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January 30, 2012

Hiding cell phones in Uggs?

Here's a great story on the decision by one Pennsylvania school to ban the wearing of Uggs, or high top boots, that aren't snug. Students were coming to school with their cell phones hidden in their boots. Cell phones weren't allowed in this school. How many schools out there still don't allow students to bring cell phones to school, or discipline students who bring them to class? Would teachers like to tell stories about inventive teens who manage to hide cell phones so they can text during class?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan

Baltimore city is used to some radical ideas when it comes to keeping kids in school--a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso--but there is one that I wanted to put out there for debate's sake.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said that his administration would encourage states to raise the compulsory age of attendance to prevent kids from dropping out of school. Under the proposal, children would be require to attend school until the age of 18.

In Maryland, there's been a longstanding attempt to address truancy and dropout rates by raising the compulsory age of attendance, a measure that seems to have always failed due to its financial cost (because the human one is priceless, many would argue).

Still, the issue makes the city school system's legislative wish-list every year, and schools chief Alonso said Monday that he still maintains that, "it makes no sense to tell a kid they can't vote or drive a car but we let them drop out of school."

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to raise the state's compulsory age, a cause she plans to continue championing, said Monday she was "really pleased to see the President call on states to take care of our children. We ought to be doing everything we can to keep our students in school."

In 2008, Pugh's efforts spurred a yearlong study by a statewide task force of educators, community leaders and legislators which recommended that, among several other efforts, the state raise the compulsory age of attendance.

"Everything in that study, except raise to the age to 18, we've done," she said, citing examples like the numerous alternative schools and programs that have sprouted up across the state, and the move toward more in-school suspensions.

Pugh noted that Baltimore city has utilized several of the reports recommendations under Alonso, which she believes has contributed to the city's dropout rate being cut in half in the last four years. 

"There's nothing left for Maryland to do except push the dropout age to 18," she said. "It says to young people that the state has the responsibility to provide you an education, and we consider you a child until the age of 18, which we do."

The 2008 report also but found that it would cost the state $200 million a year and worsen the existing shortage of teachers, classroom space and other resources.  

Pugh said the state's current budget model for education is to "count children out, before we count them in," she said. “They estimate that a certain amount of students will drop out of school, and allocate that money somewhere else. It’s ridiculous.”

In speaking with some city educators in the last few days, there were some common concerns:

1.)Even with the current compulsory age of attendance at 16, hundreds of parents are hauled into court every year for their students' truancy, some of whom can't control what their kids do once they leave for the bus stop or are dropped off in front of the schoolhouse doors.

2.)What will become a school's climate if there are so many students there who don't want to be?

With that in mind, I am wondering what our education community thinks of this issue--now that it's on the White House's radar?

FYI: Our White House reporter covered another angle of Obama's education plan, regarding college tuition. It seems that the plan has raised hopes and concerns in the state.
Posted by Erica Green at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 26, 2012

Comptroller Franchot launches petition for air-conditioning in Baltimore County schools

Comptroller Peter Franchot is launching a petition drive to try to help Baltimore County parents protest the failure of the county govenrment to fund air-conditioning for its schools. Franchot, who is believed to be interested in being the next governor, has taken on the cause of air-conditioning in the county schools, a particularly hot button issue for parents and teachers in the county and city. Baltimore County has the second highest percentage of its schools without air-conditioning. Garrett is number one. Here's the report filed by Sun reporter Michael Dresser. The petition drive is here.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

January 25, 2012

State board wants major reduction in suspensions

The state board took the first steps yesterday to propose a significant change in the way school districts discipline students. They want schools to stop suspending students for non-violent offenses. So the student who comes to school with alcohol or talks back or cheats would not be suspended. One administrator suggested that if a student painted a swastika on the classroom window of a Jewish teacher, that teacher might see it as violence. But Jane Sundius of the Open Socity Institute noted that perhaps that was a great example of why out of school suspensions don't work. If the student is sent home for a day, he learns nothing about the Holocaust, and nothing about why that teacher might be angry or hurt. But if the student has to spend a Saturday at the Holocaust museum, perhaps he learns just how offensive his behavior really is. Many school teachers and administrators will disagree with the new suspension proposals. Some of them have already been expressing their views at the bottom of the story on the website. I would like to hear a debate on the blog about the pros and cons of this proposal. In particular, I would like to hear from teachers who were in the classroom before Columbine and before zero tolerance policies. How often were students sent home for more than a day and what were the most serious non-violent infractions? Did assistant principals and principals find other ways to discipline students? Did students write letters to their teacher when they were disrespectful? Did they stay after school? I would also like to hear from private school teachers. Are 8 percent of students in private schools suspended every year?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:52 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region

Updated: Alonso's billion-dollar borrowing pitch

Updated on Monday, Jan. 30: One of the biggest questions that emerged from Alonso's recent pitch to allow the school system to borrow billions for school construction, was whether or not Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was on board.

I thought I'd share this story from Friday, when Alonso and the mayor went to talk budgetary matters in Annapolis, where our State House Reporter Michael Dresser asked whether she was on board with the plan.

The mayor, who rolled out a proposal in November that would see a 140% increase in what the City is currently contributing to school construction and renovation, said Friday that the city and the school system were still "ironing out details," on how to fund the massive overhaul of the school system's infrastructure. She added, however, that, "we have the same mutual goal in mind."

According to the story, the mayor remained noncommittal to Alonso's plan to borrow $1.3 billion--six times more the district's borrowing authority-- for the needed improvements. And it's not surprising, since it's a plan that relies on paying off debt with more debt.

And according to the story, the mayor, who has outlined a more limited plan to float $300 million in bonds backed by new city revenues, would not say how close the city and school system are to reaching common ground on an approach.

"It depends on the day of the week it is. Some days we're closer than others," Rawlings-Blake said.

Asked whether Alonso had gone public with his plan too soon when he outlined it Tuesday for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the mayor sidestepped the question.

"Dr. Alonso is aggressive when it comes to reforming the school system," she said. "I am not going to second-guess his strategy.

You can read our editorial board's take on Alonso's strategy by clicking here. 

Original/Amended Posting:  

With the support of City council President Bernard "Jack" Young, students and education advocates, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso headed to Annapolis on Tuesday to make his pitch to state lawmakers for unprecedented borrowing authority, and a committed stream of funding that would allow sweeping facility upgrades to the city's dilapidated school infrastructure.

According to a story today by our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper, Alonso--who rarely makes a showing in Annapolis--proposed to the Senate's Budget and Taxation committee that the school system be allowed to borrow $1.2 billion— six times more than the district's current bonding authority. The schools chief also asked that legislators commit at least $32 million a year to school construction.

 Scharper points out, "the plan hinges on financial commitments from the state and an increase in the city's bottle tax — both of which could prove tough sells," for instance the controversial bottle tax that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will seek this year.

But, Alonso seems to have trumped City Hall in proposing a plan that would immediately address the $1.2 billion in need found in a groundbreaking study by the ACLU of Maryland in 2010.

In the last year, Alonso has been working with the mayor's administration to find a way that the system could not just chip away at the needs of the system's infrastructure, but launch a large-scale attack on the system's distressed infrastructure.

The mayor convened a task force that was to explore alternative financing options and release a report. That report has yet to be released, but many of its goals are reflected in her plan from November.

While Alonso's borrowing plan relies on revenue streams promised from the mayor, the mayor's spokesman said yesterday that, "there are a number of issues that haven't been resolved yet and must be resolved before we present the plan and provide additional details."

But Alonso, who has built momentum and support for his plan to close schools in order to fix others, seems to have it figured out:"The source of the dollars is a practical and political issue," he said. "Banks won't care as long as we meet our obligation."

Alonso's pitch marked a milestone for the ACLU's campaign. The organization not only figured the $1.2 billion need, but also researched solutions used in other states to address it. Alonso drew from a model the ACLU proposed from South Carolina, which would require a nonprofit or other entity to float the bonds on behalf of the school system.

The ACLU's campaign has has spurred a city-wide coalition of education advocacy groups, called Transform Baltimore,  that are vowing to keep the city's vision for state-of-the-art school facilities at the forefront of city and state leaders' agendas.

Stay tuned. 

Posted by Erica Green at 11:45 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 24, 2012

Howard school board outlines possible redistricting plans

From Howard schools reporter Joe Burris:

The Howard County board of education on Tuesday briefed the County Council on possible redistricting plans for the 2013-2014 school year, which include forming a 12-member attendance area committee to advise the superintendent.

The school system outlined the plans at its quarterly meeting with the County Council.

In November, the school board voted to move approximately 1,200 elementary school students for the upcoming school year to relieve over-capacity concerns in the southeast portion of the county. The students are slated to move to the south central portion of the county, with some schools moving students to other schools in order to receive other students.

For the 2013-20 school year, the school system will also form a 12-member committee, including one student.

Officials said that not every school involved in the move will have representation on the committee, and the school system will begin soliciting volunteers in March.

The board said it will receive a feasibility study in June that will include possible redistricting plans for 2013-14 or beyond. The superintendent will submit a redistricting recommendation in October, and the board plans to make its decision on redistricting in November. 

The school system is currently searching for a superintendent to replace Sydney Cousin, who is slated to step down in June.

“What is really important to remember is that the public has the perception that we redistrict every single year when we do not,” said school board chair Sandra French. “We consider the projections and the capacity issues and consider whether or not it has to happen. It’s a good heads up to the community that this is being considered for 2014."


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Bright Minds Foundation Awards Grants

Howard County public schools faculty were among several educators awarded funding to launch projects through the county’s nonprofit Bright Minds education foundation, school officials have announced.

Award recipients included Jamie Proctor of Wilde Lake High School, who won $2,000 for the project “STEM for Inquiry Based Learning,” and Ann Strozyk of the Howard County Conservancy, who won $2,000 for the project “Next Steps with GPS.”

Bright Minds was launched in 2006 by the Howard County school board to fund, among other things, initiatives that are not covered in the school’s budget. The foundation awards $10,000 in grants annually.


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

January 20, 2012

Spelling errors in state education presentation

From our colleague Michael Dresser on the Maryland Politics blog:

When interim Maryland State School Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky made a presentation before two House of Delegates committee Friday, he spelled out certain principles for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Alas, the folks at the Maryland State Department of Education showed a certain flexibility in spelling  "principle" as well. Time for a trip to the principal's office?

See the photo of the presentation here

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 8:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region

January 17, 2012

Public forum for new superintendent search

Tonight, Baltimore County held the first of three open forums to allow the public to comment on the characteristics they would like to see in the next superintendent. Joe A. Hairston is retiring in June after 12 years as superintendent. Consultants from the search firm were there to listen, but no education officials were there. The public comments were allowed to be confidential, although no one seemed to mind being quoted. Only a dozen or so people showed up, but they represented many different groups. In general, they said they believed there were many great teachers in the system, but that they wanted changes. Several individuals said they wanted an open minded, compassionate, ethical superintendent who was a "people person" and who would have courage to try new things and stand up to elected officials.

A number of parents, including Julie Sugar, the president of the PTA at Loch Raven High School, and parent Laurie Taylor Mitchell, said they wanted a superintendent who would address the lack of air-conditioning and other facilities issues that have plagued the system for decades because of its aging buildings. They said they want a superintendent who will stand up for what schools need during budget time rather than submitting a budget that is acceptable to the county executive.

Unless the superintendent is willing to say what schools honestly need to improve and operate well, she said, the elected officials will never feel pressure to find the funds to address those needs.

Parents and teachers, both retired and current, said they want a superintendent who will address the needs of the whole child, including giving weight to physical education and the arts. The group said the new superintendent must look at the needs of all the county's children, including the growing numbers living in poverty, and work to unite the donut shaped district that has diverse communities.  Two parents representing the special education community came to say that the county had fallen far behind other districts in putting special education students into regular classrooms. They wanted more attention to inclusion, they said.

High school teacher, Ed Kitlowski, said teachers feel they have no voice. The new leader will come into a district with "a leadership style that has created a lot of conflict." Teachers need to feel empowered, he said, so that they don't leave for Montgomery County where the pay is higher or Howard County where the work may be easier. He wants them to want to stay in Baltimore County because they have more authority to control what is going on in their classrooms and they can operate in a culture that encourages creativity and new ideas.

Several people said they want a superintendent who will approach solving the county's issues with excitement.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore County's Renee Foose superintendent candidate

Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent for Baltimore County Schools, has applied for the superintendent's job in Orange County, Florida, the tenth largest district in the nation. Foose's name is one of 21 applicants the Orange County Public Schools have made public. The list will be narrowed to semi-finalists by the end of the month. A county school spokeswoman said the interviews with finalists would be conducted in February.

Foose is a former Montgomery County school official who was hired by Baltimore County last April at a salary of $214,000.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 13, 2012

Edgewater elementary parents say building needs improvements

From schools reporter Joe Burris:

A group of parents, teachers, staff and students from Edgewater Elementary School on Thursday night implored Anne Arundel school officials to prioritize improvements to the school’s aging structure, which they say is wrought with health concerns.

The school board held the second of two public hearings on Thursday night for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget. But public testimony was dominated by the group of about 50 people from the Edgewater community, whose school – which was first occupied in 1953 and has had renovations in 1964 and 1985 – isn’t up for a feasibility study and design for renovations until Fiscal Year 2016.

Most members of the group stood and held signs that read, “Got Bad Air?” and “Got Mold,” as other members took turns telling board members about how children at the school have suffered from respiratory-related ailments.

“Edgewater has continually remained silent on these issues, and we decided that it was time to band together and see if we can make a difference,” said Jenny Corkill, president of the Edgewater Elementary PTA.

“It’s interesting to listen to all the parents talk about their kids and having a daughter that’s been there who has had symptoms for three or four years,” said Todd Holt of Edgewater. “You kind of ignore it as a parent and say, ‘OK, they get sick.’ But then when you put it all together, you go, ‘In hindsight, that sniffle, that cough.’”

Corkill said that the Edgewater community’s ultimate goal is to have the school moved up on the school system’s priority list for renovations.

“For health reasons and overall conditions it’s not working,” Corkill said. “We do our piece [before the school board], and we go and talk to the County Council to see if we can make a difference there.”

Anne Arundel schools chief operating officer Alex Szachnowicz said that the school system, upon hearing similar concerns from Edgewater residents last fall, had air and water quality studies performed on Edgewater Elementary in November and December.

“We did air quality testing where they checked more than 50 variables for air quality,” said Szachnowicz. “The first time we did the test everything came back within acceptable limits.

“Because two of the more than 50 samples were lost or mishandled, we retested not just for those two items but for the entire building again,” said Szachnowicz. “It did show that one of the rooms had high carbon dioxide levels, which is what we exhale when we breathe.

“When we researched the room to discover why it was so high, we discovered that the teacher in the room had her unit ventilator off,” said Szachnowicz. “As soon as the unit ventilator was turned on, the carbon dioxide levels would go down in the room.”

Szachnowicz said that the test also identified two leaks in the crawl space of the school’s steam system. He said that pipes in the steam system have been repaired and that a third test was conducted after the repair. Szachnowicz said he is awaiting results of the test.

Szachnowicz said that about five years ago the water treatment system was replaced in the building after lead was found in the water and said that since then Edgewater Elementary has passed every state-required water test.

“We will continue to check and monitor the building and address anything we might find,” said Szachnowicz. “The school district has got nothing to gain by not addressing any concerns or anything wrong in that building.”

Board member Teresa Birge said that the board needs to open more lines of communication with the Edgewater Elementary community about the problem. “We continue to hear their concerns and we can see what can be mitigated now,” she said. “I don’t know if the order [of the feasibility study] would be changed or not, but whatever could be done to mitigate problems now of course we are going to do.”

Corkill said that on Friday county officials visited the school again, which she said left her feeling that the concerns addressed on Thursday night were heard.

“Without question,” Corkill said. “We think that it’s a positive thing. We want the issues to be addressed and concerns looked at, and the more information they can share with us the better we will all be and feel.”

Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said that he could not confirm that county officials visited Edgewater Elementary on Friday.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 5:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel

Dyer attempts to have board's removal request dismissed

From schools reporter Joe Burris:

Howard County school board member Allen Dyer this week requested that the state office of administrative hearings dismiss an attempt by his fellow board members to oust him from the panel, the second time he has filed such a dismissal since the board requested last year that the state board of education remove him.

The Howard school board voted to adopt a resolution requesting Dyer’s removal last June, accusing him of, among other things, breaching confidentiality requirements.

On Monday, Dyer filed a motion to dismiss and stay those proceedings, arguing that he was elected to office by Howard citizens in 2008, and is running for re-election in the primary this spring and the general election next fall.

Dyer also argued that the state board’s notice to him regarding the county board’s request for removal was “full of conclusory statements totally lacking the specificity but placed solely within the context of statements made and actions taken by Respondent [Dyer] in his legislative capacity.”

Dyer stated that state and federal laws prohibit civil or criminal action to be brought against city or county officials for comments rendered at a council, board, committee or subcommittee meeting. He then cited court cases that he said bolster his claim.

“Because the conclusory statements which comprise the State Board’s notice are permeated with assertions for which the Respondent Board Member has immunity, [state and federal statues] prohibit the bringing of this action,” Dyer wrote.

Administrative hearing officials said on Friday that another motions hearing on the matter is slated for late February. Dyer requested that the office dismiss the board's request in September, but the dismissal was denied.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 5:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Seven counties not paying fair share for schools

We report in a story today that seven counties in Maryland are not meeting their share of the burden to fund public schools, according to preliminary state figures. Anne Arundel and Talbot counties are two jurisdictins that dispute whether they are complying with a law that says a local jurisdiction's per pupil funding cannot decrease from one year to the next. Legislative leaders and county government leaders are calling on a change in the current law during this legislative session. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

January 10, 2012

Howard officials accept school site

The Howard County board of education has officially accepted the 20.2-acre site on the Northeast Route 1 corridor in Hanover to build a school, officials said on Tuesday. The Oxford Square property can serve as a site for either an elementary school or a middle school, officials said.

The acquisition culminates efforts to secure land to build a new school in the Northeast portion of the county, efforts that have been hampered by, among other things, concerns about proximity to an MBTA station and concerns over a proposed CSX rail cargo transfer station.

In October, the board officially approved the property as the site for new middle school, but staff is considering whether to request the board’s approval to use the site as an elementary school.

Ken Roey, Howard County executive director of facilities, planning and management said, “The Oxford Square site is one of the best suited for construction the school system has had in recent memory in terms of level and stable soil structure, utility hook ups and accessibility to major road networks and the school system is taking the necessary steps to make immediate use of this property.”

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County

Officials say maintenance of effort needs to be revamped

A group of state education officials said Tuesday that a state-mandated education spending requirement for counties needs to be revamped to prevent local jurisdictions from underfunding education by $2.6 billion.

Officials from the Maryland State Education Association, Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Montgomery County Education Association outlined efforts to request that the General Assembly make changes to the so-called maintenance of effort requirement that mandates counties fund school systems at the same per-pupil amount for the upcoming year as they did the current year.

The group that met at the State Education Association office in Annapolis on Tuesday said that the current maintenance of effort requirement it so “broken” and “weak” that it is being circumvented by local jurisdictions. They said in a prepared statement that if the General Assembly does not fix the law during the upcoming session the state runs the risk of “opening the door to $2.6 billion in local education cuts.”



Maintenance of effort is a state requirement that ensures local jurisdictions match the state’s commitment to education rather than spend money allocated by the state on other departments.

The group of educators said on Tuesday that seven counties – including Anne Arundel and Montgomery – funded at below maintenance of efforts in their Fiscal Year 2012 budgets by a total of $243 million. 

The group said that if the county government does not meet maintenance of effort it suffers a penalty -- losses in the scheduled increase in state funding the following year.

The General Assembly authorized waiver requests from the law in the 1990s, but recently passed legislation that allows the penalties to be waived.

Sean Johnson, managing director for political and legislative affairs at the Maryland State Education Association, said that when the 2002 General Assembly enacted its Excellence in Public Schools Act it steadily increased its funding to localities year after year, but in recent years, he said, that funding “plateaued.”

“So the penalty aspect of this is broken as well. If the state is not in a position to investing more and more and more, it has lost its carrot stick relationship of ensuring that localities are keeping up their end of the bargain,” Johnson said.

“And so what you have then is there is no increase in state aid then there is no penalty,” Johnson said, “and if there is a nominal increase in state aid then you have case where localities are able to do a cost benefit analysis of we can reduce far less than maintenance of effort and just suffer a small penalty.”

The group wants to mandate that local jurisdictions request a waiver should maintenance of effort not be met. They are pushing to allow local governments to raise additional revenues by expanding the income tax add on or overriding local tax caps or providing other spending options to ensure that maintenance of effort is met.

“Last minute legislative changes in the 2011 [General Assembly] session have allowed local governments to dramatically lower their school funding, threatening the delicate state-local funding partnership and the continued high quality of our schools,” said Clara Floyd, president of the Maryland State Education Association.

The group said on Tuesday that legislators have pledged to ultimately craft  legislation toward fixing maintenance of effort requirements.

“The notion that maintenance of efforts only works if state funded increases are large enough to coax the counties into maintaining funding on a voluntary basis that’s weak regardless of how the economy goes,” said John Woolums, director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. “And you have county by county differences in how strong their commitment to public education is.

“Even in the best of times when state funding increases were generous there are counties who did their best to not provide more than a penny above maintenance of effort from year to year,” Woolums added. “Had they known at the time it was an option and not a mandate, we worried how that would have gone, and we worry going forward.”

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch warned local governments Friday to maintain school funding.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

January 6, 2012

New, in-depth study shows economic value of good teachers

In a front-page story today, The New York Times reported on a new study that shows the long-term effects of good teachers on students, academically and economically. The study tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, observing the impact of teachers who had significantly raised their students' test scores.

The study, authored by Harvard and Columbia University educators and titled "The long-term impact of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood" furthers the controversial debate about how valuable value-added teaching ratings are.

The key finding, according to the Times, is that "elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students’ standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings."

I would encourage all to read the story, here. 

Posted by Erica Green at 3:11 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation
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