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February 28, 2011

Education rally postponed because of weather

The rally scheduled for tonight in Annapolis has been postponed, probably until March 10. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Providence school board fires all its teachers

Late last week, the Providence school board decided to send termination notices to its entire teaching staff. The board said it needed "maximum flexibility" to deal with a $40 million budget deficit. Today, a story in the Providence Journal says that the union president has gone to the mayor asking for him to reverse the decision. The school system took action because it is required to notify teachers by March 1st if they will lose their jobs at the end of the school year.

The termination notices don't take effect until this summer and most of the teachers are expected to be hired back. But firing the teachers rather than laying them off gives the school district more discretion in how it does the cuts. The firing also makes it more difficult for teachers to collect unemployment benefits.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 26, 2011

Rally in Annapolis Monday expected to draw large crowd

Bus loads of education supporters are expected to set off from Baltimore Monday to be part of a protest on Monday night in front of the State House in Annapolis. Education advocates may argue with me on this point, but it is the first time in recent years that the state is actually reducing the amount spent per pupil on education. As a result, school systems from Garrett to Worcester County will see no increase in the amount they get to fund education. The fear is that class sizes will rise and other necessities will be cut. If organizers are right, some 4,000 protesters are expected at the rally. I believe that would be the largest education rally in at least the past decade.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:18 PM | | Comments (5)

February 25, 2011

Ever wanted to tell education reporters what to write?

I was in New York City last Friday attending a conference on teacher effectiveness held by the Education Writers Association. Besides several dozen education reporters from around the country, some very vocal teacher bloggers were invited as well.

I may write more later on the blog about what happened at the conference, which produced some lively debates on teacher recruitment and retention, professional development and schools of education. Today, though, I wanted to give teachers and principals who read the blog the chance to do what the teacher bloggers have done in the past week: suggest some stories we should be telling. The Education Writers Association has a blog called where you can find several posts about the conference as well as some links to blogs that teachers wrote listing story ideas they have for us.

I thought those links might begin the discussion. So take a look and post your suggestions here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:47 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 23, 2011

Wisconsin and Maryland are very different states

Teachers watching the eruptions in Wisconsin that are spreading to other states as quickly as  revolts are catching fire in Arab countries have to feel lucky they teach in Maryland. They may be battling over how evaluations should be done, but those are small skirmishes compared to the fights to protect their right to bargain everything but wages. And the unions won a major victory a year ago when the legislature gave them an arbitration panel, taking disputes out of the hands of school boards, in some instances. The unions want to protect their pensions and health care benefits. But for private sector employees who have seen wages and benefits cut in the past five years, resentment is growing against unions who show no sensitivity to those declines.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:38 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 22, 2011

City teachers more concerned about shortfalls than contract raises

Today we wrote a story about Baltimore city teachers receiving new career pathways under the recently ratified Baltimore Teachers Union contract. Placing the city's 6,900 teachers on a new career ladder, introduced into the district by the contract, is one of the first developments of the new pact. On the ladder, many teachers are seeing a pay bump and have a better idea of their future promotion and compensation opportunities in the district.

But, in several interviews, many teachers said that they were less concerned about their own financial futures under the new contract, and more concerned about the financial forecast of the district.

Updated information, pointed out to me by city school officials on Feb. 23:  The city school system is noting a $70 million shortfall for next year, on top of a $15 million cut in state funding. The new teachers union contract is estimated at $60 million over three years, but accounts for only $13,293 million of the shortfall this year. The salary increases under the previous BTU contract would have been $12,876. 

School officials have said that the shortfalls could result in everything from larger class sizes to cutting enrichment programs.

One teacher expressed their concerns over the budget woes in the pathway story that ran today, but others who didn't make it into the story also expressed strong views worth noting.

Robin Bingham, who led an opposition against the contract because district and union leaders didn't release enough details--particularly how they'd pay for it--said that she believed the contract could be the reason for some of the shortfall.

Admittedly, I expected Bingham to have a change of heart once she received her own pathway noting an increased salary, but she instead expressed concern about the recent buyout offers on the table for 750 of the city's most experienced teachers. She said that the ramifications of the budget shortfalls, for example large class sizes, etc. could possibly come as a price of the contract.

“I just feel that as a result of [the contract], we’re going to lose 750 experienced teachers, and we’re going to have greater class sizes," Bingham said. “It’s really hard to stomach that we only signed this contract for people for lots of money, and now we have a shortfall.”

Bingham rejected schools CEO Andres Alonso's notion that the early retirement plan was strictly a "business decision." "Our leaders can’t have an honest discussion about this and the kids are the ones who pay,” Bingham said. “It’s a human rights decision, and a quality of life decision."

Similarly, Bill Bleich, another very public opponent of the union contract, said that his $21 increase in salary was null and void compared to the deficits the district could face. Bleich, however, is at the top of the pay scale.

"I'm more concerned about the negative effects of the contract on class size, than I am about salary," he wrote in an email. 

"The $60 or $70 million cost of this contract (especially to pay big bucks to only a tiny percentage of our teachers) is about equivalent to the expected size of the BCPS deficit. Next year, with less funding and with more students, we may see a very bad rise in class sizes, which will negatively impact learning."

Posted by Erica Green at 2:40 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 21, 2011

Student suicide blamed in part on zero tolerance policy

Several years ago, I wrote a story about zero tolerance policies that had produced record high rates of suspensions and expulsions in school systems around Maryland.  Many school systems defended their practices at the time, although since then some school systems have changed course and reduced suspensions for non-violent offenses. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the strict discipline policies of Fairfax County played a part in a student taking his life.  The high school freshman, a good student, an athlete and a Boy Scout,  was suspended for buying a substance that was legal. But his action resulted in two months out of school and finally a transfer to another school, even though he had no previous history of discipline issues. Many school systems have instituted transfers to schools, taking students away from their friends, the communities they have grown up in and their support systems. The results, some experts believe, can be harmful for students who are likely to fall behind in their work and feel anger. In this case, the student felt such isolation of not being able to take part in extra curricular activities and his friends for months sent him into a spiral that ended in suicide.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:19 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 17, 2011

Montgomery administrator appointed deputy superintendent in Baltimore County

Renee A. Foose, associate superintendent of the Office of Shared Accountability in Montgomery County, was recently put in charge of the business operations for the Baltimore County school system. Foose's official job title is deputy superintendent. She replaces J. Robert Haines who retired last summer. I asked the Baltimore County school system for her salary, but I haven't gotten a response. I will post it here when I do. I also asked Montgomery County for a resume for Foose, but so far no response from there either.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:26 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore city teacher buyout: Read the fine print

We've decided to post this as a public service announcement, because there still seems to be some confusion from the coverage of the city teacher buyout plan. Below is a FAQ sheet from the Baltimore Teachers Union that explains the key points of the Early Retirement Incentive Program.

I'd like to also offer my own FAQ: The buyout plan offers 75% of a teachers current salary DIVIDED over a 5-year-timespan. It is NOT 75 percent of a salary each year.

Here is an excerpt from one of our stories: "In an example of the package's breakdown, school officials said a teacher in the middle of the salary scale would earn about $60,000 a year. Seventy-five percent of that salary is $45,000; divided by five years, the package would pay out $750 a month."

Keep reading for the BTU breakdown:

The Baltimore Teachers Union
Retirement Buyout Option
Frequently Asked Questions

1.How do I know if I am eligible for the retirement buyout?
If you received a letter from City Schools, you are eligible; however this program is not mandatory, if you do not want to take the buyout, you do not have to. If you did not receive a letter and meet the requirements, please call the Benefits Office at 410‐396‐8885.

2. Where will my money go for the five years I’m getting the 75 percent?
You will receive 75 percent of your current year salary divided over a five year period, plus your pension. The money you get over the five years will be put into a 403B beginning September 1, 2011.

3. How will this affect my Social Security benefits?
This plan has nothing to do with your Social Security Benefits. When you turn 62 you will be able to collect Social Security from the Federal Government, however, if you are not already 62, you will no longer be paying into Social Security.

4.How are my health benefits affected by this?
Your health benefits will be the same benefits you would receive as a retired teacher.
5. Can I come back and work for Baltimore City Public Schools if I accept this buyout?
You may come back to the system as a substitute if you take this plan, however, you cannot come back in the City as a teacher.

6.Who does this buyout apply to?
This buyout only applies to teachers who want to take advantage of this program. If you received a letter from the school system, it means you are eligible for the program; however it is up to you if you choose to take the buyout. This is strictly optional.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:41 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore schools CO detectors a result of COO's swift action

It took two potentially dangerous incidents at Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle for city school officials to realize that their dilapidated buildings should have carbon monoxide detectors, even if they weren't obligated to provide them.

But it only took just as many hours for city schools COO Keith Scroggins to begin inquiring about how feasible it would be to get them not only in Dickey Hill, but in every school. As our coverage yesterday noted, the school system's 200-plus schools are due to get detectors within a month.

This is worth noting considering that what Scroggins set into motion with an email to city officials and a media briefing, other districts (like CT) are still waiting to obtain with legislation. Everyone from the Baltimore City Fire Department to the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management responded to make it happen.

The COO--who rarely ever shares the spotlight for the innumerable projects he has started to update, upgrade and rebuild the school system's aging infastructure--is one of the most deliberate and responsive top executives in the system, from what I've observed in covering his arena of the school system.

The first half of his tenure was spent reversing poor decisions of his predecessors that set back years of progress in updating city school facilities. The latter part has been marked with hard hats on construction sites, a pipeline of new initiatives, and advocating for every capital improvement dollar available.

I found in my reporting that as we pummeled Scroggins with questions about why CO detectors were absent in schools, he didn't attempt to deflect the questions--and in fact, it appears that he used it as an opportunity to pose those questions to his colleagues in the city and school system.

City officials credited Scroggins for setting things in motion on Tuesday. Baltimore city is now the only school district in the Baltimore-metro area to take precautionary measures against CO, a colorless, odorless killer that had sickened at least one student, but one too many.

I felt the need to point  this out because every once in a while, there isn't a bad guy or a suspected cover-up.

This was one of those cases--and 83,000 Baltimore city schoolchildren are safer for it.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:44 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 15, 2011

Alonso encourages school system to 'act now' to oppose cuts

Baltimore City schools CEO Andres Alonso put out an e-blast Tuesday night to all interested stakeholders in the system, saying that the state's budget situation was now of "fundamental importance," for the city.

"Any change in the state method for funding education that reduces our funding at a time of growing enrollment is a grave risk to the progress and momentum that is now underway in city schools," the first line of the letter said.

In recent weeks, the CEO has become increasingly more vocal about how the city's budget shortfalls could increase class sizes, cut teaching positions, and force principals to axe programs in their schools. The district is also looking for millions in savings by offering a early retirement incentive to 750 teachers. 

Alonso went on to outline how the proposed change to the state's per-pupil funding formula--known as Thornton--would starkly underfund the the district, which has gained 700 more students this year. Under the formula, Baltimore is facing a $15 million cut in the state's proposed budget.

"Meanwhile, many of the costs of doing business—in things like health benefits, utilities, pre-k programs—keep going up, by about $58 million next year," the letter said.

Alonso said that the proposed cuts could affect the majority of public schools in the district--he gave the example that for a typical school of 600 students, the cuts could mean a drop in spending power of about $522,000—almost 10 percent of a school’s budget.

"To accommodate these cuts, schools will have to cut priorities that are critical to school success," Alonso wrote, citing halting expansion of pre-k programs, eliminating art and music or after school programs, and getting rid of field trips and other enrichment programs.

We already fail miserably at the upkeep of our buildings, due to lack of funding," he said in the letter.

Alonso urged the district to speak out against the cuts down in Annapolis on Feb. 28 at a rally organized by the Baltimore Education Coalition.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Union poll says voters oppose cuts to education

This morning, the Maryland State Education Association, which represents a majority of the state's teachers, released the results of a poll it commissioned from the Greenberg Quinlin Rosner Research. The poll says voters are strongly opposed to keeping state education funding level this next fiscal year. Under the state's education funding formula, the amount spent on education should rise by $100 million because public school enrollment is on the rise.

The poll done between Jan. 24 and Jan 29, says that most voters would support a combination of tax increases and cuts to spending to balance the budget.

Even when asked whether they supported keeping funding flat, in effect cutting education by $100 million, 82 of the respondents said they were opposed to such cuts. Those potential voters also said they were strongly opposed to raising the income tax or the gas tax, although they did support increasing the so-called sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and expanding gaming to pay for education.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Parents, experts fear city could shed strong teachers in buyout

In my follow-up story today about the city school district's plan to buy out teachers, we had parents and a national teacher quality expert to sound off about the possible ramifications of a plan that could have the city losing up to 750 of its most experienced educators.

The response was overwhelmingly one of concern, with parents worried that their students could not only lose teachers with decades of expertise, but also the best and brightest teachers who may take the opportunity to explore other career options. They were just as concerned about a less-experienced wave of teachers being hired to fill those vacancies.

Our editorial board weighed in today also, saying that the buyout should not affect the progress the district has made.

While some school officials were not able to fathom the idea that parents could possibly take issue with losing good teachers--the parents spoke for themselves. The money quote of the day came from a parent featured in my article (but it was more blog material): "If some of my child's teachers walk out the door, I’m going to be pi**ed.” 

“Who would want to send their kid to a school with all new teachers?” he asked.

More importantly, national experts qualified those concerns by suggesting that what may be best financially for the district, may not be best for student growth and achievement. The first couple of years of teacher's career, the expert pointed out, is when they are the least effective. Moreover, to look through a solely financial lens--and school officials say savings is the basis for the buyouts-- is not considering what's best for students, experts say.

The challenges to the program was not about bashing the district or teachers (new or veteran), but about challenging the school system to think about whether they are pursuing the right bottom line. 

My phone didn't stop ringing with parents expressing their concerns. It was quite refreshing. And it's good to know that we'll hear from parents consistently as this plan continues to unfold.

Meanwhile, education advocates say that the plan should ultimately motivate all concerned parties to oppose the state's $15 million budget cut to the city. City school officials say the cut will result in less teaching positions, swell class sizes and impact school programs.

Jessica Shiller, Advocates for Children and Youth, wrote in an e-mail:

"The main thing with the buyouts is that 1) We have to recognize the budget situation is horrible this year. Baltimore City stands to lose $17 million in cuts under the current proposed state budget.2) Any reform/progress forward will require funding. With cuts, we will inevitably see a standstill or backslide on gains made. Without the same number of teachers we currently have class size will grow, making it more difficult for teachers to teach well. They will not be able to give the attention they need to with every student. We need to fight the budget cuts at the state level (ACY has even proposed raising revenue if need be), and make it clear to the public that the success that Baltimore City and Maryland has had in education over the last few years could be totally lost without revenue at current levels."

A rally against the state budget cuts is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Annapolis. Fore more information on how to participate, visit here.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 14, 2011

Amid buyout offer, teachers to receive new career paths

About 3,200 of the Baltimore's veteran teachers received word of a deal last week that may have them heavily consider leaving the school system.

But, as of Monday, all teachers should have also received notice of another offer that would encourage them to stay.

Monday was the deadline for city school officials to send teachers their new, provisional career paths under the new Baltimore Teachers Union contract. The contract, ratified in December, introduced a new career ladder in the system that is designed to motivate teachers to achieve high statuses and make top dollars, based on proven effectiveness in the classroom and the pursuit of professional development and leadership opportunities in their schools.  The career ladder, school and union officials said, was also intended to raise the salary ceiling for the most tenured teachers in the district.

How teachers will be able to climb the ladder has yet to be determined. A governance panel of city school and union representatives that will be charged with establishing that criteria, is also due to be announced this month. 

But on Friday, the school system announced an unprecedented early retirement offer that would allow up to 750 of the city's most experienced teachers to commit early to retiring from the school system at the end of the school year. In turn, they would receive 75 percent of their current salary, spread out over five years (not each year), with the monthly payments paid into a city school investment plan. Those who take the buyout wouldn't receive health insurance or fringe benefits, but would still be eligible for their state retirement benefits.

The contract was sold on its promise to allow for newer teachers to move up in the district at their own pace--a faster pace, and allow veteran teachers to maximize their potential without stagnating in what they could do and earn. According to the contract, the strongest and most experienced teachers in the district would be making more than $100,000. (And note, everyone's starting out with more money due of the 2 percent raise all teachers received last year.)

It's hard to not wonder if the district strategically send out the buyout offer at the same time teachers were awaiting word of their new, prosperous career paths? In the last three years, only an average of 138 teachers have retired each year--factor in resignations, and that number is just over 200. That is surely not enough to yield the kind of savings that the school system is seeking with the buyout.

Many teachers say the early retirement deal seems too good to walk away from, especially for those who may have already been considering leaving the district.

But, it seems that if the contract's new career ladder fulfills its promise, many teachers will  undoubtedly find themselves at a crossroads.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:20 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 13, 2011

Alonso offers city teachers early retirement

My colleague, Erica Green, writes today about what seems a sweet buyout offer for city teachers who are in the mood to leave the system. Andres Alonso will give teachers 75 percent of their salary for five years if they decide by April 15th they would like to take an early retirement. We are interested in hearing from city teachers about whether the find this deal worth it.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:09 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 10, 2011

Manuel Rodriguez on list for Michigan school district superintendent's job

Manuel Rodriguez, who oversees middle schools in Baltimore County, is being interviewed this week for a job as superintendent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. An Ann Arbor website posted the story last night. The school system is a small one, with only 16,000 students.

UPDATE: Rodriguez was not one of the three finalists for the job.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:51 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 9, 2011

Should parents be allowed to overhaul failing schools? Baltimore Teachers Union doesn't think so

Buried in our story about Sen. Bill Ferguson's education bill package was a particularly interesting and slightly radical piece of legislation concerning parent involvement that actually prompted the Baltimore Teachers Union to put out a strongly-worded press release.

Ferguson has introduced a "Parent Empowerment Act," which would allow parents of students at failing public schools to petition for a complete overhaul of the school's governance structure. Insired by "parent trigger" laws in other states, such as California, the law would allow parents the opportunity to "take their frustration, and use it to initiate change," Ferguson said.

Similar legislation is gaining momentum in other states like Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, and Florida. Ferguson said the intent of the legislation is to allow parents to intervene more quickly if their student's education is at risk.  Currently, Ferguson pointed out that there is a 6-year-calendar for alternative governance plans to kick into action if a school is failing, “and parents in schools right now, don’t have six years to wait," he said.

"This says that parents don’t have to wait for the school system," he said. "They can initate it themselves." 

But the Teachers Union believes there will be unintended consequences with so much parent empowerment. In a statement below, the union voiced its concern:

"...We have concerns that this new legislation proposed by new Senator Bill Ferguson representing Maryland’s 46th District will define parental involvement as the mere act of picking a vendor, and will allow those vendors to simply treat this as an opportunity for a promotional campaign.

This is not going to bring us together to do the work that needs to be done. It says someone else will do it for us. The Parent Trigger format Sen. Ferguson is talking about in his legislation started in California and the early results from this program are troubling. We need to find ways, as was done in Connecticut, where a similar program is in place, to create a real path for meaningful parental involvement in improving schools.
In addition to finding the right way to get parents involved in the school community, teachers need to be treated fairly and to have a voice in their school with charter schools having programs that match the goals of their charter. We have worked on this with our charter school partners in the past and will continue to do so.
“If we allow outside forces to take over our classrooms, the continued success of our students will be in jeopardy.”

Posted by Erica Green at 3:30 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

Senator's bills take aim at teacher quality

Sen. Bill Ferguson, assistant to city schools CEO Andres Alonso before he was elected in November, has proposed an education legislative package that is causing quite a stir due to its emphasis on teaching quality. We wrote the story outlining the bills today. 

Highlights include adding "ineffectiveness" as a condition for teacher dismissal. Ferguson said that while "incompetence," (also a condition, and the one generally used in dismissals) is similar, it's more subjective, and sets too high of a bar for dismissals. Effectiveness, Ferguson said, is a measure adopted by MD recently, to be used for the promotion and compensation, and it should also be used for the reverse.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, who just ratified a contract that butts heads with Ferguson's bills, said the freshman lawmaker may be jumping the gun in attempting to legislate among lawmakers, what is already a work in progress by school leaders. English is also part of the State's Council on Teacher Effectiveness, which is developing a new evaluative tool tieing student performance to 50 percent of teacher evaluations.

More importantly, union President Marietta English said, adding another condition for dismissing teachers could destroy the trust built in the district during the ratification of the new city teacher contract. (NOTE: Ferguson was part of that negotiating team for the new contract).

City schools CEO Andres Alonso however said he has long supported "ineffectiveness" as a basis for dismissing teachers.

Another teacher quality bill sought to allow charter schools more autonomy in their hiring by granting the schools the right to "mutual consent," rather than forced placement of teachers. Ferguson said the idea behind this was to ensure that charters are not stuck with educators just because they're certified, but because they truly share the charter's mission.

Ferguson's initiatives were embraced by charter operators, who said that they need more autonomy over who is in their schools for charters to really fulfill their mission of bringing innovation to the school system.

Ferguson, a Teach For America grad, ran on a education platform last year and has taken the first step in his promise to use the city as an inspiration in the statehouse.

Was this step the right step, or a misstep?

Posted by Erica Green at 2:30 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Around the Region

February 8, 2011

County did not seek competitive bids for software contract

We have just posted a story on the website that details how a Georgia company, hand picked by Joe A. Hairston, was awarded a contract without a competitive bidding process. The company, owned by a former employee of Hairston's, has been paid at least $4 million since November 2000. Any thoughts?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:32 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Baltimore County

Mayor commits to fully supporting city schools in 'State of the City' speech

In case you missed it among all of the accolades in education portion of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's 'State of the City' address Monday, the mayor made some pretty strong commitments to schools in the coming year, considering the sizeable city budget deficit.

According to the text of the mayor's address, she pledged do the following:

"The budget realignment for 'Better Schools' maintains full funding of the city's obligation to public schools. And, despite an $80 million deficit this year:

• We will maintain every school based health center, because we know that health is critical for keeping students in school.
• We will keep the doors of every neighborhood library open to promote reading and lifelong learning.
• We will maintain our investment in Teach For America, which has doubled since last year, in order to get the best new teachers. We will fund Experience Corps to keep sending volunteers into the classroom.
• We will increase funding to the Youth Opportunity Program for workforce services aimed towards at-risk youth.
• The City will continue to fund the after-school programs that were added to the budget at the height of the housing boom, when the City was enjoying large budget surpluses. These programs reach more than 5,000 students, helping to increase school attendance and leveraging $16 million in other resources.

On Monday, she also announced the creation of a new Mayor's Youth Cabinet to better coordinate the City's collective resources and services for children. The cabinet, the mayor said, will also focus on leveraging state, federal, foundation, and private funding to enhance outcomes for our youth. Dr. Carla Hayden, head of Enoch Pratt Free Library System, will serve as chair.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Education Funding Rally planned for Feb. 28

The Baltimore Education Coalition, a coalition of about 25 of the city's most active education stakeholders, have planned an Education Funding Rally for Feb. 28 in Annapolis. We did a story today about the coalition's efforts in the last month to encourage city school communities to fight a proposed $15 million cut to Baltimore, as proposed in Gov. Martin O'Malley's fiscal 2012 budget.

The group has mobilized hundreds in past year to head to the state capital to oppose cuts to education funding, and expect more than 1,000 this year. They're signing up busloads of people in communities all around the city, and anyone is encouraged to organize and sign up for bus transportation to the rally. For more information about the rally and how to participate, go to the Coalition's website.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:06 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 7, 2011

Baltimore County school board to discuss craft fair policy

The school system will give a report tomorrow night on a newly enforced policy that is prohibiting school PTSAs from holding craft fairs in the county and has drawn a lot of criticism in recent weeks. A group of parents from the central area is trying to encourage a big turnout to protest the policy, which parents say is reducing the money they can raise to supplement school budgets at a time of diminishing revenues. In addition, they say the fairs have helped foster community involvement in the schools.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:05 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 3, 2011

Pathway to success: Career or college?

A new report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education this week questions whether there is too much emphasis placed on college preparation, and not enough emphasis placed on preparing students for the workforce. A college education, the report says, is not the pathway to success for all students and shouldn't be presented as such. Career training, the report said, should actually start as early as middle school.

The release of the report, titled "Pathways to Prosperity," coincided with Baltimore celebrating, Career and Technology Education" month, a national event that promotes high-school students earning certifications in workforce programs before they graduate. In Baltimore, more than 6,000 students have career concentrations. Some showcased their skills in an event at North Avenue.

Critics of the study and education advocates fear that more emphasis the college vs. career track could have negative implications for students from disadvantaged populations--fearing that capable students in poor districts would be unfairly sent down the wrong track, presumably  discouraged from pursuing college.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso headed to D.C. to present to the authors of the study, as well as other school leaders, where he said that in Baltimore, Career and Technology Education, or CTE, has emerged as a strong alternative to Advanced Placement courses, which offer students college-level courses in high school. 

He told the group, that, "in the communities I served the parents are not asking about tracks, they are asking about their kids’ readiness to do well in the real world," especially in neighborhoods where the old commercial and industrial infrastructure has disappeared.

In a more extensive explanation, Alonso took a pretty strong stance in favor of the study's assertions. I thought his thoughts as a superintendent of an urban, predominantly black and low-income district, should be known:

"The discussion about career readiness/pathways versus college readiness/standards is specious.  CTE programs have become more rigorous, and actually screen out many students who would benefit from them, and new high school exit criteria ensures that all students have to focus on academics, so the old dichotomy between a college ready track and a career track is an old paradigm that needs to be rethought.  

The conversation needs to change to what do we need to provide so students are engaged, learn in ways that prepared them for college (if they want to go in that direction) or skilled careers; and how do we change the systemic dynamics in cities – especially those involving struggling neighborhoods – so that government and business are partnering with schools and higher education programs to support students in their learning. How do we get to a system of apprenticeship that rather than create a track, expands on the ability of students to make choices?

It’s not an either/or question, but a both/and question, in terms of what is needed."

Posted by Erica Green at 7:55 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

School, state leaders speak out about proposed education funding

School and state leaders have begun to speak out about the proposed education funding in Gov. Martin O'Malley's state budget.

In a story by our Maryland Politics Reporter Julie Bykowicz this week, education advocates, school and state leaders, including Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso, outlined how the change in the state's Thornton formula--which has vastly increased education funding in the state in recent years--stands to negatively impact schools districts at a time when the state is reigning the nation in academics.

The story explains how the Thornton formula, passed by the legislature in 2002, was designed to ensure equal opportunities for students by directing more state money per pupil to poorer areas such as Baltimore than to wealthy areas such as Montgomery County. 

The new budget proposals appear to undermine that goal, with Baltimore City standing to lose more than $15 million, while Montgomery County gains more than $30 million. Both districts, however, have noted increased enrollments.

Alonso has taken a diplomatic approach in the preliminary discussions about how the school system will mitigate its shortfalls. He said the cuts would, "inevitably mean a loss in services and offerings and an increase in class size in many schools."

"We will clearly look for savings and evaluate all programs in order to ensure that the shortfall does not impact the schools," he said. "But we think it will impact the schools, because every year the cost of doing business increases, and we have reduced the central office so significantly and pushed dollars into schools so much that it will be highly unlikely that a reduction in aid won't have to be absorbed by schools."

Stay tuned.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:42 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

The complexities of 'school choice'

Today we ran a story that looked at Baltimore's 'school choice' program and how its benefits and  challenges exemplify a question being asked in every school district across the nation: How do families gain access to good schools for their children?

It's a simple question with complex answers--making for a complicated story to write. But Baltimore is a laboratory for this conversation, as district leaders continue to not only experiment with ways to provide families with more options, but also with how to make every school a good option.

Nationally, the conversation has become more intense as advocates rally around a mother from Ohio was was jailed last month for falsifying her childrens' addresses to obtain access to better schools for them. Read The Post's coverage of the story of Kelly Williams-Bolar, being hailed as "The Rosa Parks of Education" here.

What was missing in Baltimore's story was a public school leader. Many declined to go on the record with their opinions--some saying that it doesn't really affect neighborhood schools that still fill every seat, others saying they didn't want to deal with the repercussions of criticizing a program described as the "trademark of [their bosses] administration."

So, it was left up to the charters, and their supporters and opponents to battle it out. Not surprising, since charters are usually at the center of most hot-topic conversations about reforms--sometimes as a scapegoat, sometimes not.

But in this case, charters took one for the team--and I'm grateful that they did.

They showed that choice is not perfect, nor does it work out well for everyone--and the debate about why there are winners and losers should probably happen more often. Because, as Lorna Hanley, of the Leadership School for Young Women, concluded so poignantly at the close of the story: "At the end of the day, everyone's working harder for our children, so they win."

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 2, 2011

Lessons from Egypt

The revolt in Egypt this week has produced powerful scenes of tens of thousands of people demonstrating peacefully for the overthrow of a government. Lawyers, merchants and the poor have rubbed shoulders in Tahrir Square, all callling for a change of regime. In Jordon and Palestine leaders seem to be running scared and looking to institute reforms to stave off similar protests. The scenes are reminiscent of what occurred 20 some years ago in Eastern Europe as non-violent demonstrations brought the Berlin wall down. Reading today's paper, I wondered if social studies teachers have taken the opportunity to stop for a second and teach the history lessons from Egypt.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

February 1, 2011

Robocalls at 7:15 am to notify parents of school closures

If you are the parent of a Baltimore County student or a staff member, you may have checked the website around 6 or 6:30 am this morning and found that schools were opening two hours late.

But for those who plunged back into their pillows, the phone rang at 7:15 am. In fact, phones began ringing all over the county as the robocalls went out to say that school was canceled.  Charles Herndon, a public information officer, said that call was "a bit unusual," but "we believed it was important to let everyone know as soon as possible and in the most direct way possible."

He said the initial decision was made at 4:45 am, but the transportation folks out in the field were asked to report back on conditions at 6:30 am. After the reports of poor conditions came in, the system decided at 6:45 am to close for the day.

Herndon, who is also a parent, said he got a Robocall from himself at 7:15.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County
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