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July 29, 2011

Local educators to rally in 'Save our Schools' march

Local educators will join thousands from around the country in rallying for public education in the nation's capital on Saturday, at the 'Save our Schools' march. The march, described by organizers as a grass-roots campaign to put the "public' back in public education," is estimated to draw thousands of parents, educators and vocal education advocates.

The event will also feature speakers known for sounding off on the most controversial of education topics, including a representative of the American Federation of Teachers (the parent organization of the Baltimore Teachers Union), as well as as Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, José Vilson, Deborah Meier and Monty Neill. The march also drew the attention of Hollywood, and will feature Matt Damon.

Local educators shared why they are taking part in the march this weekend.

"I think in general, we agree that the "education reform" movement is being driven by corporate interests, not what is best for kids," said Alan Rebar a member of the Educators for Democratic Schools and ESL Teacher at Sinclair Lane Elementary. "We can also see that the ever-increasing demands of the "reformers" are not backed up by funding.

"We're looking for solutions that really involve teachers, parents and students, including teachers' union members. We don't see the solution in the demonization of teachers' unions, or high stakes testing, for-profit charter schools, or unrealistic laws such as No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top, which are based on these methods. Real reform has to be based on democratic participation in education policy decisions, and sufficient funding."

For more information on the SOS march, visit

Posted by Erica Green at 6:06 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

States openly defying NCLB

A growing number of states have said they plan to ignore at least parts of the federal government's accountability standards, according to Education Week . As we get closer to 2014, the date by which all students in the nation are expected to be proficient in reading and math, more schools are failing which means that they would be due for an overhaul. Duncan estimates that 80 percent of the schools in the nation would be considered failing by then, a figure he said that does not reflect reality. He has announced that if Congress does not act this fall to rewrite the law, he will offer states that are engaged in certain reforms waivers. Despite that statement, however, USDE is not offering waivers right now to states that say they aren't going to play the game anymore.

Today, Tennessee's governor asked for a waiver. If the experience of other states holds true, even this state, one of the first to win a Race to The Top grant, still may be denied a waiver.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:56 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

Alonso names new member, new role in cabinet

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso named earlier this week a new member to his cabinet, and the promotion of one of his current executives to a new role.

Jonathan Brice, who has led the school system's Office of Student Support and Safety for three years , will become the head of the the school support networks. Brice will oversee the network teams, which will expand significantly this year.

According to a release from the school system, Brice will, "supervise the integrated network teams
that will provide schools with support in the areas of instructional and academic content, special education, student support, parent and community engagement, human capital, budget and procurement, data analysis, grants management, transportation and facilities. Brice will also be responsible for ensuring that City Schools’ guidance documents support and advance the district’s overall strategy and for developing clear protocols to balance school autonomy and district requirements."

A replacement for Brice in the critical student support and safety office, which deals with all things related to student life (dropouts, support programs, etc.),has not yet been named.

Additionally, Alonso announced a new position of Executive Director of New Initiatives, a position that was not part of his central reorganization plan this year. The position will be filled by Alison Perkins-Cohen, who will come to the district from a position with the U.S. Senate Appropriations
Committee’s Labor/Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee.

Perkins-Cohen's role, the school system said, will be to serve as a member of the team responsible for implementing the district’s systemic reform efforts, according to a release from the school system. The release also describes her role as working closely with the CEO, Chief Academic Officer and cabinet members, "particularly in the area of school portfolio management, to ensure that all students have access to a range of strong school options. These responsibilities include,among others, leading new school creation strategies that include operator and partner recruitment."

For the full release on the appointments, go here.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:53 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 27, 2011

Baltimore County continues to hire for jobs outside the classroom

In today's Baltimore Sun I write about how the county school system has hired 35 more people at an annual salary cost of about $1.9 million while cutting nearly 200 teaching positions. What has made some parents upset is that the school system cut teachers first when it needed to find some cost savings, rather than spreading the pain around the system. The second question that might be asked is whether there are programs that could have been cut in order to save classroom teaching positions. The system currently has 36 vacancies, and presumably could freeze those jobs, or at least some of them, in order to cut back on the teaching positions they need to eliminate. But by August 1, most of the damage will be done because after that date, teachers who were in their jobs cannot return to their schools. So all of the excessed teachers will have been removed from their schools and the student schedules will have been finished for the coming year. All excessed teachers who are put back into a school because there aren't places for them elsewhere - and there are still 20 of those left at this moment - will end up being one of the overstaffed teachers. The term overstaffed means that you can't be given a class because you could have to be yanked out and put into a different classroom if there's a vacancy somewhere else in the system.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:21 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 26, 2011

Baltimore County task force report on hybrid school board

Baltimore Sun reporter Raven Hill has posted a item about the last public hearing on whether legislation should be passed to make the appointed school board a hybrid or elected school board.

A task force is looking into the issue and will report back to the legislature next year.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 25, 2011

A toe in the water on linking teacher compensation to student growth

State education leaders began discussing a difficult, once almost taboo subject at a recent state board meeting: should we compensate teachers based on the quality of the job they do?

 The Maryland State Department of Education agreed when it applied and got Race to the Top funding to have counties that compensate teachers differently share their practices with other jurisdictions. Earlier this month, a work group of superintendents, human resource officers and union representatives met to look at how five jursdictions have tried to pay their teachers or principals differently. Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and Washington counties have all developed new models for teacher compensation. Interestingly, most models have not been put in place because of lack of money. The recession hit just as these ideas were boiling to the surface. 

The work group will meet three times and decide what models are worth sharing with other jurisdications around the state, but unlike the new teacher evalation model, MSDE has no plans to mandate or endorse a single model. Recently, New York City dropped a compensation package that was supposed to have rewarded teachers for high test scores. However, many principals simply handed out extra pay to all the teachers in the building, and the city saw no gains in achievement because of it.

State board member Kate Walsh suggested that recent research has shown bonus pay doesn't help keep teachers more motivated or increase student achievement. Dangling $2,000 extra pay in front of teachers to encourage them to do better work is insulting, she said. Rather, she believes school systems should be finding ways to provide really significant increases in pay to those teachers who are true super stars. The idea should be to provide the kind of incentives that will attract the brightest minds into teaching and give them financial incentives to keep them in the classroom.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:17 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

July 22, 2011

Shake up in administrators in Baltimore County schools

Baltimore County appears to be shaking up some of its top administrators. 

Tom Rhoades, the executive director of research and accountability, for the Baltimore County public schools is no longer working for the school system. Word is that he was given 30 days notice that he would have to leave.

Michael Goodhues, chief information officer for the Office of Technology, was moved to be the fiscal officer in the Department of Fiscal Services.

I haven't been able to learn why the changes, but the school system did just get a new deputy superintendent.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:25 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 19, 2011

Baltimore International College to file request with Middle States

The president of the Baltimore International College sent a letter to students today which details the next steps for the college. Edgar Schick says that the college will submit a request for reconsideration with Middle States so that students can finish the program in January. If the reconsideration is not accepted, then the college will appeal.

A spokesman for the college said reconsideration would allow students close to a degree to finish their course work this fall and allow the other students to move their credits to another institution that might take over the BIC.

The following is a letter from the president:

To: Students at Baltimore International College:

The last several weeks have been stressful to all of the people who are Baltimore International College: students, faculty, staff, trustees, their families, neighbors, and friends.  Few things are more frustrating than uncertainty.  The potential loss of one’s educational “home” is particularly troubling.

It is not possible to communicate every day with all of you because events are constantly changing and there are many individuals and organizations – at the College and beyond – who make the decisions which determine the College’s future. 

Above all, the highest priority for all of us is the welfare of our students.  Every effort which we have been and are undertaking is focused on serving the educational needs of our students.  Your education is the reason that the College exists!  I disagree professionally with the negative comments made by Middle States regarding this college and, in particular, any implications that the education offered here is substandard.  But Middle States has its responsibilities, and it is their opinion – not mine – which is final.

On this past Friday, as the yesterday’s announcement indicated, the Board of Trustees voted to take all necessary steps to assure that the College remains open and accredited in the up-coming Fall semester.  During this week we are submitting a “request for reconsideration” to Middle States which includes a “teach-out” plan.  The plan would allow students nearing the completion of their certificates or degrees to finish their studies by December 31, 2011.  It also includes the creation of an affiliation with another fully-accredited college, outside the Middle States region, which would assume educational operations here on or about January 1, 2012, and would, by agreement, accept the credits of current students if students wished to continue their studies here, at this location, with the new entity.

Nothing is ever 100% certain.  Numerous steps must be taken and are already in process.  There are complexities to all of these matters, especially when one must deal with regulatory bodies.  But we believe that our plan will work for the benefit of our students. The trustees, faculty, and staff are committed to pursuing all the necessary steps to assure that this plan is operational and successful.

We will seek to keep everyone informed as the various steps in the process are completed.  In the meantime, we regularly up-date on our web-site the answers to the most frequently asked questions, where we shall try to provide the most accurate answers and information available

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Longtime city music teacher killed

A Baltimore city music teacher of 38 years was killed Monday after his van was struck by a stolen car in Northwest Baltimore, according to a story we wrote Tuesday.

Wendell Hairston, 60, most recently taught music at Southside Academy, but taught in various public schools, including Winston Middle School, Dr. Nathan A. Pitts-Ashburton Elementary/Middle School. 

According to our story, a 2006 Sun article identified Hairston as the director of a jazz group called The Winston Band, made up of students who graduated from Winston Middle School, which closed last year. Edie House-Foster, city schools spokeswoman, recalled how the jazz group was popular throughout the city.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:25 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 18, 2011

More than 200 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance evaluations

More than 200 teachers in Washington, D.C. were fired on Friday after they were rated ineffective on their performance evaluations, reports the Washington Post.

The teachers represented 5 percent of D.C.'s teaching force, and were dismissed after they received low ratings on an evaluation program known as IMPACT, which the Post said was developed under former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee before she resigned last fall.

According to The Post, the evaluation system grades on the following: "five 30-minute classroom observations and their compliance with nine broad standards. These include the abilities to express course content clearly, teach students with differing skill levels and manage time effectively. For some teachers, half of their appraisal is contingent on whether students meet predicted improvement targets on standardized tests."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

How much does Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) matter to schools?

Nearly 90 percent of Baltimore city schools failed to make adequate yearly progress  (AYP) this year, a sharp uptick from the number of schools that did in previous years--and experts say it is quite possibly one of the highest percentages noted of any district in the country. But, it also leads a trend taking place throughout the state and the country, as more schools have failed to meet AYP every year.

An interesting trend this year showed that the highest performers in the city were among those that didn't make the marks, spurring a debate about the increasing pressure and demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. By then, the U.S. Dept. of Education has predicted, the majority of schools in America will be considered failures under the law.

We wrote the story, outlining the reactions from CEO Andres Alonso, school leaders, and education experts about what this means for city schools. NCLB and education policy experts say that despite NCLB's flaws, the city's percentage is sobering, and our educators should take note of how many students are meeting proficiency levels.

Alonso, who says he has always denounced AYP as a sufficient measure of achievement and progress, said that he anticipates that in one or two years no city schools would be making AYP because the goals will be unattainable. Alonso also said in an interview that he has never fired a principal for not making AYP, and that despite his effort to reinforce that the targets don't matter in the larger context of progress, educators don't quite buy it.

So, where are the messages getting mixed up? From my reporting, AYP seems to matter a great deal, as evidenced by schools cheating and even tampering with attendance records to meet the goals. At the same time, I know schools and principals that are celebrated in the district because, even though they haven't made AYP, they've made extraordinary progress and gains.

So, I'd like to hear from our education folks--how much does AYP matter to your school? And until 2014, or until NCLB is reauthorized, will it ever really cease to matter?

Posted by Erica Green at 10:13 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: NCLB

July 14, 2011

Rolley blasts mayor on late school facilities report

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley challenged Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake this week about when  her report on how to fund school facility improvements--which is five months late--will be released.

In a release sent Tuesday, Rolley cited an article I wrote exactly one month ago, in which the mayor's spokesman was quoted saying the report, originally due out in February, would be out in June.

"As bizarre as it was that she proclaimed we had to ‘stick with what works’ even as new test scores revealed our schools are falling further behind, what is simply outrageous is that she simply has not kept her word to release a plan to address our schools’ crumbling infrastructure,” said Otis today.  “Last year she said she’d have it by February, then it slipped to the end of June, and now it’s July with no plan.  Where is it?”

In November, Rawlings-Blake, who is looking to reclaim her seat this fall, formed a task force that was charged with exploring "alternative financing options, new legislative options, and successful models used in other jurisdictions across the country for meeting the school system’s construction needs."

The task force was formed after the ACLU of Maryland issued two reports: one that revealed the $2.8 billion in repairs needed to revamp the city's dilapidated infastructure; and another that suggested ways the city could pay for it by pointing to other cities who have found ways to do so.

The mayor's spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty, told our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper that the report was being held up by "changes in certain funding formulas that occurred during the legislative session must be appropriately incorporated into the report.  There is also some new legislation that will be part of final report.  The administration and school system representatives on the joint task force continue to work on the report."

When questioned about specific details about the new legislation and changes in funding formula, O'Doherty said all of the details will be in the report. He did not indicate when it will be released.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 13, 2011

New Baltimore County school board president addresses transparency concerns

From Sun reporter Raven L. Hill, who attended last night's Baltimore County school board meeting:

New Baltimore County Board of Education president Lawrence Schmidt addressed some of the  criticism that’s been directed at the panel over the last several months over a lack of transparency.

"I think I speak for all of the board members when I say that we hear you," he said. "We hear complaints about transparency, accountability, accessibility and I will give you my pledge that we will work and I will work to try to improve on those things in the next year that I am president to improve the board’s function and its relationship with its constituencies and its students.

"With that being said, I guess I would say that I think there’s always a certain amount of confusion about the role of the board. … There are many occasions where we are prohibited either under law or ethically from commenting on certain issues that may come before us. So, please don’t take our silence as a symptom of not caring, but knowing that we are bound by the rules and regulations and laws by which we are governed."

What do you think about the school board's transparency in the past and going forward, now that new leadership has been put into place?


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:10 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 12, 2011

Concerns of racial bias resurface in Anne Arundel schools

The Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP has filed a civil rights complaint against the county school system for what it considers insufficient progress in eliminating racial bias from its disciplinary practices.

According to the story by my colleague Childs Walker, the complaint, filed with the civil rights office of the U.S. Department of Education on Friday, alleges that the numbers of African-American students referred for discipline and suspended have hardly changed since a similar complaint in 2004. That complaint led to an improvement plan agreed to in 2005 by the NAACP and the school system.

"Six years later, however, there has been no marked improvement in the disparate treatment of African-American students in disciplinary actions, which continues a pattern of denial and limitation of their educational opportunities and thus their future sustainability," the new complaint reads.

Read the full story here

Posted by Erica Green at 10:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Anne Arundel

July 11, 2011

City school official tapped to advise Chicago superintendent

Our flagship paper The Chicago Tribune reported today that Jonathan Brice, who oversees the Office of Student Support and Safety for the Baltimore city school system, has been tapped to advise the Chicago Public School system as it transitions under its new leader, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Brice will be sitting on a panel of educators from across the nation that will advise Brizard and his team on "how best to deploy teachers and resources," the Tribune story said.

While the team, led by a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, will be particularly focusing on what's happening around instruction in CPS, Brice apparently will be advising on issues related to school climate, student engagement and anti-violence initiatives like Culture of Calm, the story said.

"We'll look at the early results and see if it's working for schools and how we should expand it," Brice told The Tribune. "If it's something that's not working, then what are the tweaks that need to be made."

Posted by Erica Green at 2:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 10, 2011

Baltimore County school board task force begins work

The task force charged with exploring a new structure for the Baltimore County school board began meeting last week, taking comments from the public on how the recently embattled group could better respond to residents' concerns.

According to a story by our Baltimore County reporter Raven Hill, the recent frustrations with the county school board spilled over at the meeting, with residents sounding off about the lack of accountability and transparency of the board. Still, there is no consensus about whether the board should be a hybrid of elected and governor-appointed members.

The next public hearings will be held on July 25 at the Towson library, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Comments may also be sent by mail or email to state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier's office.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 6, 2011

A must-read: Atlanta schools cheating scandal implodes

For those who were still deciding how to brand Baltimore's cheating problem--this is an example of "widespread" cheating.

On Tuesday, a special investigation team convened by the Georgia governor released a report that revealed cheating in 44 of the 58 Atlanta public schools that were investigated--and found that a code of silence, retaliation and suppression of public information allowed the rampant improprieties to take place for at least a decade.

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the paper that first uncovered cheating in the Atlanta school system more than a year ago, "the voluminous report names 178 educators, including 38 principals, as participants in cheating. More than 80 confessed. The investigators said they confirmed cheating in 44 of 56 schools they examined."

According to the AJC, the investigation launched by George officials is arguably the most wide-ranging investigation into test-cheating in a public school district ever conducted in United States history, including 2,100 interviews more than 800,000 documents.

Atlanta's superintendent Beverly Hall, a 2009 Superintendent of the Year who reports say was lauded nationally for turning around struggling school districts and exceeding the tenure of most urban superintendents, retired last month amid the investigation, which includes criminal probes.

According to the AJC article, investigators cited the following as the key reasons that cheating flourished in Atlanta: "The district set unrealistic test-score goals, or “targets,” a culture of pressure and retaliation spread throughout the district, and Hall emphasized test results and public praise at the expense of ethics."

Posted by Erica Green at 11:42 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation

If Alonso went on a "listening tour," what would he learn?

Earlier this week we ran a story where education policy experts and city school advocates weighed in on how the Baltimore school system can rebound from its MSA disappointment, and the series of cheating scandals that darkened the cloud surrounding students' backslide in achievement.  

One of the most compelling interviews in the story was from Jack Jennings, of the Center on Education Policy, a non-partisan, national group. Jennings was an independent voice having only observed the tenure of city schools CEO Andres Alonso from afar, and within the context of the recent movement of self-proclaimed, radical education reformers.  

Jennings said that the CEO, "had been a ball of energy in the last four years, and he might want to go steadier this time around," as Alonso transitions into a new, four-year commitment. Jennings said that the setbacks the district has noted may be a result of, "him being tired and school administrators being tired — of constant pressure, constant change and constant turmoil."

Jennings also suggested something that I thought was interesting. He encouraged Alonso go on a "listening tour," to hear from educators, what is and isn't working in the district. If Alonso did go on such a tour--what do you think he'd learn?

Posted by Erica Green at 11:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 1, 2011

City schools' parent advisory group: We must continue to support our children

The Parent Community Advisory Board (PCAB) released the following statement about this year's MSA scores. 


We Must Continue to Support our Children

The Parent and Community Advisory Board serves to advise the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools and the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners regarding ways in which parents, families, the community and educators can best collaborate to help our children succeed.

In that capacity, we are writing to express our confidence in the students of Baltimore City Public School System and do not want them labeled as cheaters throughout the State of Maryland and beyond.

As we are all aware, the 2011 Maryland School Assessment results reflected a dip in student performance in reading and math. While this is naturally cause for concern, we have been assured that the school system is taking all appropriate steps to understand the underlying reasons for this decline, in an atmosphere of candor and transparency. Our primary concern is that of our children and that the public does not lose sight of the significant progress our children have made over the past years.

It is our understanding that there are a number of variables that could contribute to this year’s test results. Student mobility, the impact of city-wide programs and school mergers. Finally, the same mobility factors can be applied to the teaching staff and principals at many schools. When a school experiences changes in structure, make-up and staff, student achievement could be affected in the short term.

In the midst of the important conversation around what do the test scores mean and what are our next steps, we feel it is essential that we recognize the hard work of our children and the progress they have achieved. Since 2004, student scores in reading have improved by 20.2 percentage points – and 12.3 percentage points since 2007. In math, student scores have risen by 27.9 percentage points since 2004 and 13.6 percentage points since 2007. We want to ensure that our children and families do not lose sight of what we have collectively achieved thus far through dedication and commitment to their education.

At the same time, this one-year setback should serve as a reminder to our school communities that we can never relax on our educational commitment to our children and their schools. As parents and community members, we are also accountable – and we must intensify our engagement with our children’s education by volunteering in the schools and working with them at home. The significant improvements we have witnessed in Baltimore City School System are the result of a dedicated collaboration among students, families, community members, and educators over the course of months and years. Further improvement will require a higher level of commitment over the years to come.

Let’s keep that progress in mind as we roll up our sleeves and get back to work for our children. They deserve the best education we can provide, and the Parent and Community Advisory Board is asking all parents and community members to step up and participate at your child’s school to provide support that will give them the confidence and skills needed to succeed.

Parent and Community Advisory Board

Posted by Erica Green at 5:35 PM | | Comments (32)
Categories: Baltimore City

Alonso finally inks commitment to stay in Baltimore

After nearly a year's wait and several rumored departures, the ink is dry and city schools Andres Alonso has committed to staying in the district under a new, four-year-contract.

If he stays through 2015, Alonso will be the longest serving superintendent since 1946. Baltimore has not had a good track record of retaining leadership in the district, and Alonso is undoubtedly a high-profile leader who could have chosen to go anywhere in the country (Believe me, I checked).

Still, he has much to prove in this next stretch--coming off of a year of declining achievement (if you choose to base such conclusions on one test), and a flurry of cheating scandals that has naturally (even if unfairly) raised doubts.

In a story we have coming Monday, local education advocates and experts weigh in on what's next for the school system under the CEO. Some suggest that he will need to reassess his trademark policies to make sure they're fulfilling their purposes. Other suggest that maybe he jog this next round--as opposed to sprint--to be more effective.

What do you expect to see in the next phase of the CEO's tenure? And more importantly, what do you think will make it a successful one for Baltimore city students?

Posted by Erica Green at 1:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
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