July 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

September 22, 2009

2009 High School Assessments

Liz Bowie had a story in today's paper about the 2009 High School Assessment results, which indicate that making the tests a graduation requirement hasn't presented as big of an obstacle to students as originally feared, according to data provided by state education officials.

This news has some folks wondering whether the bar is being set too low, particularly as state officials say only 11 students did not graduate solely because of the assessment requirement.

Liz will have another story in tomorrow's paper, taking a look at the future of the HSAs, and where we go from here. Stay tuned.  Also, you can check out the results on the state's Web site, which also has an updated state watch list for schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime...what do you think?  Do the HSAs set the bar too low?  What do you think about the small number affected by this requirement (the city, for example, reported no students kept from graduating only because of the HSAs - but did represent about 20 percent of the waivers given to seniors statewide)?

August 5, 2009

Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries

Last night, I attended a parent meeting at Halstead Academy, a Baltimore County elementary school in the Parkville area.  Because Halstead did not make adequately yearly progress this year, and is a Title I school, parents must be given the option of transferring their children to either Carroll Manor or Jacksonville elementaries.  A similar meeting was to be held at Riverview Elementary about the same time last night.  The two are the only elementaries in the county on the state school-improvement list.

Crowded into a classroom, parents met Halstead’s new principal, Karen Blannard, taking over for Jill Carter, who was transferred to Halethorpe Elementary.  It was interesting how much some of the tension dropped once Blannard did a presentation explaining the position the school was now in: Halstead failed to make AYP for its special-education students, but met requirements in all other areas.  Blannard noted that attendance, which counts toward AYP, fell short by one-tenth of a point.  She and the many teachers present emphasized that they need parents’ help in improving the situation in the coming year.

A few other tidbits:

Continue reading "Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Parents

June 24, 2009

State Board of Education update

While the state Board of Education is still mulling over possible changes to the vetting process for city school board candidates, several other things came out of their meeting yesterday.

The board approved the restructuring plan for Baltimore's Moravia Park Elementary/Middle School, which will require all school employees to reapply for their jobs.  All the staff positions at Moravia have been posted and interviews and selections are already taking place, city schools CEO Andres Alonso said.

Alonso told members that he was happy to be there "for only one school,” noting six schools were brought before them the previous year, and more the year before that. Alonso said he saw that as a sign of the progress that's been made.

For those who've been asking about the MSAs: State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said during yesterday's meeting that the results have been sent to each district, and the appeals process has begun, as adequate yearly progress is being determined. Grasmick said the results should be reported at the board's meeting in July.

And finally, the "voluntary state curriculum" may officially become "voluntary" no more: Grasmick said the board will be asked to remove the word from all references to the VSC.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, NCLB

June 23, 2009

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" »

April 23, 2009

Closing the STEM gap

I filled in for my colleague on the higher ed beat yesterday and covered the STEM symposium at University of Maryland. Chancellor William Kirwan presented some staggering statistics about Maryland's preparation (or lack thereof) of math, science and technology teachers: The state's public schools need 500 a year, yet its colleges and universities are only producing 175, resulting in unqualified teachers filling gaps, often in the poorest schools. At least Kirwan is recognizing the problem and pledging to do something about it, hence the symposium.

It was my first time seeing Arne Duncan live. He didn't say too much that I haven't read about him saying before, but for the sake of putting it on the record here on InsideEd: He wants a longer school day, week and year. He wants to keep the data disaggregation that NCLB requires but stop letting each state develop its own standardized tests. In other words, he wants to standardize the goal but provide more flexibility in how to get there. He kind of reminded me of Dr. Alonso when he said he wants to give states autonomy to reach a uniform goal and hold them accountable for the results. He also said he wants to be judged on the country improving its high school graduation rate and getting more students through college.

Nancy Grasmick was at the symposium. She said Duncan will be bringing states together to develop uniform assessments, and Maryland will be a part of the process. Both Grasmick and Kirwan were very impressed with a program out of the University of Texas called UTeach to recruit math, science and computer teachers and would like to bring some version of it to Maryland.

UPDATE: Alonso e-mailed this Wall Street Journal op-ed by Duncan to city teachers this week.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Teaching, Testing

March 10, 2009

Changes at Dundalk High School

Tonight, the Baltimore County school board is supposed to consider a plan to give Dundalk High School something of a makeover - or what is officially called an "alternative governance plan."

As I mention in today's story, Dundalk has already had a new principal since July - and school officials are now in the process of interviewing and selecting teachers to replace the 20 to 25 percent who are leaving. Several other changes already have been made during this school year, including the use of a 90-minute daily reading instruction program to improve student performance in that area; HSA tutoring after school, Saturdays and in the summer; and professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs.

But there are a number of other steps proposed in the plan, which officials were required to develop because Dundalk has not made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for its graduation rate, special education students and English language learners over the past five years (at different times).

Those steps include:

*Changing the department chairs in core subjects to 12-month employees, to enhance their effectiveness

*Collaborating more with fellow English-language-learner programs.  Dundalk is an ELL cluster school.

*Increasing the number of advanced placement courses offered. The plan includes a goal of raising the number of students enrolled in honors, gifted-and-talented and AP classes by 10 percent each year.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

February 13, 2009

National reading expert comes to Baltimore County

A group of Baltimore County educators spent today in reading presentations by literacy expert Dr. Richard Allington, whom I spoke with for a recent story about independent reading programs.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston introduced Allington, a professor of literacy studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as "the Bill Gates of reading."

He added that Allington is one of the few individuals in the country who truly understands the significance of that skill and has mastered the teaching of it -- "and is willing to share it with those of us who are in the trenches."

Allington does not mince words when it comes to his belief in the importance of properly teaching children how to read: allowing them to read what interests them, and giving them access to such material at their reading levels.

His morning session to BCPS administrators and principals did not spare anyone, as he condemned widely used, "one size fits all" reading programs that, he said, essentially do nothing for children. I thought I’d share some of his noteworthy observations here, as well as some references and links to material he cited during his presentation.

Continue reading "National reading expert comes to Baltimore County" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:13 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, SpecialEd, Teaching, Testing

January 9, 2009

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

November 2, 2008

High School Assessments: Are they finally for real?

In the ongoing saga that is the High School Assessments, my story in today's paper takes a look at how Baltimore County is tackling the 1,000+ students in the Class of 2009 who have yet to meet the test requirements for graduation.

An interesting theme developed as I spoke with principals about the work their schools have been doing with these students.  Several mentioned that one of the obstacles in this process has involved simply getting students to buy into the fact that these tests really do matter - and could keep them from graduating.

Sometimes, Parkville High Principal Stephen Edgar told me, "it's not about ability or their lack of ability.  It's about whether they take the test seriously or not."

Barbara Cheswick, the principal at New Town High, said she was "thrilled" to hear the state board had voted down a proposal to delay the HSA graduation requirement - in part because, since the tests' introduction, students haven't always bought into the fact that they were "the real thing."

Getting parents involved and aware of these requirements - and where their kids stand - has been one way schools have tried to bring home the reality of the situation, Edgar said.  When parents are also working on HSA exercises with their children, he said, it sends a message about their importance, reinforcing what students have been hearing in school.

I'm curious what educators and parents in other school systems have encountered...and what role they think student buy-in has played with the HSAs up until now.  Do you think the state's vote to maintain the graduation requirement will nix student doubts and get them to take these exams seriously?
Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

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 3, 2008

Weast and Grasmick spar over HSAs

Boy, have the words gotten angry between Jerry D. Weast, Montgomery County's school superintendent, and Nancy Grasmick, the state schools chief, over the High School Assessments.

Weast has objected before to aspects of the high-stakes tests that this year's seniors will have to pass before they can graduate in May, but this latest letter on Sept. 22 was written with unusually confrontational language. Weast wrote Grasmick saying that she ought to go easy on schools where a certain group of special education students hadn't been able to pass a new version of the High School Assessments.

Continue reading "Weast and Grasmick spar over HSAs" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:19 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

September 25, 2008

First results of the statewide science tests

More than half of the state's fifth and eighth graders passed the first science test given to students last year, according to results released this week by state officials.

The tests haven't gotten much attention recently because of the bottom line: They don't really count. Unlike the annual reading and math scores, which count toward whether a school attains the adequate yearly progress required under No Child Left Behind, the science tests are given to inform the public about how well their school may be teaching science.

Across the state, 64 percent of fifth graders and 61 percent of eighth graders were able to pass the tests. Those numbers are on par with how students scored when they first took the math and reading tests in 2003.

There is likely to be a shift in how some fifth- and eighth-grade teachers teach math, however, as they keep their lessons geared toward covering the material in the state's curriclum.

The results from the science tests aren't yet availabe on the state's Web site.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

September 23, 2008

Help for failing schools

The Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based non-profit that has closely monitored just how No Child Left Behind is working, says in a report released today that the federal and state governments aren't doing enough to help failing schools find solutions to improve.

The bottom line is there is no one solution that is working to fix broken schools in America. That doesn't mean nothing is working, but that you can't use the same game plan at one school in Maryland that you use in another in Georgia and expect the same result.

CEP calls for the feds to come up with other choices than the ones that currently exist for schools to use to improve achievement. They also caution that the fix most often used in Maryland -- getting rid of staff and the principal -- may not work very well if there isn't a lot of support for the new principal to hire new staff. CEP found some principals at these schools said they spent so much time hiring new teachers over the summer that they had little time for developing strategies to improve instruction. So CEP said the school district has to take on some of that responsibility for recruiting new teachers. In addition, there has to be a ready supply of highly qualified teachers in the area or all a school is doing is replacing existing staff with untrained newbies.

In addition, CEP says that there are still many schools that go through a process of restructuring that don't get any better. So there has to be a national focus on what to do -- besides punish -- schools that have been bad for five or eight or 10 years and aren't improving.

The CEP study is interesting because they have spent years studying five states in depth and one of them is Maryland. For those policy wonks and other educators who are intensely interested in the work of improving schools, here's the link.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

September 12, 2008

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?

August 14, 2008

The results are in: AYP 2008

Today, MSDE released the annual list of elementary and middle schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress, based on their Maryland School Assessment test results.  Seven school systems - including Carroll - had all of their elementary and middle schools meet AYP.

Check out the list for the entire state.  You'll notice the new labeling system that's being used this year. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:16 PM | | Comments (2)

July 14, 2008

MSA scores on the way

Stay tuned to The Sun and the state's Web site tomorrow for the release of this year's Maryland School Assessment results. Find coverage, including a database, about previous years here.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, NCLB, Testing

July 3, 2008

For W.E.B. DuBois, it paid to be persistently dangerous

As I report in today's paper, W.E.B. DuBois High in Baltimore has been awarded a $3.7 federal grant to improve mentoring and student work opportunities. It is one of nine "persistently dangerous" high schools nationwide to receive a multi-million-dollar grant from the federal labor department.

No Child Left Behind leaves it to the states to define what it means to be a "persistently dangerous" school.   In Maryland in general and Baltimore in particular (where all of Maryland's persistently dangerous schools are located), people complain a lot that the state makes it easier than most for a school to earn the dubious label. There are several downsides to that: Schools have an incentive not to suspend students for violent offenses (here, it's the suspension numbers that count against you). If violent schools do report their numbers accurately, they are rewarded with public humiliation.

In this case, though, it paid to be persistently dangerous. While many schools could use a grant for mentoring and internships, only persistently dangerous schools were eligible to apply.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

June 25, 2008

Study shows shrinking achievement gaps

The Center on Education Policy, a Washington think tank that's become the leading non-partisan analyst on all matters No Child Left Behind, issued a report yesterday that's bound to make Bush administration officials smile. Called "Has Student Achievement Increased Since 2002?: State Test Score Trends Through 2006-07," the report analyzed state test data as well as the results of the only standardized test administered nationwide, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (called NAEP). And it concluded that, yes, for the nation as a whole, test scores are up and achievement gaps have narrowed since the federal law was enacted, though there's still a long way to go.

In Maryland, the report found that the percentage of students passing the standardized tests grew at a "moderate to large rate" in reading and math in nearly every grade level analyzed. The exception was high school math, where -- the report says -- too few years of data were available to determine a trend. 

The gap between the performance of Maryland's African-American and white students narrowed in every grade analyzed in reading. In math, that gap narrowed in elementary school but widened in middle school.

A variety of interest groups quickly issued statements reacting to the study's findings. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, criticized the study for not taking into account the results of the international tests known as PISA and PIRLS, which show the performance of American students declining in every grade and subject since the passage of No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, the nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, said the study was proof that American educators are making an impact in spite of NCLB.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

June 24, 2008

A realistic portrait of Frederick Douglass High

To those of you who work in, attend or send your child to one of Baltimore's tougher schools, last night's "Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card" on HBO probably didn't bring many surprises. To the large portion of middle-class America that has no direct interaction with inner-city schools -- and that includes many of the members of Congress who will be charged with reauthorizing NCLB -- it's a real eye-opener. I hope the politicians were watching.

In two hours, the documentary covers virtually every challenge facing an urban school. The boy repeating ninth grade who refused to go to his remedial reading class. The statistics on how many ninth-graders need remedial reading -- all but three or four of more than 300 tested, and most come in at a third-, fourth- or fifth-grade level. The virtually empty classrooms on back-to-school night. The tardiness, the hall wandering and truancy (200-300 absent daily in a school of 1,100). The girl who just had a baby and was feeling overwhelmed to be back at school. The frustrated, overwhelmed teacher who quit in the middle of the year. The fights. The fact that only half of the school's 500 freshmen would return for sophomore year. The fact that 66 percent of the school's teachers were not certified. The boy who told his teacher to pass him for doing "nothin'."  The dismal SAT scores (one student scored a 440 out of 1,600, and you get 200 points for writing your name; only one student in the school scored above 1,000). The students who sat for the High School Assessments but didn't write anything (this was before the tests counted for graduation, but they still counted for a school's AYP). The pressure at the end of the year for teachers to pass failing seniors: Within a few days, the school went from having 138 eligible graduates to 200. The triumph of graduation for students from unspeakably awful home lives: One boy didn't need any graduation tickets because he didn't have anyone to come.

The film also touches on the triumphs of the school, though there are fewer. It takes you inside the classroom of an excellent teacher. It features the school's award-winning music program. It follows a student on the debate team who's determined to make something of his life.

Of all the schools in America to feature in a film like this, Frederick Douglass was a symbolic choice. It is the alma mater of Thurgood Marshall, and more than a half-century after Marshall won the Brown vs. Board of Ed case, Douglass is still a school that's separate and unequal. No Child Left Behind provides the backdrop for "Hard Times," but the film could just as easily stand as a profile of the school without that context. Coincidentally (or not), after filming was completed -- the documentary was shot during the 2004-2005 school year -- Douglass became one of 11 Baltimore schools that the state tried to take over as a result of repeated years of failure on standardized tests. It was the first time a state attempted such drastic action under NCLB. The move was blocked by the General Assembly, and the school system restructured Douglass on its own, replacing the administration and implementing the Talent Development school model. I was surprised, though, that the film made it sound as though Isabelle Grant, the principal during the year the documentary was shot, was the one who was replaced. Grant was forced to resign during the 2005-2006 school year in connection with an academically ineligible student being allowed to play football and the school football team having to forfeit its first winning season since 1998. Students who looked to her like a mother were heartbroken when she left. The principal who replaced her was the one to be removed when the school was restructured.

Oscar-winning filmmakers Alan and Susan Raymond clearly spent a lot of time at the school to get students comfortable being around them and the camera. None of the scenes seemed like it would have played out any differently if the subjects weren't being videotaped. In an article in The Sun on Sunday, the Raymonds said the students were initially afraid the film would make them look dumb, and they had to spend time focusing on their successes as a result. But the overall picture is pretty bleak. I'd be interested to know (if anyone associated with Douglass is reading) the school's reaction to "Hard Times."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:41 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB

June 23, 2008

Douglass High documentary to air tonight

Just a reminder that tonight is the premiere of "Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card," showing at 9 p.m. on HBO. The documentary, shot in 2005, features West Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High. Promotional materials refer to it as a "sobering evaluation of America’s educational crisis." A press release says:

"Produced and directed by Oscar-winners Alan and Susan Raymond, Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card reveals troubles and triumphs in the classrooms, hallways and offices of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, MD – from the celebrations of drum lines and debate teams to the worries of faculty who know that 50% of their freshman will not return for their sophomore year."

A clip from the documentary is here. The Sun's review is here, and a story about how the film was made is here.

I'll be tuning in tonight and will post thoughts on the documentary tomorrow. In the meantime, keep reading to see a story I wrote two years ago about the challenges Douglass faced during the 2005-2006 school year.

Continue reading "Douglass High documentary to air tonight" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB

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

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 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

March 27, 2008

What are your gripes with NCLB?

Yesterday, after an hourlong discussion where Raymond Simon, deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, met with 19 of Maryland's high-ranking educators and fielded their questions and concerns about the No Child Left Behind Act, several superintendents were left dissatisfied.

While some said they were pleased with the opportunity to dialogue about some of the problems associated with the act, they also said that they were not pleased with some of Simon's responses.

During the discussion, the educators spoke about the shortage of qualified teachers, financial hardships caused by trying to meet the act's goals, and the challenge of closing the achievement gap for foreign-born students and special education students.

Sydney L. Cousin, superintendent of Howard County Schools, asked Simon about providing more testing flexibility for foreign-born students who are learning English.

Cousin explained that research shows that it takes five to seven years for foreign-born students to become fluent enough to take tests in English, yet No Child Left Behind gives them a one-year waiver before applying their test scores as part of a local school's achievement.

Simon launched into a spiel about holding accountable students who have grown up in this country.

Anne Arundel's Superintendent Dr. Kevin Maxwell immediately clarified that Cousin was talking about immigrant students.

“That is an issue that many of us are grappling with,” Maxwell said.

Simon responded that the one-year waiver was the result of a compromise between the federal government, local school systems, and advocates for foreign-born students. He also said that some schools have been able to offer assessment tests in the student’s native language. (Most of the superintendents appeared to be unaware of this option.)

Maxwell later said that Simon did not address the issue.

“I was a little disappointed by the response,” he said.

Cousin also wasn’t pleased with the response, but he said he did not have high expectations for the discussion.

"Given the limited amount of time, there really wasn't an opportunity to go into depth," Cousin said. "I don't know if that was the right forum."

Cousin was impressed by the fact that Simon wanted to meet with local superintendents.

"At least they said they want to hear what we have to say," Cousin said. "The follow-up is the critical question."

If you had the opportunity to talk to Simon about No Child Left Behind, what would you say? One reader e-mailed this morning and said he would have questioned Simon about the achievement gap among African-American students.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, Howard County, NCLB

March 26, 2008

Jonathan Kozol coming to Goucher

The renowned author on educational inequality, who waged a hunger strike last fall to protest No Child Left Behind, will speak at Goucher College at 8 p.m. April 16 in the Haebler Memorial Chapel. His talk, called "The Soul of a Profession," is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance. Call 410-337-6333 or email

Kozol is speaking in honor of Goucher education professor Eli Velder's 50th anniversary with the college.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)

March 21, 2008

Feds to test growth models under NCLB

Now that the city schools are on vacation, I can turn my attention to the world outside Baltimore...

There was big news in the world of No Child Left Behind this week. U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings invited states to submit proposals to hold schools accountable under NCLB based on progress rather than overall scores. The federal government is looking to try these "growth models" in up to 10 states, and Maryland is one of five that's getting preference. (Spellings, who once called herself president of the Nancy Grasmick fan club, said the state has been a leader in accountability. Her remarks from this week are here.)

In response to the Spellings announcement, the nation's largest teachers union -- the National Education Association -- issued a statement saying the plan addresses "one of the major one-size-fits-all flaws of NCLB" and calling it a "long overdue step in the right direction."

"While we welcome the news, it comes more than six years after the law was enacted and less than a year before the Bush administration leaves office," the NEA statement says.

The second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, wasn't as kind. "This pilot program would not even begin to address the major problems with the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)," the AFT's statement says. "The proposal does nothing to fix NCLB’s adequate yearly progress formula, a poor measure of school quality. Nor does it change NCLB’s wrong-headed approach -- providing punishment instead of help -- to schools and students that are struggling." The statement concludes that NCLB "is in need of a dramatic overhaul and cannot be patched up with Band-Aids and pilot programs."

Which side (if either) do you agree with?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB

March 11, 2008

Wanted: Teachers to help turn around failing schools

Baltimore County school officials today posted openings for all of the teaching jobs at Woodlawn High School, Lansdowne Middle School and Southwest Academy. The hiring spree is part of the system's restructuring process, the result of years of failing to meet state benchmarks in reading and math.

As many of you already know, the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools that fail to reach federal standards after five consecutive years to enter the restructuring planning stage. Failing schools must develop a plan to replace most or all of the staff, reopen as a charter school, contract with a private entity or bring in a "distinguished principal" from another district.

Anyone planning to apply?

Posted by Gina Davis at 5:04 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Teaching

March 4, 2008

"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

February 14, 2008

Study says NCLB is increasing dropout rate

There is an interesting new study out from Rice University and the Unversity of Texas-Austin.

Researchers found that the state that was the model for No Child Left Behind -- Texas -- loses about 271,000 students a year. And most of those students are African-American, Latino and students for whom English is a second language.

The researchers said pressure on principals and teachers to have high pass rates on state tests has led to higher dropout rates.

"High stakes, test-based accountability doesn't lead to school improvement or equitable educational possibilities," said Linda McSpadden McNeil, director of the Center for Education at Rice. "It leads to avoidable losses of students. Inherently the system creates a dilemma for principals: comply or educate."

A full copy of the study is here.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:07 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

January 9, 2008

Teachers, administrators cheating everywhere

It seems like everywhere I turn I’m reading about educators connected to cheating scandals.

This story in USA Today deals with a former national Principal of the Year, who resigned in connection with a case of alleged cheating and grade-tampering.

Last March, I wrote a story about the Maryland State Department of Education’s efforts to ensure security of the Maryland State Assessments when it randomly dispatched monitors to 45 schools.

The action dovetailed with reports of cheating the year before in Carroll and Charles counties.

Surrounding states were no different.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education sent out monitors to 3,120 schools last year -- for the first time -- to observe the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests. The New Jersey Department of Education, ripe with its own cheating scandals, increased its monitors by an undisclosed number. And the District of Columbia public school system used additional monitors. 

State assessment tests have added weight because of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which requires schools to increase assessment test scores each year.

Experts say that the added emphasis placed on assessment tests has led to some of the cheating. 

What do you think? Are the pressures caused by NCLB to blame for the improprieties?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, NCLB, Testing, Trends

December 14, 2007

A principal problem

In my story today, I write about a new study that found middle schools with the greatest needs in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties had the least experienced principals and suffer from high turnover among principals.

The study was done by the Advocates for Children and Youth, a Baltimore-based nonprofit. It looked at middle schools with the highest poverty rates and lowest test scores in the three jurisdictions. It made several disturbing revelations:

In Baltimore City alone, nine of the 10 middle schools that the study examined had at least one change in principal --- and eight of them experienced two or more changes --- from 2003 to 2007. Half of the schools had three or more new principals during that time.

In Baltimore County, where 10 of the district's 27 middle schools were examined, half had at least one change in principal and 20 percent had two or more changes during the five-year period.

And nearly 80 percent of the middle schools evaluated in Prince George's County had at least one change in principal, and one school went through five principals, in the five years.

Booker T. Washington Middle School in Baltimore had four principals during the study's period, while Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County has had three.

While some may quibble with whether bonuses are the answer, most everyone agrees that turning around a failing school takes energy and time --- and commitment. The bottom line, it seems, is that school systems need to give the leaders of its most challenging schools a reason to stick around long enough to make a difference.

Or, as Terrylynn Tyrell, the ACY's education director, put it:

"Its a matter of paying now, or paying later. The cost is so much smaller if we pay now."

Click here to read the ACY's full report.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

December 4, 2007

U.S. students scores mediocre

There is more bad news about how our students stack up next to their peers in other nations today. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development just released the results of its assessment of the skills of 15-year-olds in science, math and reading in the major industrialized nations. There were 57 nations that participated, 30 members of the OECD.

Our scores were flat since 2003 and continue to be below the average of of the 30 OECD countries and in the middle of all the countries where students were tested.

Here is what the U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, had to say in a press release that arrived this morning.

"While disappointing, it speaks to what President Bush has long been advocating for: more rigor in our nation's high schools; additional resources for advanced courses to prepare students for college-level studies; and stronger math and science education. In fact, students are being assessed in science Under No Child Left Behind this school year. And, the President has proposed making science assessments an element of states' accountability calculations.

I wonder what teachers and principals out there believe? Do you think more testing in science would improve teaching and knowledge?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!, Testing

November 28, 2007

Suspicious numbers not so suspicious

I guess I qualify as what Sara calls an "old timer" because I do remember why the suspension rate went down abruptly in the city during the 2004-2005 school year.

The city school system was trying to avoid having its schools labeled "presistently dangerous" under No Child Left Behind. Principals and teachers told us that year that the city school administration had warned them to stop suspending so many students because they feared too many schools would receive the designation the following year.

The problem was that teachers weren't given any training or help in reducing misbehavior in the classroom. So teachers reported that when students misbehaved and were sent to the office, nothing happened. Students weren't being suspended, even for serious infractions, and so began an escalation of violence in the schools.

Some readers may remember a rash of fires in high schools and middle schools as well as an increase in fights that year. Fire engines began parking in front of some schools, like Walbrook High School, for most of the school day. Eventually, the violence subsided, but schools in the city did get the dangerous label.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

November 27, 2007

Imperfect choices for overhauling school?

Faced with planning an academic overhaul of Woodlawn High School, principal Edward D. Weglein acknowledged in a recent interview (in my story this week) that of the strategies being considered, "there's no real perfect answer."

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that fail to reach state standards after five consecutive years enter the restructuring planning stage. Failing schools must develop a plan to replace most or all of the staff, reopen as a charter school, contract with a private entity or bring in a "distinguished principal" from another district.

With little data on which of the options has proven most successful, Weglein and other school system officials are facing a difficult choice. Teachers are understandably concerned about what this means to their job security. Parents are worried about how this will affect their children.

Which option do you think is the best course of action?

Continue reading "Imperfect choices for overhauling school?" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Parents

November 19, 2007

Enrichment courses on the chopping block?

I was thrilled recently when I heard about the journalism club at New Town High School in Owings Mills. But the thrill was fleeting, as I found out in the same conversation with a teacher there that the club is all that's left for students after the school's journalism class was eliminated this year to make room in students' schedules for tutoring classes to help them pass High School Assessments. As most of you know, HSAs are given in four subjects --- algebra, U.S. government, English and biology --- and are a requirement for graduation starting with the Class of 2009.

When my stepdaughter was in high school, she'd grumble about an unappealing course and ask, "Why do I need to take this?" I'd tell her, "School is as much about learning how to read and write as it is about learning where your interests lie." I told her it was important to try a range of subjects so she could figure out what to pursue in college and in life. The talks didn't necessarily help her like those unappealing courses any more --- for instance, she learned she really didn't like algebra as much as she thought she didn't --- but the point was, she stuck it out, learned a thing or two and lived to tell about it.

I'll probably be sorry that I asked, but what other examples do you know about of enrichment classes that have suffered the same fate as the journalism class at New Town High? Do you see it as a necessary move to ensure students are passing these high-stakes exams, or do you worry that students are losing out on opportunities to broaden their academic horizons?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Teaching, Testing, Trends

October 10, 2007

Interesting reading: Tested by Linda Perlstein

Barely a day goes by when I don't get a new education book in the mail, and -- truth be told -- most of those books go straight to The Sun's giveaway pile. But I held onto one that came a few weeks ago, called Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade.

The book was written by Linda Perlstein, whose work I greatly admired when she covered education for The Washington Post. For Tested, Perlstein spent a year at Tyler Heights Elementary in Annapolis, a school where the student population is largely poor and minority. She began her time at Tyler Heights when the principal and her staff were reveling in the news that their students had earned sky-high scores on the Maryland School Assessments, the tests mandated by No Child Left Behind. Immediately, they felt the heat to replicate that success the following year.

We often hear that No Child Left Behind is turning schools that serve impoverished kids into test-prep factories, at the expense of everything else. Tested goes inside one of those schools and shows us how that happens. It's particularly interesting in light of Eric Smith's appointment as Florida education commissioner this week. The story of Tyler Heights is part of the legacy he left behind in Anne Arundel County.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:44 AM | | Comments (1)

October 4, 2007

Passing Fantasies

Every summer and fall, we bombard you with percentages of how many students passed state tets in every school in the Baltimore metropolitan region. Some of you devour the numbers to see if your child's school is on track. Real estate agents pick up the numbers to sell homes near "good schools!"

But a study released today suggests those numbers might be playing tricks on us. States have too many different definitions of what it takes for a kid to pass, the report from the Washington D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute found.With such an "elastic yardstick", the Institute's vice president for national programs and policy Michael J. Petrilli says it's hard to measure whether American schoolchildren as a whole are really doing better in reading and math.

The study, "The Proficiency Illusion," found states have low expectations for elementary schoolchildren, in particular,  with the majority of states dramatically lowering standards under pressure to meet ever-rising demands under No Child Left Behind. (Remember, this is the law that spurred states to create lists of failing schools, complete with a complex hierarchy of sanctions including state takeover.) The report found a "walk to the middle," as some states with high standards dropped their expectations in order to meet the punitive federal law's mandate to have every child proficient by 2014.

Clear as mud, now? Ok, good. Let's continue.

Of the 26 states in the study, Maryland had among the lowest reading proficiency cut scores -- the number of questions students have to get right to pass the annual state tests. In fourth grade reading, Maryland ranked 22nd of 26. That means 20 other states had higher expectations in reading for their fourth-graders. In third grade reading, Maryland ranked 16th of 26. In fifth grade, 20th. 21st in sixth grade, 20th in 7th grade and 18th in eighth grade. The report also found that tests were too easy in the early grades, making it easy for elementary schoolchildren to pass them, but making it hard for the same children to pass the state test in middle school, even if they stayed on track academically.      

The study joins a growing chorus of critics who say No Child Left Behind needs to soften its edict for 100 percent proficiency and the study might also provide fuel for a new bill in Congress that seeks to create a national standard for passing and national tests, so parents, policymakers and educators alike can be sure that it takes the same to pass a test in Maryland than in does in Washington state.

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB

October 1, 2007

Unlucky Seven

We told you on Friday about the 13 high schools that got off the list of failing schools because they met state standards for two years in a row. Well, here is a list of schools that the state doesn't advertise in its press release: seven schools that were added. They come from all over the state.

   Northeast High in Cecil County

    Edgewood High in Harford County

    Stephen Knolls School in Montgomery County

    Crisfield High in Somerset County

    In Baltimore City, there were three: Homeland Security High School, Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts Academy. The Liberal Arts Academy closed down this summer.  

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB

September 28, 2007

Lucky 13: Schools Taken Off Improvement List

Thirteen schools – including four Baltimore County high schools, and one high school each in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City –- have made enough progress over the past two years to be removed from the school improvement list, according to the Maryland Department of Education.

The schools are:
Anne Arundel County
North County High School
Baltimore County
Chesapeake High School
Owings Mills High School
Parkville High School and Center for Math/Science
Randallstown High School
Prince George’s County
Bowie High School
Frederick Douglass High School
Gwynn Park High School
Laurel High School
Potomac High School
Suitland High School
Surrattsville High School
Baltimore City
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

 State officials say that improvement on the algebra and English High School Assessments resulted in accomplishment.

“Students are taking the High School Assessments seriously, and that has paid off for everyone,” State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in a press release. “Targets rise every year, making the process that much tougher. But when so many schools succeed, we know the work is paying off.”

In addition, more than 70 percent of Maryland high schools achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), according to data  released today by the state on the Maryland Report Card Web site.  AYP, the yardstick under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is used to determine whether children can transfer to higher-performing schools. It also can affect federal funding to schools.Overall, nearly 80 percent of Maryland schools made AYP in 2007. 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB

September 27, 2007

State of the superintendency

Some interesting tidbits from "The State of the American School Superintendency," a report released this week by the American Association of School Administrators:

-- More than 20 percent of superintendents in 2006 were women, up from 16 percent in 2000 and 6.6 percent in 1992. 

-- A majority of superintendents believe that No Child Left Behind has had a negative effect on the nation's schools.

-- Mean tenure for superintendents is 5.5 years; median tenure is near six years.

Get more information on the study here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:21 AM | | Comments (0)

September 20, 2007

The cost of not doing more for Maryland's high schools

The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, offers some interesting calculations on how much struggling high schools --- and students who can't graduate --- are costing Maryland. Read this statement that the organization issued today:




Federal Government Can Help by Expanding No Child Left Behind

to Include Resources and Support for High Schools


    Washington, D.C. – This is a watershed year for American education, with Congress currently working on a renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act.  In 2004, the last year for which data is available, only 75 percent of Maryland’s students graduated from high school on time.  And about 31 percent of the students in Maryland who started ninth grade earlier this month read so far below grade level that they are at serious risk of not graduating in four years. 

    “The poor graduation rate is a wake-up call that we can and must do more to help our high school students,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “All of us pay the price – not just the dropout, who is looking at a severely limited future, but also the rest of us, who need these new members of the workforce prepared to support the nation in a twenty-first century world that is becoming more and more competitive."

The Alliance for Excellent Education, to help illustrate the potential economic benefits of an improved high school system that better prepares all high school students to graduate prepared for college and work, calculates that: 

Maryland would save more than $307 million in health care costs for each class of dropouts, over their lifetimes, had these dropouts stayed in school and earned their diplomas.

Maryland households would have over $1.1 billion more in accumulated wealth if all heads of households had graduated from high school.

If Maryland’s high schools graduated all students ready for college, the state would save almost $80 million a year in community college remediation costs and lost earnings.

Maryland’s economy would see a combination of savings and revenue of more than $211 million in reduced crime spending and increased earnings each year if the male high school graduation rate increased by just 5 percent.

Wise said, “While well-intentioned, the current NCLB simply does not address the dropout problem and permits far too many students to leave high school without an adequate education.  Congress has the opportunity, right at this moment, to ensure that the law extends to all students.  Now is the time to build on the ideals of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and pass legislation that leads the nation toward ‘every child a graduate.’"

Posted by Gina Davis at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB, Study, study!

September 12, 2007

Starving over NCLB

Author Jonathan Kozol, whose classic Savage Inequalities inspired me eight years ago to become an education reporter, is on a hunger strike protesting the damage being done to inner-city children by the No Child Left Behind Act.

No Child Left Behind, as all you educators out there know, is up for reauthorization in Congress. That means, as Kozol puts it this week in a blog entry
 for Huffington Post, "Congress will either renew, abolish, or, as thousands of teachers pray, radically revise in the weeks immediately ahead."

Kozol explains in the post why he believes the law is doing "vicious damage" to inner-city children:

"The poisonous essence of this law lies in the mania of obsessive testing it has forced upon our nation's schools and, in the case of underfunded, overcrowded inner-city schools, the miserable drill-and-kill curriculum of robotic "teaching to the test" it has imposed on teachers, the best of whom are fleeing from these schools because they know that this debased curriculum would never have been tolerated in the good suburban schools that they, themselves, attended.

"The justification for this law was the presumptuous and ignorant determination by the White House that our urban schools are, for the most part, staffed by mediocre drones who will suddenly become terrific teachers if we place a sword of terror just above their heads and threaten them with penalties if they do not pump their students' scores by using proto-military methods of instruction -- scripted texts and hand-held timers -- that will rescue them from doing any thinking of their own."

Yikes. So, will a hunger strike make a difference? Kozol writes that he's eaten mostly small amounts of liquid foods for more than two months, during which time he's dropped 29 pounds. Readers of Huffington Post are divided on the wisdom of such a strategy. What do you think? And what would you like to see happen to No Child Left Behind?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB

August 13, 2007

Report questions "persistently dangerous" school label

The inspector general's office at the federal education department is questioning the provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that labels schools "persistently dangerous."

The law leaves it up to states to determine what constitutes a persistently dangerous school, and as a result, most states have made the definitions so strict that they don't have any. Maryland is one of only seven states in the nation that has used the label. Late last month, it designated five Baltimore middle and high schools "persistently dangerous," despite the concern of some state school board members that the label is unfair.

Because Maryland defines persistently dangerous schools according to the number of suspensions for violent offenses, teachers and principals around the state report that kids aren't being suspended when they should be or that suspensions aren't being recorded properly. 

The inspector general's report says the provision of the law "has not advanced the national effort to ensure students a safe school environment."

William Modzeleski, the second-in-command in the federal education department’s office of safe and drug-free schools, told Education Week that the department will consider the report as it makes its recommendations to Congress on the provision. (No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization this year.) He said there is concern "that the states have set the bars too high" for determining what is an unsafe school

“This is definitely an issue that should be closely reviewed,” Modzeleski told Education Week. “Philosophically, I don’t think there’s much disagreement on why the provision is there, but there is a lot of discussion around what constitutes a safe school and what constitutes an unsafe school.”

Education Week's story about the report is available here. And the federal report is available online at:

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB

August 8, 2007

No child left... where?

No Child Left Inside is the name of the legislation recently introduced by U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes. As the Maryland congressman's press release explains, the No Child Left Behind Act has led to such emphasis on standardized tests that school kids aren't getting outside much anymore for recess, field trips and "outdoor environmental activities." No Child Left Inside would change that, requiring states to submit plans showing the "environmental literacy" of their high school graduates and providing new money both for states to advance environmental education and for teacher training in the subject. Sarbanes intends for the legislation to be included in the reauthorized version of No Child Left Behind. It's being backed by the "No Child Left Inside Coalition," made up of groups including the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Sarbanes isn't the only one who thinks the slogan is catchy. In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell has launched the No Child Left Inside initiative to encourage families to visit the state's parks and other outdoor attractions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:48 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: NCLB

June 29, 2007

Tutoring helping in Baltimore... maybe

Baltimore was one of nine urban school systems included in a federal study released this week that found that the tutoring for poor students is improving standardized test scores.

But is it helping here? We don't know.

As the Associated Press reported, the study did not say which of the systems were having success and which weren't. Two of the systems showed no change in test scores, and the results in another two were not used because of the small number of students being tutored.

The tutoring is mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization in Congress this year. Under the law, schools serving a large number of poor students must offer free outside tutoring if they fail to meet academic benchmarks on state tests for three years in a row.

The study is online at

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:58 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, NCLB

June 7, 2007

Rising Test Scores

  A new report out this week from the well regarded Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C,. is likely to be used by both sides in the wars over testing to prove their point of view.

   CEP, which is a non-partison education group that has been following No Child Left Behind Act, analysed test data from all 50 states since the law was enacted in 2002.

   Student achievement in reading and math has increased particularly in the elementary grades, since the federal law was passed, the report says. However, the report draws no judgements about whether the increases are the result of NCLB. Other factors, including increased learning, more lenient tests and changes in who is tested, may be responsible for the increases, CEP says.

 But that didn't stop the U.S. Department of Education from claiming a victory. Here is a quote from the department's press release:  "The study confirms that No Child Left Behind has struck a chord of success with our nation's schools and students," said U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "We know the law is working, now it is time to reauthorize NCLB."

 The data on Maryland shows gains over the period, as has been reported every year by the Maryland Department of Education.

   To see a copy of the report go to For press reports on the report, go to,1,6441138.story, the Los Angeles Times story on the subject.

    If you are interested in the next round of test score releases in Maryland, they are coming in the month of June. These are tests given last March to students in grades 3 through 8.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: NCLB
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