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November 30, 2011

Baltimore County backs away from college planning seminars

Baltimore County Public Schools have backed away from a plan to let a for-profit college planning company offer free seminars at every high school in the county this year.

The Nevada-based College Access Online was scheduled to give 50 seminars over the course of the winter and spring at each high school, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Parents and students in grades seven through 12 were to be invited to the seminars, which acccording to a schedule obtained by The Sun, were to begin at Hereford High School on Dec. 12.

A memo about the seminars was distributed to guidance counselors and principals in the past several weeks instructing them to review the schedule for the seminars to make sure the cafeteria or auditorium at their school was free. The memo said schools would be given scripts for email and voicemail blasts that could be sent to all parents. The seminars also were discussed with principals in a meeting.

But Roger Plunkett, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said yesterday: “Some people sent out a memo that was way too premature.” Plunkett said the system will not go forward with the plan. He said, “They were so many questions, so many things to consider. We have to look at all the school system’s policies and procedures.”
 

Guidance counselors in the school system, he said, do the same college planning work.

Shamren Fletcher, who is president of the company, said in an interview last week that she had spent four months working with the school system to set up the seminars. She said she talked to a number of administrators in the system, including Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, about two months ago.

College Access Online was working with a nonprofit foundation, called Gateway Alliance Foundation, that Fletcher said had been formed in order to do the planning seminars.

“There is zero charge,” she said. “I am giving my time for free. This is my community service initiative.”

A retired Baltimore County elementary school teacher was to help teach the seminars, which would cover tips for parents and students as they go through the search for a college and financial aid.
Fletcher said she did not intend to pitch her services during the seminars, but she would hand out business cards to those people who approached her afterwards. “We know some business will shake out from it,” Fletcher said.

But a competitor, Craig Meister, who owns Tactical College Consulting, said he believes that if the school system is going to allow a private company access to every high school, then other companies should be offered the same opportunity. Meister said his business has operated for six years in Baltimore County and believes he should have the same access as a Nevada-based company.

Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said school systems have to "be very careful" when they bring a for-profit vendor into the district. "You run into the potential of firms doing the same thing saying, 'Hey, how do they get access and we don’t.'" Domenech said offering for-profit companies access to schools is not usual for districts.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:29 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Should cursive be written out of the curriculum?

A poll from our readers indicates that the overwhelming majority of people passionate enough to weigh in on the topic says it shouldn't. Eighty-two percent of our (more than 400, as of this post) readers agreed that cursive writing, in some way, still has value, and 18 percent said it should cease to be taught.

But what has been called a stale skill has spurred a fresh debate about what the next generation's set of literacy skills should include. My colleague Liz Bowie explored the local debate in a story this weekend.

I was so excited that Liz took on this topic, having been shocked (and somewhat appalled) when my mother, a retired teacher, recently scoffed at my argument that my favorite elementary school subject should still be an integral part of learning basic skills of reading and writing.

I was the student who sat at Dickey Hill Elementary School (not too, too long ago) and constructed the cursive alphabet (upper case and lower case) in dotted lines, just to trace them for practice. My notebooks were filled with the graffiti of perfecting my signature--which I considered the only thing other than my fingerprints that secured my identity.

In the city, many sources have offered their thoughts on the topic (it was quite a talker), and I wanted to feature one below. It was a perspective I hadn't thought of--one of what priorities should be in an urban school district. 

 “I’m in the camp that agrees that in this day and age, in this technology-driven society, that cursive has less relevance than ever," said Anthony Japzon, principal of the high-performing Medfield Heights Elementary School, who also taught cursive as a third-grade teacher.

"I would say that you are a private school, a successful school, and 98 percent of your school is on grade level, then you can teach cursive. But, in today’s society, we don't do our children any favors-- if they’re a grade or two below grade level in reading and math-- spending any time teaching cursive."

Thoughts? 

Posted by Erica Green at 1:19 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Region
        

November 29, 2011

Julie Landsman to speak at Loyola Wednesday night

Julie Landsman, a Minnesota public school teacher and the author of books on race and education, will speak Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 6:30 pm in McGuire Hall at Loyola College. The lecture is entitled: "What has race got to do with it? Engagement, expectations and equity in our public schools." The event is open to the public and is free.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

Johns Hopkins University forum to explore 'Future Directions in Education'

On December 5, Johns Hopkins University will host a forum where three formative voices of the nation's current education debate will sound off on the "Future Directions in Education: What will work best for students?"  The event will be held in the Shriver Hall Auditorium on the university's Homewood campus at 6:30 p.m.

According to the university, panel members will offer differing views on the reform efforts sweeping the country.

Included on the panel are: Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the United States Department of Education will discuss the Obama administration’s approach which includes support for new national standards in math and reading, teacher evaluations tied to student performance and charter schools.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas Fordham Foundation, a think tank on education issues, and who has offered frank and sometimes scathing commentary on education reforms in Baltimore (including that city teachers put themselves on "the wrong side of history" in voting down the contract last year.)

And lastly, Deborah Meier, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s approach and co-author of an Education Week blog, Bridging the Difference , with Diane Ravitch.

The Shaping the Future series is free and open to everyone, including our students, alumni, all interested educators, parents, and education advocates. The program includes a presentation by panel members and an opportunity for questions and comments from the audience. For more information or to sign up for the event, visit http://education.jhu.edu/shaping_future.

 




Posted by Erica Green at 4:07 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 23, 2011

Baltimore County school board investigates textbook purchases

At a meeting that was marked by unusually long public discussion, the Baltimore County school board members gave a clear message to school system staff on Tuesday night that they were not pleased with the waste of money on textbooks and rewriting of curriculum. Since the story published two weeks ago, school board members had clearly done some homework on their own to try to figure out what had caused mistakes to be made.

Board member Ramona Johnson said that she believes the curriculum revisions were meant to be limited to revisions that would include the novels that had just been purchased by the system. A review of what was being used in schools at the time indicated that students in some schools were exposed to the classics while others were not. The school system wanted to make sure there was equity, but a lack of leadership led to mistakes. Soon the teachers hired to write curriculum were setting off on a different course and doing a major rewrite, she believes.

Lawrence Schmidt, the school board president, had gone through years of board minutes and press releases from the Maryland State Department of Education to determine that the board had not been told about any curricula changes since 2008 and that statewide changes to the standards were widely known long before the county began to rewrite curricula.

In addition, it was revealed that the textbook purchases were made even before the curriculum was rewritten, a process that goes against the policies, according to the staff.

Both Johnson and Schmidt concluded that there was a failure in the chain of command and "resources were wasted." Schmidt said: "Our concern is to make sure the proceedures, protocals, processes are followed so that the taxpayers money is spent wisely."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

November 18, 2011

PARCC releases framework for next assessments

I understand this post may be of limited interest to anyone but educators or real education wonks. But I  have heard a fair amount of concern this week from teachers who are worried about what the next generation of tests will look like. They seem to have doubts that school districts are constructing curricula that will align with the tests. A press release from PARCC or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers popped into my inbox recently. A consortium of 14 states created the group to produce the next tests to go with the common core. PARCC has just released a framework that will guide the development of the next test. Here's the link.

So for those teachers who want a small window into what is ahead, here's a chance to read the framework and give your comments.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

More Baltimore County parents upset by lack of air-conditioning

Anger over the lack of air-conditioning in Baltimore County high schools appears to be growing. At a recent school board meeting, a group of Pikesville High School parents and students came to ask the administration to consider placing small units in each classroom. About 45 percent of the county's schools are air conditioned, according to state statistics, the second lowest percentage in the state, just below Garrett County, the western most county in the state and one with the coolest temperatures.

Last month, a group of parents from Middleborough Elementary School went to a Board of Estimates meeting in Annapolis to try to block the county from spending money on a list of projects, none of which included air-conditioning a school.

Members of the Pikesville group said students were having a hard time concentrating and were suffering from asthma attacks. Parent Susan Waldman said in the first month of school her son had used his inhaler on four days and had to leave school on two days because the heat had triggered breathing problems. Jeff Jerome, another parent, said the school is hotter than others like it because there are black metal panels below the windows which tend to increase the temperature inside. "We have been taking measurements," said Jerome. On the days they measured, the temperature inside the school was 20 to 29 degrees greater than the outside air.

By his estimate, Jerome said, the classrooms are too hot about 45 days a year. Another mother said two of her children had to use inhalers during their years at Pikesville High School, but never before or after. Jerome believes that one solution, although temporary, would be to put in individual units instead of central air.

The school system is about to replace windows at the school when air-conditioning is needed more, he said.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Annual Baltimore city school choice fair on Saturday

The annual Baltimore city school choice fair will take place this Saturday, Nov. 19 from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where nearly 6,000 students are expected to visit the stadium's club level to hear schools make their pitch about why they may be students' top choices for the 2012-2013 school year.

The annual choice fair is an opportunity for rising middle and high school students and their  families to preview 64 Baltimore City public middle and high schools--you can see the electronic choice guide here-- meet school staff and students and learn about the unique programs offered at each school.

Following the choice fair tomorrow, schools will host open houses from November 21- December 18, according to the city schools website.

Thursday, Dec. 22 is the application deadline for students to apply for their top three choices. Students will be notified of their placements by March 1.



 

Posted by Erica Green at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 16, 2011

City schools CAO to host parents at The Charles Theater on Thursday

Baltimore city schools Chief Academic Officer Sonja Brookins Santelises will host a "community conversation" Thursday, to discuss the importance of conversation in students' literacy development.

The forum is part of the school system's observance of American Education Week, and will take place Thursday at the Charles Theater, located at 1711 N. Charles Street. It begins at 6 p.m.

 

Posted by Erica Green at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 15, 2011

City school board denies all charter applications for upcoming school year

A former version of this post incorrectly stated that the deadline to apply for a charter school was Feb. 17. That is the date for students to apply to attend charter schools, not the date for organizations to apply to open charter schools. The Sun regrets this error.

Six charter applicants seeking to open schools in Baltimore city in school years 2012 and 2013 were all denied Tuesday, after the city school board voted to affirm city schools CEO Andres Alonso's decision that the plans for the new schools were insufficient or failed to present a compelling reason to obtain charter status.

The school proposals, which can be viewed here, were presented to the school board on Oct. 11, with organizations making their pitch to offer a variety of programs next school year--including the first all-female elementary school for girls, a new STEM Academy, and a college-preparatory school with an arts curriculum--and a military academy in 2013. Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School failed in its second attempt to convince Alonso and the board that converting to charter status would improve the school's ability to raise achievement.

A seventh school, Green Street Academy, which currently operates as a transformation school (6-12 school with specialized curriculum) withdrew its application to convert to a charter next year.

Alonso said that he made his recommendations based on the recommendations he received from  the district's Charter Schools Advisory Board. The board did not recommend any of the schools for approval, Alonso said.

The sweeping denials was a stark contrast to recent years when charters sprouted up in the district at a rapid pace. Currently, there are 33 charters operating in the city, the most of any district in the state, and that majority of which have opened during Alonso's administration. The schools chief's vision has always been an expanding school portfolio, which is now bursting at the seams, and says that charters remain "engines of reform," in the district.

Alonso said "there were good ideas, a lot of commitment" in this round of applications, but the ability to execute key elements of running a quality school fell short.

"I want to see strong charter applications, so I can approve more charters," Alonso said. "But my vision has been to see great schools, and I want charters to support [that vision.]

In the board presentation Tuesday, charter officials cited a host of reasons for the denials, such as "passionate but not coherent" plans, and an inability of schools to demonstrate an ability to implement curriculum, fund a sufficient budget, secure facilities, and garner enough community support for their schools.

City school board president Neil Duke told applicants that while the justifications focused on the shortcomings of their applications, there was "a lot of good, and a lot to like about the applications."

"We appreciate the interest--but this is a rigorous process," Duke said.

Other board members echoed his sentiments, encouraging the applicants to return next year.

"I think what this reflects is that reform in urban education is a very steep challenge," said city school board Commissioner Lisa Akchin, adding that the standards continue to rise.

"I hope [the applicants] receive help in aligning with what those standards are," she said. 

Organizations hoping to open charters in the district next year said that while they were disappointed, they looked forward to applying in the next round.

"We're definitely coming back, and we're going to take the criticisms and strengthen our application," said Latrill Bass, who led the effort to open the Barbara Jordan Academy, which would have been the first all-female elementary school.

"We want to provide an elementary school that has not been done in Baltimore," Bass said. "We want to grow young female leaders from a young age, who can go on to Western and Spelman. We believe we can do that."

I will ask the district Wednesday if the explanations for denials are available in electronic form are available and link to them from this post. 

Posted by Erica Green at 9:07 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Transform Baltimore praises mayor's bottle tax for facilities, but still seeks more commitment

The coalition of education advocates that is leading the charge to address an estimated $2.8 billion in improvements in city school facilities praised Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposal to create a funding stream for the projects by increasing the city's bottle tax.

But the group, Transform Baltimore said in a release Monday-- shortly after Rawlings-Blake announced the plan that you can read about here -- that the mayor's plan to raise additional revenue for school facilities was just a first step.

“The dedicated revenue from the bottle tax can be used to leverage an estimated $155 million in
bonds, as long as it is stable revenue,” said Frank Patinella of the Transform Baltimore campaign, in the statement sent by the group. “The next step will be to use the city and state’s current annual capital budget funds to borrow $1billion now; with that, we will be well on our way toward the full $2.8 billion needed to fix our schools.”

According to our story Monday, "Rawlings-Blake urged the council to act quickly to increase the bottle tax from 2 cents to 5 cents as part of a three-pronged plan that would allow the school system to float more than $300 million in bonds." 

Transform Baltimore had asked the mayor to commit to an alternative financing model that would allow renovation and construction projects to take place at a faster pace and on a larger scale than the city's current funding levels. You can read more about that model here.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Forest Park forfeited JV and Varsity football seasons

I came across this message recently informing that the JV and Varsity football seasons were cancelled at Forest Park High School this fall. 

"Forest Park's Varsity and Junior Varsity football team have forfeited season due to the participation of student's on their roster," the school's website says. "We will continue to support our student's and community as we deal with this unfortunate situation."

I asked city school officials last Friday about this decision (when it was made, how many players were involved, why the entire season was forfeited), and have yet to receive an answer.

I was informed that it was due to ineligible players on the school's team--an issue that educators and parents alike have said is a problem in many high schools in the district.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 14, 2011

Teachers say local school districts could lose $2.6 billion in funds

The Maryland State Education Association is warning in a report released today that $2.6 billion could be cut from local school system budgets if a state law is not repaired.

The state's Thornton law ensured that local county governments could not reduce funding as the state ratcheted up its funding from 2002 on. The law said local governments had to "maintain their effort." But the law has been eroded over the years, and a number of school systems have reduced aid to education without seeking waivers.

The MSEA says about half of the local money is at risk, although the assumption is that no county would meet its commitment to continue the same level of funding. That isn't likely to happen in the Baltimore area. Only Anne Arundel County has reduced its MOE, and this year, Baltimore City and Baltimore County are not likely to reduce funds to education. Donald Mohler, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's chief of staff, said Kamenetz is "committed to fund BCPS at the maintenance of effort level" for the next fiscal year beginning in July.

But in Anne Arundel County, the report says, teachers will not get a raise this year. In addition, the county has not increased its teaching positions in the past several years, although enrollment grew by 2,000.

The next question is whether the Maryland General Assembly will restore any of the teeth in the law in the next session.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region
        

City school system orders pants options for female students

I came across an interesting directive from Baltimore city school officials to schools in the district, informing school leaders that they had to offer a pants option for female school uniforms.

Apparently some schools were requiring their female students to wear skirts, a practice that could have been deterring students from choosing certain schools, or going to school at all.

"School uniform policies that do not include an appropriate pants option for female students are considered discriminatory based on gender or sex," the system informed its school leaders. "To ensure we are promoting a positive educational environment for all students, please include an appropriate pants option for any uniform policies that require skirts only for female students." 

Apparently, there were four schools that were requiring girls to wear skirts, and city school officials said that the ACLU of Maryland informed that the practice was discriminatory.

It appears that schools were not intending to discriminate, but promote a dress code they thought would encourage a professional culture in the school. But the school system agreed that culture should also reflect the 21st century.

"Uniform policies are about creating a positive educational environment and preparing students for the world beyond school," said Michael Sarbanes, spokesman for city schools. "Women have many ways of dressing in a professional and dignified way in the world and uniform requirements should reflect that diversity. "

Posted by Erica Green at 10:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 11, 2011

Updated: School system addresses alleged rape at school

Updated at 6:11 p.m.

The city school system released the following statement regarding the reported rape in a city school. Baltimore City Public Schools notified Baltimore City Police  that a sex offense (rape) is alleged to have occurred October 4, 2011 at the end of the school day, during an after school program operated by one of the district's community partners. The incident was first reported to the school on October 20, 2011. The school immediately contacted City Schools Police who transported the parent and student to the Baltimore Police Child Abuse Unit to begin the investigation per standard procedures. 

City Schools addresses any allegation of a sexual offense with the utmost seriousness and reports any allegations to Child Protective Services or Baltimore Police Department as appropriate under the circumstances.

 From Crime Reporter Peter Hermann:

A 12-year-old girl at a Baltimore middle school has reported that a teenage boy sexually assaulted her in a classroom last month, according to city police.

Police said the girl told police she was attacked about 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 4 inside Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, but did not report the incident to police until two weeks later. The school is located in the 1400 block of West Lafayette Ave. in Sandtown-Winchester.

Det. Jeremy Silbert, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the case is under investigation and no charges have been filed against the 13-year-old suspect. He said detectives are trying to determine whether the girl was raped or sexually assaulted.

Continued by Ed Reporter Erica Green: 

The victim's mother reached out to both  Fox 45  , who first reported the story, and WBAL TV-11 about the alleged attack. The mother told Fox that the boy was still in school, but she transferred her daughter. According to city school data, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, there were two sexual assaults reported last school year, that resulted in suspension and expulsion. 

The mother told the news stations that her daughter was forced with a box cutter, though police say they had no report of the weapon.

The city school system has not made a statement. 

Posted by Erica Green at 12:50 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Hrabowski on '60 Minutes'

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, who is often credited for his efforts to produce minority graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, will be featured this Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

You can watch a preview of the interview here.

In it, Hrabowski says, “I don’t care how smart you are, nothing takes the place of hard work.”

Hrabowski has been in the national spotlight numerous times over the past few years.

He recently received an academic leadership award from the Carnegie Corp. that came with a $500,000 grant. He is using the money to start the Freeman A. Hrabowski Fund for Academic Innovation, which will support creative endeavors in teaching and entrepreneurship on campus.

And in 2009, he was named one of America’s 10 best college presidents by Time magazine.

 

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:11 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Baltimore County missteps on curriculum and textbooks

Baltimore County spent $5 million on a curriiculum and books even as the state was moving toward new standards. A state official warned all the school districts not to rewrite curriculum back in the spring of 2010, but the school system went ahead anyway. In fact, no warning should have been needed. Back in 2009, I began writing stories about the state signing on to the common core standards. Even though the standards weren't yet written, it was clear that Maryland's curriculum was about to change.  The question now is how many of the books that Barbara Dezmon picked out can be used with the common core and if any of the curriculum can be salvaged or is worth salvaging. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:39 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

November 9, 2011

School facilities bill had strong support at the polls

An overwhelming majority of Baltimore city voters cast ballots in favor of a charter amendment that will establish a fund to support school facility improvements, according to unofficial poll figures, and education advocates said Wednesday that they see the vote as a "call to action" from the public.

Transform Baltimore, a group of education advocates and school leaders from around the city that have joined the ACLU of Maryland in calling for a funding solution for the estimated $2.8 billion in improvements needed in city school buildings, celebrated the almost 87 percent of voters who voted in favor of the amendment. 

The charter amendment received the highest overall percentage of votes in the city-wide, contested races, though not the highest raw number of votes. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake received 84 percent of votes.

“The vote sends a clear message that Baltimore citizens support our students’ and teachers’ right to have decent, modern, and well-equipped buildings and that funds need to be allocated for that purpose," said Frank Patinella, of the ACLU and Transform Baltimore campaign, in a release sent by the group Wednesday.

The group held a "Speak Out" event last week, where hundreds of teachers, students and parents  sounded off about the abysmal conditions of their school buildings, which are owned by the city, not the school system.

The Transform Baltimore campaign also met with Rawlings-Blake last week to pitch a funding model that has helped to rapidly modernize and improve school buildings in South Carolina. You can read a letter the group sent on Nov. 2 by clicking here.

One of the drawbacks of the charter amendment is that the mayor's finance team opposed granting the City Council authority to designate taxpayer money to the fund once it was established. The finance department said that granting such a power (the mayor is the only official who can allocate funds) could infringe on future administrations' priorities.

The mayor convened a task force last fall that was due to release a report in April with recommendations for how to address the $2.8 billion need. That report has yet to be released, but the mayor's spokesman said there could be developments in the next two weeks.

Under the charter amendment, the fund can however be endowed with grants and donations, and city officials said that is now where the attention should be focused.

“The overwhelming public support in favor of the charter amendment is proof that we should maintain a laser-like focus toward building state-of-the-art facilities for all of Baltimore’s children,” said Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who authored the charter amendment along with Councilman Jim Kraft. “We now need to turn our attention toward building a fund capable of producing first-class facilities for students.”

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Baltimore County elementary schools at 100 percent capacity

Baltimore County's overcrowding issue is only getting worse, according to figures released at last night's school board meeting. Elementary schools across the system are now at 100.12 percent capacity. So while the problem is concentrated in the northern area of the county along the York Road corridor, redrawing school lines would not help the situation. You'd have ever seat filled in every school.

Enrollment is still growing, and at a faster clip than expected. This September, 1,443 more elementary students turned up than last year, far more than the 358 the school system expected.

The total school enrollment went from 104,331 to 105,195 in the past year. Middle school enrollment ticked up 139 students and high school was down 648 students.   

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

November 7, 2011

Baltimore voters can establish school facilities fund today

According to a story by our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper, voters will have the opportunity to fuel to an increasingly hot topic of the city's dilapidated school buildings on the November 8 ballot. 

An amendment to the city's charter will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, which would establish a fund specifically for renovating and upgrading city-owned school buildings.

The amendment, proposed by City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young earlier this year, is one of several efforts in the last year to garner attention and pressure elected officials to address the estimated $2.8 billion in facilities improvements needed throughout the district.

While Young originally sought to empower the city council to designate taxpayer dollars to the fund, the city's finance department opposed the measure. The fund can be endowed, however, with grants and donations.

The ACLU of Maryland pinpointed the figure in a report released last year, inspiring a series of campaigns throughout the city to fund improvements as fast as possible. Just last week, the ACLU and other education advocates that formed the group "Transform Baltimore" held a "Speak Out" event where groups representing more than 30 schools spoke out about the abysmal conditions of their school buildings.

The event was the first of many efforts the group said will seek to put political pressure on the mayor and elected officials to explore alternative financing models, particularly one that has been used in Greenville, SC that could begin the work ASAP. Read more about that plan here. 

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake convened a task force last fall that was supposed to release a report outlining how the city could tackle the $2.8 billion task. It has yet to be released. Her spokesman told our City Hall reporter in the story that it could be released in the next two weeks. 

Posted by Erica Green at 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

November 4, 2011

Michelle Rhee speaks at the Meyerhoff

When she was hired in June 2007 to fix the Washington, D.C. schools, Michelle Rhee said she was "a 37-year-old Korean girl from Toledo, Ohio," the antithesis of the person everyone imagined would be picked. Rhee, who spoke at the Meyerhoff on Tuesday night to a nearly full house, went on to become a controversial leader who polarized some groups in the city and eventually lost her position when a new mayor was elected. But she did shake up the city schools and her voice of reform has struck a chord in cities like Baltimore. (She started her teaching career as a Teach for America teacher in Harlem Park.)
She was entertaining and mostly predictable for those who have followed her career and her philosophy on education. She put in place a new teacher evaluation system and tried to fire many school system employees.
 I left pondering one idea that I do not hear often today. Rhee said she believes students are being coddled and made to feel they are good at something when in fact they really aren't. She pointed to her two daughters, dreadful soccer players with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for their effort. When she tells them what she believes it would take for them to be acceptable players- 90 minutes of hard work a day - she is met with blank stares.

 I am not sure that I believe her assessment. It seems to me that there are often two extremes in schools today. High achieving students are in an environment that is more competitive than ever and that makes high school a race to be the best and leaves little room for fun. I remember interviewing a roomful of students at Pikesville High School for whom a 2300 on the SATs seemed sort of average. On the other end, students in some low achieving schools have ended up thinking very little of themselves because the expectations for them have been so low they have had to accomplish little to get a high school diploma, a fact they are well aware of, and doesn’t give them an inflated sense of themselves.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region
        

November 3, 2011

The University of Maryland merger from two sides and the same voice

A university with multiple campuses “only adds complexity and public confusion to an already complex Maryland higher education structure.” The idea that a merged university will attract more federal grants is “poppycock.” Mergers are “not academic panaceas.”

These are all arguments that have been made by opponents of a proposed merger between Maryland’s leading public research campuses in Baltimore and College Park. But the words belong not to those critics but to the chief proponent of the merger, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The trick is that Miller wrote them in 1992 when he opposed a proposed merger between the University of Maryland Baltimore and UMBC. Miller chuckled Thursday when asked if he remembered writing the 1992 article for a faculty publication at College Park.

 

“I don’t,” he said. “It was 20 years ago.”

Miller said that at the time, he believed a merged institution would create unnecessary competition with College Park, which had been declared the state’s flagship university in 1988. “You compete with your enemies, you don’t compete with yourself,” he said.  Miller said a merger between College Park and UMB would be a different story because it’s common for flagship universities across the country to include the medical and law programs that in Maryland’s case, are located on the Baltimore campus. He added that geographical separation doesn’t mean what it did in 1992, when Internet communication was a glimmer on the horizon.

“I didn’t know what a web site was 20 years ago,” Miller said. He said he remains convinced that the best way forward for the state is a merged university that would combine the undergraduate experience and broad-based research of College Park with the pre-professional schools and medical exploration of UMB. 

 

The university system’s Board of Regents will issue its recommendation on Miller’s idea in December.

 

From our colleague Childs Walker.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

November 2, 2011

Study offers mixed reviews on school closures in urban districts

Urban school districts who look to rolling school closures as a means to save money--much like the logic that city schools CEO Andres Alonso pitched last month--see a very limited cost savings relative to their budgets, have mixed results on academic impact, and can spur major political fallout, a Philadelphia research group has found.

A study published by the Philadelphia Research Initiative last month looks at the pros and cons of consolidation methods in urban school districts, including Philadelphia, which will undergo a series of school closures in the next two years.  A couple of weeks ago, Alonso told The Sun that he will propose to close a slew of schools by 2014 to "right-size the district."

Alonso maintained that not only would the school system be able to save money by vacating school buildings, but also run more efficiently (more than 40 buildings have 250 students or less) and more effectively for its 84,000 students. The schools chief also said that by closing and consolidating schools, the district could devote more money and resources to renovating and upgrading remaining school buildings.

As school officials campaign for billions of dollars to improve the system's infrastructure, Alonso said the district also needed to demonstrate to lawmakers and private funders that the school system is using its current resources as efficiently as possible.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:02 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

NAEP scores show improvement in Maryland

Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress give us facts but don't tell us what factors led to improvement in the state. Those determinations are left to everyone from education policy experts or classroom teachers.

Maryland scores were close to or at the national average back in 2003 and 2005, but scores begin to rise in nearly every test administration. So what was happening in 2004 through 2006 that led to the better scores on what is regarded as a uniformly rigorous national test? Andres Alonso, Baltimore's CEO, had an interesting observation yesterday. Those years were about the time Thornton funding had really kicked in. So he is making an educated guess that more money really does improve schools.

 He also points out that governors and legislators in Maryland, Republicans and Democrats, have generally  protected education funding. School systems may quibble with politicians in Annapolis over what they aren't getting, but in large measure, he said, Maryland has stayed the course in making education one of its highest priorities.

 

"I think that was happening in unison with a lot of other things, including a greater focus on stnadards," Alonso said.

Others say the consistent leadership of Nancy S. Grasmick, who led a move toward more accountability, contributed to the rise. In addition, an associate superintendent in Cecil County, said she believes the communication between school systems has been important. The state has vetted national research on which language arts programs are best.  For small school systems and teachers in classroom this saves them time and effort.  "We only implement programs that are research based and endorsed by the state," said Carolyn Teigland.

Others say the consistent leadership of Nancy S. Grasmick, who led a move toward more accountability, contributed to the rise. In addition, an associate superintendent in Cecil County, said she believes the communication between school systems has been important. The state has vetted national research on which language arts programs are best.  For small school systems and teachers in classroom this saves them time and effort.  "We on
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        
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