February 9, 2012

Ten states to get NCLB waivers

The Associated Press is reporting that the White House will soon announce that 10 states have gotten waivers to No Child Left Behind, essentially lifting the strictest requirements of the accountability law in return for state assurances that new goals will be set for student achievement and teacher evaluations.

In states that are given a waiver, schools will no longer be labeled failing if they don't meet certain testing goals.

The announcement would seem to bode well for Maryland which is expected to apply for the waive in the next several weeks. Only one state, New Mexico, that applied by the first deadline last year did not get a waiver. At least another dozen states have signaled their intention to apply in the second round.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

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)
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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)
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October 21, 2011

Release of salary information for AFT

Since we have been releasing data on school system salaries, we wanted to note here on the blog some of the salary data for the American Federation of Teachers. Drop Out Nation has just posted a story on the salaries of the AFT, the union representing urban teachers. In Maryland, the AFT represents Baltimore teachers and one of the longtime leaders is Loretta Johnson.  Johnson has risen in the ranks of the AFT and is now making $369,408, according to the records Drop Out Nation looked up. Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, made $493,895.


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Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
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October 20, 2011

Today is National Day on Writing

I am going to take the liberty of encouraging all teachers out there to get their students to celebrate the day with a little bit of writing. I know all but the very youngest of your students will probably be doing a little bit of texting today. They might even be tweeting, or heaven to Betsy, putting pencil to paper.

So how about a little creativity? Maybe they could write a poem, a description of the room around them, a funny line or two? Post their work in the comment section here so we can all enjoy the day together! And here's a link to the National Day on Writing  website.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:35 PM | | Comments (1)
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September 20, 2011

Maryland taking lead on new science standards

The next step in national standards seems to be science which are being written by 20 states including Maryland based on a framework developed by the National Academy of Sciences. Given the level of angst about STEM by business and higher education leaders, I have always been surprised that the same level of attention is not given to those subjects in classrooms. One of the concerns about any attempt to write national standards for history or science was that politics would interfere. Would everyone argue over whether to teach evolution or global warming or some controversial aspect of history?

While this may not be an issue in Maryland where evolution and global warming have been taught, it could be troublesome for a state like Texas. But so far the 20 states have gotten past this hurdle by making adoption of the standards voluntary and having a panel of scientists and educators write the framework. Achieve is once again organizing the effort and these standards may well follow shortly behind the Common Core math and language arts curriculum now being put together by the state based on the national standards.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:29 PM | | Comments (6)
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September 16, 2011

Promoting civic engagement in schools

In light of Constitution Day, and in the wake of the city's recent record-low voter turnout this week, I thought I'd share an effort that seeks to promote civic engagement in schools.

Today, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor championed an effort undertaken by the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, a coalition of 40 organizations committed policies that would improve civic learning in grades K-12.

The organization released a full report with analysis and policy recommendations for civic engagement in schools. O'Connor also wrote an interesting op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about what she called "America's civic education deficit"

In the group's policy report, they build their case on a jarring national trend: "On a recent national assessment in civics, two-thirds of all American students scored below proficient. On the same test, less than one-third of eighth graders could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and fewer than one in five high school seniors were able to explain how citizen participation benefits democracy."

In the city, we marked a critical mayoral election this week that marked the lowest turnout numbers to date. I have always been interested in the debate about whether civic engagement is something you learn at home, or are taught in school. Either way, it's apparent that we need to do a better job of both.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:55 PM | | Comments (5)
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September 6, 2011

Alonso named to board overseeing NAEP

Baltimore City CEO Andres Alonso was named to the National Assessment Governing Board today, one of seven new members named by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Alonso will be one of 24 members of the board that overseas the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test given to students around the nation that is considered the only current measure that compares one state to another and some cities to one another. The term begins in October and runs for four years. Six other members were appointed, including a high school math teacher from Indiana, Kentucky's commissioner of education, the chairman of the Tennessee State Board of Education, and a research  professor in Oregon.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:09 PM | | Comments (9)
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Questioning technology in the classroom

A long piece in the New York Times on Sunday questions whether technology has really produced tangible results that can be measured. The Times quotes a myriad of different voices saying there is no solid research that proves students learn more in technology rich classrooms. A school system in the west has spent tens of millions on technology, even changing the way teachers deliver their lessons, but the test scores have stagnated. Voters there will now have to decide whether to continue spending extra money.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:47 PM | | Comments (5)
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August 22, 2011

Steven Brill's new book on school reform: is the problem teachers unions?

Steven Brill's new book, "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools" has gotten a lot of buzz in the past week. He's already shown up on CNN, the New York Times and NPR. Brill, a lawyer and founder of American Lawyer magazine, may be best known in education circles for his piece in the New Yorker on New York's rubber room.

From reviews of the book and interviews with Brill, the book appears to be a bit like a rerun of Waiting for Superman, in that it blames poor schools on the power of teachers unions. Although perhaps more nuanced than Superiman, his point is that performance doesn't count for the nation's 3.2 million public school teachers. In other words, you can walk into a classroom as a beginning teacher today and know that no matter how well you do your job over the next year or next two decades, you won't be paid anything more than the mediocre or even lousy teacher in the classroom next door. 

Continue reading "Steven Brill's new book on school reform: is the problem teachers unions?" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:36 PM | | Comments (11)
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August 15, 2011

School systems turn to energy conservation as budget saving measures

Going green appears to be helpful to lots of school systems around the country that are reaping big savings by turning off computers at night, turning off lights when no one is in the room, replacing oil gulping furnaces with energy conservation ones and a whole host of other options. The savings are helping to reduce the impact of budget cuts. Maryland school districts have not generally felt the severe cutbacks that have been common in other states, however, the coming budget cycle may be one where systems are beginning to look around for cost savings. I was wondering if readers of the blog know whether any conservation measures have been put into place in the last year or two in school systems in your area?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:01 AM | | Comments (1)
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August 9, 2011

Arne Duncan moves to give states NCLB waivers

Congress couldn't really have thought that 100 percent of students would be reading and doing math on grade level in 2014, but that is what No Child Left Behind expects from all schools by then.

The goal seemed fine in 2002 when it was more than a decade away, but now it is 2011 and in Maryland alone 44 percent of elementary and middle schools didn't live up to NCLB standards last year. That is a lower percentage than some states with higher standards than Maryland. In Tennessee, for instance, only about two thirds of students are failing state tests.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thinks it is time to act so that tougher and tougher sanctions aren't applied to schools that don't need to be reinvented. So yesterday, he signaled for the second time this summer that he is going to take action. In mid-September he said he will give states the details on how to apply for a waiver.  Maryland, appears to be poised to satisfy all of the criteria for getting a waiver because it has adopted the common core standards, is revamping its teacher evaluation system, among other actions.

Continue reading "Arne Duncan moves to give states NCLB waivers " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:17 PM | | Comments (5)
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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.

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Posted by Erica Green at 6:06 PM | | Comments (6)
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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)
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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)
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June 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Erica Green at 3:04 PM | | Comments (2)
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June 12, 2011

Arne Duncan signals he may provide relief from NCLB this fall

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

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:48 PM | | Comments (1)
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June 6, 2011

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

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

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

Posted by Erica Green at 3:22 PM | | Comments (1)
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May 27, 2011

Racing to the Top, part two

There's another chance for nine states who lost out last year in the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top to try again for a total of $200 million. Maryland was one of the winners, and the state is now about to have the benefit of an additional $250 million in dollars for schools in return for agreeing to certain reforms.

The department also announced yesterday that it will offer states that chance to compete for $500 million to improve early learning programs it considers so important in improving educational outcomes for children.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:25 AM | | Comments (3)
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May 4, 2011

Our National Teacher of the Year and other great teachers

National Teacher of the YearFor only the second time, a Maryland teacher has been named the National Teacher of the Year. Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher, at Urbana High School in Frederick County was honored yesterday by President Obama at a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House.

The photograph here is on the Frederick County school system website. We would like to hear from Shearer's students, who I believe may have taken the Advanced Placement chemistry exam a couple days ago. Give us some examples of why you like your teacher or why she has inspired you to do your best.

And since this is Teacher Appreciation Week, I would encourage any other students in the region  to weigh in with stories of great teachers who have changed their lives. Please take the time to post a comment here. It is nearly the end of the year, a good time, particularly for graduating seniors, to look back and give a shout out to some of their best teachers.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:43 AM | | Comments (1)
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May 1, 2011

Frederick County teacher named nation's best

Michelle M. Shearer, a chemistry teacher from Frederick County, has been named the National Teacher of the Year. For her dedication, the Urbana High School teacher will be honored Tuesday by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.

According to our story today, Shearer said: "It's an incredible honor. It's overwhelming," but added that "teachers don't go into teaching for awards, but it is nice have recognition. It keeps us going."

She is the second Maryland teacher in the past five years to be awarded the nationwide honor given by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Shearer was named the Maryland winner last October and became a finalist in January, competing against teachers from Florida, Illinois, and Montana.
Posted by Erica Green at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
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March 22, 2011

Hopkins report: Fewer dropout factories nationwide, Baltimore highlighted

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Erica Green at 12:08 PM | | Comments (0)
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February 28, 2011

Providence school board fires all its teachers

Late last week, the Providence school board decided to send termination notices to its entire teaching staff. The board said it needed "maximum flexibility" to deal with a $40 million budget deficit. Today, a story in the Providence Journal says that the union president has gone to the mayor asking for him to reverse the decision. The school system took action because it is required to notify teachers by March 1st if they will lose their jobs at the end of the school year.

The termination notices don't take effect until this summer and most of the teachers are expected to be hired back. But firing the teachers rather than laying them off gives the school district more discretion in how it does the cuts. The firing also makes it more difficult for teachers to collect unemployment benefits.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)
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February 25, 2011

Ever wanted to tell education reporters what to write?

I was in New York City last Friday attending a conference on teacher effectiveness held by the Education Writers Association. Besides several dozen education reporters from around the country, some very vocal teacher bloggers were invited as well.

I may write more later on the blog about what happened at the conference, which produced some lively debates on teacher recruitment and retention, professional development and schools of education. Today, though, I wanted to give teachers and principals who read the blog the chance to do what the teacher bloggers have done in the past week: suggest some stories we should be telling. The Education Writers Association has a blog called where you can find several posts about the conference as well as some links to blogs that teachers wrote listing story ideas they have for us.

I thought those links might begin the discussion. So take a look and post your suggestions here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:47 AM | | Comments (14)
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February 23, 2011

Wisconsin and Maryland are very different states

Teachers watching the eruptions in Wisconsin that are spreading to other states as quickly as  revolts are catching fire in Arab countries have to feel lucky they teach in Maryland. They may be battling over how evaluations should be done, but those are small skirmishes compared to the fights to protect their right to bargain everything but wages. And the unions won a major victory a year ago when the legislature gave them an arbitration panel, taking disputes out of the hands of school boards, in some instances. The unions want to protect their pensions and health care benefits. But for private sector employees who have seen wages and benefits cut in the past five years, resentment is growing against unions who show no sensitivity to those declines.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:38 AM | | Comments (3)
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February 21, 2011

Student suicide blamed in part on zero tolerance policy

Several years ago, I wrote a story about zero tolerance policies that had produced record high rates of suspensions and expulsions in school systems around Maryland.  Many school systems defended their practices at the time, although since then some school systems have changed course and reduced suspensions for non-violent offenses. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the strict discipline policies of Fairfax County played a part in a student taking his life. 

Continue reading "Student suicide blamed in part on zero tolerance policy" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:19 PM | | Comments (2)
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February 3, 2011

Pathway to success: Career or college?

A new report published by the Harvard Graduate School of Education this week questions whether there is too much emphasis placed on college preparation, and not enough emphasis placed on preparing students for the workforce. A college education, the report says, is not the pathway to success for all students and shouldn't be presented as such. Career training, the report said, should actually start as early as middle school.

The release of the report, titled "Pathways to Prosperity," coincided with Baltimore celebrating, Career and Technology Education" month, a national event that promotes high-school students earning certifications in workforce programs before they graduate. In Baltimore, more than 6,000 students have career concentrations. Some showcased their skills in an event at North Avenue.

Critics of the study and education advocates fear that more emphasis the college vs. career track could have negative implications for students from disadvantaged populations--fearing that capable students in poor districts would be unfairly sent down the wrong track, presumably  discouraged from pursuing college.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso headed to D.C. to present to the authors of the study, as well as other school leaders, where he said that in Baltimore, Career and Technology Education, or CTE, has emerged as a strong alternative to Advanced Placement courses, which offer students college-level courses in high school. 

He told the group, that, "in the communities I served the parents are not asking about tracks, they are asking about their kids’ readiness to do well in the real world," especially in neighborhoods where the old commercial and industrial infrastructure has disappeared.

In a more extensive explanation, Alonso took a pretty strong stance in favor of the study's assertions. I thought his thoughts as a superintendent of an urban, predominantly black and low-income district, should be known:

"The discussion about career readiness/pathways versus college readiness/standards is specious.  CTE programs have become more rigorous, and actually screen out many students who would benefit from them, and new high school exit criteria ensures that all students have to focus on academics, so the old dichotomy between a college ready track and a career track is an old paradigm that needs to be rethought.  

The conversation needs to change to what do we need to provide so students are engaged, learn in ways that prepared them for college (if they want to go in that direction) or skilled careers; and how do we change the systemic dynamics in cities – especially those involving struggling neighborhoods – so that government and business are partnering with schools and higher education programs to support students in their learning. How do we get to a system of apprenticeship that rather than create a track, expands on the ability of students to make choices?

It’s not an either/or question, but a both/and question, in terms of what is needed."

Posted by Erica Green at 7:55 PM | | Comments (2)
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January 23, 2011

Cameras in all classrooms? In Wyoming, maybe.

I was taking a glimpse at education news from other states and came across a pretty extreme idea now before the Wyoming legislature, according to a story in the Star-Tribune. The idea is to put cameras in classrooms to video-tape lessons for all new and veteran teachers. What supporters are saying is that teachers and students change their behavior when a principal walks into a classroom to do an evaluation, so this would be a means of figuring out what really happens when everyone in the classroom isn't on their best behavior. Do we really think teachers need that kind of scrutiny? What's next? Live-streamed lessons that parents can check on line, and administrators can watch from the central office? What happened to the idea of just letting great teachers close the door and have a relaxed, human interaction with their students?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:49 PM | | Comments (5)
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January 12, 2011

Former Prince George's chief appointed to head LA schools

John Deasy, who left the Prince George's County superintendent's job after struggles with the board, has just been named the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Deasy, who pushed through reforms in Prince George's moved on to a position with the Gates Foundaiton after leaving Maryland. In August, he took over as the top deputy in LA. His appointment takes effect on April 15. He is viewed as an educator who will work cooperatively with union leaders, charter school operators and others on thorny issues while also focusing on issues of teacher effectiveness. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:21 AM | | Comments (4)
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January 3, 2011

Let parents and students grade teachers

Maryland isn't the only state to promise that 50 percent of teachers' evaluations will be linked to student growth. A story in the Atlanta Constitution last week points out that Georgia too is now struggling with how to make the details work. One of the largest issues looming is how to judge student growth for teachers who don't teach tested areas. According to the Atlanta Constitution, 60 percent of an evaluation for those teachers in Georgia would be based on observations and walk throughs while the remainder would come from student and parent surveys. Wow. Is this an interesting idea?  Most students really do know who the best teachers in their school are, don't they? If a parent or a student made a list of the top 10 teachers in their school, wouldn't it match pretty closely with the list provided by the principal? Anyone willing to do that test?

What do teachers think about this idea? Would you rather be judged by your students or their test scores?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:13 PM | | Comments (3)
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December 7, 2010

PISA results show U.S. students lag behind in math

Despite attempts to improve STEM education in the United States, a report from the Organizaiton for Economic Cooperation and Development shows the U.S. lags behind a dozen other countries in academic achievement.

The report shows that 15-year-old American students had average scores in reading and science and below average scores in math, ranking behing Korea, Finland, Canada, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand and two provinces in China.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:52 PM | | Comments (2)
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December 2, 2010

Alonso and progress of city schools highlighted

The New York Times today profiles Andres Alonso and his efforts to improve the city schools. There's really not a lot of news here for those who have followed his tenure in Baltimore, but it is interesting to note that he and the reform measures in Baltimore have begun to garner some national attention.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:20 AM | | Comments (3)
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November 30, 2010

Report finds decline in number of US "dropout factories"

A report released today by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center shows that high schools across the country have made strides in retaining and graduating students in recent years.

Highlights of the report include:

The report found that nationwide, the number of “dropout factory” high schools fell by 13 percent – from 2,007 in 2002 to 1,746 in 2008.  The report also found that across the country, the number of high schools where 40 percent or more of the students fail to graduate fell significantly from 2002 to 2008, according to analysis of government data. And, nationwide, the U.S. graduation rate increased from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008

The report also found that in Maryland:

The number of “dropout factory” high schools increased by 10  – from 17 in 2002 to 27 in 2008; and the state's graduation rate increased from 79.7 percent in 2002 to 80.4 percent in 2008.


Posted by Erica Green at 11:32 AM | | Comments (3)
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November 9, 2010

Despite notable gains, report finds black male students still imperiled

Baltimore has been celebrating in recent weeks statistics that show the district's black male students have made notable gains in achievement, and were even the driving force behind the district's record graduation rate (66 percent) and low dropout rate (4 percent).

But, a new report released today by the Council for Great City Schools -- an organization composed of leaders from large, urban districts -- shows that black male students nationwide are still in an academic crisis when compared to their white counterparts.

The findings were released today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and city schools CEO Andres Alonso was in attendance. The report calls on officials all the way up to those in the White House to address what they deemed a "national catastrophe" taking place around the country.

Some highlights of the findings were:

Continue reading "Despite notable gains, report finds black male students still imperiled" »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:59 PM | | Comments (5)
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October 19, 2010

Montgomery County doesn't win Broad

The largest education prize in the nation was just announced and a school district outside of Atlanta was the winner. Montgomery County had been one of five finalists this year for the $1 million prize. Gwinnett County beat out Montgomery County, two school systems in El Paso and a former finalist, Charlotte Mecklenburg. The finalists are chosen from among the urban school districts in the nation that have improved student achievement overall and closing the gap for minority and poor children. As a finalist, Montgomery County will get $250,000 in scholarship money to be given to seniors this year.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 1, 2010

Suicide of Rutgers student who was bullied

The suicide of a Rutgers student whose sexual encounter was live-streamed onto the internet should make every parent and teacher think deeply about what we teach our children about social media, but even more importantly, about what we say about living your life each day in a way that does not hurt others.

 As parents, perhaps we should stop taking for granted that our children know how to be kind to their peers. Maybe we need to have more pointed conversations around the dinner table. Maybe we need to say each morning when our children walk out the door:"Be kind to others." instead of  "Work hard." or "Have a nice day."

 U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a statement today about bullying which is worth reading. It provides a reminder to parents, teachers and students, particularly those who hear derogatory statements about gays and do nothing.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:50 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 22, 2010

Study says merit pay for teachers doesn't work

A new study out of Vanderbilt University says that offering merit pay to teachers doesn't improve student performance. The debate over pay for performance is a hot topic these days as the state and local school systems grapple with how to evaluate teachers and whether excellence in the classroom should be given monetary rewards.

The National Education Association put out a press release touting the results today and saying that this proves that finding answers to student achievement is more complicated than paying teachers more for increased test scores.

In the study by the National Center on Performance Incentives, teachers were given $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 bonuses based on whether they could get their student test scores up a certain percentage over a specific period of time.  The outcome showed the extra pay did not improve achievement.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:57 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 7, 2010

Can Detroit be more like Baltimore?

Baltimore and Detroit have competed in the past for the distinction of having the most murders per capita. And I recall Baltimore leaders once wondering if the city had the worst schools in the nation. Well today, the answer seems to be a resounding no, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the city's test scores on a national test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress were considerably better than Detroit's. In fact, Detroit's scores were far below every other major city that took part in the testing. The whole subject is covered in a recent piece that explains how Detroit schools might like to try some of the strategies that have worked in Baltimore.

The piece gives a good measure of credit to the fact that the Maryland legislature decided to rework how it funds schools and now provides more than $1 billion a year toward education than it did earlier in the decade.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:18 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 24, 2010

Maryland wins Race to the Top

Maryland was one of the nine states and the District of Columbia to win a portion of the $3.4 billion in education funding. The state will receive $250 million.

It is interesting to look at the scoring of the competition. In the first round the winners scored 440 points. This time the lowest scorers had 440 points.

Maryland tied with the District of Columbia for a score of 450 and came in sixth overall. Massachusetts had a score of 471.

U.S. Secretary of Education said he would like to have funded a number of other states that he believed had good applications, but that he ran out of funds.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 23, 2010

Race to the Top announcement expected Tuesday

So tomorrow we find out which states won the big race for education dollars called Race to the Top. Maryland could claim as much as $250 million in federal funds. If we win, Maryland will have a little extra money to spend to enact a bunch of reforms.

While the state has committed to  those reforms, they aren't likely to happen so quickly without the bucks. But there's another issue here and that is the political fall out. Getting the money is a win for O'Malley who I'm guessing would be happy to use the state's education record in his bid to keep his job.

The announcement is expect around noon.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 26, 2010

Race to the Top finalists to be announced tomorrow

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will announce in a speech scheduled to start at 1 p.m. tomorrow the list of states that are finalists in the race for a pot of $3.4 billion. Maryland could get as much as $250 million.  In its education blog, Ed Week predicts Maryland will be one of 20 finalists.

If there turns out to be as many as 20 finalists in the contest, then it would seem logical that Maryland would be one of them. The state legislature passed laws this winter that make the state much more competitive, but I am not making any predictions. Maryland's perceived weaknesses are its charter school law, and the lack of support from Montgomery County and most teacher unions.

We promise to give you the news as soon as it breaks.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 2, 2010

New research on KIPP schools

KIPP schools generally do so well compared to other regular public schools that many people have questioned whether they are taking in better prepared students or kicking out those that aren't making the grade.

An examination of demographic and achievement data from 22 KIPP middle schools (not including KIPP Ujima in Baltimore) in 14 states by an independent research company was released last week. It showed that KIPP doesn't attract more qualified or able students than those in the neighborhood. In addition, the achievement gains in KIPP schools are so large that they have reduced the race and income achievement gaps.

The full report is available on the KIPP website. KIPP Ujima in Baltimore has a long track record of success, often better than other charter schools in the city and sometimes better than middle schools in suburban counties in the state.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:39 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 30, 2010

O'Malley named "America's Greatest Education Governor"

The National Education Association, the union representing 3.2 million teachers across the nation, will give Martin O'Malley its "America's Greatest Education Governor" award at its conference in New Orleans on July 5.

The award praises O'Malley for leaving education out of the budget cuts and for helping to close the achievement gap. A press release on the NEA website says that the annual award is given to governors who have made major. statewide efforts to improve public education.

Interestingly, local union leaders in many Maryland counties have been less than enthusiastic about the education reform bills that O'Malley introduced and helped get passed during last winter's Maryland General Assembly. The Maryland State Education Association has endorsed the governor.

In the next few days we will see how this may play out in the campaign for governor.




Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:05 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 8, 2010

Should five-year-olds be playing or studying?

The Alliance for Childhood, which has been trying to promote more play and less academic work for young children, suggests today that the new common core standards aren't good for  kindergarten. In a statement, the group said states that adopt the standards will be adding to the need for this age group to do hours of academic work, leaving less time for children to be creative and explore their interests. The group contends there is no research that proves young children will benefit from being given academic work at a young age.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

May 28, 2010

Diane Ravitch's change of heart

Diane Ravitch, one of America's most influential education scholars, was in town yesterday afternoon and spoke to a couple hundred people in Baltimore, some of whom have spent as many decades thinking about education as she has.

The former No Child Left Behind cheerleader released a book several months ago called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

In the book, she details her change of heart over school reform in America, saying that accountability and charter schools have not worked. After a decade of espousing the cause of the conservatives who said choice and testing were the key to closing the achievement gap and making schools work for all students, she has decided she was very wrong.

Yesterday, she said that studies have shown that while some charter schools are working well, overall students do no better in charters than regular public schools. She believes that charters have focused attention away from resolving the most vexing problems in public education.

And while she supports testing students, she says the results are now being used to punish teachers, principals and students. Rather, she said, we should be using poor test scores for a school or a student to diagnose a problem and then using all our energy to zero in on fixing it rather than punishing the offenders.

"There have been no results from this eight-year investment in tests," she said. While she acknowledges that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores have risen over the eight years, she says they rose faster during other time periods. (Although I might add the caveat here that I am not sure we have enough research to document why test scores rose in the 1970s and 1980s faster than between 2002 and 2010.)

She's against much of the core of teacher reforms now being proposed across the country, including linking teacher evaluations to test scores.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:58 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Around the Nation

May 24, 2010

Are teachers' unions roadblocks to reform?

As the discussion about reforming education around the country increasingly begins to focus on improving the equality of teaching, the unions have come under pressure to agree to changes in the way teachers are paid, evaluated and promoted. In yesterday's New York Times magazine, writer Steven Brill explores the subject of whether unions have become the last roadblock to reform. It is worth a read, particularly this week as unions around the state make a final decision about whether to sign the Race to the Top application.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:35 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 29, 2010

In search of laid off teachers looking for jobs

Maryland school districts, for the most part, are lucky not to have to reduce their teaching force this year. Other states, though, are letting teachers go by the thousands. I am looking for teachers to interview who have been laid off in another state and are hoping to land employment here. Anyone have some leads?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:57 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 14, 2010

N.Y. high school holds prom on school night to thwart partying

One suburban New York high school plans to prevent excessive after-prom partying by requiring students to attend class the day after prom.

Students at Pearl River High who miss class the next day will be unable to make up academic work or to participate in athletics activities.

Needless to say, the new policy has caused friction. Some students have threatened to boycott the prom if it is not moved to Friday night. The school does not appear to be going to change its stance.

What do you think? Is this the right move to thwart after-prom partying? What do you do at your school? Does it work?



Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:13 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 12, 2010

Schools tackle teacher bullying

I found this interesting article in USA Today about efforts in California and Iowa to address bullying among teachers.

I'm no stranger to bullying among students or even helicopter parents. But this one is a first for me.

I just wanted to know if you have experienced this in your school. If so, how did you deal with it? And, do you think that some type of policy is needed to curb this behavior?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:26 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 8, 2010

The Death of Public School?

The Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z Jackson has some interesting thoughts on the possible death of public school education. At the end of the day it essentially boils down to money, he argues.

Jackson looks at per-pupil costs, the amount of money spent to incarcerate people compared to educating children, and salaries for teachers.

Read the column and let me know what you think. In addition, I want to know your solutions to the problem. It can't be as simple as devoting more money to education. I think the issue goes deeper than that.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:40 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 5, 2010

Philadelphia charter school mismanagement

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that a soon to be released report says charter school mismanagement appears to be widespread in 13 Philadelphia schools investigated.  In one case, a charter school building was doubling as a nightclub on weekends, but the story details many other areas of mismanagement, including high salaries for charter operators and principals that appear unrelated to the size of the school or the salaries of teachers, incomplete or missing records and conflicts of interest.

The story highlights the need for more accountability and perhaps better oversight by the school district.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:47 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 30, 2010

What do you think about this?

By now you might have heard the controversy brewing over the Texas School Board's decision to include Conservative revisions to social studies and economics curriculum.

The Conservative version of the standards, which will affect the way textbooks will be written, was recently approved with a vote of 10 to 5 along party lines, with all Republicans on the board voting in favor of it.

Since January, Republicans on the board have passed more than 100 ammendments to the 120-page curriculum standards.

The conservative members on the board say that they are trying to correct years of liberal bias.  There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted by the board during the meetings.

Read the article and let me know what you think. 



Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 19, 2010

Impressive results for Chicago charter school

Here's an inspiring story out of Chicago.

All of the 107 seniors at Urban Prep Academy for Young Men in Englewood, an-all male charter school in a tough Chicago neighborhood, have been accepted to 4-year colleges.

It's remarkable when you think about where the students started. Only four percent of the graduating class were able to read of grade level when they arrived at the school. (Wow!)

The school essentially starts pushing the idea of college from the beginning. Incoming freshmen go on a college visit at Northwestern University. Each student is assigned a college counselor freshman year. The school's extended day gives students 170,000 more minutes of classroom time than its counterparts. And students are required to take four times the normal amount of English to graduate.

Can any charter school advocates in this area tell me why this isn't being done here? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:48 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 17, 2010

Boys lag behind girls in reading in every state

The Center on Education Policy has released a report that should be of great concern for those in education, but it may well receive only shrugs because the reasons and solutions seem so elusive.

The CEP looked at how boys and girls score on state reading and math tests around the nation. The Washington-based nonprofit found that boys trail girls in elementary, middle and high school in reading. CEP president Jack Jennings concludes that the lag is "no fluke. It is a clear and unmistakable national trend." What is more, girls are now scoring equally as well in math as boys.

Jennings said in a press call with reporters that even in the states, like Maryland, that have been considered leaders in education reform, the statistics are not good. In Maryland, he said, there is a 10 percentage point gap between girls and boys in middle school in reading. Boys would need another 8 years of education before they could catch up, and they would only get there if girls growth remained stagnant. In Maryland, girls have a four percentage point advantage by middle school.

The gender gap in education has been reported before, but I am not aware of another study that took a comprehensive look at state test data across the nation. What do teachers and administrators believe needs to be done to change the trend? CEP suggests that boys only want to learn about what they are interested in and that textbooks are much more geared toward girls. Once the report becomes available online I will provide a link.


Continue reading "Boys lag behind girls in reading in every state " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 12, 2010

Mississippi school cancels prom to prevent lesbian student from bringing a date

School officials at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi have found themselves amid controversy after sending a letter home to students telling them that their prom dates must be of the opposite sex.

One student, Constance McMillen, objected and expressed the desire to bring her girlfriend to the prom. Instead of allowing McMillen and her date attend the prom, the school canceled the prom.  

The American Civil Liberties Union has gotten involved and has sued the school district.

I want to know if this could happen in Maryland. Are there any policies -- written or unspoken -- that prevent LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) students from attending prom?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:51 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 11, 2010

You think your school system has it rough?

It seems like every school system is experiencing some type of economic woes this budget cycle. A number have been fortunate that they haven't had to close schools or cut jobs. The school district in Kansas City, Missouri is a different story.

Wednesday night the Kansas City School Board approved a plan that would close 28 of the school 61 schools and would eliminate 700 jobs. The changes would save the school system $50 million.

Wow! Could you imagine the elimination of such a huge chunk of schools and workforce? The morale there must be so low. I can only imagine the response from both staff, parents, and students.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Finance

February 25, 2010

Getting rid of poor teachers

With teacher quality quickly becoming one of the most popular strategies for reforming education, a piece in the New York Times today is particularly interesting as it details just how hard and expensive it is to get rid of incompetant tenured teachers in New York City. Even with a targeted effort, the city has only managed to fire three of its 55,000 for incompetance. Ten others resigned or retired in the face of charges against them.

Maryland is now considering extending the length of time it takes to get tenure in Maryland to three years from two in order to give districts a longer period of time to assess whether they want to keep a teacher.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:16 PM | | Comments (36)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 12, 2010

AFT president calls for new approach to teacher evaluations and labor relations

In a major speech today, Randi Weingarten, the president of American Federation of Teachers, called for a reform of the way teachers are evaluated and supported during their teaching careers.

The speech comes just as states are about to apply for federal stimulus funds called Race to the Top funds. The competitive $4 billion in federal funding will go to a dozen or so states that demonstrate they have serious collaboration between teachers unions and management and have no rules that prevent test scores from being used as part of a teacher evaluation process. The feds, in other words, have made it clear that a new day is coming when school systems will use a variety of factors to evaluate teachers.

So Weingarten, whose union usually represents urban school teachers, has taken the first step toward making teachers a partner in the national debate over this sensitive issue.

She lays out four steps that school systems should take. Every state should adopt standards spelling out what teachers should know and be able to do, she said. And states should write standards for evaluating teachers that include student test scores on assessments that show growth during the year, classroom observations, portfolios and student work. The entire speech as well as a lot of additional information is available on the AFT Web site or at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:28 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

December 15, 2009

Fordham report on tracking provides surprise results

The Fordham Foundation has once again provided a provocative report, this time on tracking in Massachusetts middle schools.

Tom Loveless, the researcher, looked at achievement in the middle schools and found that the schools that had more tracking had a higher percentage of high-level math students. But the tracks just aren't good the high achievers. The lower achievers also did better.

In other words, the more tracks a school had, the fewer failling students it had.

And he found that tracking is more commonplace in suburban school districts with parents that demand that high-achieving kids be able to get ahead into high-level classes, particularly in math.

When we look around the Baltimore area, it is interesting to note that the only school system that doesn't track is Baltimore City. And yes, it has fewer students in high-level classes, even in its citywide schools, than many suburban schools.

Hmmm. Is there a connection here?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:24 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Around the Nation

December 3, 2009

Rape on college campuses

The Center for Public Integrity released a major report this week on sexual assaults on college campuses around the nation, saying that one in five women will be the victims of rape or attempted rape by the time she graduates. But few rapes are reported to police, and prosecutors tend not to want to charge an assailant in a "he said/she said" case. That leaves women asking for some justice from a college administrative hearing. One portion of the series says: 

"Many victims don’t report at all, and those who do come forward can encounter secret disciplinary proceedings, closed-mouthed school administrations, and off-the-record negotiations. At times, school policies and practices can lead students to drop complaints, or submit to gag orders — a practice deemed illegal."

The full report, which is written in a three-part series by an investigative reporter, is on the center's website.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 20, 2009

Early exposure to language critical later

Silence is apparently not a good thing when it comes to babies.


Children between the ages of 2 months and 6 months who have a lot of exposure to language are more likely to have advanced language skills later in life, according to research being released this weekend. The research suggests that parents should be trained to make sure infants, particularly those at high risk, are around a lot of talking even before they can speak.


The researchers, who presented their work at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association meeting in New Orleans this week, said babies who heard many different words had more advanced skills by the time they were 18 to 32 months old.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 9, 2009

The chocolate milk debate

The National Dairy Council is fighting back. They sent information out today to try to combat what they see as the growing threat to milk drinking in public schools. The food activists who got soda out of school cafeterias may be moving on to chocolate milk. Horrors.

But the National Dairy Council says if we take the chocolate out of the lunch line, kids will stop drinking milk, which everyone seems to agree has some nutrients students need. The Dairy Council is launching a "Calling all moms to raise their hands for chocolate milk" campaign. Even though flavored milk has sugar in it, the council says studies show that children who drink chocolate milk don't have overall higher intakes of sugar than kids who drink plain old white milk.

About 70 percent of the milk that kids in the lunch line are choosing is flavored, they say.

So what do parents think? If chocolate milk wasn't an option, would your children drink white milk instead or reach for juice or water?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:50 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 6, 2009

Most states offer alternatives to high school tests

The Center on Education Policy, a non-partison group that has tracked the No Child Left Behind Act since its passage, has come out with a new report on how states are doing with high school exit exams. Maryland is now in its second year of requiring that students pass the Maryland High School Assessments.

The report doesn't have any shocking news, but it does say that 22 of the 26 states now offer some alternatives for students with disabilities. And there's a growing trend among states to offer struggling students alternative assessments, different diplomas, flexible cut off scores and waivers. In Maryland, we have the bridge plan, which allows students to work on projects instead of passing the exams.

CEP also says across the nation students are more often passing their high school tests on the first try, an encouraging sign.

CEP recommends that states begin looking at increasing money for remediation of students, do a better job of collecting data on pass rates and spend some time researching the effects of the exit exams on students.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:50 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 30, 2009

Panelists to talk about race, segregation and achievement in schools

The Open Society Institute-Baltimore is hosting a panel discussion Monday evening called "Can We Talk About How Race Affects Our Classrooms?". It's the next installment in OSI's "Talking About Race" series, and will focus on the impact of continued segregation in public schools on achievement, among other issues.

Monday's panel discussion, which is free and open to the public, is to be led by Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, and David Hornbeck, the former superintendent of Philadelphia schools. 

The event will be in the Wheeler Auditorium at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, 400 Cathedral Street, and starts at 7 p.m. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, School Diversity/Segregation

October 29, 2009

Win a technology makeover for your classroom

I received an email about a national "Classroom Makeover Contest" put on by the company eInstruction, involving a prize of $30,000 in educational technology - i.e., interactive white boards, Dell netbooks and a range of software for teaching and testing students - for each of three grand-prize winners.  This is the third year of the contest, which is open to primary and secondary students and teachers.

Entrants have to create "short, creative music videos demonstrating how they would use advanced technology to enhance their learning experience in the classroom," according to the company. For your information and entertainment, you can check out some of the entries.

Considering the difficult economic times we're always talking about, I thought I'd share the information in case any of you enterprising and creative teachers might be interested. Deadline is Nov. 10.

Of course, if you do enter, we'd like to see your video.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:50 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 28, 2009

Absenteeism affecting schools?

I'm working on a story about how high rates of absenteeism and illness among students are affecting schools. Several school systems throughout the country have already begun to make adjustments: A Florida county is looking to suspend its exam exemption policy to prevent sick students from dragging themselves in to make sure they can get out of finals. Some student athletes in New York are no longer allowed to shake hands after games.

Please send me a note with your stories about how things have changed in your school or district.  Are you having to adjust things in the classroom, such as assignments and project deadlines - or facing challenges in terms of just getting through curriculum with so many students out? 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

October 21, 2009

Students pledge to address anti-gay bullying

There's nothing like peer pressure. That is the idea behind Ally Week, a week when lesbian and gay students are asking their straight peers to make a pledge to come to their assistance when they see or hear bullying in their schools.

Nearly nine out of 10 LGBT (lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender) students experience harassment at school because of their sexual orientation, according to a 2007 survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

So this week in schools, the LGBT students will ask others to sign a pledge that says they will not use anti-LGBT language or slurs, that they will intervene when it is safe in situations where students are being harassed and they will support efforts to end bullying and harassment.

For more information go to Is there any high school in Maryland where students are taking the pledge?





Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 15, 2009

Teaching science teachers

A study available tomorrow in Science reports that giving teachers better training in their field can have a profound impact on the how well students learn science. A study of teachers' research experiences over time by Samuel Silverstein of Columbia University found that students of teachers who participated in Columbia's Summer Research Program outperformed their peers by 10 percentage points on New York Satte science assessments. The middle and high school teachers each spent a summer working on research under the supervision of science faculty at Columbia. Once a week the teachers got together for programs that were designed to help them better communicate the science to students.

The study says the schools saved money over time because those teachers stayed in their jobs.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 29, 2009

Leading author says reduce teacher workload

William Ouchi argues in a new book coming out this month that one of the keys to student achievement is decreasing the Total Student Load or TSL. He says teachers should teach no more than 80 students at a time. The reason this book may be of interest here in Baltimore is that Ouchi's first book, "Making Schools Work," touched off a change to decentralization in New York and other major cities. Andres Alonso, who came here from New York, immediately gave principals more authority over their budget and their curriculum. And that, Ouchi argues, often has led to principals making decisions to hire more teachers and reduce other staff in the building so that teachers have fewer students. This change does not mean that classes are necessarily smaller, although I guess it could. Rather it means that the typical high school teacher may teach fewer classes. So instead of having to grade 120 student papers, the teacher only has to worry about grading 80.

This research is written about in a recent piece in Education Week. The work follows from a report done several years ago in Maryland on writing that concluded the most important changes that could be made to improve writing would be to reduce the workload of English teachers. I haven't heard that happening around the state, but I may have missed a trend.

I wonder if any city teachers have seen a reduction in their workload as a result of decentralization? What is happening to teachers in surrounding counties? Is your workload increasing?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 28, 2009

Longer school days? Oh boy!

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the Associated Press that he thinks maybe the nation's schools should lengthen their days and school year. Duncan said schoolchildren in foreign countries are going 25 to 30 percent longer than students here. The AP reports that while it is true that students go to school more days in other countries, American students spend more hours overall in school during a year.

I guess we just cram all that learning in to fewer days.  But the idea is gaining some momentum, particularly in urban systems. Students there often don't have the same access to programs that will continue their learning during their long summer break. Studies have shown that some city students actually fall behind during their summers while suburban kids gain.

So do parents, teachers and students want more hours in the classroom? More days in the school year? A shorter summer vacation?

I'm guessing I know what students will say, but it would great to get a comment from a student!

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:00 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 10, 2009

Is unschooling school?

For those who read the unschooling piece in the paper last week, I thought you would be interested in what Checker Finn at the Fordham Institute has to say about unschooling. I would say he's not much in favor. Here's one quote, to entice you to go to the link: "I’m pretty sure, 'unschooling' resembles the Taliban’s idea of education for girls: Keep them home and keep them ignorant."
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:35 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

Debating health care and education

Last night, President Barack Obama made an interesting analogy in his address to Congress on health care. He suggested that those without insurance be able to get it through a not-for-profit public option that would be available through an insurance exchange.

The idea, he said, is similar to the system we have in this country for public and private education. "It would also keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting a vibrant system of private colleges and universities," the president said. 

Does this analogy work? Is there competition between private and public colleges and universities and public and parochial or private schools? Are educational standards raised by that competition?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:51 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 8, 2009

Technical difficulties prevent students from seeing Obama

Some Maryland students had difficulty seeing the president's speech today and it wasn't because their teachers weren't trying hard to get it to them. At three schools visited by Sun reporters this morning, the feed through the Internet did not work and students saw virtually nothing of the speech. At some schools, they saw bits of the speech, but teachers gave up after awhile and either read the speech or dismissed their students and said they would let them see it tomorrow morning.

Two of the schools were in the city and a third was in Anne Arundel County. All of the schools were attempting to get the speech over the Internet.

We haven't done enough reporting yet to tell you how widespread this problem was, but we would like to hear from you if your school had problems. And for those of you who heard the speech: What did you think?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:13 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Nation

At Woodlawn High, students watch as president speaks

Several of the Sun education reporters went to schools in different districts to sit in on classes as they watched President Obama's speech to them at noon today. I was at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, where several classes were able to watch the speech live - and where, according to Principal Brian Scriven, there were plans to record the address for those who had lunch at the time it aired.  Viewing the speech was voluntary - as it was throughout the county and in other school systems, too. 

I was struck by some of the insights the students had in a discussion prior to the address - and how seriously many of them took the exercise, and the speech (I do remember high school, after all).

Stay tuned...I'll have more to share as we continue working on this story.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:03 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore County

September 7, 2009

President Obama's speech to students

Here is the transcript of the president's speech, folks - also pasted below. 

I'm working on a story about this today and would like to get reactions from Maryland parents.  Please drop me a line or give me a call (410-332-6639).

Continue reading "President Obama's speech to students" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:34 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

September 6, 2009

Addendum: President Obama's school speech

You just might be aware of President Obama's upcoming speech to students, which will be broadcast live this Tuesday.

A transcript of the president's remarks is supposed to be posted on the White House Web site tomorrow, for those who are curious.  I will post a link here once it's released.

On a side note, I understand several Harford residents - in addition to the parent mentioned in my story - plan to picket the Board of Ed in Bel Air during the speech, to protest its decision not to show the address in schools.  Harford seems to be the only Baltimore-area school system to have gone this route.  Most others are leaving it up to individual schools and teachers to decide whether they want to watch it.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:00 AM | | Comments (44)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

September 3, 2009

Obama to speak to school children

On Tuesday, September 8, President Obama will tell the school kids of America that they should take more responsibility for their success in school. The address will air on C-Span at noon and the U.S. Department of Education is going to provide materials to teachers in advance to encourage class discussion after the speech. Are teachers planning to have their classes watch this?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:25 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 24, 2009

Preparing for H1N1

If a school system sends home dozens of students in the face of an H1N1 outbreak, how would students keep up with their classwork? It is a question that the U.S. Department of Education is asking and directing school districts to start carefully considering.

At a news conference today in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan suggested school systems might want to wade into some new technology and consider providing online classes or live classes with video coming over the Internet to students at home. At a more basic level, the schools might have technology that would allow a teacher to have a conference call with many students at the same time. School systems, the guidance said, might also arrange with book publishers to provide instructional materials to students if they are out for a long period.

Of course, the department also suggested the obvious: packets of homework materials that could be sent home in case of an H1N1 outbreak.

With everything teachers and administrators have to do these days, is this extra planning an important step or a nuisance contingency? How many teachers think they would be able to communicate effectively with students in the case of a school closing for a couple of weeks? How proficient are schools at getting a lot of material onto their Web sites?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:05 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 19, 2009

ACT scores released today

There's an interesting Education Week article today on the ACT results, which indicate most students are not ready for college.  And while a higher percentage of Maryland students are deemed prepared, the number (30 percent) is still low.

You can see how Maryland students did on the exam, and also check out the state's college readiness report.

SAT scores are expected next week, so stay tuned.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Testing

July 24, 2009

Does the "plateau effect" really exist?

In light of the ongoing conversation about the MSAs and testing this week, I thought I'd share this new study done by the Center on Education Policy, examining test score trends. 

The CEP reviewed test-result trends in 16 states with six to 10 years of consistent data for its report.

Interestingly, the study found that the so-called "plateau effect" - the idea that scores initially rise, then level off after the tests are administered for a few years - is not necessarily a given.  The plateau concept has often been cited when talking about state tests, and the likelihood of meeting the 2014 deadline for having every child pass the assessments.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing, Trends

July 10, 2009

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenges unions

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may be at an American Federation of Teachers event in the next several days. It will be interesting to note what he says there after last week's challenge to the other major teachers' union, the National Education Association. Speaking at their annual convention in San Diego, Duncan said the union should begin changing some of its policies on how teachers are paid and their job protections. He called for changes in rules governing the recruiting and retention of highly effective teachers. Duncan believes that student achievement ought to be a factor in how teachers are evaluated. He said,  "Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions. That would never make sense.  But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.”
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:45 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Nation

July 6, 2009

Who is deciding what will be taught in classrooms of the future?

We've recently found out who will be writing and reviewing the new national or "common core" standards for math and language arts. For those of you who would like to know who is likely to be the group deciding what is important to be taught in classrooms, here's the list

This year, Maryland and 45 other states decided to jointly develop a common group of standards for what should be taught in kindergarten through high school. The collective wisdom among most education policy experts is that it would be easier and cheaper if there were national standards. In other words, what a second-grader might need to know in Florida or Massachusetts varies little.

But for years, every state developed its own curriculum, standards and tests. That process will likely change soon. For a good story on the subject, go to Education Week.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 23, 2009

Supreme Court rules on special ed

Dear Inside Ed folk,

We're working on an editorial for tomorrow's paper about recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including one dealing with special ed. The court decided 6-3 that federal law allows parents of special ed students to seek government reimbursement for tuition at a private school that can meet their children's needs, even if they've never gotten special ed services in public school. We have an entry about it over on the Second Opinion blog. Swing by and let us know what you think. We'll print some of the comments in the paper.


Posted by Andy Green at 2:26 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Nation

Tackling school dropouts

In my story today, I take a look at dropouts – and, more specifically, dropout prevention and intervention – the focus of a day-long summit at Randallstown High School yesterday.  Hundreds of state educators, believed to represent all 24 school systems, attended the event, said to be a first for Maryland.  It was sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, an organization tied to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife and current chair, Alma.

One of the noteworthy moments during the summit involved a theatrical performance put on by a troupe from Garrett County, who portrayed seven characters – six students and a parent – explaining why they chose to drop out.  The writer of the play, called The Goodbye Kids, explained to the audience that the concept emerged from more than 20 interviews she did with dropouts.  The characters were composites of what she gleaned from those talks, she said.

The characters, all students at “Run of the Mill High School,” ranged from a boy who bellowed about how much his teachers bored him to a girl whose family never set a high priority on finishing school to a poor student who was sick of being mocked for his appearance – and stench.  Other highlights included a student who’d always gotten by – until that one teacher noticed his inability to read – and the mother of another who had been regularly mocked for being gay.

Interestingly, the profiles foreshadowed a later presentation from Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University


Continue reading "Tackling school dropouts" »

June 18, 2009

Including more males in the classroom

In my story today, I wrote about efforts to increase the number of males in schools.

For whatever reason, males have been noticeably absent from the school setting. Recently there have been initiatives to reverse that. The program that I found at one Howard County elementary school encourages fathers at the school to spend the day helping out teachers, and serving as an addition set of adult eyes in the hallways.

What do you think about increasing the number of males in the school? Is it necessary? What other creative ways might work to accomplish this?


June 2, 2009

Forty-six states agree to write national standards

What Ronald Peiffer, the deputy state superintendent, said he could not conceive of just nine years ago has happened.

In today's paper, a story details how 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands all agreed, at least conceptually, that classrooms ought to be teaching toward the same set of high standards.

For nearly the past decade, the country has been trying to ensure that every child got a minimum education. Now it appears we are moving to recognize that the minimum is not enough and that we have to raise our expectations if we are going to compete with foreign countries. To do that we should have national curriculum standards.

But that is no small task, as Peiffer sees it, in a nation that historically has given even the smallest school systems the right to decide what their children would learn. If they want to teach creationism, so be it. If they want to teach whole language or phonics, the choice was theirs.

States' rights were so clear that Peiffer didn't see how it would change quickly. But the states have taken the first steps. The arguing may come later when the standards are made public.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

May 27, 2009

Preparing for the SAT may not pay big returns

Ever wonder whether all those expensive test prep courses actually work as well as the companies claim? Some guarantee they will raise your SAT or ACT scores significantly.

Well, the National Association for College Admission Counseling commissioned a report that found that the average gain for students who have taken professional test prep is only 30 points for the SAT and only one point on the ACT. That, the report says, is significantly less than gains that are claimed by test prep companies. But here's the rub. NACAC also says that college admissions officers sometimes report that even small increases in test scores can have an impact on whether a student is admitted or not. For instance, some colleges have cut off test scores and others say even slightly higher test scores can influence whether a student gets into a college.

The full paper is available online.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

May 16, 2009

Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed

I'm working my last night police shift at The Sun tonight. Despite having done shifts like this at various newspapers for more than a decade, my grandmother still asks every time if I'll be safe. Every time, I can assure her that I will be.

Why? On weekends late at night, we're only looking to report on major crimes, most notably murders. But as long as the killings happen in certain neighborhoods, fitting the city's typical pattern where a 20-something-year-old black male is shot in a high-drug area, we only give them a few sentences. I sit listening to the police scanner and call the public information officer on duty at the police department. Almost invariably, I never have to leave the office. (Now, if mayhem breaks out at the Preakness tonight, I'll have to eat my words, but I'm speaking generally about my experience over time, and the same is true across newspapers.) I feel guilty every time I do it, reduce someone's life to a paragraph or two. And yet, I don't see a way around it. Newsworthiness is determined in large part by rarity, and shootings happen in Baltimore's impoverished, majority-black neighborhoods all the time. Of the 234 homicides in the city last year, 214 of the victims were African-American. Eighty-three percent of them had a criminal record, and 70 percent of them had prior drug arrests.

Wait, isn't this an education blog? Well...

Continue reading "Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed" »

May 12, 2009

Stephen Colbert encourages donations to teachers

Comedian Stephen Colbert is encouraging donations to DonorsChoose, the Web site that raises money to help teachers (including those in Baltimore, as you might recall from the mustache fundraiser) pay for classroom supplies. He's asking people to celebrate his 45th birthday by signing on to the site and giving to the teacher of their choice. So far 64 donors have given $3,733. Check it out here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

May 5, 2009

Learning loss and school closures

While at the EWA conference, I learned about a study to be published soon by the Consortium on Chicago School Research about the learning loss that occurs following an announcement that a school is to close. It makes sense that such an announcement would have a demoralizing effect on both students and teachers for the remainder of their time together. But is that reason to keep a failing school open?

The topic came up at a session I attended Friday with Michelle Rhee and Charles Payne, author of the new book "So Much Reform, So Little Change." Rhee has closed 23 schools in Washington. Both she and Payne acknowledged that the learning loss when a school is to close is substantial but said the closures still must proceed. Payne said districts have a responsibility to ensure that students from closing schools get seats in good schools. Rhee said they should be working with teachers to ease their fears and pave the way for the smoothest transition possible.

Other interesting points they made at the session: 1) School districts need to stop changing direction every time they change superintendents or reform will never take hold. 2) Teachers are getting mandates from too many places and need to be told simply what's expected of them. 3) Improving social services alone does not radically improve student achievement and must be coupled with improving education.

See this editorial from yesterday's Sun about last week's school closure votes in Baltimore, suggesting that Dr. Alonso use the opportunity to reorganize school staffs for a better mix of new and experienced teachers.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

May 1, 2009

Spending the stimulus money

What to do with one-time stimulus money for IDEA and Title 1 that best not be used for new programs or hires? Arne Duncan told us yesterday that there's a huge need for professional development in special education -- for all teachers, not just those designated special ed. He'd love to see IDEA money spent on that and Title 1 money spent on lengthening school days, weeks and years.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:08 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Nation, SpecialEd

Arne Duncan addresses education writers

The Education Writers Association conference kicked off yesterday in Washington, and Arne Duncan spoke to our group last night. Some highlights (on issues I didn't talk about last week when I covered his talk at University of Maryland):

-- Unproven programs are "absolutely worth trying." Performance pay is still new in education, but it increases worker productivity in other industries. If we never try new things, we'll never know if they can work.

-- Closing failing schools in Chicago, the saddest part was showing parents the data. No one had ever talked to them, and they didn't know they were the worst in the city.

-- Districts should hold principals accountable for school culture.

-- School districts should be judged on their graduation rate -- and not necessarily a four-year rate. Nothing's wrong with giving a struggling kid extra time. And districts should not be penalized in their statistics for bringing dropouts back.

-- "If there's one word that captures my state of mind these days, it is urgency."

I had the opportunity to briefly meet Duncan after his talk, and he asked me what I think of the work Dr. Alonso is doing in Baltimore. I said it sounds like they share many of the same ideas.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

April 28, 2009

NAEP scores show mixed results

There's really only one standardized test that has charted long-term trends in reading and math and the latest results are out today. Depending on who you are, you can find hope or despair in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Released by the U.S. Department of Education, the assessment showed that 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds have made some significant strides in both reading and math since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for our 17-year-olds, whose scores remained relatively flat over the 35-year period. What's perhaps the most discouraging is that the best performance of this high-school age group was in the mid- to late 1990s.

Most encouraging, several education groups pointed out today that the achievement gap between whites and Hispanic and black students has been narrowing.

When you look at the trends in the past four years, the last time the test was administered, education groups say there's little to find encouraging except that 9-year-olds improved in math.

For those of you who might be confused, there are two NAEP tests given. The results released today include a version of the test that has remained relatively constant since the 1970s. Another NAEP, which does change over time, produces state data. That test is given this spring.

Continue reading "NAEP scores show mixed results" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 24, 2009

Light weekend reading

McKinsey & Co. released a troubling report this week called "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America's Schools." It concludes that:

"If the United States had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and Korea, US GDP in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher, representing 9 to 16 percent of GDP."

"If the United States had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, GDP in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher, or roughly 2 to 4 percent of GDP. (The magnitude of this effect will rise in the years ahead as blacks and Latinos become a larger proportion of the population.)" 

If you don't feel like spending time this sunny weekend reading the whole report, here's a good summary from Tom Friedman.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Study, study!

April 23, 2009

City grad: One size doesn't fit all

Walter Gill, a teacher and former university professor who was the first black student to enter Baltimore City College following the 1954 Brown decision, has an op-ed in The Sun today. He argues that urban schools are not meeting the needs of the masses and need to do more vocational training for the students who are not going to college.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:58 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

April 22, 2009

Calculating Baltimore's graduation rate

America's Promise Alliance, the collaborative founded by Colin and Alma Powell to improve the well-being of youth, has a new report out today with the on-time high school graduation rates in the nation's 50 largest cities. In Baltimore, the rate increased 7.7 points over a decade, from 33.8 percent in 1995 to 41.5 percent in 2005. We placed 46th out of 50 and were one of 16 city districts where the rate was calculated at below 50 percent. Suburban Baltimore schools were found to have a graduation rate 39 points higher than the city's, making us one of the regions with the largest gaps.

The report, called "Cities in Crisis 2009," did its calculations slightly differently than the oft-cited Education Week rankings, but for Baltimore the results are about the same -- and far lower than the city's official graduation rate as reported by the state: 62.6 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2005. The state rate is likely an overstatement because some dropouts are not officially recorded as such. But both the America's Promise and Ed Week calculations make things look worse than they are because they don't account for students moving in and out of the city.

And none of the calculations look beyond a four-year rate. I find this curious, as we judge colleges based on the number of students they graduate within six years and what matters ultimately is whether someone gets a high school diploma -- not how long it takes. Typically, about 20 percent of seniors in Baltimore need a fifth year to finish. In fighting to maintain the HSA requirements for this year's seniors, Dr. Alonso argued that he'll keep them around as long as it takes to get them to meet basic standards. (Students are legally entitled to stay in school until age 21.)

With all that said, here are more findings of the America's Promise report: 

Continue reading "Calculating Baltimore's graduation rate" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:46 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

April 21, 2009

Supreme Court hears strip-searching case

The Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case involving a 13-year-old girl in Arizona who was suspected of possessing drugs and forced to strip down to her underwear in the school nurse's office. I've heard of drug and weapons checks in Baltimore where kids get patted down by school police, but nothing this extreme. Here's an article from NPR's Nina Totenberg with the specifics of the case. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1980s that schools may search students' bags but did not address the issue of strip-searching. As Totenberg tells us, the question before the court is whether schools have free reign in determining when a strip search is warranted and where the Constitution draws the line.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 14, 2009

Experience Corps study shows big reading gains

I write today about how being a volunteer in an urban school helps kids and the health of adult tutors. 

In talking about the tutors, I barely mention the kids. But a new study out of Washington University in St. Louis is worth a little more attention. It says that children who had these older adults as tutors made better than 60 percent more progress in two reading skills: reading comprehension and sounding out words.

Experience Corps is a national volunteer program that places at least 15 older tutors in a given school in kindergarten through third-grade classes. The volunteers, who have to be 55 or older, must commit to coming to the school for at least 15 hours a week for the academic year.

The Washington University study found that having an Experience Corps member in the classroom was the equivalent of reducing class size by 40 percent. The only groups that did not benefit, the study said, were students in special education.

The study was conducted over two years was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies. It followed 800 students in 23 elementary schools in three cities. Half the students in the study were with Experience Corps volunteers and half were not.

What is so interesting, too, about these volunteers, is that many of them come from the communities around the schools. It's almost a formal way of having more neighborhood grandmas in schools. What kids wouldn't be helped having a grandma or grandpa there when they struggle to sound out a word or understand the meaning of a sentence?

And getting to know a few more adults in the neighborhood might also have benefits that carry into the streets. I am guessing here, but don't you think when those children move on to middle school and high school, they would be less likely to act up when they see the Experience Corps volunteer who sat beside them for hours in third-grade walking by?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:03 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Study, study!

April 10, 2009

Fresh from the farm: school lunch

There’s an interesting op-ed in today’s paper praising Maryland for its Farm-to-School program. The program aims to put fresh, local food in school cafeterias and to teach kids more about where that food comes from. The op-ed considers the concept a win for everyone – students, farmers, local communities and the environment.

This focus on healthy eating is another facet of an ongoing conversation on childhood obesity and ensuring students are eating well during the school day. Even as they turn healthier, schools throughout the nation are simultaneously trying not to loose their young clientele by sacrificing taste. My colleague John-John Williams recently wrote about such efforts in a story about a Howard County contest allowing students to propose recipes for the cafeteria menu.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Howard County

April 8, 2009

From Maryland to Denver, outrage over porn

The porn wars at University of Maryland have become a dominant topic in this final week of the General Assembly, as you'll see from reading the Maryland Politics blog. But showing an X-rated movie in college is nothing compared with... high school. In Denver, a substitute teacher accidentally gave students in a geography class a sneak peak of a porno from the regular teacher's personal collection, in place of the movie they were supposed to be watching. Oops. Tip courtesy of Detention Slip

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:51 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

Maryland schools invest in pre-kindergarten

A report released today ranks Maryland ninth in the nation for the percentage of its preschool-age population enrolled in pre-kindergarten programs.

The report is by the National Institute for Early Education Research, which looked at the extent of pre-kindergarten programs in U.S. schools since 2002. Nationally, the number of children enrolled in free public pre-kindergarten classes increased by more than 100,000 last year to 1.1 million, but the report warns that could decrease next year as states make cuts to their programs during the recession.

In Maryland, funding jumped this year, allowing more children to take advantage of pre-kindergarten classes. Research has shown that low-income children who have good preschool opportunities do better later in school.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 2, 2009

Broad Prize finalists announced

The Broad Foundation today announced what it considers to be the five urban school districts making the most progress in raising student achievement:

Aldine Independent School District in Houston
Broward County Public Schools in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Gwinnett County Public Schools outside Atlanta
Long Beach Unified School District in California
Socorro Independent School District in El Paso, Texas

These districts are the finalists for the annual Broad Prize, the biggest award in urban education. The winner will get $1 million and the other four will get $250,000 each to use for college scholarships for high school students.

This Education Week blog points out that all five of the districts have high Latino populations. Officials in Baltimore have made no secret that they hope to be a finalist for this award in the next few years. New York City won in 2007.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 1, 2009

Duncan supports mayoral control of schools... in Baltimore?

At the Mayors' National Forum on Education in Washington this week, Arne Duncan made the case that all urban school districts should be under mayoral control -- and said he would get involved in advocacy at the local level to see to governance changes. As described in this AP account of Duncan's talk, he singled out Dr. Alonso in the audience and asked how many superintendents Baltimore had over the course of a decade. Seven, Alonso answered. "And you wonder why school systems are struggling,'' Duncan said, according to the article. "What business would run that way?"

He said the tenure of urban superintendents is usually very short because of a lack of leadership at the top. Mayoral control provides stability, he contends.

Assuming the mayor is a strong leader willing to back the superintendent with politically unpopular decisions.

Around the country, the AP says, a few dozen mayors have some control of urban districts, but only seven run management and operations. Among the seven cities with full mayoral control are NYC, where Alonso was deputy chancellor before coming to Baltimore; Washington, where Michelle Rhee is getting a lot of attention for her efforts to rid classrooms of ineffective teachers; and Chicago, where Duncan was superintendent before becoming President Obama's education secretary.

I'm sure most of you know already, but as a refresher: In Baltimore, the school board is appointed jointly by the mayor and the governor, and the board appoints the CEO. It wouldn't be too much of a change if Sheila Dixon were given sole board appointment power, like the mayor of Chicago. Last year, at least, Gov. O'Malley deferred to Dixon anyway to select a new member. The other option would be to abolish the school board and have the superintendent report directly to the mayor, as in New York and D.C. Baltimore's mayor did have full control of the school board until 1997, when partial control was ceded to the state in exchange for additional state funding.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:55 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

Despite stimulus, schools could still suffer

Arne Duncan is to appear at Doswell E. Brooks Elementary School in Prince George's County this morning to announce how states and school districts can begin receiving the first installment of federal stimulus money. Gov. O'Malley and Nancy Grasmick are scheduled to be there, too.

A press release from the governor's office points out that in Prince George's County, administrators plan to use stimulus money "to avoid employee furloughs, layoffs, increases in class sizes and other education program cuts." That is true. But it's also true that such cuts could happen anyway in Prince George's if the state operating budget proposed by the Senate's budget and tax committee and now before the full chamber were to be adopted. I'm told P.G. stands to lose about $22 million next year. The ACLU of Maryland, which is tracking this carefully, said yesterday that the city could take an $18 million hit; yesterday I reported it would be at least $12 million. The House version of the bill contains some of the cuts, but not the biggest ones: a reduction in GCEI funding from 100 percent to 60 percent next year, and a continued cap on inflation increases for school districts in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

Like the last time education cuts were proposed (only to be rescinded because of the stimulus), it seems the state's two neediest jurisdictions would suffer a disproportionate share of the pain. Montgomery County would take a big hit, too.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

March 27, 2009

New York KIPP schools fight over unionizing

There's an interesting battle playing out at the KIPP schools in New York City. At Brooklyn's KIPP AMP school (AMP is short for "always mentally prepared"), teachers want to unionize and KIPP is resisting. Teachers at two other KIPP schools that are already unionized want out, and the union's leaders are angry.

Unionizing is a tricky subject for KIPP's national network of 66 schools, which require their teachers to work long hours and be available for students in their spare time. That commitment has led to high turnover in some cases, but also is a factor in the schools' success in getting poor, minority children to college.

Meanwhile, KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin have been named the winners of this year's Charles Bronfman Prize, which awards humanitarian work of people under age 50. They will use part of their $100,000 award to set up a KIPP-inspired school serving Jewish and Arab children in Israel.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools

March 26, 2009

Edison's woes extend to Philadelphia

The Notebook blog about Philadelphia public schools linked to my Edison coverage in an entry that goes on to describe the company's woes there.

Early this decade, Edison made a pitch to privatize the entire Philadelphia school district. Instead, it got a contract to run 20 schools. The post notes that, in securing that contract in 2002, Edison touted its work in Baltimore "as a model of its ability to turn around struggling urban schools." Last year, schools chief Arlene Ackerman ended contracts at four Edison schools and put another dozen on one-year probation. The writer counts 62 schools nationwide that Edison is now managing, down from more than 100.

UPDATE: I got this e-mail from Edison spokesman Michael Serpe:

Continue reading "Edison's woes extend to Philadelphia" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:54 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

March 25, 2009

Does anybody care about spelling?

Interesting discussion on the Read Street blog yesterday under the headline "Is spelling ded?" In a world where we fire off e-mails, text messages, Tweets and Facebook updates, does anyone care about accurate spelling anymore?

I'd be curious to hear from teachers about how much spelling is emphasized in your schools. If you're trying to get kids interested in writing, how much spelling correction is appropriate? There was a huge debate about this a couple of years back when I wrote about the Studio Course curriculum being used in Baltimore middle schools that urged teachers to let spelling errors go.

But then, the educators need to spell accurately, too. A few weeks ago, I saw a letter to the editor from a prominent local educator (who will remain nameless in this post) that was filled with spelling mistakes when it was submitted. I'm hoping the issue was lack of interest rather than lack of knowledge. The Sun's letters editor does, after all, clean up spelling and grammar before publishing -- unlike InsideEd.  

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:21 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

March 16, 2009

Podcast with Baltimore County superintendent -- and others

Came across this new podcast with Baltimore County’s Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. In an interview, Hairston discusses his tenure in the school system and the meaning of the election of President Obama.

The site, aptly called District Leader's Podcast, features a number of other interviews with education leaders from around the nation. For those school junkies out there, it might be interesting to tune in to hear superintendents present and past, sharing their thoughts on leadership and education.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County

March 10, 2009

Obama supports longer day, merit pay for teachers

In a speech this morning, President Barack Obama said he supported extra pay for "excellence in the classroom,"  an idea that has been opposed by some teachers' unions.

Obama said he also suggested that teachers who aren't performing well in the classroom shouldn't be there, according to an Associated Press story.

The remarks, made to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, were part of his first major talk on education and are expected to start a round of criticism from some unions.

The AP also reported that the president said school districts shouldn't put a cap on the number of charter schools that can open in their districts and needed to think about a longer school day and school year.

Some school systems in Maryland have offered merit pay to teachers who chose to teach in low performing schools, but I am not aware of any school system that has seriously considered a longer school day or school year.

While charters are common in Baltimore, applications to open charters in Harford and Frederick counties have been blocked by the school boards there.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:12 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 6, 2009

Teach For America sees record number of applications

The lousy economy isn't just good for public school enrollment. It -- along, perhaps, with President Obama's call for public service -- is also drawing a record number of college graduates to apply to teach in tough urban schools. Teach For America reports that it received more than 35,000 applications this year, surpassing last year's record of 25,000, of which 3,600 were selected. At least 10 percent of the senior class at 33 colleges and universities applied to join TFA, as did more than 11 percent of all seniors at Ivy League schools.

In Baltimore, applications came from more than 4 percent of seniors at Hopkins and 6 percent at Loyola.

The organization also says it's seeing more African-American applicants, including a quarter of the graduating seniors at Spelman College.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:09 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

March 5, 2009

Can school districts pay teachers $135,000?

That is the question that Washington's schools chief will have to answer if she is going to forge ahead with the plan to use $100 million in private funds to increase pay to teachers over the next five years. Michelle Rhee said on the radio the other day that she has a consultant's report that shows this salary level is sustainable, according to a story in the Washington Post. But she won't make the report public yet.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 3, 2009

Private schools feel the pinch

It seems like The New York Times has had a lot of features lately about rich people who can't live quite as extravagantly as a result of the economic downturn. On Sunday, the lead article in the Style section was about parents who will have to resort to public schools because they can no longer afford private school tuition.

Not surprisingly, Baltimore's private schools are feeling the pinch as well. I've heard the most about the plight of the city's Catholic schools. Mount St. Joseph High sent an e-mail to alumni today saying that the president and principal will both take an 8.5 percent pay cut and the rest of the staff will see wages frozen this year, as the endowment is down 24 percent. This despite the fact that alum Mark Teixeira has a $180 million contract from the Yankees...

The city's Catholic schools have formed a blue ribbon task force to develop a strategic plan. The committee includes leaders from public education, among them Nancy Grasmick, Joe Hairson and Andrés Alonso. I find Dr. Alonso's placement a bit ironic, since he likes to joke that he wants to put all the private schools in Baltimore out of business. (Seriously, he says, he's trying to develop partnerships.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

February 26, 2009

Brown Center report gives Baltimore schools poor marks

The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution issued a major new report on education yesterday. It examines the performance of 37 big city school districts in the 2006-07 year and compares their test scores against the averages in their respective states on whatever standardized tests the states were using for NCLB. Generally, the results are positive, indicating a narrowing of the achievement gap between urban districts and their suburban counterparts. But Baltimore is one of eight districts where the report concludes that's not the case. In five districts -- Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis and Philadelphia -- scores were more than two statistical standard deviations below the state average. Keep in mind that Baltimore's test scores improved more than the state average last year.

The report also compares the 06-07 results with data from 2000-01, which, in Maryland at least, seems problematic since the state switched the test it was using during that time period.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:08 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Study, study!

February 25, 2009

Obama on education

Naming education one of his top domestic priorities last night in his address to Congress, the president said his administration has already made a historic investment through the stimulus. He specifically cited the money for early childhood education. But, he suggested, there need to be policy changes along with the infusion of cash. He'll be supporting policies that reward educators for good performance and that are beneficial to charter schools. He was also strong about parental and personal responsibility, calling on all Americans to commit to at least a year of higher education or career training.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

Transcendental meditation and student behavior

We've talked a lot on this blog about student disciplinary problems, but not as much about how to prevent them... Last weekend in Timonium, the results of a national study were released suggesting that transcendental meditation can reduce the behavioral outbursts associated with ADHD. Researchers followed a group of middle school students with ADHD who were meditating twice a day in school. After three months, they found more than a 50-percent reduction in stress and anxiety and improvements in ADHD symptoms. The lead researcher, a cognitive learning specialist from George Washington University, said the effect was "much greater than we expected."

The study is published this month in the journal Current Issues in Education. And here's a video of kids talking about their experience meditating.

February 11, 2009

Missing school construction money in Senate stimulus bill

The investigative reporting Web site ProPublica has created a database showing how much school construction money school districts around the nation would gain under the House version of the economic stimulus bill -- and lose under the Senate version. In Baltimore, the figure is $72 million. In Baltimore County, it's $21 million.

As I mentioned here yesterday, the House version of the bill contains $14 billion for school construction. The Senate version does not.

In the city, Dr. Alonso points out that state capital dollars went down from $52 million two years ago to $41 million last year. As of now, Baltimore schools are only expecting to get up to $25 million for school construction and renovation this year. The system has hundreds of millions of dollars in basic maintenance needs. "Given our needs these dollars are still about the basics (while for other folks it’s about value added)," the CEO wrote in an e-mail to me today.

UPDATE: Moments after I posted this entry, I got word that the two chambers have reached a compromise on the stimulus. It would contain $6 billion for school construction. I will update as soon as I know what the impact would be in Baltimore.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 10, 2009

Less for education in Senate economic stimulus plan

I've been bombarded by e-mails this afternoon by advocacy groups outraged that many of the cuts in the Senate's version of an economic stimulus bill involve education and other spending for children. And, according to my colleagues, the Senate package would direct $953 million less to Maryland (for all things, not just education) than the House's version. It does not include $450 million in discretionary money for the state. Education advocates have been hoping that Gov. O'Malley would use that discretionary pot to prevent the changes in funding formulas that would hurt Baltimore and Prince George's County schools so badly. The remaining stimulus money for schools is earmarked for things such as Title 1 and special education, so it wouldn't close a budget shortfall when a school district needs money to pay teachers.

The National Head Start Association points out that the Senate included just over $1 billion for Head Start; the House version has $2.1 billion.

The House version contains $14 billion for school modernization; the Senate version does not.

A joint committee will now hammer out the differences between the two.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 4, 2009

Maryland No. 1 again, in Advanced Placement pass rates

The College Board released its annual Advanced Placement report this morning. Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Maryland had the highest percentage of students with a passing score on at least one A.P. exam: 23.4 percent of the class of 2008, compared with about 15 percent nationally. Maryland is also one of six states highlighted in the report with the highest five-year gains.

The state today is calling attention to six high schools for their A.P. achievement: Polytechnic Institute in the city; Franklin, Perry Hall and Pikesville in Baltimore County; Broadneck in Anne Arundel County; and River Hill in Howard County -- plus two that were specifically singled out by the College Board, Eleanor Roosevelt in Prince George's County and Paint Branch in Montgomery County.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:35 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Testing

January 13, 2009

How far should schools go to make classes interesting?

Our discussion yesterday about how to engage students and whether school is supposed to be fun made me think of this article that I read in the Style section of Sunday's New York Times. It's about the craze over the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" books, and it starts by describing a 10-year-old boy who generally hates to read but was so hooked on his Wimpy Kid book he wanted to bring it in to a restaurant.

The hero of the books is by no means a role model. "Some parents object to the way the books celebrate a disrespectful, mean-spirited kid," the article says. "Others deplore its cartoons as pandering to young readers, a dilution of text and language."

But if the books engage disengaged kids, is it worth it? And should kids be reading such books in school, or only in their free time?

A few years ago, I wrote a series of controversial articles about the Studio Course curriculum that Baltimore middle schools were using at the time. The curriculum, which was thrown out after my stories were published, focused heavily on cultivating kids' interest in reading, even if some materials were questionable. Perhaps the juiciest detail was that kids were allowed to read CosmoGIRL magazine in class, with features on such topics as how to make out.

Where to draw the line?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 9, 2009

We're No. 1, but we only get a B

For the record, I figured I'd post the letter grades that Education Week gave Maryland schools in its annual Quality Counts report released this week. Though we rank No. 1 among states, our schools still only have a B average, compared with a C for the nation as a whole.

Our best showing is in the "chance for success" index, measuring such things as parent education and children's access to preschool. We get an A; the nation gets a C.

For school finance, Maryland earned a B, the nation C-plus. K12 achievement: a B for Maryland, a D-plus for the nation. Standards, accountability and assessments: B's all around.

In the "teaching profession" category, measuring accountability for quality, incentives and efforts to build and support teaching capacity, we're actually below the national average: a C-minus, compared with the country's C.

Is this a report card worthy of a valedictorian?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:02 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

Happy birthday, No Child Left Behind

George W. Bush delivered what he called the "last policy address" of his presidency at a school in Philadelphia yesterday, on the seventh anniversary of his signing No Child Left Behind into law. You can read what he said here, or I'll spare you the task: He thanks everyone under the sun, defends the premise of testing and talks about how much NCLB has improved America's schools. He says that now is not the time to retreat to the "soft bigotry of low expectations" by weakening the law.

Groups including the National Education Association promptly issued statements decrying the havoc NCLB has wreaked. "President-elect Obama views children as citizens of the world, not just standardized test scores," NEA's statement says.

Find more about NCLB's birthday on this Education Week blog.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB

January 7, 2009

Maryland ranked No. 1 by Education Week

If you read the fine print in the Quality Counts state rankings posted this morning on Education Week's Web site, you'll see that Maryland ranks No. 1 overall.

The report is an annual accounting of how the states are ranked on 14 different catagories. The data are massive but worth reading to see where the state's strengths and weaknesses are.

Sterling Lloyd, a senior researcher at the Educational Project in Education, the parent company of Education Week, said the analysis shows Maryland and a couple of other states are not very different.

"Maryland fared very well compared to states across the nation and Massachusettes and New York were not far behind," he said.

State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said in an interview last night that she is "very happy." She said it reflects on the state's progress in setting pollicy. If there is one area she said needs some improvement it is in setting more rigorous standards in high schools so that more students graduate ready to go to college or into the workplace.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 5, 2009

Colorado district eliminates grade levels

The struggling Adams 50 school district, which serves a working-class suburb north of Denver, will eliminate grade levels and begin grouping students based on ability, according to this article in The Denver Post. The Gates Foundation has paid for some school districts in Alaska to try the same thing.

We all know the challenges teachers face when presented with a class where some students are academically prepared and some aren't. But clearly, grade levels also play a big role in the socialization process. The problems leading to a high dropout rate among the many over-age students in Baltimore aren't just academic; it's socially awkward for them to be in class with kids who are significantly younger. On the flip side, what would happen to an academically gifted child if placed alongside classmates who are much older? 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 1, 2009

Putting the best SAT score forward

Happy new year! Moving now to the national education scene... The College Board has created a stir with a recent decision to let high school students pick which of their SAT scores get sent to colleges. In other words, students who take the test multiple times can opt to have only their best score show. Critics say this is unfair to low-income students who can't afford to take the test over and over. Some have gone as far as to call it a money-making scheme for the College Board by encouraging students to keep retaking the test.

As a New York Times article this week explains, some selective colleges have already decided not to participate in the new Score Choice plan, insisting on seeing all the scores a student earned.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Testing

December 22, 2008

Multiple schools, same roof

Good article in The New York Times yesterday about a topic familiar to many in Baltimore: the challenges associated with locating multiple small schools in the same building. While the suburbs by and large aren't experiencing this trend, it's becoming more and more common in urban districts around the nation. According to the article, 42 percent of New York City schools now cohabit with at least one other school, with as many as five to a building. In Baltimore, I know of as many as four under one roof (the old Roland Patterson now houses KIPP, MATHS, Civitas and the high school portion of ConneXions).

These configurations make sense for the many small schools opening without the funds for their own buildings, and they are an efficient use of resources. They also pose a variety of logistical problems, from who gets to have lunch at what time (the article mentions one where lunch periods start at 9:42 a.m.) to disagreements over when to have a fire drill and whether to form a sports team. In New York, there have been territorial spats among principals over such petty things as who controls keys to the building's closets. While the article says some of the thorniest issues involve placing multiple age groups under the same roof, I'd venture to say that in Baltimore at least, the toughest scenarios are those where one school in a building has a positive culture and another does not.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:41 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

December 17, 2008

Duncan appointment praised in Baltimore

People in the Baltimore school system seem to be excited about Arne Duncan's appointment as education secretary for the new Obama administration. As superintendent in Chicago, Duncan understands the challenges that urban districts like Baltimore face. "He knows the work," Dr. Alonso said at last night's budget work session, when school board member Bob Heck asked what he thought of the appointment. And what's more, Alonso said, "We can call him up." He and Duncan were together twice two weeks ago, for conferences of the National Governors Association in Chicago and the Aspen Institute in Charlotte. Alonso and Duncan both belong to Aspen's Urban Superintendents Network, which brings a group of big city superintendents together a few times a year.

While many of the national pundits have called Duncan a middle-of-the-road choice for Obama, he has, like Alonso, taken tough stances on school accountability. In Chicago, he's closed dozens of failing schools. And he's embraced the idea of giving schools autonomy in exchange for results, though not to the same extent as Batlimore's CEO. From what I've read, Duncan's school autonomy model in Chicago seems similar to John Deasy's in Prince George's County, where schools have to earn their freedom from the bureaucratic red tape. It's not an automatic, as in Baltimore and New York.

Obama announced Duncan's appointment this week at a Chicago school turned around by a New Leaders for New Schools principal, which seems to indicate an endorsement of the non-traditional school leadership model that's also been embraced in Baltimore.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

December 16, 2008

Obama's choice for U.S. Secretary of Education

Even before President-elect Barack Obama introduced Arne Duncan, 44, as his selection for Secretary of Education this morning at a press conference in a revamped Chicago public school, education policy advocates on all sides had begun to express delight at the choice. He appeals to the current education secretary, Margaret Spellings, who said in a statement that he was a "visionary leader and fellow reformer who cares deeply about children." She notes that he has promoted policies to keep schools accountable. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington think tank, agreed. "He's a proven and committed and inventive education reformer, not tethered to the public school establishment and its infinite interest groups, nor bedazzled by blandishments and commands from Washington,"  said Chester E. Finn, Fordham's outspoken president, in a press release.

On the other hand, the National School Boards Assocation also was supportive of the choice. As was the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the two big teachers unions in the country. "As Chicago schools’ chief executive officer, Duncan has shown a genuine commitment to what we see as the essential priorities for an incoming education secretary," said Randi Weingarten, AFT president, in a statement.

It appears that Obama has chosen a middle-of-the-road nominee who can appeal to both the reform-minded education advocates who value standardized testing and those who think more attention needs to be paid to programs outside of school that support students, particularly those from poor backgrounds.

Duncan is currently the chief executive of the Chicago school system and has been there for seven years, an extremely long tenure for any urban superintendent. In introducing him, Obama said Duncan is "not beholden to any ideology."

It will be interesting to see if Duncan is able to span the philosophical divides and get some much needed consensus on education issues.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

December 15, 2008

Chicago schools chief to become education secretary

The Chicago Tribune and other media outlets are reporting tonight that President-elect Obama has tapped Arne Duncan for U.S. secretary of education.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

December 3, 2008

Creating jobs by building schools

President-elect Obama says he has a plan to save or create 2.5 million jobs by 2011. Workers can pave roads, build bridges and -- and -- modernize schools.

On the Open Society Institute's Audacious Ideas blog this week, Bebe Verdery of the ACLU of Maryland proposes that Obama create jobs by rebuilding schools in Baltimore. Better yet, she says, make the new buildings green.

Verdery, a longtime advocate for city school funding, notes that Baltimore's school buildings "need $2.7 billion in renovation/construction to meet industry standards." With state money for school construction a tiny fraction of what the city needs, it has long seemed a far-fetched notion that the children of Baltimore would all go to school in modern, well-lit buildings. And in these economic times, we know, the belt is only getting tighter.

But if the nation is going to spend the money to create new jobs anyway, why not put people to work rebuilding the city's schools?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:08 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

December 2, 2008

In NYC, questions about school climate surveys

In Baltimore this academic year, the annual school climate surveys completed by parents, teachers and students will be administered under much tighter regulations. The results will be used in evaluating principals.

In New York City, such surveys are already used as a factor in giving schools A through F letter grades. If low enough for long enough, those grades can cost principals their jobs and prompt school closings. 

The New York Post reported yesterday that more than 60 principals there were urged to keep the surveys away from "toxic" students who might bring their rankings down. In a document posted online last year by a school system official, the article says, "Principals were also advised to have school staffers help parents not only with translating a survey, but with 'filling it out,' and to urge students and teachers to complete the surveys following 'fun' events." The article quotes parents who say their principals told them falsely that low marks on the surveys would cost their schools funding.

The Post reports that the document in question has been taken down from the New York education department's Web site, but the department defended the integrity of the surveys.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

November 25, 2008

Report: Don't forget about magnet schools

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a study today recommending that, with all the buzz about charter schools, the nation's public school systems shouldn't forget about magnet schools, which tend to be more diverse than charters.

The country's 2,683 magnet schools have improved both the quality and the equity in public schools over the past 40 years, the report says, but they have been left out of the discussion on how to reform schools. Magnet schools enroll 2 million students, twice as many as charter schools.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools, Study, study!

November 19, 2008

Obama's role in education

Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman, a former Baltimore school board member, wrote an opinion column today suggesting what the Obama administration might tackle first in education reform.

Hettleman forecasts a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and a bit more money over the next two years, with larger changes coming in the long haul. But he says there is little consensus on what the role of the federal government should be in education, as neither the president-elect nor Sen. John McCain was very specific during the campaign about how Congress should change NCLB.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 13, 2008

More on potential U.S. Secretary of Education

The New York Times has profiles of people who are rumored to be up for Obama administration posts  - and New York City schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, whom Liz mentioned the other day, is among them.  Thought you might be interested in this short item on Dr. Alonso's old boss.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

Rhee tackles tenure

Interesting article in yesterday's New York Times about Chancellor Michelle Rhee's attempt to end tenure as we know it in the Washington public schools. Rhee wouldn't get rid of tenure entirely, but teachers could choose to get a huge salary increase in exchange for giving up their right to tenure. Even teachers who don't choose that option would lose seniority "bumping" rights under her plan. As the article points out, there could be implications for school districts nationally if she's successful. Rhee says the current structure makes it impossible to get rid of incompetent employees. On the flip slide, without tenure, unions fear employees could be fired arbitrarily.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:33 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 10, 2008

The next U.S. secretary of education

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute is asking Washington insiders for their thoughts on who Barack Obama might pick for the next secretary of education, and guess who's on the list? Freeman Hrabowski, UMBC's president (not someone else in our area).

Fordham is keeping a new daily tracking poll of the rumors. Hrabowski appears way down, in seventh in the polls, but he might be an interesting choice, according to Fordham's Mike Petrilli, because he is the only one on the list from higher education.

Others mentioned include Arne Duncan, chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools; Joel Klein, the chancellor of New York City schools; Colin Powell, the former secetary of state; and Jim Hunt, the former governor of North Carolina.

I am not sure that anyone knows anything right now, but it is fun to pass on the speculation.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

November 4, 2008

Tonight, live education results

For those who want one viewpoint on how election results will affect the education landscape around the nation, go to the Web site for the Center for Education Reform, an advocate for charter schools. There will be some new commentary posted soon. Beginning at 7 p.m when the races begin to be called, CER will post commentary on each state. The site will evolve during the evening.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

Election results are in

Mock election results, that is. Classrooms around the country held election days of their own in recent weeks to engage students in the civic process.

Nearly a million children ages 6 to 12 participated in the "Every Kid Votes" election sponsored by Studies Weekly and Woogi World. Barack Obama won with 473,919 votes, compared with 333,092 for John McCain. The contest said it had children from all 50 states participating. Wonder how their votes would break down in an electoral college....

Here in Baltimore, Hampstead Hill Academy, a charter school that enrolls about 500 pre-K through eighth graders, reports that Obama won its mock election. He got 75 percent of the vote, while 25 percent voted for McCain.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

October 16, 2008

At last, education debated

I was just about ready to pass out in front of the television last night when the final question of the final presidential debate perked me up. At last, a question about education. It's been discouraging the last several months how little the topic -- which Sen. McCain last night called the civil rights issue of our time -- has played a part in the campaign.

I was baffled by McCain's response about No Child Left Behind, that the law needs more "transparency" and "accountability," but not necessarily more money thrown at it. This may be true of many things in government, and many things in education as well. But in the case of NCLB, aren't we already making everything transparent -- embarrassing low-performing schools by making their scores available for all to see? Don't we already have accountability -- holding schools to ever-higher standards and sanctioning those who don't meet state-established benchmarks for two years or more? Isn't a big part of the problem that the federal government has placed these increased demands on schools without providing the extra resources to meet them?

Sen. Obama compared NCLB with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, the 1975 federal law that requires schools to provide disabled students with a "free and appropriate public education" but has never been fully funded. But much of the back-and-forth centered around vouchers. (Does Michelle Rhee support them, or only charter schools? McCain said she does. Does not, replied Obama. Does, too, replied McCain. I'm sure the D.C. schools chancellor was thrilled to have her position debated on national television. The Washington Post and a Post blogger say today she supports both, vouchers and charters.)

Given the current economic climate, an infusion of cash for education seems unlikely regardless of who wins the White House. In Maryland and many other states, cuts are on the way. But let's be real about what the needs are.

UPDATE: The Web site Fast Company talked to Rhee today about what was said about her. She said she hasn't issued a formal position on vouchers, but her office issued a statement saying vouchers aren't the solution to fixing the D.C. school system.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:35 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB

October 14, 2008

Texas district wins Broad prize

The Brownsville Independent School District, located along the U.S. border with Mexico, is the winner of this year's Broad Prize in Urban Education. Selected from among the five finalists (including drama-ridden Miami), it will receive $1 million in scholarship money for its high school seniors. The four other districts will get $250,000 each.

The winner of the prize, the most prestigious in urban education, was chosen by a panel of 10 leaders in education, business and government, including two former U.S. education secretaries (Democrat Richard Riley and Republican Rod Paige) and former Harvard president Lawrence Summers.

According to the Broad Foundation, Brownsville is one of the nation's poorest school districts, with 94 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch. Billionaire Eli Broad, founder of the foundation, said in a statement that it is "the best kept secret in America," outpacing other urban districts by focusing its resources on direct support to students and teachers.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 10, 2008

In Chicago, a high school for gay students?

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Windy City's superintendent is asking the board of education there to sign off on the creation of a high school for gay, lesbian and transgendered teens. The article says the Pride Campus "would incorporate lessons about sexual identity in literature and history classes and offer counseling."

The school proposal comes as a new study confirms the rampant harassment of gay students in the nation's middle and high schools. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says nearly nine in 10 of the 6,209 students it surveyed say they've been harassed in the past year. This leads to truancy, as gay students don't feel safe coming to school. And understandably, fears are heightened in the wake of the Larry King tragedy this year in California.

But is creating a separate school the answer? Or, as some gay-rights activists suggest in the article, should existing schools be working harder to foster acceptance? After all, children make fun of each other all the time for all kinds of reasons: because of the color of their skin or the religion they practice, because their families are poor, because they have a disability. 

The Pride school would not be allowed to ask prospective students their sexual orientation (presumably, they would self-select). But it's hard to imagine the creation of a school designed to prevent any other minority group from being teased.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:02 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation

Could district with ousted superintendent be the nation's best?

Tuesday is a day that administrators from around the nation have been waiting for: the announcement of this year's Broad Prize, urban education's version of the Oscars or the Pulitzers or even the Nobel. The prize goes to the urban district with the greatest growth and overall student achievement. The winner gets $1 million for college scholarships for its high school seniors; the four finalists each get $250,000. New York City won last year.

This year, the contest is particularly interesting because one of the contenders -- Miami-Dade County Public Schools -- just ousted its superintendent, former NYC Chancellor Rudy Crew. Crew had been named the 2008 superintendent of the year by the American Association of School Administrators. From what I've read, it sounds like he was a victim of school board politics. And the drama only begins there: The Miami board named as Crew's successor an assistant superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, who is alleged to have had an affair with the Miami Herald reporter who was covering the schools there last year. She had moved onto The Boston Globe when the allegations surfaced and resigned from her position last month.

The other finalists for the Broad Prize are the Aldine Independent School District in Texas, Broward County Public Schools in Florida, the Brownsville Independent School District in Texas and the Long Beach Unified School District in California.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

October 8, 2008

More on teacher pay...

In today's paper, I wrote about another chapter in the ongoing conflict of Baltimore County schools vs. teachers (and other system employees).  While the hundreds who protested at the Board of Education were pleased that members decided not to switch to a single provider for 403(b) plans, the call for a 2 percent pay raise (recommended by a mediation panel) is still at issue.

The pay raise issue here popped into my head this morning when I stumbled across this item about a very well-paying teaching job in New York City. Teachers, what do you think?  Would you be up for a gig that paid $125,000 a year?  This charter school may be for you.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Teaching

September 17, 2008

Can KIPP's success be replicated?

We've talked before on this blog about the reasons for the success of the 60-plus schools in the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which runs Baltimore's highest-performing middle school. Now, the research group SRI International is releasing a three-year study of KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzing why their students outperform their peers in other public schools. The study, commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, cites four factors: 1) a culture of high expectations; 2) more time in school and more support for struggling students; 3) a focus on tracking student progress and careful instructional planning; 4) a philosophy of continuous improvement, where school leaders and teachers often revise their strategies.

We've seen all these things before at KIPP Ujima Village in Baltimore. To me, the more interesting question that the study poses is not what causes KIPP to be successful, but whether its success can be replicated on a large scale. And its answer to that is maybe not: It's a lot harder when the students and parents aren't choosing to be at the charter school, making a commitment to do the work. It's a lot harder when teachers aren't choosing to work many extra hours and be available for their students around the clock.

It's not that KIPP students are coming in more able, as is often alleged. In fact, the report found that the Bay Area KIPP schools tend to attract lower-performing students than the traditional public schools in their areas. Perhaps these students and their parents feel desperate that the traditional public schools aren't working for them. In any case, they're choosing to be at KIPP.

The report concludes that KIPP's experiences "don't directly map onto those of other schools and districts," but they demonstrate a lesson relevant to everyone: "High expectations and hard work pay off. There are no shortcuts."

The study's findings are similar to those of another report released in by Johns Hopkins researchers about KIPP Ujima Village last year. An article we wrote about the report at the time said KIPP was transforming the lives of its students, but "translating the methods and successes of KIPP to other middle schools in the city probably would be challenging and costly."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!

September 12, 2008

CEOs split on paying for grades

In this article published yesterday, USA Today surveyed 74 business CEOs to ask whether they think it's a good idea to pay students for doing well in school. More than half said yes. Thirty-three of 66 said they pay or have paid their own kids for grades.

The article contrasted that survey's findings with a Union Pacific Foundation survey of 450 high school principals, only 15 percent of whom supported paying for grades. The 15 percent were typically "in poor communities where almost any experiment is worth a try," the article says.

Baltimore, of course, is one of the cities that's trying pay for performance among students -- those struggling to pass the High School Assessments. The article also mentions a project by the foundations of ExxonMobil, Bill Gates and Michael Dell to pay students at 67 high schools in seven states between $100 and $200 for high scores on A.P. exams.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

Restructuring schools try staff replacement

As Liz reports today, a new study is out by the Center on Education Policy about the schools that have restructured under No Child Left Behind. Maryland, with its recent emphasis on replacing the staff at schools required by law to restructure, is now taking among the most aggressive steps in the nation. But it's too soon to know whether the strategy is working.

Until 2006, most Maryland schools that have failed to meet targets on standardized tests for several consecutive years chose the restructuring option of hiring a "turnaround specialist," usually to work with the principal. And usually, that move didn't do much good, so the option was discontinued.

The CEP report questions the logistical challenges associated with creating school restructuring plans as more schools need them. It says that Maryland's resources are being "stretched thinly." In districts such as Baltimore and Prince George's County with lots of schools in restructuring, there's concern that plans are not being individualized for each school and staff replacement is the automatic option. Other choices include reopening as a charter school and entering into a contract with a private school management company. But as the report points out, "becoming a charter school takes about 18 months, which does not fit with the required federal restructuring timetline."

In Baltimore, the school improvement teams at all the restructuring schools chose the option of staff replacement. (These teams typically include the principal.) The city school board then signed off on the teams' recommendations and forwarded the choices to the state. Mary Minter, the city's chief academic officer, is quoted in the report saying that principals often didn't realize selecting that option meant they could be replaced as well. She said that discussion "came later on... 'You mean I can be replaced, too?' It was after the fact. I think had they known, they would not have selected that option." Dr. Alonso is also quoted about principals being in the dark about their own fates: "I find it difficult to believe that in every single case, something which should be so basic to the conversation has escaped the debate until the very end."

Now that the cat's out of the bag, what option will schools select this year?

September 9, 2008

Who says teachers don't want higher pay?

At different times, pundits have said teachers care more about the support they get from their principal and their working conditions than how much they are paid. Maybe.

There's an interesting trend going on out west in Montana and Wyoming. Wyoming, which is rich in a growing coal mining revenues, has been pumping money into its schools, and in particular into its teacher salaries, according to a story in the Great Falls Tribune.  Beginning teacher salaries have risen quickly. In a few years, teachers can earn about $50,000, far more than in neighboring Montana. Montana spends about $5,000 per student on schools while Wyoming now spends $14,000, according to the Tribune.

What that means is that teachers are leaving in droves for Wyoming. Really. Montana's school board estimates that 70 to 80 percent of its new teachers are leaving. "We realize money isn't everything, but it sure does help," one teacher interviewed said.

Locally, Baltimore County's teachers have been complaining about not getting a raise last year, even as pay for teachers increased in other school districts.

And there's an interesting experiment going on in Washington, D.C., where the teachers may be voting next month on whether to give up tenure protections for a major boost in pay. There teachers who perform well could earn up to $131,000 a year.

It will be interesting to see whether they vote for the money as teachers in Montana are doing with their feet.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

September 4, 2008

NYC revisits mayoral control of schools

As Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon positions herself to lobby for control of the Baltimore school system, New York is revisiting its state law -- adopted in 2002 and due to expire in June -- giving the mayor of the Big Apple oversight of the nation's largest school system.

The New York Times reports today that a commission appointed by that city's public advocate is recommending the continuation of mayoral control of schools. However, the commission is also recommending that structures be put in place to serve as a check on the mayor's power. It would give an independent panel more say over budget and policy decisions.

When Dr. Alonso served as deputy chancellor in New York, he had tremendous authority as a result of the mayoral control structure. He needed only to report to the chancellor, who had the backing of the mayor. He accepted his job as CEO in Baltimore on the condition that the school board give him the authority he needs to run the system without political interference. Even as observers say the board has given him more power than any Baltimore superintendent has had in decades, he still has to jump through more hoops here than he did in New York.

Education observers agree that the success of mayoral control of schools depends on a mayor's willingness to risk political capital to support controversial decisions made by a superintendent. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has shown that's not a question in New York. The same is now true in Washington, where Mayor Adrian Fenty has thrown his weight behind Chancellor Michelle Rhee. But should there be a limit on the authority vested in these arrangements? Or does a limit defeat the purpose, which is to minimize the bureaucracy that inhibits progress?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

September 3, 2008

Predicting who will drop out

Traditional educational thinking says that if you belong to certain socioeconomic groups, you are more likely to drop out of school, but the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based education group, says that academic indicators are a better way of judging that.

In some ways the idea might seem a "duh," but a paper by senior policy associate Lyndsay Pinkus shows that earlier intervention can reduce the risks for students dropping out. Researchers around the nation have found, the report says, that a failing grade in math or English, poor attendance or being retained a grade are red signals that a student is at risk of dropping out.

The alliance's brief on the subject can be found here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 22, 2008

Money for better AP scores?

The magazine, Education Week, has a thought-provoking piece in its fall issue saying that cash incentives for teachers and students given out for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by the students.

In addition, the program increases the number of students enrolling in college, according to new research by Cornell University economist Kirabo Jackson.

The incentives have the biggest impact on African American and Hispanic students, boosting participation in AP courses and exams.

The program is successful among largely poor and minority students in Texas public schools. The researcher reports that there is a 22 percent average increase in the number of students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT. The increase rises each year the student is in the program. There was an 8 percent increase in the number of students who enroll in a college or university in Texas from those schools that participated in the cash incentive program.

This raises a lot of questions about what motivates students and teachers and whether it is proper to pay students to do better in school. For more information on the research check out Education Next at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:12 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 1, 2008

Presidential candidates promote merit pay

National Public Radio had a story earlier this week about Barack Obama and John McCain's education platforms. A transcript is posted here, along with an audio link.

A couple interesting points the story made: Both of the candidates support merit pay for teachers. Obama has taken this position even though unions tend to oppose merit pay and the two major teachers unions are supporting him.

Obama has also proposed requiring all colleges of education to be accredited and rating how they do in preparing teachers. According to the story, one of his advisers is Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor who believes strongly in the importance of teacher preparation. Darling-Hammond is a leading critic of alternative certification programs such as Teach for America (which, incidentally, is holding a press conference in Baltimore today to announce financial support for the program from the City Council). However, another of Obama's advisers is Michael Johnston from New Leaders for New Schools, which is essentially an alternative certification program for principals.

Both Obama and McCain support changing No Child Left Behind, but neither wants to scrap it altogether. McCain is interested in providing more tutoring to struggling students. Obama says NCLB is inadequately funded, and he wants to work with states to develop better tests measuring what students have learned and where they have weaknesses.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

July 25, 2008

Report tracks African-American boys

The Schott Foundation for Public Education today released a report on the state of education as it pertains to African-American males. It also launched an interactive Web site with all sorts of interesting information about the achievement gap for black boys. Check it out here.

The report contains data not only for the 50 states, but also for their largest school districts. According to Schott's calculations, Maryland's graduation rate for black boys in 2005-2006 was slightly higher than the national average: 55 percent, compared with 47 percent nationally. That's due in part to the fact that Baltimore County reported one of the nation's highest graduation rates for African-American males, 72 percent. Montgomery County's rate was 69 percent and Prince George's was 59 percent. And then there was Baltimore City: 31 percent.

Using data from 2004-2005, the report said white, non-Hispanic boys were admitted to gifted and talented programs in Baltimore at twice the rate of black boys. Four times as many white boys as black participated in math Advanced Placement courses. Nine times as many white boys took science A.P. courses. Although this information is nearly four years old, it highlights the opportunities that have long existed for the small number of white students (less than 10 percent of total enrollment) in the city school system.

The report's release and the Web site launch coincided with this week's UNITY convention of 10,000 journalists of color, who gathered in Chicago.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:43 PM | | Comments (5)

July 23, 2008

Class-based integration

Fascinating article in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine about new efforts to integrate school districts by class, now that the Supreme Court has outlawed assignments based on race.

While the issue is probably irrelevant in much of Baltimore City, where many white, middle class parents send their children to private schools, I could see it having legs in diverse suburban districts like Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.

The article raises a host of interesting questions: How many poor students can a majority-affluent school accommodate without a perceived decline in quality? A significant number, the researchers quoted conclude. What conditions need to be in place for class-based integration to work? A Harvard economist says affluent and poor students must be together not only in the same building, but also in the same classes. If the poor kids are all put in low-level classes, it defeats the purpose. Will class-based integration lead to racial integration? In some cases yes, in others no.

The article mentions at least one school system where economics-based school assignments seem to be working. In Wake County, N.C., the system ensures that no more than 40 percent of students at a school come from a low-income area, and no more than 25 percent speak English as a second language. Test scores have improved among both black students and poor students. But in San Francisco, a diversity plan based on socioeconomics has resulted in racial resegregation of schools.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

July 18, 2008

More on the rising test scores

We've been theorizing a lot on the blog this week about what caused the jump in test scores this year in Baltimore in particular and in general statewide. Liz's story today offers a possible explanation: The tests this year were shorter and better aligned with the Maryland state curriculum, so students were likely less tired taking them and less likely to be presented with material they hadn't learned. But officials say the material tested was just as difficult as last year. And Dr. Alonso points out that Baltimore students still improved more than their peers in the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, an article in the current Education Week reports on two studies in New York City and Chicago that linked an increase in highly qualified teachers serving poor and minority children to better test scores there. While the article only examines those two cities (and Illinois in general), it suggests a trend in urban districts nationwide. Baltimore is one of a handful of systems lauded for aggressive recruitment programs in hard-to-staff areas. "Both studies show a shift in the long-observed trend that the most-qualified teachers appear to teach at the more affluent schools, while the poorest schools are usually staffed by teachers who are new or less qualified," the article says. 

The New York study is here (sorry, it costs $5 to read the whole thing). The Chicago study is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching, Testing

June 30, 2008

12-year-old wins car for good attendance

I'm a little late on this story out of Chicago that made news last week, but I thought it was worth coming back to, given our debates this past year about the use of cash for student incentives and our own recent drama about a car dealership's donation...

A 12-year-old seventh-grader in the Chicago public school system has won a Dodge Caliber for good attendance, four years before she's old enough to drive. (In the meantime, her parents are excited to use it.) Chicago students who had perfect attendance for any one of three three-month periods were eligible to win the car, which was donated to the school system, according to the Chicago Tribune. The girl, Ashley Martinez, won from a pool of 189,115 students eligible.

In the past, according to the Tribune article, the Chicago schools have offered attendance awards including "vacations to Wisconsin resorts, laptops, iPods and even paying a family's rent or mortgage for a month."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:03 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 27, 2008

Failing marks for math teacher preparation

The National Council on Teacher Quality issued a report yesterday concluding that most of the nation's education colleges are not doing enough to prepare prospective elementary school teachers to teach math. The council studied entry and exit requirements, curriculum, textbooks and state licensing tests for 77 education colleges in 49 states. It found only 13 percent of the schools were giving teachers adequate math training.

Kate Walsh, president of the council, said in a statement: "As a nation, our dislike and discomfort with math is so endemic that we do not even find it troubling when elementary teachers admit to their own weakness in basic mathematics. Not only are our education schools not tackling these weaknesses, they accommodate them with low expectations and insufficient content."

But there's good news for Maryland: The University of Maryland at College Park is among the 10 schools where the council determined the math preparation was adequate. Towson University is one of five that the report said would pass muster with improved focus and textbooks. That's better than the 37 schools, among them American University, that were found to fail on all measures. Some schools, including Hampton University and University of Richmond, don't require prospective elementary teachers to take any math classes at all.

Think you're qualified to teach elementary school math? See how you do on this test that the council says all elementary math teachers should be able to pass. 

UPDATE, 6/30: See the comments for a rebuttal from the dean of Amerian University's education school, who says the report was not compiled responsibly.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Study, study!, Teaching

June 18, 2008

High-achieving students get less attention

A Fordham Institute report released yesterday says high-achieving students aren't making the same gains in test scores as the lowest achieving students. (See my story today.)

The report also has some fascinating data about what teachers think about their high-achieving students. For instance, teachers say that their schools do not make high-achieving students a top priority. And that apparently happens much more frequently at urban schools where there are high numbers of students in poverty. So that means that if you a high-achieving, minority student in an urban school, you are much less likely to have a chance to be challenged than if you go to a suburban school. That may not be particularly surprising, but it documents what has been believed for years.

In addition, teachers told the researchers that they feel guilty about the fact that their most gifted students don't get challenged enough. "I feel like sometimes we are cheating them ... cheating them out of their own personal glory.... They could be so much more magnificent in their own right and happier, because I think they feel a level of frustration that they have to sit by while we are babysitting," said one teacher who was quoted in the report by researchers Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett.

Interesting, too, is that while most teachers say the low achievers are getting more attention than others, they also don't think that is right. About half of teachers reported they thought every student should get equal attention.

In the same study, about half of high school teachers surveyed said they believe the advanced-level classes at their school are truly rigorous and challenging. Another 40 percent said they are watered down.

Teachers also said that too often parents push their children into the advanced classes they are unprepared for or don't want to be in.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:54 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation

June 17, 2008

Will smaller high schools graduate more students?

Here's an interesting article about an initiative in Michigan aimed at reducing the size of high schools. It's an especially timely article for those of you who may be following the debate locally about school size, an issue recently brought into sharper focus in Baltimore County because of a failed proposal to expand Loch Raven High School.

Click here for my article from last week about the school board's decision to nix the expansion plan at Loch Raven High School. And here for my article on County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s response to the board's action.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:57 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Trends

June 12, 2008

Never too late to graduate

Frances Yancey-Olaifa, a 71-year-old great-grandmother who lives in Upper Marlboro, has earned a high school diploma and will graduate today in a ceremony held by the Literacy Council of Prince George's County.

And she's a youngster compared with John Lawrence Locher, who is 90 and received his high school diploma this week in Detroit.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

June 5, 2008

High expectations in Baltimore County

Shortly after this week's news that the Baltimore County school system has the fourth-highest graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school districts, I caught up with county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston at the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex. (See today's article.)

Hairston was there with a group of eighth-graders from Golden Ring Middle School, as part of a partnership between the school system and the community college to encourage the kids to start thinking about, and planning for, college.

While pleased with the county's graduation rate, he grew serious as he talked about the challenges that the school system faces to keep that high ranking. Not for the sake of rankings, but because of what those rankings represent, he said --- stability and effectiveness.

That means building strong programs at the elementary school level that will send students onto middle school ready for challenging courses that will prepare them for advance work in high school, he said. Middle school students have to come to the table with a solid foundation, ready to start thinking about their futures. He said he worries about the "bottle-neck" that is produced at the middle school level when too many students arrive behind grade level. But, he said, middle school is not the time to try to teach elementary-school concepts.

Hairston said he understands that some people may be worried about his plans to stop giving its middle schools federal Title I money that is aimed at schools with high concentrations of low-income students. (Click here for Wednesday's article on this news.) He said he understands that it sounds like he is taking away precious resources from the middle schools. But I think he summed it up best with these remarks:

"Spending (Title I) money for kids at the middle school level doesn't help if they are in eighth grade reading at the third-grade level. It makes more sense to invest that money in the elementary schools so those students don't get behind."

I've talked to some national education advocates, who seem to generally agree with Hairston's line of thinking. What are you thoughts?

Posted by Gina Davis at 8:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, School Finance

May 28, 2008

Florida boy allegedly voted out of class

Here's a troubling education story that's made national news in the past few days: In Port St. Lucie, Fla., a kindergarten teacher allegedly allowed her students to vote on whether to kick a boy who was misbehaving out of class. The children voted 14-2 to remove their 5-year-old classmate, who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism, according to this article in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. The children were purportedly allowed to say in front of the class what they did not like about the boy. His mother tells the media she's considering legal action.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:28 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, SpecialEd

May 21, 2008

An uneven road to NCLB proficiency

It appears that 23 states -- Maryland not among them -- might have been banking on No Child Left Behind going away by now, or at least lessening its mandate that 100 percent of public school students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

A new report by the Center on Education Policy reviewed the pace with which states require their schools to improve each year as they work towards all kids being proficient. Maryland is among those that increase schools' targets incrementally each year.

But in almost half the country, states only required small improvement in the early years of the law, making it relatively easy for schools to make AYP. But as 2014 approaches, schools in these states now have to show big improvements every year. In California, for example, reading proficiency must increase by 11 percentage points a year for the next six years, a goal viewed by many as unrealistic.

The challenge "is about to become much more difficult for 23 states that generally set lower expectations for the percentages of students reaching proficiency between 2002 and 2008 in contrast to much steeper expectations later on," the report says. "The higher goals are now becoming a reality."

The report concludes that, while it will be harder for schools in the 23 states to make AYP than for schools in places like Maryland, almost no one is on track for 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB, Study, study!

April 22, 2008

A White House endorsement of Teach For America and The New Teacher Project

I was watching the Today show this morning and Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, and charter schools got huge plugs from First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna.

The pair were on the show promoting the new children’s book they co-authored entitled Read All About It! 

The book is about a second-grader, Tyrone Brown, who does not think its cool to read. Laura Bush said the character is based on a composite of students she taught during her days as a school teacher in Houston.

A portion of the money from the book will be donated to Teach For America and The New Teacher Project.

The two spoke about: the importance of literacy especially among males; the good things that TFA and TNTP are doing for American schools; and the fact that the president enjoyed reading to the two Bush twins growing up. (Who knew?)

It turns out that Jenna is quiet the scribe. She already penned last year's non-fiction Ana's Story, which is about a teenage mother living in Panama with HIV. (Baltimore’s newest resident keeps surprising me day by day!)

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

Seattle teacher refuses to administer standardized tests

A lot of teachers complain about the state standardized tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, but how many refuse to administer them? Carl Chew, a sixth-grade teacher in Seattle did, and found himself suspended without pay for two weeks.

Here is his account of his experience, along with an essay he wrote about the reason for his decision.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB, Testing

April 11, 2008

Are schools doctoring discipline statistics?

The recent assault of a teacher by a student at Reginald F. Lewis High has highlighted a number of serious concerns facing schools right now. I have been most disturbed by the claims that administrators are not reporting certain disciplinary incidents to alter school statistics.

I must stress that the student in this recent case was suspended from school immediately following the incident. I am focusing more on the teachers union's claims that incidents like this are frequent and often unreported.

Marietta English, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said her office has been receiving two or three complaints a day of assaults on teachers, many of which are not reported to the school system or police, according to Sara Neufeld’s story.

The union has long claimed that administrators aren't reporting violent incidents or doing enough to punish children who are violent, for fear their schools will be labeled "persistently dangerous" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Sara’s story says.

A persistently dangerous school is defined in Maryland by the number of suspensions for violent offenses, not the number of offenses itself.

This isn’t just a problem in Baltimore.

My mother – a retired principal in Syracuse, New York – last night said she discussed this matter with some of her former peers, and it is common knowledge that some schools to not report certain disciplinary actions. (For the record, my mother detests this practice.)

Dr. Alonso has threatened to fire anyone in Baltimore city schools who does not report these incidents, Sara told me when I talked to her a few minutes ago.

The system says it has expelled students for assaults on staff members 112 times this school year, compared with 98 at this time last year.

School officials point to the slight increase in expulsions as a result of Dr. Alonso's policy, Sara told me.

Are schools are doctoring their discipline numbers to avoid: a negative community reaction, or an “unsafe schools” label?

April 9, 2008

Does staff replacement improve a school?

Two recent studies raise doubts, but -- as I report in my story today -- the strategy has emerged as the option of choice for Maryland schools that are required to restructure under No Child Left Behind.

This report by the Center on Education Policy looked at 10 restructuring schools in Maryland. While much of the report deals with restructuring by hiring a "turnaround specialist," an option the state no longer allows because it was not effective, it also discusses the disruption on instruction when a school is "zero-based," or the entire staff is required to reapply for their jobs. This month, Education Sector released a report on a successful school reform initiative in Chattanooga. The most successful teachers were veterans who went through extensive professional development.

In reporting my story yesterday, it was interesting to compare the difference in the staff replacement plans in Baltimore and Prince George's County. Both are long-troubled districts with (relatively) new superintendents instituting a lot of changes. In Baltimore, the schools are zero-basing. This was the option selected by school improvement teams, and city school officials believe it's only fair for everyone on a staff to be on equal footing. It seems Baltimore County has the same rationale. 

But in Prince George's, the staff replacement is selective, with the only given being that teachers in restructuring schools who are not "highly qualified" and aren't close to getting there will be moved elsewhere. Superintendent John Deasy said he's worked with the state to develop an instrument to evaluate a school's capacity. In schools where only one subgroup isn't making AYP, there will be less intervention than in schools where every subgroup is falling short. In some cases, Deasy explained, the principal won't be asked to reapply; the principal will simply be replaced. This approach leaves more room for subjective evaluations, but Prince George's County officials believe it will also be less disruptive than zero-basing.

April 8, 2008

"A Nation at Risk," 25 years later

This month marks the 25th anniversary of "A Nation At Risk," a major report issued by the Reagan administration charging that a failing educational system in the United States was causing the country to lose its competitive edge in the global marketplace.

The Cato Institute, a non-profit research foundation with a libertarian bent, is hosting an online debate about the legacy of the report. Former New York Times columnist Richard Rothstein wrote an essay charging that A Nation At Risk was misleading and "set the nation on a school reform crusade that has done more harm than good." In the next few days, other leading education commentators will be posting responses to Rothstein. On April 16, the site will open for public debate.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation

April 7, 2008

Florida attempts to overhaul sex education curriculum

Some Florida high school students believe that drinking a cap full of bleach will prevent HIV/AIDS, according to results from a new survey that has politicians in the state scrambling to overhaul sex education classes. Some Florida students, the survey says, believe that smoking marijuana and drinking Mountain Dew will prevent pregnancy.

Some advocates of a bill that would require a more comprehensive approach in the state’s sex education believe that these myths have spread because of the state’s reliance on abstinence-only sex education, according to the article.

Under a bill currently under consideration, schools would begin teaching about condoms and other methods of birth control and disease prevention in addition to abstinence.

What do you think? Should abstinence-only supporters take responsibility for the growth of these dangerous myths? Is a more robust sex education class the answer? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:30 PM | | Comments (4)

April 4, 2008

Would national standards fix NCLB?

There's an interesting article in Slate this week outlining a series of ideas about how to fix No Child Left Behind. The article isn't as radical as another published this winter in The Atlantic called "First, Kill All the School Boards." But both make the case for national standards and exams as a way of reforming NCLB.

The law in its current form allows states to create their own standards to measure and their own standardized tests. As a result, the authors argue, there's incentive to water down the standards and the exams so that all children can meet the goal of proficiency, and it's unfair to compare states against each other.

I think some of Slate's recommendations would be widely welcomed among the educators I know: administering fewer tests, placing more emphasis on science and social studies, paying teachers more. Others, like creating a system of ranking schools, seem more controversial. And The Atlantic's idea of scrapping local control of education altogether is clearly out of the realm of possibility.

So how to keep the ideal that all schools will be held accountable no child will be left behind while ridding the federal law of its many problematic components? There aren't any obvious answers. But in a year when reauthorization has been put on hold so as not to create waves in the presidential election, it's nice to at least see people throwing out ideas.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, NCLB

April 3, 2008

Super superintendents

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor reports something many of us have heard before --- good superintendents are hard to find; harder yet is keeping them. The current trend of fewer qualified candidates, especially minorities, to fill the vacancies has created what is called the "rock star superintendent." And apparently there is one in our own backyard:

"Successful 'rock star' superintendents, including Rudy Crew of Miami-Dade in Florida and Joe Hairston in Baltimore, show that the right fit can be helpful for improving academic performance and reducing discipline problems, experts say. Mr. Crew was named superintendent of the year in 2007 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)."

To read more, click here.

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:03 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Trends

April 1, 2008

Graduation rates may change

States across the nation may see a dip in their graduation rates after the feds require all states to use a uniform calculation to report their rates.  U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced this morning that she will take steps to ensure that all states use the same formula.

Speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., she said that in some districts, students who leave school but pledge to get their GED are counted as graduates. In other districts a student has to register as a dropout to be counted.

Just as much of an issue is that until recently, there has been no way to really keep track of students who move from one school district to another, even within the same state. As I say in my story in today's paper, the state launched a new effort this fall to keep closer track of students by having schools give every student an identification number, but the process will not be complete until 2011.

Spellings believes that by making reporting of graduation and drop out rates more uniform, schools will be held more accountable. 

She wasn't specific in suggesting how this new rule would be calculated, which is crucial, but one suggestion has been to look at who enters a school in ninth grade and who gets a diploma four years later.

That number will make things look worse for some urban school systems where many students take five years to graduate from high school because they are so far behind academically that they may have to take remedial classes.

In 2005, 50 governors signed a pact agreeing to create the uniform identification number. Across the nation, about half of African-Americans are believed to have graduated from high school, a rate that is considered unacceptable.

There is debate within the state about how many students are graduating from city high schools. Some say it is as few as a third, while others say it is as high as 60 percent. The numbers are essentially all guesses, that vary depending on what formula is used.

The fact is that no one will really know until about 2011.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 20, 2008

Early childhood education in Maryland

A new state education ranking is out, this time on early childhood education, and it shows that Maryland isn't providing as much money as other states for pre-kindergarten programs, but the state has a higher than average percentage of four-year-olds attending school.

The National Institute for Early Education Research ranked states on their efforts to provide good pre-kindergarten. Maryland school systems provide 34 percent of four-year-olds with pre-kindergarten, the 10th best in the nation.

While the amount of state funding for pre-kindergarten went up this past year, the state still only ranks 27th in that catagory. When local and federal sources of funding are added, the state does better, ranking 13th.

The state also met seven out of the 10 criteria for quality programs. More information is available here.





Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:05 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

March 18, 2008

Sex Ed in the Public Schools

Parents in the Pittsburgh Public School System want the sex education offerings beefed up.

The organizers of the "Pittsburgh Public Schools Silencing Sex Education" campaign say the current policy to teach teenagers about sex by preaching abstinence does not answer many of their questions and provide them with the information they need to make healthy and responsible decisions, according to the article.

The campaign organizers want "comprehensive sex education that would teach students about contraception and sexual practices in addition to abstinence," according to the article. 

I thought this was especially interesting because of last week's news that one in four teenage girls in America has at least one STD.

What are students being taught about sex in schools in Maryland? Is it sufficient? Should abstinence be taught? Is that even realistic in the current social climate?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:45 PM | | Comments (0)

March 13, 2008

Stunt seeking the nation's worst teachers

The anti-union Center for Union Facts is launching a campaign calling for nominations for the nation's worst public school teachers whose jobs are protected by collective bargaining agreements. It will offer 10 "winners" $10,000 each if they quit their jobs.

Seriously, I'm not making this up. You can see for yourselves in a USA Today article here. The center's "Teachers Union Exposed" site is here.

The campaign's organizers, who ran a full-page ad in the New York Times, say they want to start a national conversation about how hard it is for schools to get rid of bad teachers once they have tenure.

In my reporting this week about principal autonomy in Baltimore, I've heard a lot about how principals need autonomy over their staff. And while they'll have control over future hiring decisions, they have very little say over existing staff because of the protections in the union contract. But, clearly, unions exist for a reason. (I am, for the record, a union member myself.) It's hard to imagine the kind of personal vindictiveness that might come into play if administrators could fire teachers at will.

A few weeks ago, readers of this blog took great offense at someone's suggestion that teachers are overpaid. But are they overprotected?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

March 8, 2008

To freak dance or not to freak dance?

In my story today, I explore the freak dancing craze and the tactics administrators and parents are taking to thwart the behavior.

Several schools have banned an extreme form of freak dancing. Some schools have rules that dictate the type of music played at dances in order to prevent the provocative moves. Other administrators have even banned school dances altogether to avoid the headache of having to enforce non-sexual dancing.

One principal I interviewed essentially said that he runs a school, not a dance club.

Should students have a say in the matter? Is freak dancing a way for them to express themselves? Or do you think that this type of dancing has not place on the dance floor? Does your school have an innovative way to combat freak dancing? I want to hear all your anecdotes and opinions!

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

March 7, 2008

What would you do for $125,000?

This article from today's New York Times features a charter school in New York City that will pay teachers $125,000 a year, testing the theory that having a great teacher in every classroom is more important than anything else, and that truly competitive salaries will attract great teachers. Making the structure even more radical: The school's principal will start out earning just $90,000. For the school to afford the salaries, classes will have 30 kids apiece, teachers will work longer days and have responsibilities outside the classroom, and there will be fewer social supports.

Want to apply? The Web site for the school, called The Equity Project Charter, is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools, Teaching

March 6, 2008

Want to increase academic performance among girls? Give them more physical education, study says

If childhood obesity and health-related reasons were not enough proof, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports that time spent in physical education may help improve girls’ academic performance.

While this sounds like good news, teachers and administrators will probably tell you that it is a serious struggle to incorporate more physical education into the school day. Many educators are busy trying to live up to mandates that focus on standardized test scores and increases in student achievement in math and reading.

The study, which is published online in the Journal of American Public Health, indicates that trimming physical education programs may not be the best way to raise test scores in schools, this USA Today article states.

Researchers tracked the reading and math skills of more than 5,000 students between kindergarten and fifth grade as shown on a series of standardized tests, according to the article. They discovered that girls who received the highest levels of physical education, or 70 to 300 minutes a week, scored consistently higher on the tests than those who spent less than 35 minutes a week.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:02 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching, Trends

March 5, 2008

News of beef recall took too long, schools say

Surprise, surprise. Some school systems claim that the announcement of the historic beef recall last month came way too late.

Based on prepared congressional testimony to be delivered yesterday, two officials with the School Nutrition Association were expected to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update its recall communications system, according to USA Today.

Dora Rivas, director of child nutrition for Dallas schools, said 12 days passed from Feb. 5, the day she heard from the state commodity office about a recall of one type of ground beef, which she pulled, to Feb. 17, the day the USDA announced the full Westland recall, the article states. It wasn’t until Feb. 22 that Dallas knew the full extent of the recall and pulled all of the affected beef, the article adds.

Maryland school systems, on the other hand, were told to put the meat on administrative hold on Feb. 1 by the Maryland State Department of Education.

It is unknown whether any of that meat made it into school cafeterias.

The MSDE warning did not catch the meat that went to Allegany, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Montgomery, Worcester, Wicomico, Baltimore County and Baltimore City in 2007.

In total, about 37 million pounds of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled went to school lunch programs and other federal nutrition programs since October 2006, according to Ron Vogel of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:01 AM | | Comments (0)

March 4, 2008

What do you think about harassing helicopter parents?

They hover. And many teachers say that they harass, and disrupt the learning process in the process. Helicopter parents are landing at a school near you!

My article today looks at the overbearing actions of parents in schools.

Take Howard County as an example. For the past two years, 60 percent of the teachers responding to a job satisfaction survey conducted by the Howard County Education Association reported that they have been subjected to harassment. Last year's survey specifically identified parents as the offenders in 60 percent of the cases. This year's survey will report similar results, according to Ann DeLacy, the HCEA president.

Through my research I talked to educators from school systems throughout the state who recalled numerous examples of over-zealous parents who made their lives miserable.

What do you think? Have you witnessed parents who overstep the boundaries and interfere with the learning process? Are you a teacher who has been harassed by a parent? Please share your experiences. Or, are you a helicopter parent?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Nation, Howard County, Parents, Teaching, Trends

"Teaching to the Testosterone"

That's a headline on the cover story in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, exploring the always controversial issue of whether boys and girls should be taught separately. The article says that single-gender classrooms and schools, which have become easier to establish as a result of No Child Left Behind, are growing exponentially in public districts. Still, the numbers are relatively small: A leading advocate quoted in the article estimated that there were a dozen public schools in the United States offering single-gender education in 2002, and there are upwards of 360 today. The article says that many of the schools are in the South or in low-income areas. Some educators are hopeful that single-gender classes can help reverse the tide of underachievement particularly for poor, minority boys.

Single-gender education has existed in the Baltimore school system for well over a century. Western High is one of the nation's oldest single-sex public schools, and probably one of the finest, too. But while Western's girls enter the school having already demonstrated a relatively high level of academic acheivement, other schools in the city are experimenting to see if single-sex education gives a boost to children coming in behind. There are single-gender classes in the middle grades at New Song Academy, a well-regarded innovation school in Sandtown. And this academic year, the charter school Bluford Drew Jemison opened as an extended-day program for middle school boys.

Does single-gender education segregate unnecessarily, or is it an effective strategy to meet students' individual needs?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:03 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, NCLB

March 3, 2008

How do schools treat gay and lesbian parents?

Not well, according to a new report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and two other advocacy groups. The study looks at the experiences that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families have in K-12 education. Its title: "Involved, Invisible, Ignored."

The study's authors received completed surveys from 588 gay and lesbian parents nationwide and from 154 of their middle and high school-aged children. Compared with a national sample of all parents, the gay and lesbian parents were more involved: 94 percent had attended an event such as a back-to-school night or a parent-teacher conference in the past year, compared with 77 percent in the general parent population. They were also more likely to have volunteered in their children's school and, in high schools, more likely to be a member of the PTA.

Yet more than half of the parents reported being excluded from their school community in some way, and more than a quarter said they had been mistreated by other parents. Among students, 42 percent said they had been harassed in the past year because of their parents' sexual orientation. Twenty-two percent said that a teacher, principal or other school staff member had discouraged them from talking about their family at school.

What steps can schools take to make all families feel welcome? In this case, the report recommends anti-bullying policies and legislation; training school staff to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment; supporting of clubs such as gay-straight student alliances; and increasing student exposure to information about gay and lesbian people, history and events.

February 28, 2008

Pay for performance: Is it fair?

Gina’s post, which generated an insane number of comments last week, got me questioning whether teachers should be paid in relation to their students' academic performance.

Pay for performance is not a new concept nationally. Several states have flirted with the idea for years. Utah and Florida immediately come to mind.

But is it fair?

Do teachers in Howard County have the right to argue that they should be paid in relation to the standardized test scores that their students earn? Howard County students continually rank among the top in the state for standardized test scores even though Howard County ranks fourth in the state for starting teacher pay.

(Let me play devil’s advocate for a second.)

Should teachers in less affluent areas be paid more because they typically have to confront some of the problems that face many of our urban school systems: crime, poverty, a breakdown in the traditional family structure, less resources, etc.?

Should suburban teachers simply shut up because their students come to school with less baggage? Is that their payoff? In the ranking game, someone has to occupy slots one through 24… 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:15 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

February 26, 2008

Speaking Spanish on the school bus

This news release from the ACLU made me shake my head.

In response to an ACLU complaint, Nevada's Esmeralda County School District has lifted a ban prohibiting students from speaking Spanish on the school bus. The ban was approved by the Esmeralda County school board in October.

According to the press release, the Spanish ban directly impacted about a dozen high school students from a small farming and ranching community who ride the bus an hour and a half each way to a school in a neighboring county. In the afternoons, there is a 45-minute academic period on the bus, during which time the students are expected to speak English. The second 45 minutes is supposed to be free time.

A letter from the school superintendent, posted on the ACLU's Web site, says students are still required to speak in English to the bus driver and to the tutor aboard the bus.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:14 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, School Diversity/Segregation

February 21, 2008

The need for a balanced curriculum

It wasn't surprising. Every one of us who's been in a classroom lately has seen it: reading and math squeezing out other subjects like social studies, music and art. And this week a national report by the Washington think tank Center on Education Policy confirmed those observations. Check out my story on the findings today. Researchers found that on average districts beefed up reading time by 141 minutes a week, and increased math time by 89 minutes a week. Meanwhile, some districts sliced time in social studies by 76 minutes a week and cut art and music time by 57 minutes. Now, I'm not saying reading and math are bad. I know they form the foundation for success in other subjects like science and history. But how can American public schoolchildren hope to compete globally if they're receiveing a streamlined curriculum that's not well rounded? Think about it in terms of nutrition -- sure, protein is good for you, but to be healthy and energetic, you also need the carbs from whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Like a balanced diet -- isn't it important to have a balanced curriculum?  

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 10:32 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Teaching, Testing

February 19, 2008

Where’s the beef?

As if the news of the largest beef recall ever wasn’t enough to make you queasy, it turns out that a huge chunk of the beef went to schools. And some of the meat went to cafeterias in Maryland!

Anne Arundel, Baltimore Co., Carroll, St. Mary’s, Worcester, Wicomico, and Prince George’s -- all school systems that received the recalled beef from Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Company -- were told to put the meat on administrative hold on Feb. 1 by the Maryland State Department of Education.

It is unknown whether any of that meat made it into school cafeterias.

This month's heads-up from MSDE could not catch the meat that went to Allegany, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Montgomery, Worcester, Wicomico, Baltimore County and Baltimore City in 2007. (About 37 million pounds of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled Sunday went to school lunch programs and other federal nutrition programs since October 2006, according to Ron Vogel of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.)

Breathe a little easier, parents, students, and staff. Investigators have found no cases of illness related to the recalled meat, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman quoted in the article.

Check out MSDE's press release here

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:43 PM | | Comments (0)

February 18, 2008

Banning books

Word of a book ban is in the news again. This time, the Washington Post reports, the book "And Tango Makes Three" was pulled from shelves at schools in Loudoun County, Va., after a parent objected to the book because it "promotes a gay agenda" and "tolerance of alternative families."

"And Tango Makes Three," a picture book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry cole, is based on a true story about two male penguins in New York City's Central Park Zoo that adopt a fertilized egg and raise the chick as their own. The book is geared toward children ages 4 to 8 years old, according to the publisher's Web site. (Two Lives Publishing)

Few topics bring out the passion in folks like a book ban. A couple years ago, I covered a book ban in Carroll County schools. I will long, long remember the interviews I conducted for the multiple follow-ups I did on the issue. The book that caused the stir? Gotta love it -- "The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things," by Carolyn Mackler.

While remaining professionally impartial on the issue of the book ban, I must say that Carolyn's book has an amazing message. I read "The Earth" for the articles, but I went on to read all of Carolyn's books because although she writes for an audience that is quite a few years younger than I am, I still found her writing style and her messages to be compelling.

For those of you who are interested, here's some of my coverage of the book ban in Carroll County:

Continue reading "Banning books" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 3:47 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Parents

February 12, 2008

Would raising the dropout age to 18 do any good?

Ruma's article yesterday talked about proposed legislation to raise the minimum dropout age in Maryland from 16 to 18. A statewide task force has recommended raising the age for compulsory attendance in public schools. It was depressing to read that efforts to do so have stalled in the past because of the projected cost of having more students in school for an extra two years. In the current budget climate, the legislation may not do any better this year.

I don't think anyone would argue in favor of students dropping out of school at 16. But my question to those of you in the trenches is, would raising the compulsory attendance age have a real effect? Or are students who drop out going to do so regardless of whether or not they're in violation of the law? Clearly, any kid at risk of dropping out is going to need a lot of interventions. But is it common for students to drop out when they turn 16 just because they can? 

Many other states have decided that it's worth requiring students to be in school until 18. Check out this list of the attendance policies around the nation.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region

February 11, 2008

Lies land Nevada high school football player in hot water

Here are the nuts and bolts of this story: A high school senior in Nevada lied to school officials and to his parents about getting recruited to play football at several Division I colleges.

Questions were raised when the colleges claimed that he was never recruited by them. The student, Kevin Hart, then claimed that a middle-man recruiter conned him into thinking that he was being courted by these college football programs. Hart even went so far as to file a report with local law enforcement.

The story gained national attention. With a seasoned bunch of reporters on the story, Hart began to crack, and eventually admitted to making up the story.

Now Hart may face serious trouble. The NCAA, the Lyon County sheriff's office and the local school system have opened investigations, according to the story.

Hart is 18, so he will likely be charged as an adult. (Can you say filing a false police report?)

There is plenty of blame to go around. Once again, schools have misplaced their priorities. They were wrong to  give this much attention to one student’s athletic achievements. It borders on favoritism. I doubt that the school would have held an assembly for a student who got a full academic scholarship. I thought that academics was still a priority at the high school level?

In this case, the school, and Hart, have major egg on their face, and rightfully so. I can’t say that I’m sorry to see them both embarrassed. Hart should be embarrassed for lying. The school should be embarrassed for not checking its facts.

What about the high school coach who was pictured standing right next to the student at the press conference/pep rally? Didn’t he ever question why he did not receive any phone calls from the football programs?

And what’s up with Hart’s parents who appeared to have been aware of an “exchange” of money between their son and this mysterious recruiter?

Now Kevin Hart’s name is mud, and his lies have potentially gotten him into hot water. Hope he can fall back on the “education” he received in high school. [I think he missed the lesson on telling the truth.] One thing is for sure, this is a lesson he will not soon forget.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

February 8, 2008

In the Bronx, an unlikely success story

There's a good article in today's New York Times about a principal -- who happens to be a Hasidic Jew -- who's had surprising success turning around a middle school in the Bronx. Shimon Waronker was met with a lot of skepticism when he arrived at Junior High School 22, which had been on a list of the 12 most dangerous schools in New York City. The overwhelming majority of the school's students are black and Hispanic; Waronker surprised them with his ability to speak Spanish. Over the past three years, he has replaced more than half the school's teachers and earned his fair share of critics. But NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein (who was Andres Alonso's boss when he was deputy chancellor there) is quoted in the article saying he'd clone the principal if he could.

Finding great principals, giving them autonomy and holding them accountable for the results: That's the heart of school reform efforts in New York, and now in Baltimore. The question, when these principals are successful, is what lessons can be learned for all schools?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:36 PM | | Comments (3)

February 7, 2008

Education's role in the election, or lack thereof

I don't know about you, but I've been pretty frustrated about the lack of debate over education in the presidential campaign. Presumably, it's too hot a topic, and candidates don't want to touch it, which is why many in the education world believe that No Child Left Behind won't get reauthorized until after the second Tuesday in November.

Now with Maryland's primary just a few days away, I figured I'd provide links to the education platforms of the major candidates still in the race:

Barak Obama
Hillary Clinton
John McCain
Mitt Romney
Mike Huckabee

Not surprisingly, the Republicans all voice support for school choice, while the Democrats criticize No Child Left Behind (Clinton wants to end it; Obama wants to put money behind it so it's no longer an unfunded mandate). Huckabee caught my attention with his promise of music and art education for all, saying he wants to provide every child these "weapons of mass instruction."

Of all the candidate Web sites, Obama's includes the most detailed education platform, 15 pages for K-12 initiatives alone, mostly involving expanded early childhood education, NCLB reforms, and incentives to recruit and retain teachers in the nation's toughest schools. But because of there hasn't been much debate on schools, neither he nor Clinton has won the endorsement yet of the nation's largest teacher's union, the National Education Association (which, naturally, will back a Democrat). The NEA issued a press release yesterday saying its support is still up for grabs.

"There have been dozens of debates but less than a handful of questions about the future role of the federal government in public education," NEA President Reg Weaver said in the release. "Both Democratic candidates have strong records on education, but our members want to know about their visions and their plans for the future, and we haven't really heard that yet. If they haven't made education a central part of their campaigns, how can we feel confident that they will make education a central part of their administration?”

The blog Education Election (put out by the Education Writers Association, of which I am a member) has been chronicling the role of education, or lack thereof, in the campaign.

What are your thoughts on the candidates' education platforms? Do you think you have enough information to make an informed decision on Tuesday?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation

February 5, 2008

What do Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Oprah Winfrey, and Marilyn Monroe have in common?

According to a survey of high schoolers, these Americans are among the most influential. The students “overwhelmingly” choose African-Americans and women, according to a soon-to-be-released study, which will appear in the March issue of The Journal of American History.

The study suggests that the "cultural curriculum" most students learn in school has increased the emphasis on Americans who are alive, non-white, and female.

According to the article, the study says that the emphasis on African-American figures by schools leaves behind 18th- and 19th-century figures, figures like Cesar Chavez, Pocahontas, Sacagawea, and labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs.

Check out the USA Today article for the top 10 influential Americans.

This article about the study got me thinking. Are there any people on the list that surprised you? What does this list say about what students are being taught in school? And, has cultural curriculum been a good or a bad thing for students?  

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching, Trends

January 31, 2008

Do Maryland students care about the presidential election?

No matter how you slice it, this election year has the billings to be nothing short of historic – especially among Democrats. But do students care?

Are your students following the youthful surge caused by Barack Obama? Are your female students excited by Hillary Clinton? Have there been heated discussions about race and gender that have been caused by the two Democrats?

I’m particularly interested in finding out what history, current events, social studies, and civics teachers think.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Trends