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March 31, 2011

High attrition, public funding fuel KIPP results, study finds

High levels of attrition, selectivity and government funding have positioned Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools as academic leaders, according to a national report published Thursday, which found that the charter network’s lauded outcomes in recent years have been a result of serving a distinct population of students while receiving high amounts of public funding.

The report was published by Western Michigan University, and jointly released by Columbia University, in addition to the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. The study looked at “What Makes KIPP Work: A study of student characteristics, attrition and school finance,” basing its conclusions on publically available federal and local data.

KIPP runs two schools in Baltimore. The Knowledge Is Power Program opened the Ujima Village Academy, a middle school, in 2002. In 2009, KIPP opened an elementary school, KIPP Harmony Academy. Both are located in Northwest Baltimore, serving very low-income populations, and are among the best schools in the city.

But nationally, the report found, on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools. Moreover, between grades 6 and 8, about 30 percent of KIPP students drop off of the rolls. The attrition rates in the report, which did not compare KIPP's attrition to similar schools in the district, or in neighboring districts, showed a "tremendous drop off" said the report's lead researcher, Gary Miron.

A very high number of students who disappear from the cohorts are African-American males, the report found. However, KIPP does serve primarily African-American students.

The report also concluded that KIPP's high outcomes, when compared to public schools, could be a result of serving significantly less special education students, and English language learners—two populations that are more prone to be less competitve academically and more expensive.

Steve Mancini, spokesman for KIPP, said Wednesday that while the organization welcomes being the subject of objective and rigorous assessments, the organization “rejected the core conclusions that the report is making” about the network’s success being tied to weeding out students--particularly because it did not compare attrition rates to comparable data of other schools.  

Mancini said that KIPP received the report around noon Wednesday, about three days after national media--including the Baltimore Sun-- had received it, and didn’t have time to comb through it. But deep spot-analysis of some sections of the report showed “factual misrepresentations,” he said.

The report, which has countered recent studies on the highly lauded charter network, cautioned that KIPP’s program won’t be a viable model for the country to improve public education.  Miron, who called KIPP the "darlings of the feds" said the study's results should raise questions because, according to report, the charters receive more in per-pupil revenue from federal sources ($1,799) than any other group.

Researchers also found by using a federal dataset on school finance, that for the year 2007-2008, KIPP received more per-pupil public revenue ($12,731) than any other comparison group. "Charter schools don't generally receive more than public schools, but KIPP does," Miron said. "It's remarkable."

But KIPP vehemently challenged the report’s conclusion that it generated about $5,760 per-pupil in private funding, another finding that researchers called surprising, but that Mancini called “sloppy research.” The number was based on reviews of the organization’s nonprofit filings from the IRS, but Mancini pointed out that the report based its conclusion on a subset of 28 schools, as opposed to the 56 that were operating during 2007-2008, the years of study.

“That number is just too high,” Mancini said. If researchers had factored in all of the schools operating, the per-pupil expenditure would have dropped by about $2,000, Mancini said.

More importantly, " the report fails to acknowledge that KIPP and others turn to private funding to compensate for the inequities in public funding on several fronts – capital expenses, start-up costs and general operating costs," Mancini said.

KIPP Baltimore schools were recently the source of a controversial debate in the district after it went head-to-head with the Baltimore Teachers Union for a long-term agreement on how it would pay its teachers for its mandatory extended school days.  The organization, which has served students in low-income Northwest Baltimore, said it wanted to plant its roots in the city and buy a building.

The organization said it would have to close its doors on June 30 if they had not reached a sustainable agreement.

The debate divided the city education community, as many thought it to be an embarassment if the high-performing KIPP charters--there are 99 across the country--couldn't function in Baltimore. After nearing a battle in the Maryland General Assembly, KIPP was able to come to a 10-year-agreement with the union.

It should be noted that Gary Miron has done research for the American Federation of Teachers, the parent-company of the BTU.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Charter Schools

March 29, 2011

City schools considering first grading policy

Baltimore city school officials are proposing a district-wide grading system that would require all middle and high schools to shift from reporting percentage figures on report cards to reporting in letter form (A, A+, A-, B, C, D, etc.).

The proposal would also add plus and minus to grades in fourth and fifth grade, which are currently reported as Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, etc. (So, schools could use Excellent +, Good-, etc.) 

The proposed policy would also redefine the purpose of grading as, "reflecting a student's performance on course of study expectations." As a result, attendance would no longer be factored into a student's grade.

There is currently no grading policy in the city school system--which came as a shock to many-- and for as long as anyone can remember, schools have had their own, individual policies for reporting grades.

This has proven to be a recipe for confusion among parents who have students in different schools in the city, but whose grades have been reported in completely different formats. 

A committee of teachers, principals, parents and central office staff have been meeting since October to draft a policy that would promote the most fair and consistent grading practices.

The effort to streamline the city's grading system comes under the direction of city schools CAO Sonja Brookins Santelises, who told a crowd at a public forum Tuesday night that there was a, "real need to see consistency across the school district, while still giving teachers flexibility."

Under the new policy schools could still establish what would comprise overall grades, but report them based on a set scale of percentages and a district framework. Charters would be exempt.

Consistency will be critical, Santelises said, as the district moves toward establishing an online grade book that will be accessible to parents. The CAO has held a series of public forums since January to allow for feedback from parents, teachers and school leaders.   

The proposed grading policy can be viewed here. It is scheduled to go to the city school board for approval in the coming months, in time to implement in the 2011-2012 school year.

At the forum Tuesday, parents and educators agreed that there was a need for consistency. But some expressed concern that the conversion from numbers to letters could disadvantage some students--such as student athletes--when it comes to reporting weighted GPAs to colleges.

Many educators and parents said they would prefer to have both number and the letter grades reported to motivate students to work harder, and give a clear idea of where students fall on the grading scale.



Posted by Erica Green at 8:44 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

Climate of violence pervades classrooms in urban district

The Philadeliphia Inquirer published a story today about how violence has fueled chaos in its city schools.  According to the story, the Inquirer spent a year interviewing and surveying hundreds of teachers, parents, students, and education experts violence in the district.

The Inquirer also commissioned an independent survey by Temple University that sampled 750 teachers and aides - 6 percent of the 13,000 the district employs. According to the story today, "more than two-thirds of those who responded to the survey reported that the violence and disruption in their building hindered their students' ability to learn. And more than half said violence had worsened during the last three years."

The Inquirer devoted five reporters, one year of reporting, and a host of resources to the story, which opened beautifully, albeit hauntingly...

"For Teshada Herring, the action was unmistakable: The girls smearing Vaseline on their faces and fitting scarves to their heads were preparing for a fight.

The ritual - well-known in Philadelphia schools - is intended to keep skin from scarring and hair from getting ripped out.

As Teshada passed the group on her way to class at Audenried High that morning, the events of the previous week flashed through her mind - a fight she had witnessed, Facebook posts warning that someone from her neighborhood would be attacked, a text blast to her phone that all but named her as the intended victim.

She wondered: Would they come for her?"

I would highly encourage all to read and find out. 

Posted by Erica Green at 12:46 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Schools collecting money for Japan

A fundraising effort to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan will begin in 1,500 Maryland schools on April 1 and run through May 13. Nancy Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, is asking school systems to encourage students, who she says have shown their compassion before, to bring in their change or dollar bills to help the Japanese people. The state will partner with the American Red Cross. Maryland school children raised $1.3 million six years ago after Hurricane Katrina.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

March 28, 2011

High number of erasure marks shadow soaring test scores in D.C. schools

USA Today broke a massive investigative story  Monday that looked into some of Washington D.C.'s soaring test scores in recent years. The investigation was launched by USA Today after it found that a school, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, went from 10 percent proficiency marks to being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for its incredible improvements.

Apparently, those results mirror a trend in D.C. in recent years. But those gains are now in question, after USA Today found the number of answers changed wrong-to-right on standardized tests was so high, that the odds that the number of erasures happened by chance aren't even comparable to winning the lottery's Powerball drawing.

This is familiar territory for us here in Baltimore. We learned that a similar situation transpired at George Washington Elementary--a National Blue Ribbon School--in 2008. State officials found thousands of erasure marks on test booklets, and the school's former principal was stripped of her license. 

According to the USA Today report, "based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, [USA Today] found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones."

"Noyes is one of 103 public schools here that have had erasure rates that surpassed D.C. averages at least once since 2008," the report said. "That's more than half of D.C. schools."

The investigation has spurred a series of questions not only about possible testing improprieties in D.C. schools, but also about the tenure of former embattled schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.

In his column, The Washington Post's Jay Mathews called for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to pull Noyes' Blue Ribbon status. In other states, USA Today pointed out, these discoveries have resulted in criminal investigations.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:34 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

The "Future of Teaching" discussion at Hopkins

The Johns Hopkins University School of Education will be holding a panel discussion which should be of interest to many of our readers on the future of teaching. The panel includes Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Michael Cohen, president of Achieve; Richard Lemons, vice president of the Education Trust; and Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief academic officer of the city schools.

The discussion, free and open to the public, will be held on Monday, April 25, beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. at Shriver Hall on the main campus. The program will start at 7 pm. Anyone interested in attending can go online to rsvp. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

March 25, 2011

Another hot spring for some Baltimore County schools

Despite the best efforts of parents who lobbied politicians to put money in the budget this year for air conditioning for Ridgely Middle, it will be September before the students and faculty there will feel any cool breeze.

It isn't clear what has gone wrong, according to Julie Sugar, the former PTA president at Ridgely. She says that everything seemed to be on schedule for the school to have the chillers installed by spring. The bids went over the course of the fall for several schools and were voted on by the board. Ten schools are supposed to get air-conditioning this year, and several contracts have been approved by the board.  The board approved Ridgely's contract in January.

Sugar said parents were "shocked" when they learned in the past week that installation might not be finished until September because temperatures have been over 100 on some days. "We are very confused. We have asked a lot of people questions," she said.

Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the school system, said "it was a timing issue."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 24, 2011

Baltimore county students to rally against school cuts

Students at Towson High School have planned to stand against proposed teacher and class cuts in Baltimore County schools on Monday, by protesting for county lawmakers, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, to intervene.

The rally is scheduled to take place from 4:30p.m. - 5:30 p.m. outside of Kamenetz's office, at the Old Courthouse in Towson, which is located at 400 Washington St.

Baltimore County high schools are beginning to decide which classes — likely the electives and small Advanced Placement courses — they won't be able to afford next year, as they begin eliminating as much as 10 percent of their faculty.

The reduction to the teaching force is being felt hardest at the high schools, where class sizes will rise from an average of 26 this year to 29 next year, according to budget documents. Elementaries, which the system protected from cuts through second grade, stand to gain five teachers overall because enrollment is growing. Cuts to middle school teachers will be larger than the elementaries but smaller than the high schools.

According to a Facebook event, created by two Towson High school students, the mission of the rally is:

"If you are upset about losing your teachers and possibly some classes, you are not alone. All BCPS high schools are being impacted. Please come out to support your teachers, your school, and funding for your education this Monday! EVEN IF YOU CANNOT COME, INVITE ALL YOUR FRIENDS. Numbers matter."

On Thursday, at least 139 students had signed up.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

Rodriguez a finalist for superintendent's job in Colorado

Manuel Rodriguez. an assistant superintendent in charge of the middle schools in Baltimore County, is a finalist for a job of superintendent in a school system of 1,300 students in Trinidad, Colorado. Here's the story in the local paper talking about interviews with the three finalists. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:04 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 23, 2011

Baltimore city school system budget still a "moving field," Alonso says

Baltimore city school officials met this week to discuss a 2012 budget still in limbo as the school system awaits word of how decisions at the state level will impact its funding.  But, during a school board worksession Tuesday, city school officials provided a tentative assessment of what the budget could look like when it's presented on May 10.

The full presentation on the tentative budget projections can be found here.

Of note, city school officials said that overall funding for schools will go up next year, but with less flexibility. Due to an increase in "locked funding"--such as funding solely for specific programs like special education--this will create tensions, school officials said.

"No matter what we do, it's going to be impossible to safeguard schools completely because of the locked funding," city schools CEO Andres Alonso said.

Base funding will stay the same as last year at $5,000 per-pupil, but the additional funds that schools receive for students in advanced, and special education will decrease by about $400 next year. Charters school would receive about $10 million more next year due to increased enrollment.

The budget scenario is still a "moving field," Alonso said. All of the budget projections are based on projections from schools, which are "already lobbying [for funds] based on enrollment numbers," he said.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

More Maryland kindergartners prepared for school

More Maryland students are showing up prepared for the 12 years of schooling ahead, according to a story we ran today. After a decade of state initiatives aimed of better preparing children to be successful in school, a state survey which showed that 81 percent of the state's kindergartners have the academic and social skills they will need to be successful in school.

According to the story, done by my colleague Liz Bowie, the state's Ready to Learn report shows a 32 percentage-point jump in the past decade in the number of children ready when they enter kindergarten.

Suburban school districts in the Baltimore area have exceeded the state average, but in Baltimore, only 67 percent of students--an 18 percentage-point increase over last year--were deemed prepared. The school system released its own findings, which can be viewed here.  

While Baltimore city still has a ways to go to catch up to its neighboring districts, it seems the school system is on the right path. The state attributed the improvement, in part, to local districts opening pre-kindergarten programs, and the city has noted a 50 percent increase in the number of pre-k seats it has offered in the last three years.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

March 22, 2011

Hopkins report: Fewer dropout factories nationwide, Baltimore highlighted

A new report released by Johns Hopkins this week found that the trend of fewer high schools across the nation being deemed "dropout factories" continues.

The latest natiowide data shows that from 2008-2009, the number of schools graduating less than 60 percent of their students declined by 112. By 2009, approximately 580,000 fewer students attended a dropout factory high school compared to the beginning of the decade, the report said.  In the fall, another report led by Hopkins found that the number of “dropout factories” had declined from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008. Three are now 1,634 schools that are considered dropout factories.

The report concludes however, that "although the national high school graduation rate is still
too low and too few of our graduates have the skills they need to succeed after high school, an essential foundation has been laid to significantly increase graduation rates to 90 percent for the
Class of 2020 and concerted efforts to rise to a standard of excellence are bearing fruit."

Baltimore is highlighted as a case study for its accomplishments in bringing students back to school and partnering with organizations like the Open Society Institute for data-driven solutions to reverse its longstanding trend of low graduation rates and high dropout rates. Last year, the city noted a near-historic 4 percent dropout rate, and 66 percent graduation rate.

The latest report is the first in a series of annual updates that will be provided through 2020.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 21, 2011

County will reconsider ban on craft fairs

My colleague, Andrea Walker, was at the school board retreat on Saturday when the board discussed the craft fair policy that has caused a stir in the community in the past several months. The board decided to have one of its subcommittees look into the issue, but that doesn't mean the school system will reverse itself on the policy.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:29 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

City schools under spending freeze, budget work session scheduled for Tuesday

Baltimore city schools will host a work session on the fiscal year 2012 budget on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m., where city schools staff will give updates and reports on budgetary matters. Public comment will not be taken at the session, but the public is welcome to attend. 

Aside from the state budget-cut scenarios, there's been little buzz about what the city school budget could hold for next year. But, school officials have been transparent about the fact that hard decisions will have to be made at the school level.

A recent move by the school system shows that they're already preparing for the worst.

Since March 7, city schools has been operating under a spending freeze that will last through June 30, or the remainder of the fiscal year. The school system said that they also did the same thing last spring, and that "it allows us to close gaps where they exist, and make sure that we close out the fiscal year whole."

"This year we expect the freeze to capture about $10 million," the school system said in a statement.

According to a note to school leaders, the spending freeze means, "that all purchases will be carefully reviewed and purchases that are not essential to student success will not be approved for the remainder of this fiscal year.  Existing contractual obligations will be honored and you will have the opportunity to provide justification for various purchases that you may think are essential."

The school system also provided guidelines (listed below) for schools to follow in deciding what falls under "non-essential spending."  

Effective March 7, 2011 City Schools will impose a freeze on all non-essential spending. This will include the suspension of any new spending of General Funds, including but not limited to, all of the following:
 Hires of all temporary personnel
 Out-of-town travel and conferences
 Non-essential repairs and maintenance
 Hires of external third party consultants
 Non-emergency purchase of equipment and computers
 Overtime
 Catering
Posted by Erica Green at 12:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 20, 2011

Baltimore County lawmakers demand answers from Hairston

In the wake of my colleague Liz Bowie's story that revealed the $214,000 salary of a recently hired Baltimore County schools deputy superintendent, the backlash from taxpayers and lawmakers has been-a-brewing.

There has been a strong reaction to the salary, which comes as the county is leaving teaching positions vacant, while the county's administrative costs were found to be among the highest in the state.

On Friday, we wrote about how several county lawmakers expressed their concern to county schools superintendent Joe Hairston. They said that county residents understandably find his filling a $214,000 position in this economic climate "appalling."

They also demanded that Hairston address how communications team chooses to deal with the media--namely that it takes a month to get one salary, and that access to information about taxpayer-funded activity must be made in writing. Other media outlets have also made public their conflicts with the county school system.

It will be interesting to hear if Hairston responds, and what his explanations will be. I'm sure Liz will keep you all updated. 

Posted by Erica Green at 4:24 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 19, 2011

Archbishop says he's not shutting out charters

Today, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien wrote a letter to the editor, to address the idea that the Archdiocese is shutting out charters. The letter is in response to an article I wrote earlier this week that explained how a recent attempt of a Baltimore charter school to buy a vacant Catholic school building failed because the charter stood to threaten neighboring Catholic schools. It was discovered that it wasn't only that building that was off limits to charters, but all 13 Archdiocese buildings that are currently sitting vacant.

The Archbishop emphasized points that I had in my story to explain that the Archdiocese is not shutting out charters. For example, 18 of its buildings now house educational programs (4 are charters, and the rest are primarily head start programs).

The Archdiocese also recently leased a building to Mt. Washington Elementary so that it could expand to serve middle school grades. I was told that Mt. Washington, which is not a charter school, did not pose a threat because it would primarily serve public school students from the area. Another deal with a charter is supposed to be announced soon, he said.

The Archbishop concluded that: "We all have a role in educating children, and we think it is to Baltimore's advantage to maintain the presence of Catholic schools for many years to come. For that reason, we must make the promotion and strengthening of Catholic schools our first priority while continuing to work with our educational, government and business partners in the city to ensure every child has access to outstanding educational options."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 18, 2011

Eyes on Alonso as he draws attention of Chicago

It seems that nearly every superintendent seat that's been vacated in the last year has emerged as a prospect for schools CEO Andres Alonso, whose Baltimore contract is set to expire this year. 

First it was Washington, D.C., then it was Atlanta, and then Detroit. And then there was Newark and New York--Alonso's hometowns, and where started his careers--and whose job offers he couldn't possibly refuse. Admittedly, I've become as irritated chasing the rumors, as Alonso probably is having to constantly respond to them.

But, as we reported , a new city has emerged as a contender to possibly lure Alonso away. And from the feedback I've received, unlike the numerous other cities that have circulated in the past, a possible offer from Chicago has some Baltimore education leaders worried.

Clarification: I had been in touch with my counterpart at the Chicago Tribune, our flagship paper, about Alonso's name circulating in high circles over there. Eventually, it was consistent enough that the Tribune felt comfortable going with a story and we agreed.

The Tribune's story outlined all of the candidates who could get an offer from mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, but top-billed Alonso as one who seems a philosophical match. Chicago experts even weighed in on how Alonso would fit there (I would encourage everyone to check out that commentary in the Tribune's story).

So, with the June 30 deadline for Alonso's contract fast approaching, we can now start asking the fun questions.

Will he stay, or will he go?  According to a Baltimore Sun poll, many believe he will be lured away before his contract is renewed.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 17, 2011

Baltimore County administration costs higher than most in state

First, the news is out. The salary of the new deputy superintendent that Baltimore County took a month to release came in an e-mail late Wednesday from the county attorney. Embedded among 291 salaries was Renee Foose's at $214,000.

And for those county employees who make over $80,000 a year and work outside of a school, I know you got an email from Phyllis Reese saying that the school system had to release the data. And she is right, they do. What she didn't mention was that the system didn't release any names, just job titles. Second, The Sun has been collecting the same data for lots of government agencies. So no, I don't plan on publishing everyone's job title and salary in the newspaper tomorrow or any time in the near future. 

Even before Foose's salary was released, I decided to mine the Maryland State Department of Education data for statistical data on individual school systems around the state, to see how Balitmore County administrative spending compares. You will have to look at the Analysis of Costs chart to find the information I used in the story. I found that the county ranks fourth overall for the amount it spends on administration. It ranks far lower in mid-level administration and spending on teacher pay. The bottom line is that the system doesn't pay its mid-level managers and teachers a lot compared to other districts, but they do spend a lot on upper level management. There's more interesting data that can be found here on the state's website for those who are interested in sorting through lots and lots of numbers. But one more report of interest is the professional salaries comparisons, including superintendent salaries here.

And if you would like to take a look at the study that Ulrich Bosen did on 9,000 districts around the nation and how efficiently they spend their money, here it is. A study that came to a very different conclusion is here. So for all those who love data, go to it.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:07 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County

Archdiocese property listings show limits of charter leases/sales

We explain a story today that the Archdiocese of Baltimore has decided not to lease 13 of its vacant buildings-10 in Baltimore City and three in Baltimore County--to public charter schools.

A controversial decision, the archdiocese has said today that the decision is not absolute, and that exceptions can be made for some charters that don't pose a threat to their neighboring Catholic schools, or Catholic programs that offer similar curricula to charters.

However, it appears that all of the vacant schools stand to have competition from charters, because according to property listings on the archdiocese website, which can be viewed here, every single property listing says: "This school building cannot be leased or sold to public charter schools."

The archdiocese's decision, aimed at helping to stabilize a Catholic school system, has drawn criticism from city and school officials who believed that after a controversial decision to close 13 schools last year, the Archdiocese should use the vacant buildings for any viable educational institution that can offer more options for families.

However, many say that doing that could threaten the very schools the Archdiocese said would be strengthened by a painful consolidation last year. One existing Catholic school, Cardinal Shehan, is now thriving after absorbing students from one of the buildings that closed, but is now being sought after by a city charter. Proximity and competition are key factors in their decisions, they said, and the 200 years of educating Baltimore children of all creeds show that they are invested in the future of Baltimore city students. 


Posted by Erica Green at 10:43 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 16, 2011

Baltimore could see restoration of some state education funds

Annapolis reporter Annie Linksey reported in today's Sun that House leaders are looking to shift about $58.5 million back to state education funding, a move that would restore cuts to Baltimore schools. The city stood to lose between $15 million and $17 million in the state's original budget, while more affluent districts would have received more funding. Thousands of education advocates, teachers, educators have rallied against the cuts.

Read more about the House's plan and how much the city would gain here. Members of the House Appropriations Committee are scheduled to start voting Wednesday.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 15, 2011

City school system needs more than 300 teachers to move forward with early retirement plan

The Baltimore city school system needs 315 teachers in order to execute a plan to offer an early retirement incentives to educators with more than 10 years experience.

According to the latest update from the school system's website, 36 teachers have committed to taking the buyout, announced last month as a cost-saving measure that could save the district between $5 million and $10 million next year.

By offering teachers 75 percent of their current salaries, which would be dispensed into an investment account over a five-year-period, the district hoped that it could induce up to 750 early retirements and resignations. If 350 teachers don't 't take the plan, the deal will be called off.  

With a month until the April 15 deadline for teachers to take the buyout, it seems that minimum may be hard to come by.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:36 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

Sights and sounds from education rallies

Since we weren't able to write stories about all of the education-related rallies that took place in Annapolis recently, I thought it'd be nice to pull together some local coverage of the events.

About 1,700 education advocates braved the rain and cold last Thursday to attend a rally (covered by the Baltimore Brew) organized by The Baltimore Education Coalition. The rally protested state funding cuts to Baltimore city schools. The school district and BEC posted some pictures from the event.

On Monday, educators, civic groups and labor unions from across the state--including the Baltimore Teachers Union--rallied against pension cuts, and in favor of full funding of education. The Sun took some video of the rally--which drew thousands--that can be seen here. Our Annapolis reporter Julie Bykowicz also covered the perspective of union ralliers, which can be viewed here.

Both rallies were deemed huge successes just based on the number of participants. This budget season, it seems educators and advocates believe that action speaks louder than words. 

Posted by Erica Green at 10:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Sunshine week and the Baltimore County schools

Patch reporter Bryan Sears has written an interesting blog item on the difficulty in getting a simple piece of information - the salary of a high ranking administrator - out of the school system. You may recall a post I wrote some weeks ago about the school system's failure to give me the salary for Renee Foose, who was recently hired as the deputy superintendent.  It seems Sears has had the same difficulty as he details in his blog. Sears quotes spokeswoman Phyllis Reese as saying: "It will be a cold day in hell" before he gets the salary figure unless he files a public information act request. When taxpayer dollars are spent on salaries, the public gets to know how much those salaries and benefits cost.  Reporters don't like to file requests under the public information act, in general, because then the government body has 30 days to respond. It makes reporting a slow process.  

But I went along and filed the formal request under the public information act and did get a response today, sent to me by snail mail, from the school system's attorney. She said that the contract with Foose had not been completed so the school system didn't have anything to give The Sun. It seemed to stretch credulity that Foose took a job without knowing what her salary would be, contract or no contract.

I complained in an email, and was told that the contract will be signed in the next day and I will get the salary information then. I will post the information here.

Sears is taking the high ground. I applaud him. He says he shouldn't have to file a request under the public information act. Read his blog to see his view. Sometimes for reporters, the principle of becomes more important than the actual information we seek. Sears writes his view on Sunshine Week, the week set aside by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to recognize the public's right to know.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:01 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 14, 2011

Maryland educators, advocates to rally in Annapolis tonight

Educators from around Maryland will take to Lawyer's Mall tonight to continue putting the pressure on lawmakers to fully fund education next year by maintaining the state's Thornton funding formula, and restoring millions to area school districts.  

The Maryland State Education Association has organized the "Rally to Keep the Promise," along with educators and advocates across the state. The rally will take place at 6.m. Among the speakers for tonight is "Thornton" himself-- Dr. Alvin Thornton, Chair of the Maryland State Thornton Commission, Associate Provost for Public Affairs at Howard University

The Baltimore Teachers Union will join other groups to also oppose any plans to freeze pensions, or shift teacher pension costs to local districts. While this could be what helps restore the funding to school districts, the union said its not an expense that Baltimore city can afford.  You can read the BTU's flyer for their cause here. A bus will leave from Polytechnic Institute and the BTU headquarters tonight.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:44 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

March 13, 2011

Teacher reductions in Baltimore County high schools

Some Baltimore County high school principals have been calling teachers down to the office to tell them they have been excessed as detailed in a story today. Other principals have been holding  the information close to the vest, perhaps because they have not finished doing schedules that will tell them how many students have signed up for each class. But teachers in those schools tell me that the process of not knowing has been stressful. 

The cuts were dished out evenly over the schools, with declining and increasing enrollments taken into account when the number of positions a school would get was calculated. In addition to the teacher cuts in a chart that accompanies the story, the county has excessed 30 of the 66 mentor teachers in schools. So many schools will see a reduction in the total staff that is greater than the teacher cuts. Schools with larger numbers of new teachers will be particularly hard it by the shifting of mentors.  I have gotten a lot of different numbers from different sources. I went with what I got from the union because it had a number for each school, and Cheryl Bost said she thought the numbers were pretty accurate.  The union's data seemed to be between the worst case scenerios I heard and the best case scenerios. For instance, the number of teachers who will be excessed at Dulaney ranged from 11 to 17.  The union said the reductions at Dulaney would be 13.5 teachers.


Numbers of high school students will see changes in the classes being offered next year. Anyone with details about what programs will be lost at their schools can comment here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:51 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore school prays before standardized tests

A story just posted on the website details how Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School has held prayer services in preparation for the Maryland State Assessments being held this month.

The service wasn't held during the normal school day, but instead was on a Saturday at 10 am.

Central office officials didn't know about the praying and say they will investigate, but that schools should not be holding prayer services. Anyone disagree?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:00 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region

March 11, 2011

Joint Governing Panel for teachers union contract announced

Baltimore city school and Baltimore Teachers Union officials announced this week members of a Joint Governing Panel that will hammer out the most critical details of the district's teachers union contract. The panel was established in the contract, ratified last fall, and will be responsible for rolling out several elements of the contract, including the criteria for "achievement units" that city teachers will be able to use to move up a new career ladder.  

The members of the panel (named in this story) represent four educators interviewed and appointed by BTU, and four by the district. They will serve three-year-terms at $94,000 a year. The salaries are funded by Race to the Top funds. They began meeting this month.

Their first courses of action include working on the rubric that will be used for teachers to move into the top tiers--known as "model" and "lead" pathways--of a new career ladder. They are also currently working on a peer review process for teachers who didn’t meet the criteria for initial placement on the model pathway. Those tasks must be done by June 30.

The union informed me that they have been holding focus groups to weigh in as the panel begins its work. A write-up on the focus groups, done by the American Federation of Teachers, is provided below.

Baltimore Contract Rollout Keeps Classroom Voices Centra

Baltimore City Public Schools and the Baltimore Teachers Union continue to hammer out details of their groundbreaking new contract, and the union is working hard to keep the voice of frontline educators engaged in that process.

The AFT affiliate is holding a series of focus groups for teachers from all grade levels and job classifications, soliciting their feedback on achievement units (AUs).

One of the most innovative components of the new three-year agreement, AU credits are an effort to move away from conventional compensation, which is based on years spent in the system. Teachers who earn these new units can move off a fixed timetable and boost their compensation and leadership roles by performing a wide range of in-school and out-of-school duties that contribute to student growth and school climate.

The focus groups asked teachers to define what activities should be tied to AUs, how the system should measure teacher success in earning the credits, and how professional development should be tailored to the new approach. The questions prompted lively discussion from elementary school teachers who participated in a March 2 focus group.

The educators, who came from more than a half-dozen schools in the district, emphasized the need for more clarity and transparency in awarding the units; recognition of hard-to-measure activities, such as leadership in after-school programs; and the type of professional development that specifically targets the needs of educators at all stages of their careers—training that one focus group participant said "goes beyond someone reading a PowerPoint to me."

Comments will be gathered from a wide spectrum of educators participating in the focus groups: clinicians, special educators, resource teachers, librarians and career technologists, as well as home-and-hospital teachers. Their remarks will be analyzed and used to help guide and inform the joint governing panel, which is charged under the new contract with developing a menu of AU credits for educators in all content areas and grade levels.

The "voices of the teachers are an excellent resource to define the AUs," said Violet Cousin of the BTU Teacher Center, who coordinated the sessions. "Educators feel validated about their practices when credence is given to their ideas."

Posted by Erica Green at 10:49 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 10, 2011

Kamenetz proposes a solution for overcrowding

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has asked the school system to consider moving fifth graders at crowded elementary schools to middle schools, many of which have space. The letter was sent yesterday to School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and school board president Earnest Hines. Kamenetz says the county should consider ways to utilize the space it has before building new schools or additions. Parents at some of the elementary schools immediately criticised the idea, although fifth through eighth grade schools are a common middle school model around the country.  I have been getting emails parents who would rather have a tax hike than live with facilities that are outdated. Others note that the Hampton Elementary School addition will cost the county $12 million, not $20 million as Kamenetz says. And Stoneleigh parents have said the school desperately needs renovations, whether or not an addition is built. I hope that those who support the solutions being proposed by Kamenetz and those opposed will begin a dialogue here.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:47 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 9, 2011

Staff shakeups at city schools are really teacher shuffles around the district

Today we had a story that described a lively debate among Baltimore city school board members  about the future of the district, as more schools become destined for staff or curriculum overhauls because they fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP)--measured by federally mandated academic targets required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Four of five schools--including some that have made notable progress, but not AYP-- were recommended Tuesday for "strategic staff replacement" if their MSA scores don't improve this year. A fifth school would reopen as a public charter, most likely with new staff as well.

Frustrations flared as school leaders spoke of how one of the schools, City Springs Elementary/Middle, has seen drastic gains in test scores, attendance rates and climate. Patterson High was another school on list, but has a high graduation rate and low dropout rate-- top priorities for the district.

In a rare and refreshing move, school board members approved the recommendations, but not without speaking their minds.

As AYP targets continue to rise, some members said, a parade of schools will be coming before the board dreading the turmoil that comes with failing to meet unrealistic goals that are based almost solely on a set of test scores. 

Another board member expressed a strong concern about the climates of schools deteriorating, as teachers become more focused on losing their jobs, and less focused on teaching students.

But city school officials had an interesting response that took the conversation in another direction: The teachers won't necessarily lose their jobs. They'll just be sent to other schools--in what essentially is a teacher shuffle around the district.

The staff replacements are designed to help schools sort out what teachers (and principals) contributed to their failure to make AYP.  But school leaders admitted that those teachers may very well be the reason that another school fails to make its targets.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso took the opportunity to emphasize that the shuffling around of teachers underscores the need for districts to be able to fire teachers based on "ineffectiveness," which is currently not a condition for dismissal under state law. The schools chief has testified in favor of legislation that would allow such dismissals.

Anyway, just an interesting tidbit. It definitely caught my attention.
Posted by Erica Green at 9:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Education funding rally to take place rain or shine

The rally in Annapolis to stop education cuts to Baltimore city will take place on Thursday-- rain or shine, organizers said. The rally was postponed last week due to inclement weather forecasts, and while another intense rainstorm is in the forecast for tomorrow, The Baltimore Education Coalition is urging that people stock up on ponchos, umbrellas and waterproof boots to send a message to lawmakers that the city cannot afford a more than $15 million cut to its state funding next year.

There were 4,000 people signed up to attend the rally last week, and about 130 buses will be leaving from all around the city on Thursday. The rally is set to begin around 6:30 p.m. on Lawyer's Mall.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

KIPP Baltimore and BTU continue negotiations before heading to Annapolis

Roughly 24 hours before representatives from KIPP Baltimore and the Baltimore Teachers Union were due to be in Annapolis today, the two parties agreed to a postponement on a bill hearing that sought to allow KIPP teachers to override the union contract and vote in their own working conditions. 

The issue was taken up by city lawmakers who believed legislation was necessary to allow the school to operate its stringent and effective model of long school days and summer school without having to negotiate high overtime premiums for its teachers every year. The school has said it will close its doors on June 30 if it cannot come to a 10-year-agreement with the union on how it will operate its schools.

The two parties have until March 16 to come to an agreement. The bill hearing is rescheduled for that date.

Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore, said Tuesday that KIPP and the union were heavily negotiating in good faith to stop the closure of the organization's two high performing schools. Read a letter from Botel that explains the latest.  

Posted by Erica Green at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 8, 2011

Baltimore County slow to release information

Two weeks ago, I requested that the Baltimore County school district provide me with the salary of Renee Foose, who was hired to be a deputy superintendent of schools recently. I got no response so last week I asked again and was told I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The county now has 30 days to provide me with the information. Salary information is routinely provided by government agencies to newspaper reporters without such unnecessary delay because tax dollars go to fund these salaries. The public has a right to know how much top officials make.

A good example of this access is the hiring several months ago of a Sun editor by Howard County. A Sun reporter wrote the story and the salary information was online that day.

If I had asked the same question of the Baltimore City schools, the information would be provided the same day or at most the next day. The same would be true in most other large county school districts in Maryland.

So what reason does Baltimore County have in holding off for as much as six weeks to make this information public? They say they have a policy. We'll let you know when we see it.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:46 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

Parents go to County Council to get change in school policy

My colleague, Mary Gail Hare, provided the following post:

Baltimore County parents, frustrated with a lack of response from school administrators, took their pitch for more accessibility to school facilities to the Council Council Monday. They demanded a reversal of school policy that prevents them from holding fundraisers, community meetings, even some student gatherings in school buildings.

"In this economy and in the face of budget cuts, now is not the time to ban safe and successful parent group-sponsored craft fairs and flea markets," said Leslie Weber, PTSA president at Loch Raven High, which received a one-year waiver and will hold its craft fair on March 26.

Sixteen speakers each delivered the message that the buildings are taxpayer financed and owned and should be open to the public as long as the proper safeguards are in place. Although the council has no authority over the board of education, members can advocate for their constituents.

Alice Rhodes, a parent at Timonium Elementary and a craft vendor who lost a spot when school officials canceled the Dulaney High fair last fall, even brought props - a pizza box, wrapping paper and a candle. "If the craft fairs no longer take place, the PTA will be forced to increase its direct donation and direct sales programs," Rhodes said. "Children will be forced to go door to door to sell merchandise to strangers. How much overpriced wrapping paper, pizza and junk imported from China can we buy?"

The speakers also referenced canceled fundraisers for long established charities such as Toys for Tots. The most telling denial of use came from a mother of a child with Down's Syndrome. Her daughter and several other students with disabilities met after classes at their high school once a month, until officials canceled the gatherings. A private school immediately offered the students space to continue meeting.

The school board has scheduled a review of the facilities policy at its retreat March 19.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

MSAs underway with extra eyes and ears in the Baltimore

Maryland students in third through eighth grades began the Maryland School Assessments this week, and Baltimore city schools began testing Tuesday with hundreds of monitors in buildings across the city. In a story today, the school system confirmed that they had hired and trained at least 157 extra monitors this year to ensure the integrity of the testing this year, after two highly acclaimed schools were found and suspected of testing improprieties last spring. The school system also deployed central office staff to schools, and staff from the CAO and Accountability offices will be responsible for coordinating assessments of several schools.  

One of those schools that made headlines last year was George Washington Elementary, a school that has bounced back in the last two years under new leadership. A state investigation found that the school's 2008 test booklets had been extensively tampered with. But, last year, the school had more than a dozen monitors and still made its yearly academic targets. Most recently, George Washington has generated positive buzz for an MSA rap video that has become a small YouTube sensation. Check it out, if you haven't.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:29 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 7, 2011

Chance to nominate student volunteers for scholarships

Passing along a nice scholarship opportunity, received via press release.  Deadline is March 15.

"The Kohl’s Department Stores is hosting a  Kohl’s Cares® Scholarship Program will award more than $415,000 in scholarships and prizes, ranging from $50 Kohl’s gift cards to $10,000 scholarships, honoring young volunteers who have made a positive impact on their communities. Nominations for kids ages six to 18 will be accepted Feb. 1 – March 15 at 

Last year’s Kohl’s Cares®  scholarship winners included 9-year-old Lily Toomey who has helped the American Heart Association raise $100,000 by sharing her personal story of a congenital heart defect and open heart surgery, 18-year-old Charles Dewey who started a literacy program for homeless children, and Carolyn Houlahan who founded a business that has donated more than $160,000 in net profits to cancer research.

To nominate volunteers ages six to 18 for a Kohl’s Cares scholarship, visit Nominations are accepted Feb. 1 through March 15, and nominators must be 21 years or older. Two nominees from each of Kohl’s 1,089 stores nationwide will win a $50 Kohl’s gift card, and more than 200 will win regional scholarships worth $1,000 toward post-secondary education. Ten national winners will be awarded a total of $10,000 in scholarships for post-secondary education and Kohl’s will donate $1,000 to a nonprofit organization on each national winner’s behalf."

Posted by Erica Green at 2:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

March 4, 2011

City school students make rap video to rev up for MSA

Maryland students will be buckling down to begin Maryland School Assessment tesing on Tuesday, and students at Baltimore's George Washington Elementary made a very cute rap video show how they revved up for the tests.

This is a big year for Baltimore, as the district's 2010 scores stalled after noting big leaps in the last three years. How and whether the scores will move this year will be unveiled this summer.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

AFT's Randi Weingarten blasts KIPP Baltimore's tactics

In an education column in today's Washington Post, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers--the parent organization of the Baltimore Teachers Union--sounded off about KIPP Baltimore's recent threat to shut its doors in Maryland on June 30 if the BTU doesn't allow the school to set its own working conditions for its union-represented teachers. We wrote about the conflict this week.

Below are some of Weingarten's strongest excerpts from the Post column, but I'd encourage all interested to read the column in its entirety.  

In short, she says KIPP is not playing fair.

Excerpts from Randi Weingarten's discussion with the Post:

"She said KIPP is playing by its own set of rules. She said the network, with 99 schools in 20 states and the District, has undermined her repeated attempts to establish a relationship that would allow them to work together for the greater good of children and public schools.

She said a year ago she helped give KIPP schools in Baltimore a special agreement with the Baltimore Teachers Union, part of the AFT, that allowed them to have longer school days without paying teachers the financially back-breaking full hourly rate under the city's teacher contract. Weingarten said she helped KIPP as a gesture of good faith in the discussions they had been having about national cooperation. KIPP repaid her initiative on its behalf, she said, by criticizing the New York local of her union and by going to the press rather than negotiating seriously an extension of KIPP's deal in Baltimore.

She said the KIPP people at that meeting indicated they would do more fund-raising to support the Baltimore schools so they would not have to ask for such heavy concessions from the union. But, she said, they did not raise enough funds and decided instead to try to get their way without the union by seeking a change in the state law. Maryland is one of the few states that requires charter school teachers to be represented by labor unions.

Weingarten said BTU officials had a good meeting with KIPP Baltimore executive director Jason Botel on Valentine's Day and asked him to send them a written version of the deal extension he was proposing. (Botel said the BTU did not ask him for the proposal in writing until Feb. 28, and he submitted it March 3.)

Weingarten said she has negotiated an innovative contract in Baltimore that allows for more pay for teachers based in part on improved student performance. She said the city's other charters were not complaining about the union, and that the BTU's initial agreement with Botel showed that the union could work with KIPP. Yet KIPP seems to have no faith, she said, that consulting with her, rather than going to the press and seeking changes in state law, will achieve its goals.

KIPP Foundation chief executive Richard Barth also wrote in to The Post :

"KIPP's focus has always been on keeping our promises to students and families. We are eager to work with the AFT and others who will help us achieve that goal.

"Last year, Randi's team at the AFT and BTU were instrumental in helping KIPP Baltimore secure an agreement that allowed our schools to operate for another year with our extended time schedule. KIPP Baltimore's teachers fully supported these terms. At that time, everyone understood that KIPP Baltimore needed a long-term solution to its contract issues.

"The time to agree on that long-term solution is now. Maryland's legislative session ends this April and the current agreement between KIPP Baltimore and BTU expires in June, 2011.

"We have presented BTU with a proposal to extend the terms of the current one-year agreement for an additional ten years. We hope that what worked for the BTU last year will work for them going forward.

"Unless we achieve a resolution soon, KIPP Baltimore will cease to exist after this school year. We feel a sense urgency to reach a solution."


Posted by Erica Green at 11:53 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region

March 2, 2011

Future of KIPP Baltimore charters uncertain

A story in today's paper explained how a threat that KIPP Baltimore made last year to leave Maryland may come to fruition on June 30.

The highly regarded charter organization, which runs 99 schools in 20 states, has set the June deadline for the Baltimore Teachers Union to commit to a long-term agreement that would allow the school to have a 9 1/2 day without having to pay its teachers a large premium, determined through negotiations every year. The school is also looking to  invest in a school building in Baltimore, a commitment it doesn't want to make without full autonomy to implement its model.

But the BTU holds fast to its mission to represent all teachers in the district, ensuring that educators are compensated fully and fairly for their time and energy. On the heels of ratifying an innovative teachers contract--designed to pay city educators more for their work and results--union officials say they will not take any steps that would undermine what they rightfully bargained.

The conflict has even made it to the editorial pages of The Washington Post.

But, this issue is not black and white. There is a shade of gray. Her name is Sonya Moss.

I wanted Sonya's background and voice to serve as the bookends for this story, not as a forced anecdote, but because the KIPP Ujima 7th grader could possibly be a voice of reason in what is making for a hostile debate. 

The debate appears to have come down to two questions: Is the union driving one of the best schools in MD? Or, is a successful school seeking to circumvent a contract that every other charter school in Baltimore has to adhere to?

Sonya didn't know. Sonya didn't care.

All she knows is that on June 30, her world could change, along with the prospects for her education. She just hopes that when her school's operators meet with union officials to discuss KIPP's future in the district, they also take her future into consideration.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:50 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City
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