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June 30, 2011

MSA scores disappoint the city

The results of Maryland School Assessments were released on Wednesday, and the city was among one of the only districts in the state to note decreases--and some of them were steep, placing 45 city schools in the bottom 50 performers in the state.

It was the first setback the city has noted in quite some time, particularly under city schools CEO Andres Alonso. Alonso said, however, that the losses should not overshadow the progress city students have made over time (leaps and bounds when compared to 2004, when the MSAs were first administered). Still, while the state's scores steadily climbed (even by a little), the city's didn't.

The news was a blow to the city, who for the past few years were celebrating the extraordinary gains of its poor, minority students, whose underdog story gained national attention. The drops stung a little more that city students are arguably easier targets than their peers in the counties, with their successes always bringing an extra layer of scrutiny.

That scrutiny came two-fold this year. The results of the MSA came out one week after Alonso announced that now three city schools have been confirmed to have cheated on the assessments. The results this year, Alonso said, also reflected an unprecedented show of test security throughout the district. Still, a dozen more schools are currently being investigated by the state.

It's hard to grasp what to do with all of that. You don't know whether to question whether there was system-wide cheating, or worse, that students really aren't learning (not that they can't, that they aren't). Drawing any conclusions just seems unfair and judgmental to students and the educators who work hard to help them achieve. And we should continue to be proud of how far the city has come.

However, what is fair to conclude is that all of the players will have to raise their game. Even I need to focus more on telling the stories about what's happening in city classrooms.

And as Alonso starts with a new baseline for the next four years of his tenure, I believe our editorial board summed up the sentiment being felt throughout the city:

"If he wants to erase the blow this year's scores have dealt to the city's belief that its schools are improving, he doesn't have long to come up with an answer. In the next year he will be under pressure he hasn't seen since he first arrived in Baltimore, and the measure of his success will be simple: Can he maintain or increase the level of testing security in 2012 and still produce better scores? For the sake of the students and the city, the answer had better be yes."

Posted by Erica Green at 1:12 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 29, 2011

Amid falling test scores, Alonso intends to renew contract

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso said this week that he intends to sign a new contract, which expires Thursday, even amid test results showing that the city's Maryland School Assessment scores took their first significant dive under his tenure.  Read about the state and city's MSA results  here.

While Alonso did not say when he would sign his contract, he alluded to what he said back in 2007 when he first came to the city about his likely commitment to Baltimore.

“I said on day one that I need to be here for 10 years for it to change—and I have stuck to my word, and continue to stick to my word," Alonso told The Sun . "If it were easy, I would be someplace else already. The reason why it takes focused leadership over time is because it is not easy.”

The city noted a 5 percentage point decrease in math, and a 3 percentage point decrease in reading on the 2011 Maryland School Assessments, according to data released Wednesday. A deeper analysis by The Sun, showed stark plummets in a variety of data sets. We will be releasing those details tomorrow.

“Quite frankly, this makes it far more important—it’s personal—so, there’s no way I’d go anywhere else," Alonso said of the MSA results. The CEO said that there was "no way, I step away from the fight. So, you have to deal with me for four years or until I get fired.”

Posted by Erica Green at 1:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 27, 2011

Baltimore Teachers Union denounces new state evaluation system

The Baltimore Teachers Union has publicly denounced the new Maryland teacher evaluation system as "yet another misguided example of an obsession with test scores," in a statement released Monday from BTU President Marietta English.

Last week, my colleague Liz Bowie reported  that the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness, appointed by the governor last year to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation system, approved an evaluation framework in which 50 percent of a teacher's job rating will be based on student performance. Of the 50 percent, 20 percent will be decided by the local system.

The new evaluation system will be piloted in seven districts, including Baltimore city and Baltimore County, in the fall. It will coincide with the implementation of critical elements of the BTU contract that introduces a new career and pay ladder in the district. Teachers will navigate their way up the new pay and promotion system based, in part, on satisfactory evaluations.

In addition to state and district leaders from around the state--including city schools CEO Andres Alonso--teachers also sat on the panel. All of the teachers voted against the new system.

Alonso said in the story last week that while he thought the new evaluation system was flawed, "Overall, I think this has been a hard process, but on most elements we have gotten to a consensus." He also said he liked the flexibility given to districts and is comfortable with the model.

English said the fact that all of the teachers on the panel voted against the new evaluation system spoke volumes about how it would be embraced in the district.

She said that the framework "does little to ensure better instruction or learning, and reflects little of the teacher input or collaboration that has brought so much success to Baltimore over the past five years."  She also said that deeming a teacher "unsatisfactory" if students don't make predicted gains "is ineffective because it's punitive."

Read below for English's full statement:

Statement from BTU President Marietta English
On Implementing Maryland’s New Teacher Evaluation Plan in Baltimore

BALTIMORE—The teacher evaluation proposal presented by the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness is yet another misguided example of an obsession with student test scores. This approach does little to ensure better instruction or learning, and reflects little of the teacher input or collaboration that has brought so much success to Baltimore over the past five years. It is telling that all of the teachers on the MCEE were opposed to the plan.

The MCEE plan would tie 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation rating to students’ standardized test scores. In addition, the proposal would require that teachers be labeled “unsatisfactory” if his or her students failed to make predicted gains on a single test—for all practical purposes, making test scores 100 percent of the teacher’s evaluation. This strategy is ineffective because it is punitive, not productive in helping improve teachers’ skills. Education research consistently shows that test scores should be just one factor of many to be considered when evaluating classroom teachers and should not be weighed so heavily.

Unfortunately, it appears that the MCEE was more concerned with getting it done than getting it right. Teachers’ input on the MCEE was ignored by those who have spent little, if any, time in the classroom. Thankfully, the MCEE plan allows for districts to develop 50 percent of their evaluation plans.

The BTU is ready to begin negotiations on this aspect of the system as we continue to implement the landmark agreement we negotiated last year with Baltimore City Public Schools.

We have enjoyed five years of continuous school improvement in our city, due in large part to collaboration between teachers, parents and administrators on all educational issues. In the future, we hope the MCEE will adopt the spirit of respect, trust and teamwork that has served Baltimore’s teachers and students so well.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:54 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City

In letter to state superintendents, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan stresses testing integrity

A story in Sunday's paper explored situations unfolding in districts across the nation regarding cheating on state tests, and featured some experts who sounded off about the pressures that are mounting on schools to meet test score goals.

It seems that the U.S. Department of Education has taken notice. The Sun obtained a letter sent Friday from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to all state superintendents stressing the importance of testing integrity. 

The letter was timely, sent just a day after State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and city schools CEO Andres Alonso announced that two more city schools--Abbottston and Fort Worthington elementary schools--were confirmed to have cheated on recent years' Maryland School Assessments. The Sun broke the news on Thursday morning.

Duncan, who visited Baltimore's Abbottston Elementary in 2009--the same year the school was found to have cheated--stressed the importance of maintaining the integrity of state assessments across the nation, because they produce data not only used for assessing student progress, but is also critical for federal funding and programming.

The Secretary also urged that if any of the data used for federal programs had been tampered with, that state's report it to the feds immediately. High irregularities, he wrote, or any tampering that rose to the level of broaching criminal activity should also be reported to the department's Office of the Inspector General.

Baltimore relies heavily on federal funding and programs, particularly Title I funding for its large and disadvantaged student populations.

Although state and district officials announced last week that both test scores and attendance--sets of data used to disseminate money to city schools-- had been tampered with, they did not know at the time if there were any serious implications on its federal funding and programming. Nor, could they say if they would pursue a criminal investigation into any of the tampering.

Below is Duncan's letter in its entirety, provided by a spokeswoman at the U.S. Dept. of Education.

June 24, 2011

Dear Chief State School Officer:

Educators rely on accurate, reliable, and timely information to improve instruction and help all students to reach and maintain high levels of achievement.  Indeed, the availability of valid, reliable, and timely data on student performance is essential for meaningful accountability and implementation of effective education reforms.

For these reasons, I am writing to urge you to do everything you can to ensure the integrity of the data used to measure student achievement and ensure meaningful educational accountability in your State.  As I’m sure you know, even the hint of testing irregularities and misconduct in the test administration process could call into question school reform efforts and undermine the State accountability systems that you have painstakingly built over the past decade.

In addition, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires that States establish and maintain an assessment system that is valid, reliable, and consistent with professional and technical standards (Section 1111(b)(3)(C)(iii)). 

The successful implementation of Title I and other key programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education (Department) relies heavily on using data that are valid, reliable, and consistent with professional and technical standards.  Test security and data quality are essential elements of an assessment system.  The Department and each State and locality have a role to play in ensuring the integrity of the test data.

Under Title I, the Department is required by law to review and approve each State’s assessment system, and accordingly examines evidence compiled and submitted by each State regarding its process for monitoring and improving the technical quality of its system. 

During the review of State assessment systems, the Department specifically examines evidence of procedures and policies for test security and data quality, including training and monitoring of staff, to ensure the security of the assessments. 

Ensuring effective implementation of security and data-quality procedures also is an important part of our Title I monitoring visits, as well as our monitoring of other Federal education programs in which data play a significant role.

State and local officials share responsibility for defending against security breaches and threats to data quality.  States have a long history in stewardship of academic assessments, and most States have made great efforts to ensure that their assessments and other data collection instruments are properly administered and that data security requirements are clearly specified and followed. 

But with the nation’s interest in improving education and our shared concern in protecting the integrity of our profession, as well as our investments and the public trust, ensuring the security of State assessment systems is a national interest as well.

Therefore, I urge you to make assessment security a high priority by reviewing and, if necessary, strengthening your efforts to protect assessment and accountability data, ensure the quality of those data, and enforce test security.  Among the steps that you can take are:

·         Conducting a risk analysis of district- and school-level capacity to implement test security and data-quality procedures.

·         Ensuring that assessment development contracts include support for activities related to monitoring test security, including forensic analyses.

·         Conducting unannounced, on-site visits during test administration to review compliance with professional standards on test security.

·         Seeking support to enact strict and meaningful sanctions against individuals who transgress the law or compromise professional standards of conduct.

As you may know, a State may use Section 6111 funds to ensure the continued validity and reliability of its assessment system, and the Student Achievement and School Accountability (SASA) staff at the Department is ready and willing to help you in such efforts. 

Please do not hesitate to have your staff contact Carlos Martinez of SASA at 202-260-1440 or

Additionally, if you find irregularities or other problems with the integrity of data used for Federal education programs, please contact Carlos Martinez. 

In cases involving fraud, potential criminal behavior, or significant irregularities, you should report this to the Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline at or 1-800-MISUSED.  There are more details about contacting the OIG Hotline at the following Web address:

I appreciate your efforts in ensuring the integrity of assessment and accountability data and look forward to your continued cooperation in supporting the very best in academic assessment and ethical conduct.


Arne Duncan

Posted by Erica Green at 3:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 25, 2011

Alonso on cheating schools: There will be more

Baltimore city schools Andres Alonso said last week that while the school district has gone to great lengths to tighten testing security, he anticipates coming before the city again to announce that more schools attempted to game the system.

There are two more investigations pending, from a batch of four schools referred to the state last year.  The 2011 Maryland School Assessments will be released next week.

In a news conference last week, Alonso told reporters that it may take one or two more years before cheating is eradicated from the system. He vowed, however, that at some point, "we will emerge from this conversation--it may take one or two years--but we will emerge with our heads held high."

He also indicated that Maryland's new teacher evaluation system, which is partly based on student progress, will spur a "perverse incentive to do something wrong." Baltimore is one of seven districts that will pilot the new state evaluation system in the fall.

Alonso said the incentive could be stronger in the city, where teachers passed a contract last fall tying their salaries to performance evaluations.

This past year, the school system spent nearly $400,000 to place monitors in all 200 of its schools and to implement stringent protocols — such as taping up all boxed test booklets with tamper-proof tape — ensuring that test materials were secured every day.

The schools chief also sent out a pretty intimidating video message to the school system shortly before 2011 MSA testing began. As one principal told me, "you would have been an idiot to try and cheat this year." You can view the video here.

Still, Alonso warned: "We will come before you again, because the people who didn't get the message last year — and there are a few, and it only takes one or two — were not ready for this. And we're not going to let a single instance pass."

I'm interested to hear from our readers: How prevalent do you think cheating is in the school system? And more importantly, what will it take for schools to stop cheating?  

Posted by Erica Green at 11:56 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

City embraces transparency in recent cheating revelations

When we broke the news Thursday that two more Baltimore city schools cheated on state assessments, the response was notably different than when the district announced last year that George Washington Elementary, a national Blue Ribbon school, had cheated.

The level of cheating was arguably more egregious this time around--it included a gamut of violations and attendance tampering--but it seemed that the school system mitigated the fallout in the very public way it went about acknowledging the scandals at Abbottston and Fort Worthington elementary schools.

The Sun, which had been following the investigations for the last year, broke the story on Thursday morning after learning that the announcement was coming. City schools CEO Andres Alonso and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, held a news conference Thursday afternoon where they released even more details about the investigations and publicly denounced the cheating.

The Sun's editorial board joined many education stakeholders in the city in concluding that  "Evidence of integrity, not widespread problems" was the moral of the story this time around.

The fact that the district also went to great lengths to prevent cheating this past year--hiring external monitors to be placed in every school--was also at the forefront of many conversations and reactions to the fact that schools had been caught cheating two years in a row. 

At least from the reactions I received, everyone agreed with our editorial board's conclusion--with one exception. 

The only person who was publicly critical of the situation was mayoral candidate, Otis Rolley. As we've covered before, Rolley has a rather aggressive education platform that includes returning the school system to mayoral control.

According to our City Hall Reporter, Julie Scharper, Rolley said that the cheating scandal implied serious shortcomings in the school system--and that the mayor, among others, should be held accountable. You can read our coverage of his press conference, held Thursday morning, here.

Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings-Blake's campaign also responded to Rolley's, emphasizing the progress in city schools. 

Bebe Verdery, education reform director of the ACLU, said she remembers a time when these types of transgressions would have never come to light. She said she was also encouraged by the recent security measures put in place.

"It was not always this way (close monitoring and accountability for any wrongdoing) and any time scores went up dramatically, there were whispers and rumors about whether the gains were real," Verdery said. "I think the message from the top is now clear that cheating will not be allowed."

Posted by Erica Green at 10:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 23, 2011

Updated: Former leaders of cheating schools have high-profile connections

Updated on 6/25: On Thursday, Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's administrator's union, gave remarks after the district's announcement about the cheating found at Abbottston and Ft. Worthington elementary schools.

Gittings defended Abbottston's former principal, Angela Faltz. He said he had proof that she did not engage in the cheating, but couldn't provide it because it is part of litigation. Attempts to reach Faltz were unsuccessful.

"I will not sit back and have her name dragged through the mud the way it was today in The Sun paper" Gittings said Thursday, referencing the article breaking the cheating story. 

District and state officials would not comment specifically on the principals or personnel actions, but the Sun independently verified who was leading the two schools at the time the cheating was found to have taken place. The Sun also reported last July that the school was being investigated and that Faltz had been removed pending the outcome. Gittings defended Faltz in that article as well.

Gittings said that during the past year, "Angie held her head high because she knew she had done nothing wrong."

The precedent of holding principals responsible for cheating at a school concerned him "immensely," he said, adding that there are "certain things that principals cannot control." He called Faltz a "strong lady,"who is innocent of any wrongdoing, though district officials did not indicate that the principals were involved in the cheating.

He said the ultimate goal of the administrators' union and its legal team is to place Faltz back in a school. Gittings said last year that Faltz had "devoted her life to the school" for about 11 years.

Gittings said he could not speak for Shaylin Todd, who led Ft. Worthington during the time of the found cheating, because she was no longer an administrator in the system.  He also said he could not speak for Susan Burgess, who was immediately stripped of her license, when cheating was found at George Washington Elementary in 2008.

Original post: The fallout from the news we broke today that two city elementary schools cheated on the MSAs in recent years, will undoubtedly include talk of the leadership at the school during that time.

District and state officials will not specifically discuss possible sanctions facing Angela Faltz, who led Abbottston in 2009 when investigators found thousands of erasure marks contributed to the school's 100 percent pass rates; or Shaylin Todd, who lead Fort Worthington, where investigators found that staff not only cheated on tests, but fudged attendance numbers.

Education leaders also have not directly attributed the cheating to the principals and it is still unclear whether they, like principals in the past, will have their teaching licenses revoked.  Several attempts to reach Faltz and Todd were unsuccessful on Wednesday. 

Many of our readers and sources have raised the fact that the two have pretty high-profile connections, and represent crucial school system partners. Faltz sits on the board of the city's principals' union. And Todd is connected two organizations--New Leaders for New Schools and Teach For America--the city contracts with to funnel educators and principals into the system.

Faltz is a board member on the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, the union of city administrators. According to the union's website, she is an at-large representative for grades K-8. Jimmy Gittings, president of the union would not speak specifically to the connection when contacted Wednesday.

Todd is currently working for New Leaders for New Schools, of which she is an alum, according to a voice mailbox set up in her name at the organization's Maryland office. And she is the wife of Omari Todd, former executive director for Teach for America Baltimore. A media contact at NLNS did not comment when contacted Wednesday.

Todd is featured a lot in publications representing New Leaders for New Schools, and was even celebrated in a report published by the Abell Foundation in 2007.

I'm not saying that any of these organizations were involved, nor am I attempting to connect any dots. Just thought it was worth noting.

(An earlier version of this post indicated that Omari Todd was currently the executive director of Teach for America in Baltimore. While some pages on the organization's website still identify him as such, he is no longer in that position. The Sun regrets this error.)

Posted by Erica Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Baltimore City

Sun Exclusive: More cheating uncovered in city schools

Today, we broke a story revealing that an egregious level of cheating had taken place during state assessment testing at two city schools, and one of the schools even went further in fudging attendance records to make annual progress goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Officials also said that two more cheating investigations are pending, but declined to name the schools.

Abbottston Elementary School and Fort Worthington Elementary School were found to have cheated on the 2009 Maryland School Assessments, city schools CEO and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick are scheduled to announce in a news conference Thursday. A state investigation found that Ft. Worthington also cheated in 2010, and someone at the school changed attendance records to meet the full criteria of adequate yearly progress, or the infamous "AYP."

The Sun had been following the investigation of these schools since last summer when sources informed us that there was a gamut of cheating taking place at both schools. The state also confirmed last July that it was investigating Abbottston for plummeting test scores.

And the bombshell kicks off a series of critical milestones for the system: Alonso's current contract expires next Thursday, and he has yet to sign a new one; and next week, the 2011 MSA's will be released.

Staff were implicated in the test booklet and attendance tampering, officials told The Sun on Wednesday. 

But it's still unclear who did the tampering, and whether the principals of the schools at the time of the determined cheating, will lose their professional licenses. Note: When officials announced last year that George Washington Elementary School had cheated, the school's former principal was stripped of her license before the news broke.

The disclosure marks the second time in little more than a year that city school officials have had to acknowledge cheating at schools recognized nationally as models of successful urban education. George Washington Elementary, a Blue Ribbon school, was visited by the first lady in 2008; and U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan visited Abbottston in 2009 amid its soaring test scores--some at 100 percent.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:30 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Baltimore City

MSA scores released next week

In response to several comments on the blog, I wanted to let everyone know that while no date has yet been set for the release of the Maryland State Assessments, we expect them to be announced sometime next week, before State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick retires. We do understand that many schools have now seen the results. Don't worry, we will report them as soon as they are released.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

June 20, 2011

Educator Effectiveness panel votes on evaluation system

Today in Annapolis, a work group set up by the governor to write a new teacher evaluation system issued its first report and it gives a lot of latitude to the seven school systems piloting it this coming school year, including the city and Baltimore County. The vote was 13 to 7 with pretty much all the members who represented teachers unions voting against the framework. Half of a teacher's evalution will be based on student growth, but it may well include portfolios of student work or benchmark tests. Of the 50 percent, 20 percent will be decided by the local system. One of the main points of discussion today was whether a teacher could still be rated as effective if her or his students weren't making academic progress. The answer was no.

Maryland has taken a go slow approach, and got special approval by the federal government late Friday to make the pilot a two year process. So after the seven districts pilot the evaluation system, the task force can come back and make changes. Then all 24 school districts will use it in the 2012-2013 school year on a no fault basis, giving state officials another year to make changes before it takes effect in the 2013-2014 school year. 


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:56 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region

June 17, 2011

Every penny or postage stamp counts in Baltimore County

I got a letter, yes a snail mail letter, recently from a parent in Baltimore County, who is suggesting a way for the school system to save money. She has three children in the same elementary school. She said she received three separate letters mailed to her house on the week of May 16th from the school system - one for each child. Each letter contained a form letter for her to fill out in order to update current contact information. Apparently, the letters were sent out around the school system, because a relative of hers with children in the southwest area received the same letters.

She thinks this was a waste of paper and stamps. If the parents of every child were sent letters, she calculates the school system spent $45,900 or more on postage, about the salary of a beginnning teacher. And wouldn't there be a faster better way to get the same informaiton updated? Perhaps the letter could have come home with the mailing of the fourth quarter report cards, she wrote.

At a time when the school system cutting teaching positions, course offerings and activities, she wants to know why someone isn't watching the postage stamps.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:51 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 15, 2011

The grading of Advanced Placement exams

College professors and high school teachers are grading the Advanced Placement exams at several locations around the country during June and we've been following the tweets of Trevor Packer, the College Board's head of AP, in the past week as he observers the sessions. He's at Trevor_AP for all those teachers who are curious about the inside baseball remarks of those grading the exams. And here's a story of general interest about how the College Board gathers all those graders who arrive from around the country and why in the world they might want to sit and grade essays from 8 am to 5 pm for days on end. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:56 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

Not everyone is anxious for the last day of school

 Sometimes students love their teachers so much they don't really want the school year to end. I got this email today from Katie Evans, a third grade teacher at Shady Spring Elementary School, who wrote it yesterday.

On the last Monday before school let out for the summer, I was eating lunch with two third grade students of mine.  Both students were very energetic, football loving, Wrestle Mania fanatics.
 We chatted about the recent wrestling matches and argued that living in Baltimore means your
 favorite football team can not be the Indianapolis Colts or the New York Giants.  We had to agree to disagree on this topic. As our 30 minutes of pizza and Capri Suns slowly came to an end, one of the boys says to me, "If I had 3 wishes, I would wish for 2 more months of 3rd grade with you."  Now to anyone else, this might sound cute, which it is.
 But to me, it will sadly mark the last Monday that I will spend with these two very special boys.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

No more counting jello as fruit in Baltimore County

A group of parents working with the county schools to improve the lunch menu for children has had some small victories this year. Susanna DeRocco spoke before the school board last night to say that the county had agreed to stop putting whipped topping, which is really whipped high fructose corn syrup, on fruit and other items it serves kids. The other change is that schools won't pass off jello as fruit.

The group, called the Baltimore County Healthy Kids Coalition, has also obtained from BCPS the ingredient list for most of its entrees.  DeRocco said: "Because this information is not currently on the BCPS website and because we received a number of requests for this information, the Coalition posted the ingredient list, along with commentary from a registered dietician to help parents and students make more informed decisions about the menu selections offered."

The website for the Coalition has more information.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 13, 2011

Updated: Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley says city schools progress is 'not enough'

Baltimore city mayoral candidate Otis Rolley unveiled a new education plan Monday, that he describes as "radical" and "aggressive," in seeking mayoral control of the city school system, and private and parochial school vouchers.

Rolley, who has a third grader at Roland Park Elementary School, held a news conference announcing all of the details of the plan in front of city school headquarters. He also gave an exclusive peek of his education platform to City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper this weekend.

In the news conference, Rolley said his platform included closing five of the worst-performing middle schools in the city and providing families with a $10,000 voucher--which would come out of the school system's budget-- to send their children to parochial and private schools.

Also included in the plan, would be to shift the school system back to mayoral control, which Rolley said would draw a clear line of accountability to the mayor and quell frustration among city residents about who to hold responsible for the school system's failures.

The school system would be directly operated by a mayoral appointed seven-member school board and a schools CEO, all of whom would have to be confirmed by the city council. When I asked what qualities he would seek in a CEO, Rolley said, "it's not about's about progress."He clarified, however, that his plan did not mean he would looking for a new one. 

Rolley said that while his ideas may be controversial, the critics are supporting a system that "is not doing enough for our students." He said that while the school system has made progress, "it's not enough--we are moving too slowly."

To read Rolley's entire education plan, click here

The vouchers may be the most radical plan.

This is a move that we anticipate would be welcomed by Catholic schools, which have been struggling with plummeting enrollment and dwindling funds in recent years.

But it could potentially pose great challenges to charter schools, which have been the driving city schools CEO Andres Alonso's "school choice" philosophy in the district.  It should be noted that school vouchers have been at the center of national debates for years. This story from Voice of America explains the national debate that is still brewing in D.C.

Our Sunday story explores the other mayoral candidates' education platforms, which at this point don't appear to be as extensive or radical as Rolley's.

While the plan is debatable, it seems that some of his proposals touch on some criticism that I've heard in the last year on the beat.

I look forward to hearing what everyone thinks.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 12, 2011

City school system, Filipino teachers facing immigration challenges

On Sunday, we ran a story that explored some of the challenges the city school system says it is having in retaining hundreds of Filipino teachers--whose three-or-six year work visas are expiring--as so many American teachers are looking for jobs in the district.

Federal immigration laws require the district to show a need for the teachers before it can apply to renew work visas, or help its international teacher secure permanent residency. The laws governing H1-B work visas, utilized by the majority of Filipino teachers in the district, prohibit retaining international workers if Americans can fill the same jobs.

"We're in a tough position now because we're currently operating with more applicants than we have positions," said Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system.As we've reported before, the city has a sizable surplus teacher pool (about 700 city educators attended a job fair last month.

Meanwhile, the district has vowed to "exhaust all legal strategies" to keep international teachers in the U.S.--even calling around to other districts to find vacancies they could potentially fill. In total, more than 300 Filipino teachers are facing a crucial deadline that will determine whether or not they will remain in the United States, let alone a city classroom, next year.



Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Baltimore City

Arne Duncan signals he may provide relief from NCLB this fall

With Congress stalemated on how to revamp the No Child Left Behind law, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told reporters he will act before the start of next school year to give schools across the nation some relief from the most onerous parts of the law. A story in the New York Times today suggests that Maryland and other states that have embraced Duncan's reform measures would be the first to be given waivers from NCLB. This might provide the greatest incentive yet for the state's school systems not to try to wiggle out of Maryland's Race to the Top provisions.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 11, 2011

Asian Culture Day at Wilde Lake Middle

On Tuesday, Wilde Lake Middle School students will host Asian Culture Day, an interactive event that will feature demonstrations and craft making from such countries as China, Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

The event is part of the school’s sixth-grade reading and social studies curriculum, said Danielle Healey, Wilde Lake sixth-grade English teacher. The event begins at 8:05 a.m., and it will feature such demonstrations as bamboo dance, Asian book binding and martial arts.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

June 10, 2011

Howard County School Board Announces Transfers, Promotions

Reservoir High School and Marriotts Ridge High School will swap principals for the coming school year, and Hammond High School assistant principal James LeMon will become principal at Wilde Lake High School, the Howard County school board announced on as part of dozens of year-end transfers and promotions.

Reservoir High School principal Adrian Kaufman will become principal at Marriotts Ridge, while Marriotts Ridge principal Patrick Saunderson will take over at Reservoir.

Other transfers included: Phelps Luck Elementary School principal Pamela Akers will become principal at Longfellow Elementary School; Harpers Choice Middle School principal Susan Brown will become principal at Laurel Woods Elementary School; and Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School principal Chanel Morris will become principal at Bryant Woods Elementary School.

Promotions included: Bellows Spring Elementary School psychologist Lenore Schiff will become assistant principal at Swansfield Elementary School; and Talbott Springs Elementary School instructional team leader Jennifer Anderson will become the school’s assistant principal.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 7:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Should school board members have children in the public schools?

With pressure to have more partially elected school boards in the region, we want to raise the question of whether at least a certain number of members of a board should have children in the public schools they oversee. Can that be assured with an elected board? 

Do board members with children in schools make better decisions?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:50 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region

June 9, 2011

Sweltering: classrooms are 88 degrees at 8:30 am

Laurie Taylor Mitchell, a parent who has been on the war path about the lack of air-conditioning at Ridgely Middle School and other schools around Baltimore County, sent out an email this morning with details of just how hot it is today in school.

Here it is:

The latest from Ridgely Middle School classrooms, Thursday, June 9:

7:38 a.m., one classroom is 86 degrees, without any students yet.

At 8:28 a.m. another classroom is already 88 degrees with 58% humidity, resulting in a Heat Index of 94 degrees.  School will be in session for almost four more hours. 

These are the conditions frequently endured by these children and teachers at Ridgely on hot days, for nearly four years now. 
Do you know what the classroom temperatures are in your child’s school if it does not have air conditioning?

 I have an update:

 According to an email I received this weekend, the temperatures at Ridgely were 85 degrees or above for most of the week and heat index rose to 116 one day.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:55 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 8, 2011

Baltimore city and county schools close for heat

In the past two weeks, we've seen unusually high temperatures,and that has meant school closings in Baltimore city and county, but not in other jurisications.

Those systems are the only ones that have been closing this week, not because they have administrations that are more sensitive to heat, but because every other surrounding county has fully air-conditioned its schools.  About 50 percent of the schools in the city and county aren't air conditioned, so the superintendents close their schools down several hours early or for the day if the temperature gets too high. The county has already announced it will close two hours early tomorrow.

The old debate continues to rage on blogs and websites today over whether kids and teachers should "suck it up" and take the heat or whether air-conditioning, like computers, cell phones and other technology, should just be a given in every school. Baltimore City has been trying to find a more comprehensive approach to solving its facilities problems, while the county is still doing it little by little.

This next year, no money was included in the county budget to install air-conditioning in schools. Should that be a priority or should other items rise higher on the list?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:12 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

City school system to finally answer questions surrounding international teachers

On April 5, our reporters and editorial board asked the Baltimore school system to explain its hiring practices for international teachers. We were planning a story after news broke that the Prince George's County School System was fined millions by the Department of Labor for not paying its Filipino teachers' visa fees. After waiting all day for an answer, the school system responded at about 8 p.m. telling us that they "were looking into the matter."

We went with a story that explained how Baltimore, in fact, did have the same hiring practices as Prince George's County, which include sending staff over to the Phillipines on first-class trips to recruit teachers. The teachers pay between $8,000 and $10,000 to come here, including their own visa fees, we learned. All of our sources said this was common knowledge.

In the wake of that story, we asked the questions again to follow up on the story.

This week, we are exploring another angle of this story and posed the same questions to the district (literally, the same email with questions from April), in addition to an update on the current statuses of some international teachers.

We resurrected the request, with a few additional questions, last Wednesday. After two passed deadlines--with no indication of when I might receive the answers--I was informed that I should have them tomorrow morning.

When asked for an explanation of the delay, the school system said: "Erica: This is a complicated issue, and the district owes it to our teachers to be thorough in our investigation and responses to your questions concerning international teachers.  Meanwhile, you have had other priorities along the way (i.e. budget, etc.), and we have been diligent in addressing those inquiries as well as your day-to-day media requests."

Maybe I have too many priorities? Maybe I ask too many questions?

Posted by Erica Green at 3:11 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 7, 2011

Comments section of Inside Ed is back up and working

Update: InsideEd comments section is up and running  

The comments section of InsideEd isn't functioning right now, so we're not receiving your entries. Many blogs at The Sun are experiencing this. We apologize for the technical difficulties. Just hold on to your comments and we'll inform you as soon as it's back up and running. Looking forward to hearing everything you've been thinking about the past couple of days.

Again, our apologies.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:52 PM | | Comments (1)

Hundreds of city teachers await word of school placements

Hundreds of Baltimore city teachers are awaiting word of whether or not they will set foot in a classroom next year.  

On Monday, we ran a story that explained some of the back story of how teachers come to be displaced. The story also explored some of the concerns of the Baltimore Teachers Union regarding the current climate for veteran teachers in the district. "Age discrimination" was referenced, which the district disputed.

A veteran teacher from Patterson High School went out on a limb to share her experience, from receiving an email informing her that she (and 43 others) would not be returning to the school next year, to attending a job fair that resembled "an auction in a sweatshop," according to one school leader who attended.

Patterson is undergoing an internal turnaround after 16 years of failing to meet state standards, and the district said that teachers who were not up to the challenges of Patterson's new structure, would be of better use at another school. The school system raised the point that Patterson not only hadn't made AYP for years, but that students were graduating and couldn't pass basic tests.

While many thought that this was a story about a bunch of veteran teachers complaining about losing their jobs, it was also about how teachers who have dedicated their entire careers to a city school were/are being treated. Moreover, there is a growing concern about the rising number of veteran teachers in the surplus pool every year, which the two recent buyout offers will help trim.

Lots of people have asked about the email that was sent to Patterson teachers, so I have posted it below. It was sent on May 12 at 6:12 p.m. by a staff member in the district's Human Capital office.

"As you are aware, Patterson High School has been identified as a turnaround school, and will implement school-wide strategies to dramatically improve student achievement. As part of this process and the annual budget process, every staff member and position within the school was being carefully considered. Based off of this careful analysis, school leadership has determined that Patterson High School is not the best match for you. As a school district that values mutual consent, you will have ample opportunity, however, to find a position and a school assignment that does maximize what you can offer our students.

In order to facilitate your reassignment, the Office of Human Capital will communicate updates regarding available opportunities for the upcoming school year; therefore, please continue to check your district email account regularly. In addition, we ask that you mark your calendar now for the Voluntary Transfer Fair on Wednesday, May 25. The fair will be an opportunity for you to meet principals, learn of other career opportunities, and help ensure that your placement is successful.  This letters serves as automatic registration for the voluntary transfer process; therefore, there is no need for you to register online for the event.

We appreciate everything that you are doing for our students and our communities, and we look forward to working with you over the next few months to ensure that you find an assignment that best fits your needs and skills."

Posted by Erica Green at 8:04 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

June 6, 2011

In tight budget times, schools turn to parents to fund extracurriculars

I thought I'd share this blog post by Hanah Cho, business reporter and "Charm City Moms" expert for The Sun. She found a Wall Street Journal story that explored how public schools across the nation are asking parents to pay fees for sports and other activities for their students.

It appears that some parents in the article don't mind providing the extra support for their children, but Hanah questions whether public school systems are shunning their responsibility.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 1, 2011

Updated: Garrison Middle School student found

Updated: Police reported late Wednesday night that the student was home safe with her family. 


According to a story Wednesday, a Garrison Middle School student went missing after she got off of the bus this morning. Here is what police told Sun Reporter Liz Kay about the missing girl.

"A 12-year-old girl who was last seen getting off a bus Tuesday near Mondawmin Mall has been reported missing, according to Baltimore police.

Georgia Solomon, a sixth-grader at Garrison Middle School, got off a Maryland Transit Administration route No. 91 bus at the corner of Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Road about 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, police said. She was headed to the mall, about a mile and a half away, according to police spokesman Detective Kevin Brown.

The girl, described as 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 135 pounds, had styled her hair in cornrows and was wearing dark-framed glasses, her school uniform — khaki pants and a white, polo shirt — and gray Nike sneakers, police said."
Posted by Erica Green at 9:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Sun database recognizes area valedictorians, salutatorians

This graduation season, The Baltimore Sun is recognizing the hard work of the Class of 2011’s valedictorians and salutatorians. We have launched a database on our website that will showcase the accomplishments of these dedicated students.

We’re starting to receive submissions for the database, but check with your principal/administrator or email for information on how to get your school’s valedictorian and/or salutatorian included if you don’t see them. We’re hoping to make it an all-inclusive look at the top students in the Baltimore area.

The individual pages highlight each student’s achievements, including academic awards, extracurricular activities, greatest passions, little-known talents and more.

In addition, the page features an easy-sharing feature that allows students, family members and friends to share a student’s entry.

Unfortunately, Howard and Carroll counties cannot participate because those school districts do not name valedictorians or salutatorians.

If you have any questions about the database, please email

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Hairston addresses Baltimore County delegation

From Sun Reporter Mary Gail Hare: 

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told legislators that the district may have been too rigid in enforcing a policy on use of school facilities that led to some fundraisers being canceled, one of numerous topics he addressed during a meeting Tuesday.

Hairston described the meeting held at school headquarters in Towson, scheduled at the county delegation's request, "a courtesy and a good-faith effort to reaffirm our transparency." The school system has come under fire recently from legislators and parents for a perceived lack of openness.

Read how Hairston's addressed the county school system's recent controversies in today's story .

Posted by Erica Green at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
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