schools, and today’s news made public an investigation of test results involving Abbottston Elementary School, one of our highest achieving elementary schools in recent years. The investigation—which includes an inquiry by City Schools as well as an investigation by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) at City Schools’ request following intensive monitoring of test administration and significant drops in test scores at Abbottston this spring—is an indication of how seriously we take the need to ensure the integrity of our results.

City Schools has clear protocols in place to monitor testing; to respond to, and where necessary investigate, allegations of impropriety; and to take quick and firm action when there is the slightest evidence that alleged improprieties have occurred. We will not look the other way when there is any evidence of behavior that reflects a lack of faith in our kids, and compromises the integrity of us all. And as a result of this commitment, we will sometimes investigate schools where no wrongful or intentional action has taken place.

This process takes time and absent hard evidence, no one should make assumptions about our students or any school or school community and their hard-earned gains. As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that the overwhelming majority of our educators, partners and families are working incredibly hard for our kids, and they deserve huge applause. Those who try to game the system are the exception, and deserve to be exposed.

As vital partners in our students’ success, I hope you will join me in keeping the conversation alive about where we need to focus our efforts in the months ahead to keep our kids moving forward. Let’s work together to get them to, and keep them in school. And let’s be sure to lift them up as we go.

Thank you for all that you do for our students and our schools.
Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools

Posted by Erica Green at 6:23 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 22, 2010

The best (and worst) Maryland schools (updated)

We have decided this year to analyze the Maryland School Assessment data in several different ways to produce rankings of elementary and middle schools. If you are able to download an Excel file on your computer, you can use the links below to call up the lists. We have also included a ranking of schools by the percentage of students scoring advanced on the tests, which some educators argue is perhaps a more valid measure of how a school is doing.

My story in Friday's paper details how the best elementary school in the state is not one from the wealthy burbs (although there are plenty of those among the top), but a small school in coal mining country just a couple miles from West Virginia -- Crellin Elementary in Garrett County. The school may have a 74 percent free and reduced lunch rate, but the principal, Dana McCauley, says that isn't going to define her students.

The school seems to be a model for how a community can come together to see that its children flourish. And it seems the same is true for many of the top schools. Far from "teaching to the test," these top schools are succeeding because they are interested in the "whole child," principals say.

UPDATE: We know a lot of people have been frustrated by not being able to see these links. So we have created a file we hope everyone will be able to see.  The first group of links is to the PDF...the second group is the downloadable excel file.


Ranking of elementary schools by students who passed:


Ranking of elementary schools by students who scored advanced,0,7661312.acrobat

Ranking of middle schools by students who passed,0,2591967.acrobat

Ranking of middle schools by students who scored advanced.,0,7441688.acrobat PDF. Gdh

Elementary school students who scored advanced:

Middle school students who scored advanced:

Elementary school rankings for those who passed:

Middle school rankings for those who passed:


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:32 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

Fordham gives Maryland a C and D on standards

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has a report out that gives grades for each state's standards. Maryland didn't fair too well, although it was in good company. The report said the state's math standards were some of the worst in the country. In a story today we explore what the report said and get the state's response.

Maryland has recently adopted the common core standards, which is fortunate, nearly everyone agrees, because those standards are much tougher and better organized.

The interesting issue this raises is how fast can Maryland reasonably switch to the new common core standards (now adopted by half the states in the country) and can Maryland somehow rework the MSAs to reflect that switch even before the new Common Core Assessments begin in 2014?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:44 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

July 21, 2010

Maryland student test scores results are mixed

Maryland released the results of the state assessments for grades three through eight yesterday and the results showed few gains, except in elementary school math and a couple grades of reading in middle schools. Baltimore City scores were not as impressive as last year and Baltimore County scores were mostly flat with the exception of elementary math. If you would like to look at the long list of results for every school, here's the link. Make sure you note that you can hit reverse at the top of the page and see elementary scores.

We have also put together a database for readers who would like to download an excel file and do their own analysis. Here are the links:

What do readers think of the results from their school, district and the state?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:29 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

July 19, 2010

Houston sees increase in AP test takers

In light of the governor's proposal last week to have the state pick up the tab for those expensive Advanced Placement tests,  there was interesting news out of Houston this past week. After deciding to offset the cost of AP tests, the Houston school system has seen a 47 percent jump in the number of students who are taking the exams in one year. The Houston Chronicle reports that 9,000 students took the tests last spring. The pass rate dipped a few percentage points, but officials expected that.

Here's the caveat, though. Houston required any student enrolled in an AP class to take the test.  

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

July 15, 2010

Amid contract negotiations, Alonso's priorities to shift

Neil Duke, the Baltimore City school board president, has revealed that the board is seeking to renew city schools CEO Andres Alonso's contract through 2014 -- negotiations that start a year before the CEO's current contract ends in June 2011. It was a choice that Duke called "obvious" for the board, due to Alonso's proven ability to restore faith and stability in the school system and the superintendent position, which he has now held longer than any other CEO in more than a decade. A Baltimore Sun poll showed that many readers agreed with Duke. The e-mail responses I've received about the possibility that Alonso will be sticking around have been mixed, with many agreeing that Alonso has undoubtedly broken the "business as usual" mentality at North Avenue, but others remain troubled by his sometimes polarizing tactics. What has garnered the most consensus is the fact that the true success of a superintendent -- student achievement -- has yet to be realized in Alonso's tenure. Our editorial board explained The Sun's position on how Alonso will truly earn his legacy as a reformer of city schools. I sat down with Alonso for an hour two weeks ago, where he generally agreed with what has been his most critical feedback.

Alonso offered some reflections that didn't make it into my story about his tenure in Baltimore, namely that the majority of it has been about "the institutionalization of protocols."  But, he said, the city can prepare for his focus to shift to student achievement in a "pronounced way" very soon. 

“What is next from an institutional perspective is a focus on teaching and learning that I think we haven’t had until now. New  common core standards will become the law of the land, and that’s going to mean an astonishing amount of work in schools to determine what students should know,” he said.

Equally important, Alonso said, was that more emphasis would be put on teacher quality, especially as teachers face higher standards and scrutiny in the coming months. 

“I’m always, inevitably, thinking about how would I experience the work as a teacher," he said.  “I’m constantly thinking about whether the conditions that we put in place are conditions that would have worked for me.”

What do you think about Alonso's tenure and do you agree that the board should re-sign him now?

Posted by Erica Green at 4:55 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 14, 2010

Baltimore County school board initially deadlocks on vote

Baltimore County's school board members rarely disagree in public. In fact, in the six or eight months since I started covering the board I can't remember a long public debate over any issue. Last night, however, the members deadlocked on who should become the vice president. Two members, Meg O'Hare and Ed Parker, were both nominated. O'Hare received four votes and Parker five votes, but no one had the seven votes needed to win the seat. 

The 12-member board was down three members whose terms had expired and one member was on vacation. So that left just nine members last night. Once there was a deadlock, the school board went into a closed-door session to discuss the issue. Nearly an hour later they came back in and O'Hare nominated Parker for the spot. The vote was unanimous for Parker.

After the meeting, Parker said in an interview that he believed it was healthy for the board to have a debate (in private) about who should be leading the board in the next year. But he would not disclose what the discussion had been about in private.

Earnest Hines, who was on vacation yesterday, was unanimously elected president of the board. He wrote a letter to the board expressing his interest in the position in advance, Parker said.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:11 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 8, 2010

School health centers to be funded by city, but school system needs to find money for crossing guards and bus passes

All 13 school-based health centers had their funding restored with the passage of the city budget. Parents and school administrators made the most noise about the possible cuts to the health centers throughout the budget season, but other student resources are still awaiting funding.

Read more here: School resources once on the chopping block to be fully funded, school officials say

Posted by Erica Green at 2:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 7, 2010

Youth Dreamers ask for your Facebook vote

I don't usually like to promote a school or an idea here on the blog, but I am going to pass on the request of Youth Dreamers, which seems to have created something special out of a simple idea and hard work. Youth Dreamers started with a group of middle school students from Waverly's Stadium School who dreamed up a project to change the community. They wanted to build a place for youths to go after school.  It took nine years, and the help of a very committed teacher as well as some donations by local businesses, but Youth Dreamers opened the doors of a newly renovated Victorian house this spring.

The group is asking the public to support them again in helping to raise money by going to a Facebook page for Chase Community Giving and voting for Youth Dreamers. Chase is giving away money to 200 local chariities. The voting ends in five days.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 6, 2010

Turning around a high poverty, troubled school

My colleague, Erica Green, wrote yesterday about Gilmor Elementary, and the city school system's failed attempts to improve it after the board severed ties with Edison, an outside company that had operated the school for many years.

Gilmor has been one of the lowest performing and highest poverty schools in the city for more than a decade. I can remember visiting on the first day of school years ago when the line of parents standing to register their children was long and moving slowly. There was in that line a palpable sense of discouragement and frustration.

The fact that Edison and other school leadership failed to make any real or lasting improvements over time is a testament to just how difficult the work of turning around the worst failing schools can be.  Yes, Gilmor has seen some slight improvements for a year or two in test scores, but those improvements soon evaporated.

The system will try again this year, but studies and experience have shown that just firing all the staff doesn't work.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:43 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 2, 2010

New research on KIPP schools

KIPP schools generally do so well compared to other regular public schools that many people have questioned whether they are taking in better prepared students or kicking out those that aren't making the grade.

An examination of demographic and achievement data from 22 KIPP middle schools (not including KIPP Ujima in Baltimore) in 14 states by an independent research company was released last week. It showed that KIPP doesn't attract more qualified or able students than those in the neighborhood. In addition, the achievement gains in KIPP schools are so large that they have reduced the race and income achievement gaps.

The full report is available on the KIPP website. KIPP Ujima in Baltimore has a long track record of success, often better than other charter schools in the city and sometimes better than middle schools in suburban counties in the state.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:39 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 1, 2010

Alonso will be longest serving superintendent since 1994


Whether or not you like what Andres Alonso has accomplished in the past three years in the city schools, I hope you will get a chuckle out of the picture above, which was given to him by his staff recently. It was taken with a phone by my colleague, Erica Green.

Alonso has been navigating some rough waters, as the picture reminds us today as he celebrates the beginning of his fourth year on the job. It is a moment of note for the city schools.  If Alonso stays through today (and we are betting he will), he will become the longest-serving superintendent in Baltimore since Richard Hunter left in 1994 after six years on the job.

It is a well-known truth that urban superintendents don't stay long, but Baltimore seems to have had particular trouble keeping its superintendents. School boards keep hiring new superintendents, then letting them know they don't like their work one or two years later.

We think it is worth a quick review.

After Hunter came Walter Amprey, who hung around until he was kicked out in 1997, when the mayor ceded a portion of his control of schools to the state. The old school board was replaced with a new one appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor. The city schools were to see a new day. Since then, test scores have continued to improve year by year, but there have been six superintendents, not one of which has stayed more than three years.

Robert Schiller was the first to arrive in 1997; he was supposed to stay for a few months, just long enough for the school board to hire a new chief executive officer. It took longer than expected. He stayed a year, until Robert Booker came from San Diego to fill the job. Booker, who passed away recently, was widely seen as not dynamic enough. He resigned in 2000 and was replaced by Carmen Russo, a Florida resident who tried some new ideas but failed to keep the books balanced. A budget deficit ballooned under her watch, and she was asked to leave.

A few months after her departure, the system was teetering on the edge of insolvency. This time around, the board turned to Bonnie Copeland, a native Marylander who was saddled with a myriad of problems left over from Russo, not the least of which was the deficit. Charlene Boston, the first longtime city school educator to take the helm in more than a decade, was named CEO in 2006 and stayed for a year, until Alonso arrived. 

Longevity can be important. Many of the most-improved urban systems, including Atlanta, Boston and New York, have had superintendents who stayed for many years, even a decade. So will Alonso stick around for three more years to see reform through? Or will someone else be on the fourth-floor North Avenue office by next July?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:17 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City
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