April 9, 2010

Outsourcing Grading

My jaw dropped when I saw this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about how some college professors have begun to outsource the grading of papers.

According to the article: "the goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task—and even, the company says, to do it better than TA's can."

One professor quoted in the story said that she outsources grading to allow her to provide expert feedback. (The company would not provide The Chronicle Of Higher Education with the names and degress of its employee.) 

I have to admit that I was kind of shocked when I started reading the article. My knee jerk reaction was that the professors who use this are lazy. I'm not sure I've changed my mind about that initial thought. 


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:27 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Teaching

October 19, 2009

"Wiki fever" in Baltimore County and beyond

My story in today's paper takes a look at the increasing use of the Web 2.0 tool known as a wiki (not to be confused with Wikipedia, which is certainly in the same family).  These online spaces, which allow people to modify, contribute to and comment on content, are starting to take off in schools throughout Baltimore County, as well as the Carroll and Anne Arundel school systems.

You can check out Carroll's pilot wiki, done by social studies students at Northwest Middle last school year, to get an idea of what one looks like.

Teachers at Catonsville Middle, where I had the chance to observe a wiki lesson, say they have already noticed more engagement and interest among students - and several of the kids I spoke with were very much in favor of ditching traditional, hand-written class assignments for good. (I wonder how teachers and parents feel about that.)

One thing I found particularly interesting in all of this is how schools are working to teach students about Web etiquette, training them to flex their digital muscles with care.  Could these kids help usher in a new era of online civility?  Or is it too much to hope such lessons in polite discourse will stay with them?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:27 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 16, 2009

Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers

Today I sat in on an annual conference for gifted-and-talented educators at Randallstown High School, which drew teachers from throughout the state.  There were a variety of sessions on ways to inspire creativity and critical thinking among students in math, science, reading and other areas - led by teachers from various area school systems. 

The keynote speaker was Dr. Bertie Kingore, a longtime gifted-and-talented educator who also held a session on books and teaching tools.

I thought I'd share some very interesting tips/tidbits from her session and another I attended - some of which could certainly apply to all types of students (or so this non-educator thinks).

A sample of Dr. Kingore's recommended children's books that promote higher-level thinking:

  • First the Egg, Courage and If the World Were a Village for abstract and critical thinking
  • My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks, If... and The Dot for art, visual and spatial concepts
  • Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories and Winston the Book Wolf for inference
  • If You Hopped Like a Frog, A Place for Zero and Sir Cumference Series for math concepts and terminology
  • The Boy Who Loved Words, Once Upon 1001 Stories, Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes for oral and written language
  • I Wanna Iguana and Joyful Noise for the concept of point of view
  • Dear Deer (an exercise in homophones) and Pig in the Spigot for skills and written conventions

Kingore emphasized the importance of teachers documenting what they are doing - showing how they are covering the requirements (testing standards) even as they implement more creative strategies.

She also repeatedly reminded teachers to take Saturdays off.

After the reading workshop, I headed over to one whose title grabbed my attention - and evidently, that of the many teachers who crowded into the classroom: "The Singing Math Teacher."

Continue reading "Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:26 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

September 28, 2009

Riderwood Elementary's media specialist in action

The Red Reader, aka Bob HallettI recently wrote a story about Bob Hallett, a dynamic, quirky library-media specialist at Baltimore County's Riderwood Elementary who was recently diagnosed with a rare leukemia.  A few years ago, Hallett helped invent - and then play - a superhero called the Red Reader, who was part of a motivational reading show on the school system's Education Channel.

The folks at the Education Channel were kind enough to point us to one of Hallett's performances, this one on a show called Math Homework Helpers, in which he regularly gives voice to a puppet named Professor Q.

Just thought I'd share.

Professor Q on Math Homework Helpers



Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

September 14, 2009

Baltimore County to use progress-reporting system countywide

My story today highlights an online program in Baltimore County that outlines what students should be learning in every course - and includes a detailed progress-reporting system that tracks their progress in mastering those objectives. Even as students move from teacher to teacher and school to school, a running record is kept, showing the skills they have mastered and those they have yet to grasp.

The program, called the Articulated Instruction Module, also provides access to the district's entire curriculum, including sample lessons and questions that teachers can reference while crafting quizzes and tests. 

Even though the bulk of the county's teachers are in the process of learning how to use it, the module has been in place for several years at a few schools, particularly in the southwest area. This month, a couple thousand teachers are to be trained, and the school system expects the program to go countywide by the spring semester.  It is also supposed to be shared with all the other districts in the state for their own use.

The goal, according to county educator Barbara Dezmon, who created the program, is to ensure all children are receiving the same education, regardless of where they are going to school.  And having such a system also helps create some kind of record for homeless students, who sometimes are only at a school for a few days.

Several teachers I spoke with were looking forward to the benefits of the module: having a sense, from the beginning, of where their students need help - and the ability to access instructional resources.  But the teachers union has expressed some concerns about adding to workload.

What do you think?  Does the benefit of having much more detailed information about each student - for teachers and parents - outweigh whatever additional work might be involved?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:00 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, Teaching

September 3, 2009

Free range schooling

George Provine, 6 (left), brothers Lance, almost 4, and Miles, 17 months, and mother, Suzy, look at a salamander George caught in Patapsco State Park.Sun reporter Joe Burris wrote today about an offshoot of homeschooling, "unschooling," in which all of the child's experiences are incorporated in the learning process. Taking a trip to Patapsco State Park can have as much value as following, say, a Hooked On Phonics lesson plan, its proponents say.

There are skeptics. Teri Flemal, whose company helps parents find home teachers, is one of them:

"I'm reading e-mail from unschooling parents who think having their kids remodel their house with them is 'school.' I'm sorry, but it's not," Flemal said. "Painting, hammering, measuring - hey, that was great in primary school. I love that stuff.  

"But I can tell you that it will not hold these kids in good stead as they compete with home-schoolers who are creating model video games, requiring them to know the ballistics of how fast and at what angle the bullets need to travel to create an impression of a certain size on the wall, or perhaps the home-schooler who has written a symphony."

I'd have to agree. There's something to be said for letting children be themselves and thrive in an open learning environment, but kids also need some structure. But I don't have children. Let us know what you think about unschooling. Do you think it's a viable learning method?

Baltimore Sun photo / Algerina Perna

Posted by Maryann James at 11:44 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Teaching

August 18, 2009

Training new Baltimore County teachers

I dropped in on the three-day new-teacher orientation that started today at Randallstown High School, where about 650 newbies were being schooled on what it takes to be a teacher, of any stripe, in Baltimore County.

The hundreds filling the school’s auditorium were welcomed by a host of people: state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, county schools Superintendent Joe Hairston, County Executive Jim Smith, school board President JoAnn Murphy, TABCO President Cheryl Bost and PTA President Nancy Ostrow.

This isn’t my first teacher orientation, but I still get a small kick out of seeing teachers go through the same exercises they will make their students do in just a couple weeks: introducing themselves, sharing what their interests are, and their burning questions for the coming year.  These nervous but excited individuals going from room to room are like a preview of their future classes, toting brand new bags packed with materials and loads of information.

Before and during the practical sessions that gave teachers a blow-by-blow of the units they would be covering, along with some details on assessments, several folks – including Bost – emphasized the importance of building relationships with fellow instructors, with parents, with students.

Dr. Grasmick noted that nearly 100 of the newcomers are career-changers — which, she said, shows some “recognition of the rewards of teaching.”

She also said seeing the new faces serves as a reminder of her own start as a teacher, and the excitement she felt about the opening of school — a feeling that hasn’t diminished.

“There’s not a lot in life that has the beginning and end [like] a school year,” she said.  “It’s pretty thrilling.”

This Friday, Hairston is supposed to officially welcome back district supervisors, at Chesapeake High.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

June 19, 2009

Coming next week: Baltimore-area teachers to share their Space Academy experiences

During the week of June 22, InsideEd will feature reports for some very special correspondents.  Thirty-three elementary and middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area will be in Huntsville, Al. to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program.

These teachers applied for and were awarded scholarships for this week-long program, during which they'll take part in astronaut-style training and simulations, and work together on educational activities.  They will carry back what they learn from these experiences to their classrooms to help students gain a better appreciation for math and science.

Throughout their week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 8 of these educators will serve as "teacher/reporters" for InsideEd, sending us daily updates about what they're doing and what they're learning. 

Some of the teacher/reporters are also shooting video and taking photographs during the week.  After they get back, we'll collect these visuals and edit them into a presentation about the Space Academy that will be published on before the next school year begins.  That presentation will also include more information about the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that these teachers and others can use in the classroom. 

Our teacher/reporters for the week will be:

Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy

Susan Allen of Urbana Middle School

Sarah Clark of Franklin Middle School

Mary Horner of Notre Dame Preparatory School

Luis Lima of Baltimore City College

Rachel Murphy of Hereford Middle School

Adren Thompson of Rising Stars Academy

Amy Wood of the Maryland Science Center

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Teaching

May 5, 2009

Nicholas Greer's surprise

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

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

April 19, 2009

A case against "readicide"

Nancy Schnog, an English teacher in Potomac, has a commentary in today's paper about "readicide," defined as "the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools."

In response to the commentary, I got an e-mail today from a Baltimore school librarian who wrote that "getting kids to actually read anything is a constant struggle. I play the 'I have a great book for you game' every day all day. I sometimes think I am worse than a used car salesman in my selling tactics. BUT, kids need to be introduced to and sold on books. We need to give them choices of books, newspapers, magazines, ads, anything to hook them."

So how do you get kids to love reading in this age of standardized test prep? And where do you draw the line on the choices you give them? I feel like I'm beating a dead horse by bringing up the Studio Course debacle again, but part of the problem there was giving kids a choice deemed inappropriate (CosmoGirl magazine).

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:21 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Teaching

April 15, 2009

Do teachers hit a plateau?

The education reporters at AERA had breakfast yesterday morning with Jane Hannaway of the Urban Institute. She presented us with some research on teaching that I'm guessing will touch a nerve with some of you... She cited data showing that teachers get more effective, as measured by their students' test scores, for their first three to four years on the job, but then experience doesn't matter after that. So, she asked, why keep giving teachers annual raises when schools aren't getting a bigger return on productivity? She also said that a teacher's level of certification does not impact student test scores. Having a masters degree doesn't help, either, unless it's in a specific subject, namely math or science.

While it was hard for Hannaway to say what does make some teachers more effective than others, if not experience or advanced certification and degrees, she had data on the range of teacher effectiveness. The top 15 percent of teachers see their students make, on average, a year and a half worth of progress annually on standardized tests. The bottom 15 percent see an average annual growth of a half a year.

Hannaway was part of Urban's study on Teach for America that found TFA's secondary school teachers in North Carolina were more effective than their colleagues. There are policy implications to that, she said. Maybe it's OK to have a highly selective program that brings in teachers for a few years and gives them intensive support, even if it means that many of the teachers will leave after a few years. I asked about the social and emotional impact on children in the high-poverty areas that TFA serves, who rely on their teachers for more than just teaching. She said she's more concerned about the students moving than the teachers.

At a lecture I went to last night, Deborah Loewenberg Ball of University of Michigan said she's sick of hearing about the teacher plateau, which exists because of inadequate professional development for teachers after their first few years on the job. She made the case that schools of education at research universities should help fill that need.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:08 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Teaching

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 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

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 30, 2009

Maryland school rankings the politicians won't mention

So we all know that Maryland schools ranked No. 1 in the recent Education Week Quality Counts report. And in case we'd forgotten, Gov. O'Malley reminded us yesterday in his state of the state address. Now, some new rankings are out, highlighting what seems to be a pretty big weakness for Maryland: teacher recruitment and retention.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, which has had reports critical of Maryland education policy before and is headed by Maryland state school board member Kate Walsh, is giving the state a D-minus for its policies involving new teachers. In particular: Maryland gets an F for "identifying effective new teachers," a D-plus for "retaining effective new teachers," and a D-plus for "exiting ineffective new teachers." Look here to see how other states compare. The average grade was a D-plus.

Keep in mind that the "teaching profession" category was where Maryland fared worst in the EdWeek rankings. If you recall, even though we were No. 1, we only got a B grade overall, largely because our average was brought down by a C-minus in that category, which measured essentially the same thing as the council's new report.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Region, Teaching

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 25, 2008

Baltimore County teachers upset over latest no pay-raise vote

Members of the Baltimore County teachers union will be meeting tomorrow night to contemplate their response to a recent school board vote against a pay raise. Teachers are also planning to show up in full force at the next board meeting Oct. 7 to express their displeasure.

As I reported earlier this week, the board voted against accepting a mediation panel's recommendation to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase -- another step in an ongoing conflict that began with planning the budget for the current school year.

Cheryl Bost, the union president, said the group plans to discuss their possible responses tomorrow evening.  She said teachers do understand the dire financial situation the whole country is in, and that we are facing tough times all around.  But they also feel as though it's a question of budgeting priorities, she added.

Bost said she's gotten several e-mails from teachers saying they'll be leaving the county.  She herself has expressed concerns about remaining competitive so people want to stay -- or come -- to BCPS.

"The irritations are mounting," she said.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:59 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

August 20, 2008

Teacher of the Year finalists

This just in: The finalists for 2009 Maryland Teacher of the Year:

  • John Billingslea, Baltimore County
  • Mary Catherine Stephens, Carroll County
  • Sharon Thomas, Cecil County
  • William Thomas, Prince George’s County
  • Sharon Richards, Somerset County
  • Julie Harp, Talbot County
  • Debra Wilkins, Wicomico County
  • Amy Gallagher, Worcester County

The winner will be announced Oct. 3.  Check out the official word from MSDE.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:05 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

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 22, 2008

Another new teacher blog

This time, not only the blog but the teacher is new. Check out Inner-City Teaching to read about an Oregon transplant who's come to work in Baltimore schools. (He's student teaching this summer.)
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

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

July 2, 2008

Baltimore teacher starts a new blog

The Baltimore high school English teacher known as Epiphany in Baltimore has started a new blog dedicated solely to education issues.  It's called "Humbly I tried to learn, more humbly did I teach: Dispatches from the Land of the Puzzle Palace." (The title comes from the Langston Hughes poem "Teacher.") He's ending the Epiphany in Baltimore blog, which addressed both his professional and personal lives. As far as I know, the new blog will be the only one of its kind in Baltimore: dedicated exclusively to the city schools from a teacher's perspective and updated regularly. Baltimore Diary, like EiB, is a mix of personal and professional; Voice for School Truth has great insights but doesn't post often.

I've also been enjoying the new parent blog Surviving the System lately. And I was sorry for the student blog News From Room 123 to end this spring when the student authors graduated.

If anybody has any other education blogs, local or national, to recommend as we update our blogroll this summer, drop me a line.

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

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

May 6, 2008

Baltimore County's "grow your own" scholarship program

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is scheduled tomorrow to award the system's second annual round of scholarship loans to three graduating seniors who are aspiring teachers.

The program, which I wrote about last year, is based on a "grow your own" concept. The hope is that these students, who must earn a degree from an approved Maryland teacher education program, will return to the county to teach. The students must pledge one year of service in a priority or Title I school for each year they receive the scholarship loan, worth $4,000 each year.

This year's recipients, according to a school system press release, are:

-- Ryan Goff, an honor student at Eastern Technical High School. He is taking Advanced Placement classes in psychology, English literature, and calculus and is a varsity track and cross-country team member. He is a member of the SAT 1300 Club (with an SAT score of 1360). (Last year, Ryan’s sister Meghan received this scholarship.) Ryan plans to teach secondary math.

-- Brittany McNeal, an honor student at Dundalk High School, where she is treasurer of the Future Educators Association and a varsity field hockey player. She takes courses at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk. She is a member of her school’s Class of 2008 Steering Committee and Calculus Club, and volunteers with the Berkshire Area Community Association and Dundalk Renaissance Corp. Brittany plans to teach secondary math.

-- Malcolm Rowe, who plans to pursue technology education, has taken Advanced Placement psychology and environmental science courses and participated last year in Pikesville High School’s jazz and gospel choir. He volunteers with the Community Outreach Food Pantry.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Trends

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 2, 2008

Teachers work-to-rule

Hundreds of Baltimore County teachers yesterday participated in a work-to-rule job action to demonstrate how much the system relies upon the time they put in beyond their contracted hours.

One teacher, Natalie Avallone of Patapsco High School, wrote an open letter to her fellow teachers about why she decided to work-to-rule. Here's her letter, which she has given us permission to share:

"Why I will work to rule.

What’s the point? It’s not like it will make any difference to lawmakers, right?

I’ve heard this opinion from my fellow peers too many times to count. The sad thing is that it’s true. Jim Smith isn’t going to care one way or the other if I walk in at 7:00 am, when I usually arrive, or 7:30 when I am contractually required to be here. No delegates or board of education members will be watching as I leave the building at 2:30 with a stack of papers still to grade on my desk.

But, I wouldn’t be writing this now if I thought working to rule was totally useless. In fact, I think it is essential that we commit ourselves to this symbolic gesture because it isn’t the lawmakers we are trying to educate. Sadly, the only lesson they seem to be interested in learning is how to get re-elected.

As teachers we are dedicated to the lives and education of our students. Who among us would truly jeopardize that in the name of money? We came to this profession because we are passionate about learning, not about the paycheck. We are willing to accept a sub-standard professional salary because we believe in what we do and that it makes a difference. Yet, we deserve better. It is not fair that children should have to pay the price for the fiscal woes of the education system or the government that funds it. Most of our students do not even have the ability to control what their teachers make, not having the franchise to elect officials that would better support our teachers and educational system. And maybe that is why schools, year after year, struggle financially through fundraising to support the “extras” like publishing the school paper or purchasing athletic uniforms.

So, if I can’t sway the lawmakers by working to rule, who exactly am I trying to influence, you may ask? The voters. Yes, it all comes back to democracy. And you can thank your 8th grade social studies teacher because you knew my answer already – didn’t you. When I walk in at 7:30 am on April 1st, I hope the community surrounding my school is watching because it is them that I am trying to educate. And if there are teachers walking in to every Baltimore County school at 7:30 am on April 1st it isn’t just the neighbors that will notice, but the media. The parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors of our students need to understand why we deserve a fair salary so that when they step into that election booth each November, America’s future is first and foremost in their minds.

I want the voters of Baltimore County to realize that despite that “seven hour contract day,” there are teacher’s cars parked in the lot long before 7:30 am and well after 2:30 pm, every day, and not just on week days. That even though our contract grants us a half an hour duty free lunch, most of us spend it with our students. That even though we work ten months of the year, school runs through the summer and many teachers must work in order to offset the fact that for two months we don’t get a paycheck. That even if I pull out of the lot at 3:30 pm on a typical day to pick up my daughter at daycare, I do so carrying a bag of papers I still have to grade. That even though I have nine years of experience, a Master’s degree and National Board Certification, I have chosen to remain in Baltimore County because I love my school and not my paycheck.

With the third highest turnover rate in the state, quality teachers are leaving this district for better pay and more respect. My hope is that our “students” are paying attention on April 1st, because it is the state of the Baltimore County School System that is on the line. And as a teacher in that system, I want it to be the best school system that it can possibly be.

That is why I will work to rule on April 1st and you should, too."


Anyone else care to share whether they are working-to-rule and why? Drop us a line here at InsideEd.

Posted by Gina Davis at 10:47 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

March 28, 2008

Do Teach for America teachers get better results?

A new study by the Urban Institute says yes. The nonpartisan think tank studied achievement data in North Carolina high schools and found that students whose teachers were placed through Teach for America scored higher on math and science exams than their peers.

Teach for America, or TFA, selects graduates of the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities and assigns them to work in some of the nation's toughest schools for a two-year commitment. With 17,000 applicants, TFA placed more than 2,000 teachers in 2005 and expects its ranks to grow to 4,000 by 2010. While few would question the intelligence of the program's participants (several of whom work in Baltimore), critics have two major gripes: 1) that TFA is sending to our neediest schools teachers who are not only uncertified, but sometimes culturally unprepared for an inner-city environment, and 2) that it perpetuates a revolving door of teachers in needy schools (since some college grads see the program as a resume-builder while they figure out what they want to do with their lives).

The Urban Institute's study indicates that those criticisms are unfounded. "TFA teachers are able to more than offset their lack of teaching experience, either due to their better academic preparation in particular subject areas or due to other unmeasured factors such as motivation," the report says. The advantage still held when TFA teachers were compared with colleagues fully certified in their fields. The report's authors say their findings stress the importance of finding teachers with strong academic backgrounds and -- yikes! -- indicate that teacher recruitment is more important than teacher retention.

I have no doubt that this report will generate controversy. Do its findings ring true in your experience?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Study, study!, Teaching

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 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 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 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 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

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 25, 2008

Study finds limits to class-size reduction reform

Education Week is reporting on a new study suggesting that class-size reduction "might not necessarily reduce the achievement gaps that exist between students in a given classroom." (A summary of the article is here; sorry, you'll need an EdWeek registration to get the whole thing.) The study found that class-size reducation can improve test scores overall.

In my eight years as an education reporter, I've seen mixed results of class-size reduction initiatives. I was working in California after that state mandated caps of 20 students in kindergarten through third-grade classes. The result at first was an acute teacher shortage, and schools found themselves hiring teachers they wouldn't have otherwise. In addition, many of the best teachers in low-performing districts left to fill the new job openings in more affluent, higher-performing schools.

Ideally, of course, every child would be in a small class with a great teacher. But few parents would choose a small class with a mediocre or lousy teacher over a big class with a great teacher. On the other hand, class size is one of the biggest factors predicting teachers' satisfaction in their jobs. And if that great teacher with a big class gets burnt out and quits, then everyone loses out. Having small classes seems particularly important to English teachers and others who spend a lot of time on every paper they grade.

I'd be interested to hear from teachers about how your class sizes have impacted not only your personal satisfaction in your job, but also your students' achievement. Does the study's conclusion ring true?

You can find more information here on Project STAR, the Tennessee class-size reduction initiative on which the study is based.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Study, study!, Teaching

February 24, 2008

Covering the Filipino teacher suicides

My story in today's paper was one of the hardest I've had to write in a long time.

As those of you who have been following The Sun's education coverage for awhile may remember, I spent the 2005-2006 school year following Aileen Mercado, a teacher from the Philippines who at the time was living 10,000 miles away from her husband and three kids. Aileen lived in the Symphony Center apartment building near the Meyerhoff along with 70-plus other Filipino teachers, and I got to know many of them that year, including Fe Bolado. (An archive of my series is posted here.)

I met Fe on the same day I met Aileen, in July 2005 at Fallstaff Elementary School. The first batch of Filipino teachers was in orientation, and I was there to pick one to trail for the year. For a little while that day, I actually considered making Fe my subject, but I decided against it because I wanted a teacher who'd left young children behind in the Philippines. But I'd see Fe at the teachers' weekly prayer meetings (which often turned into karaoke nights). I sat with her in the hall at Symphony one evening as she waited, dressed in a white skirt and top and wearing more makeup than normal, to record a Christmas video message for her boyfriend back in the Philippines. That boyfriend became the husband whose infidelity sent her into an emotional tailspin.

When Aileen called me in tears on the morning of May 25 to say Fe had killed herself, the only comfort I could offer was that newspapers don't normally cover suicides. When she called on the night of Nov. 8 to say it had happened again, I could no longer offer such comfort. Another suicide, done the same way, I knew my editors would say it was news.

I didn't know Irene Apao, but it was terrible to see the pain her death has caused on a community I've come to care very much about. And it was terrible, getting back in touch with some of Fe's friends, hearing about the sleepless nights and nightmares and stress-releated illnesses they've experienced since she died.

Learning of my plans to write a story, many of the Filipino teachers were afraid it would reflect badly on the program that's brought more than 400 of them to teach in Baltimore. I hope that's not the case. As the story points out, Baltimore's foreign teacher program has actually become known around the country for the intensive support it provides. Many administrators attest to the good that Filipino teachers are doing for the city schools.

The suicides have sparked efforts to raise awareness about mental illness, which is highly stigmatized in the Philippines. I hope that those prevention efforts pay off, and that there won't be an occasion for me to write about this subject again.

A Filipino television segment about Irene's death is here.

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

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 15, 2008

Are teachers overpaid?

A reader who doesn't support giving Baltimore County teachers a pay raise called this morning with a common assertion: Teachers already earn too much money because they work only 180 days a year, 6 hours or so a day.

This reader was calling because he had just read my story from today about last night's school board meeting, where the board voted for a budget that doesn't include pay raises. Teachers are now considering job actions, such as picketing and refusing to do extra work.

In Baltimore County, starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $42,000. Starting pay for a teacher with a master's degree is just over $43,000.

According to Cheryl Bost, who heads up the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, the system's teachers make considerably less than those in neighboring districts. For example, teachers who have a master's degree and have worked in the county for 15 years are ranked 19th out of the state's 24 school systems, Bost has said.

What do you think? Are the county's teachers asking for too much? Or do they deserve a pay raise? And what about this reader's claims that teachers have posh assignments because they work 6-hour days and only 180 days a year?

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:09 PM | | Comments (94)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

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 17, 2008

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: a model school for subs

The Associated Press published a story yesterday about teacher absenteeism and schools' increasing reliance on substitutes. "A year is a long time in a child's education, the time it can take to learn cursive writing or beginning algebra," the article begins. "It's also how much time kids can spend with substitute teachers from kindergarten through high school — time that's all but lost for learning."

The story explores the use of long-term subs to fill empty positions, a practice it says is on the rise. It quotes Education Department data showing that the number of schools nationwide reporting that they used substitutes to fill regular teaching vacancies doubled between 1994 and 2004.

Classes with short-term subs often get out of control, especially if the regular teacher doesn't leave an adequate lesson plan. (Subs, of course, aren't required to have nearly the same credentials as teachers.) But as an example of a school that uses subs the right way, the story looks to no other than Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where a teacher recently injured in a car accident came to school bandaged and bruised each day to drop off lesson plans for the person filling in for him.

One issue that the story doesn't explore: what happens when a school can't find enough subs. I know it's common in Baltimore for teachers to be called in during their planning time to fill in for their absent colleagues.

What's the subbing situation at your school?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

January 16, 2008

Teachers riled over prospect of no pay raise

He didn't even ask, and that's what hurt the most, said many Baltimore County teachers who attended a public hearing last night in Towson to prevail upon the school board for a pay raise that they say their own boss --- Superintendent Joe A. Hairston --- should be seeking on their behalf, but apparently isn't. (See my story in today's paper.)

They say they are working harder in a system that is expecting more of them every year. What really had them worked up last night was that not only is a raise not in the offing, but many of them are facing a decrease in take-home pay because of increasing contributions to health care and pension costs. Without an across-the-board raise, union leaders say that 20 percent of their teachers --- the most senior --- will receive no raise at all. An additional 20 percent --- the newer teachers --- will see a pay cut because of higher pension and health care costs.

Starting salaries in the county ranges from $42,000 for 10-month positions to about $49,000 for 12-month teachers.

Talking with me last night just outside the gymnasium at Ridge Ruxton School, longtime teacher Ann Ritchey's feelings seemed representative of many of the educators who streamed into the building to appeal to school board members.

Ann was the first speaker of the evening. After giving her statement, Ann stopped to talk to me in the hallway. The 63-year-old fifth-grade math teacher and team leader from Bear Creek Elementary in Dundalk talked about why she felt compelled to show up last night.

"I'm insulted that a person with 42 years experience is being overlooked," Ann said as her eyes welled up with tears. "I arrive early. I stay late. The sad thing is my superintendent, the Board of Education, and the county in which I live, work and play, do not find me valuable enough to give me a raise. A piece of paper says I'm highly qualified. But I'm also highly offended."

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, also spoke during the public hearing. Among her comments, she rattled off some statistics that she said she hopes will help them decide to seek a raise on behalf of the county's teachers:

Baltimore County's "first step" of the bachelor's scale is ranked 7th in the state. Veteran teachers with the "greatest level of certification" are ranked as low as 15th in the state on the scale. Teachers in neighboring counties, including Howard and Arundel, are anticipating raises in the range of 4 percent to 6 percent. In 2002, education made up 48.1 percent of Baltimore County's overall budget, but by this year it made up only 37 percent.

"At Mars Estates in 1989, five new teachers were hired. I am the only one of those five who is still employed by this system. I love my profession, but as professionals we deserve a fair and competitive professional salary," said Bost, a former Teacher of the Year.

What do you say? Do the county's teachers deserve a raise?

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:36 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

Students in Iowa will receive points even when they do not turn in homework

Check out this story about the way one Iowa school system is treating homework.

Under the new rule, an F would range from 50 to 60 instead of zero to 60 on a 100 point scale.

Apparently, students who had received a zero when they did not turn in homework had a hard time earning a final passing grade.

Right now, the new grading idea is only recommended for the high schools. But, teachers and administrators are being encouraged to use the new system by their superintendent.

What do you think? Is it fair to give a student an automatic 50 to 60 points even when he/she does not turn in an assignment? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:50 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching, Trends

December 13, 2007

A Web site to get classroom projects funded

City officials, including Sheila Dixon and Andres Alonso, are scheduled to appear at a news conference Friday to promote the Web site, which is helping teachers get funding for classroom projects.

Here's how it works: Teachers submit their wish lists to the folks at DonorsChoose, and they select the project descriptions they want to put online. Then donors can sign on, pick a worthy project, and contribute any amount toward it. A handful of Baltimore teachers started participating in September, and since then, city classrooms have gotten $60,000 in funding, according to information presented at this week's school board meeting.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Teaching

December 12, 2007

Teacher wins $1 million lawsuit

A third-grade teacher from California has been awarded a $1 million judgment after a jury found the Chula Vista Elementary School District (in San Diego County) had discriminated against her when she lost her job after becoming pregnant.

"Danielle Coziahr was a probationary teacher at Silver Wing Elementary School in Otay Mesa for the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. School districts can choose not to renew the contracts of such teachers without giving a reason," according to an article in today's Union Tribune. "A jury decided Friday that there was a reason – Coziahr was discriminated against. The jury found that the school district decided not to continue her employment, which would have made her a tenured teacher, because she is a woman."

“The money is an afterthought,” the article quotes Coziahr. “I wasn't seeking litigation for compensation. I was seeking litigation to clear my name. I'm basically blackballed. I can no longer teach in San Diego County. My teaching career has ended.”

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Teaching

December 4, 2007

The nation's new nationally board certified teachers

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has announced the names of 8,500 teachers who earned the prestigious national board certification in 2007. Of that, 229 teachers are in Maryland. Four of them are in Baltimore (including Katya Denisova, the Homeland Security Academy teacher I profiled earlier this fall).

Some interesting statistics from a Maryland-specific press release:

• Maryland ranks 11th nationwide in the number of new national board certified teachers. It ranks 15th in the total number of teachers who achieved certification over time: 1,056.

• Maryland showed a 42 percent increase in the number of teachers who achieved national board certification in 2007 over 2006.

• About 14 percent of the state’s nationally board certified teachers work in Title I schools.

• The Maryland school districts with the most nationally board certified teachers are: Montgomery County (374), Anne Arundel County (124), Baltimore County (77), Prince George’s County (73) and Carroll County (50).

• With 75 new nationally board certified teachers this year alone, Montgomery County now ranks among the top 20 school districts in the nation both for new and cumulative certifications.

Click here to search for the names of the nationally board certified teachers from any jurisdiction in the country.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore City, Teaching

November 30, 2007

The special-education debate --- is mainstreaming good or bad for kids?

This recent front-page article from the Wall Street Journal raises some intriguing points in the debate over "mainstreaming" special-education children. It's an understandably emotional, complicated and thorny issue. What are your thoughts? I'd especially love to hear from teachers and parents on this one.

Here's an excerpt (click on the link below for the full article).

Parents of Disabled Students
Push for Separate Classes
November 27, 2007; Page A1

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.

Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others -- at one point giving a teacher a black eye.

"She did not learn anything that year," Ms. Travis recalls. "She regressed."

As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.

Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments -- including separate schools.


Continue reading "The special-education debate --- is mainstreaming good or bad for kids?" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:00 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, SpecialEd, Teaching, Trends

"Teddy Bear" teacher sentenced

The British teacher in the "teddy bear" case has been sentenced to 15 days in prison after a Sudanese judge found her guilty of insulting religion for allowing a teddy bear to be named "Mohammed," according to media reports. The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, also faces deportation from Sudan after her prison term, her lawyer told CNN.

The teacher --- who was not convicted of two other charges brought against her, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs --- was spared from being sentenced to 40 lashes.

Click here for video coverage of the latest development:

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the World, Teaching

November 21, 2007

A first-year teacher documents the journey

For something to chew on over Thanksgiving, check out this video by a teacher in the Walbrook high school complex about her first year on the job.

Made by a Teach for America teacher for a graduate class at Hopkins, the video shows the crowded halls at Walbrook two minutes, five minutes, eight minutes after the bell. It gives some stark statistics about the school (though it doesn't say which school in the Walbrook campus it's talking about): an average ninth-grade attendance rate of 60 percent, an average first-quarter report card grade of 60.6. It poses the question, "How do you create a productive classroom in a school that is not focused on student achievement?"

In my favorite segment, the teacher is talking to her students about why they need to pass the High School Assessments to graduate. She compares getting a high school diploma with running a mile and passing the tests (which measure material kids should be learning long before senior year) with walking a mile. "If you can't pass the test where you only have to walk a mile," she asks, "is it fair for you to get the sheet of paper that says you can run a mile?"

This is clearly a teacher who comes to care about her students. She flashes their pictures while stating their accomplishments and career aspirations and ends the video with a shot of her dancing in the hall with one of them. But will she stick it out after her two-year commitment to Teach for America is over? Only time will tell.

UPDATE: The teacher emailed to say she did not intend for people other than her family and friends to see the video, and therefore she's made it a private link on YouTube. It's too bad, because I thought it was both compassionate and insightful, but I understand that many teachers are reluctant to go public about their experiences at school. My apologies to Voice for School Truth and anyone else who tried unsuccessfully to use the link.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

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

November 15, 2007

Teachers who inspire

"If you could leave a mark on the world, what would it be and why?"

That's the essay topic for this year's Horace Mann Educator Scholarship, an annual competition named after Horace Mann, the 18th century statesman and educator known as the "father of American public education."

Timed to coincide with American Education Week, The Horace Mann Companies this week called on K-12 educators across the nation to apply for the scholarship. Horace Mann will award 36 scholarships: one $5,000 award payable over four years, 15 $1,000 awards payable over two years, and 20 one-time $500 awards. Applicants must be a K-12 educator with at least two years of experience with a U.S. public or private school district.

Scholarship awards must be applied to tuition, fees or expenses for classes at a two- or four-year accredited college or university. In addition to a 300-word essay, applicants will be judged on their school and community activities. For more details on applying, check out Applications are due by Feb. 29.

So, "If you could leave a mark on the world, what would it be and why?"

Send us your answers and we'll consider posting them.

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Teaching

November 13, 2007

How can schools keep good teachers?

Yesterday, John-John posed the question of what happens to teachers who quit their jobs.

Today, I flip things around a bit and ask: How can school systems prevent teachers from quitting?

Thanks to InsideEd reader Bill for alerting me to this new blog of a city middle school teacher. On the most recent entry, the teacher -- who says he has a masters degree in education from Stanford -- posts a letter he wrote to Dr. Alonso posing this question: “Why should I stay and teach here in Baltimore City?” He says he loves his students, but that teachers' work is undermined by incompetent administration. Check out the blog for more details (plus interesting commentary in an earlier entry about Teach for America).

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the city school system are back in arbitration this week trying to break the impasse in contract negotiations. The result of the contract dispute could influence whether some teachers stay or go.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

November 12, 2007

Where are all the teachers going?

I was reading the comments on Sara's blog post about Mervo high school -- the one with the boxing -- and one of the comments stuck out.

One of the commenters stated that she is a Baltimore City teacher who was ready to throw in the towel. I immediately thought about a friend of mine -- a former colleague here at The Sun -- who is now enrolled in a law school in Oregon. She told me that one of her classmates is a former Baltimore City teacher. Small world...

We education reporters hear that the retention among teachers is pretty bad, to say the least. More than 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years, according to statistics by the Maryland State Teacher's Association.

In all of the reporting that I have done, pay seems to be a big factor. Whenever the teacher’s union -- in school systems that I have covered -- has made a case for more money they always point to retention.

I just want to know where all the former teachers are going to work? Are they going to law school like the current Oregon student? Are they doing some other form of community-related work? Or are they going for the big bucks in the private sector?

Are you a former school teacher who switched gears? Is the pasture greener on the other side of the fence? Do you miss the classroom? Do you feel that you made a difference?


1:30 p.m. UPDATE: Appears that this post has been quite a talker. One of the commenters appears to be the classmate of the former co-worker that I alluded to yesterday.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:51 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Teaching

November 1, 2007

MSTA video a plea for public schools

Portable classrooms, poor temperature control, over-crowded classrooms, and federal and state mandates are just some of the issues Maryland public school teachers face in a new Maryland State Teachers Association commercial (watch it below).

The two-minute video touches on some of the obstacles faced by Ms. Johnson, an art teacher, during her first day of school.

While wheeling around her cart of supplies, Ms. Johnson observes a series of deficiencies that exist in the school.

“Using a dash of humor and a heavy dose of current reality, the video highlights some of the unmet needs of Maryland’s students and schools,” the MSTA describes the video.

What do you think of the video? What are your thoughts on the video in the context of the current Thornton funding problems? Obviously it is slightly dramatic, but some of the themes are constantly raised by educators in counties large and small.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 4:24 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Teaching

October 26, 2007

Katya Denisova answers your questions

Katya Denisova, the physics teacher I profiled last Sunday, responds here to questions from blog readers.

Questions from Bill: 

1) Assume no funding increase (fixed funds), what would be the most significant priority shift that occur in city schools?

KD response: Hire more qualified teachers and staff.

2) Who is more important to school success - teacher or principal (and I know that it's a combination, but if you have to choose)?

KD response: I'd say principal. Because a good leader sets tone to the entire school and is able to lift experienced and motivated teachers and inspire new teachers, or teachers who need an additional push to success. One teacher or even a group of teachers cannot influence an entire school community. Their power is limited to the students they teach. A principal can.

3) What does the ideal teacher's schedule for one day look like - high school, middle school, elementary (or which ever level you choose to focus)?

KD response: You mean in an ideal, hypothetical situation? I'd say, for high school, teach two (90-minute) periods a day, observe a different teacher teach or co- teach with a different teacher for one period, and then spend the rest of the day planning and preparing lessons, reflecting on their practice, and meeting with coaches and mentors.

Question from Ann: did the school system apply a visa or green card for you, and how did you go about it?

KD response: I hired a lawyer, who completed all the necessary paperwork for the visa, its extension, and later the greencard. I paid the lawyer myself. I physically took all the papers to be signed to the Central School District Office. And that's when I met all the resistance.

Question from Steegness: I've found that the best teachers fall into one of two camps: Those that love the subject they teach, and want to share it with others (and) those that love teaching itself, and teach whatever it is they know best. With which of the two (if either) would you most identify? And why?

KD response: I am a physics geek. I think physics is the most powerful body of knowledge that humans have achieved. I can teach other sciences if I need to, but I do not see as much beauty, symmetry, logic, and universalism in those. I do like to teach, but there is nothing in the world more inspiring than opening and shaping students' minds with physics concepts.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:57 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

October 22, 2007

Baltimore County teachers' union "call to action"

Baltimore County's new progress-reporting system, still in its pilot phase, continues to come under attack from the district's teachers union.

The system, the Articulated Instruction Module --- or AIM for short --- is a computerized checklist that charts detailed objectives and skills that children are expected to be taught. Tested last spring in a few county schools, the system is being made available on a voluntary basis to all of the county's teachers. With AIM, participating teachers will provide parents progress reports that will tell them whether their children are learning what is expected.

Leaders with the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) are calling on the group's 6,000 members to take a stand against AIM. The two-page letter to members includes home addresses and phone numbers for all board members and encourages teachers to write them to express their opposition to AIM. Union leaders also are encouraging teachers to attend tomorrow's school board meeting (7:30 p.m., 6901 Charles St., Towson).

The call to action reads, in part:

Are you are willing to stand by while BCPS puts another data collection requirement on your already full plate? ... We can’t afford to sit by and allow individuals who are not doing the daily work in our classrooms to create yet another data collection piece that takes time away from teaching. Enough is enough! ... We don’t need another form to complete to indicate whether or not a student is making progress. There is
already a myriad of tools in place to track student progress and share that progress more objectively, rather than subjectively, with parents. ...
BCPS leaders need to decide: Do they want teachers to teach --- or do they want teachers to spend hours completing reports, checklists, data sheets, tabulating scan sheets, and so on?

If you're a Baltimore County teacher, what are your thoughts about AIM? Will you join the union's call to oppose it ... if so, how ... will you write or call board members, or attend tomorrow's meeting ... or all of the above? Have you used the system in your classroom yet? If you have, please share your experience with us here on the blog.

Click below for my earlier story about AIM.

Continue reading "Baltimore County teachers' union "call to action"" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 7:06 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

Top of their game: teachers with National Board Certification

Earning National Board Certification is an intensive process that takes more than a year, requiring the submission of portfolios and undergoing extra observations by fellow educators. I learned more about it researching my Sunday story about Katya Denisova. (Katya will answer your questions on this blog this week, so post your comment today.) 

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which administers the certification program, sent me a neat little spreadsheet listing how many teachers have earned the credential in each of Maryland's 24 school systems. I've compiled some interesting tidbits.

Maryland school district with the most nationally board certified teachers: Montgomery County (300)

Second place: Anne Arundel (87)

Maryland school district with the fewest nationally board certified teachers: Garrett County (1)

Somewhere in between: Harford County (14), Carroll County (22), Howard County (23), Baltimore City (24), Baltimore County (62)

Total number of nationally board certified teachers in Maryland: 822

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

October 18, 2007

Comparing teachers' contracts, Part 2

Many thanks to Bill for his comment the other day about the extra class time required of teachers in Montgomery County. As you'll see in my story today, I dug through all 24 contracts in the state and found that Baltimore teachers are required to spend less time in school than teachers in any other Maryland jurisdiction except Baltimore County. We know, of course, that teachers in the city and everywhere often work far, far more than what's required. But for the record, here's an interesting chart I snagged, compiled last year by Carroll County schools, comparing the required teacher workloads around the state. The stats for each district are, first, the number of days a year that teachers must be in school and, second, the number of hours they must be in school each day.

Allegany County: 190 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Anne Arundel County: 191 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Baltimore City: 190 days, 7 hours and five minutes a day

Baltimore County: 191 days, 7 hours a day 

Calvert County: 190 days (192 for new teachers), 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Caroline County: 189 days, 7 hours and 15 minutes a day

Carroll County: 192 days (198 for new teachers), 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Cecil County: 189 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Charles County: 190 days (192 for new teachers), 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Dorchester County: 189 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Frederick County: 189 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Garrett County: 187 days, 7 hours and 36 minutes a day

Harford County: 190 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Howard County: 192 days, 7 hours and 35 minutes a day

Kent County: 191 days (193 for new teachers), 7 hours and 20 minutes a day

Montgomery County: 195 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Prince George's County: 192 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Queen Anne's County: 190 days (up to 200 for new teachers), 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

St. Mary's County: 190 days (191 for new teachers), 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Somerset County: 190 days, 7 hours and 45 minutes a day

Talbot County: 191 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Washington County: 190 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day (eight hours a day at two schools)

Wicomico County: 190 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Worcester County: 188 days, 7 hours and 30 minutes a day

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:15 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Teaching

October 15, 2007

Comparing teachers' contracts

In reporting on the teachers union dispute in the city, I came across this interesting Web site that publishes the contracts for all 24 teachers unions in Maryland: Check it out to see how they compare.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:03 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

October 9, 2007

More on that dreadful civics test

Kudos to Alexander and Claude, who wrote in to say they scored a 90 and 82, respectively, on that civics test I wrote about on Friday. My boyfriend took the test over the weekend, and he also scored an 82. (He wanted me to point out on the blog that he knows more than the average Harvard student. He went to Princeton.)

I was talking the other day to a middle school social studies teacher, and -- while she aced the civics test herself -- she said it's easy to see why many college students would fail a test of basic facts. Teachers are constantly encouraged to teach students to write and think critically, often at the expense of fact memorization. And, she makes the argument, this test is case in point that there are certain facts that every American should know, in addition to being able to think and write.

Educators, do you agree? Has memorization become taboo in our schools? (Personally, I was embarrassed by how much I had forgotten, so I've been studying the test and accompanying answer sheet.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:08 AM | | Comments (3)

October 8, 2007

Teachers, tell us what's on your minds

I was truly gratified to read the post from the city teacher-blogger known as Epiphany in Baltimore encouraging his colleagues to read our site. I was less gratified to read another teacher's comment to that post, saying he/she would respect me more if "she/the Sun actually chose issues that were meaningful" and that many of the issues I do report on are "red herrings."

One of the topics the teacher suggested that we write about: behavioral incidents being underreported because schools are afraid of being labeled persistently dangerous. That is actually something we've covered before, both on this blog and in the paper. (Click to read more at the end of this post for a great story that my predecessor on the city schools beat, Laura Loh, wrote in 2004.) Could we have written more, and more recently? Of course. But we can't write a story, for the newspaper at least, when teachers won't let us quote them by name. It's a problem I've run into over and over in my nearly eight years covering education.

On this blog, however, it's a different game. While I encourage everyone to take responsibility for their comments, the blog is meant to be a forum where teachers and parents can speak candidly. If something is important to you, post a comment on this site. We're here to generate discussions about the issues that are meaningful to you. 

Continue reading "Teachers, tell us what's on your minds" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:42 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

September 25, 2007

Some teachers cool on cyber school idea

When Connections Academy, the Baltimore-based for-profit outfit that operates full-time online public schools, put down stakes in 2005 in Oregon, teachers objected loudly. Among their complaints --- the company is a for-profit business, has student-teacher ratios of 50-to-1 and depends on parents to serve as quasi-teachers, spending hours a day providing the kind of hands-on instruction that normally happens in the classroom, according to local news reports. In its first year, Oregon's program had 700 students and was said to be on the verge of doubling that enrollment within the year.

As I report in today's Sun, the Baltimore County public school system plans to test Connections Academy, starting this week with home-schooled students. (See the county's page at the company's website.) The goal is to enroll as many as 200 students for this year-long pilot phase. Students will be expected to meet all of the state's public school requirements --- such as completing 180 days of class and taking all of the state's standardized tests.

Contacted last night, the head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County said she can envision a place for Connections Academy within the local school system as "a support" to students who might find themselves needing an extended absence from a traditional school, but not something that would be open to the general student population.

Cheryl Bost, TABCO president, added:

"We value more teacher-to-student interaction in the public schools, as opposed to taking taxpayer money and giving it to a company. We're not supportive of it being a replacement" for traditional schools.

A significant drawback, she added, is that if the company is unsuccessful with a student, that child would return to a brick-and-mortar school, forcing teachers to pick up the pieces.

Some wonder why a home-schooling family would want to sign up for a program that would return them to the public school way. Others figure it'll give these parents and students the best of both worlds --- access to public school resources on their own territory, in their own homes. Still others question what business do people have enjoying the benefits of the school system they decided to leave for whatever reasons, be they philosophical or practical.

Teachers, parents, students --- what do you think? Does Connections Academy present an opportunity or an obstacle for public education?

Posted by Gina Davis at 10:14 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Trends

September 19, 2007

Baltimore: A long way from New England

I recently had an email forwarded to me that was written last spring by a native of my hometown in suburban New England. She's now a teacher at a Baltimore city school. Here's some of what she had to say about her job:

I am a parent (dealing with children who are abused, whose parents don't make them do their homework, so I need to come up with my own system to get it done), a secretary (completing our cumulative folders, which our secretary should be doing but she quit so we don't have one), a gym teacher (since ours is out on surgery leave with no replacement), a computer teacher (since ours is acting as the secretary), a nurse (since ours is not here full time), a librarian (since we don't have one), a disciplinarian (since the kids throw chairs and tell me they don't care what my white tail has to say) and then the rest of me is left to be a teacher. And, no, at that point, I am not going to be a great teacher, because I am stretched in so many directions. Yes, there are kids that can succeed and go off to college but they are lost in the chaos of all that is going on in this ridiculous system. Perfect example is ... our 5th grade teacher. Has taught for 20 something years. Johns Hopkins grad. Was moved from 2nd grade to 5th grade this year because the 5th grade was so out of control that they needed a good teacher with them. Well, these kids drove her out the door and she is leaving the system after this year. No support, no sensible decisions, no consistency in staff.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

September 17, 2007

Teachers union ticked

In an email exchange this morning, Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, was smarting from comments that schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston made in discussing recent test results showing that less than half of the students at some largely minority schools had passed state exams required for graduation.

In my story last week, Hairston said that some of the county's high schools are not receiving "the same level or quality of education" as others. In addition to other reasons, he said that is partly because of a lack of leadership at some schools.

Cheryl agreed to let me share some of the comments from her email this morning:

Many teachers and principals are upset about Dr. Hairston’s comments, and that includes teachers in non-challenging high schools. They feel as if he put them under the bus and anyone in his leadership has no responsibility. The schools that didn’t pass HSA’s are our most challenging schools with a high turnover of administrators and teachers. They are the schools that have the same number of staffing as other schools and research shows lower class sizes works to improve achievement. They are the same schools that BCPS pilots or implements every program that comes down the educational bandwagon without the time to find out if the programs work or not. ...

Many teachers say they want time to teach and the appropriate resources to teach instead of time being taken away for this demand or that data collection requirement or new curriculum after new curriculum. We need to stop trying to beat the test and get back to good strong teaching. ...

I don’t understand how the Superintendent can fault the teachers and principals when leadership starts at the top. I have yet to learn about him or an area assistant superintendent going into one of our challenging schools, sitting down with all of the employees, and asking," What do you need us to do to help you be more successful in getting student achievement up?" It’s not a hard question, but maybe they are afraid of what they will have to do to help or afraid to acknowledge what they are doing isn’t working.

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Testing

September 11, 2007

Sept. 11 in the classroom

 It’s hard to believe that we are six years removed from Sept. 11. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I was a senior in college and I wound up covering the Pentagon attack for my newspaper…

I found this link for teachers who want to incorporate Sept. 11 in their classroom lessons.

Teachers, are there special ways you incorporated Sept. 11 in your lesson plans this week?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching

What’s Height Got to Do With It?

Check out this story about the shortcomings of kindergarten teachers.

I couldn’t resist the pun…

Parents, do you agree with these findings? Is there a bias against shorter boys?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Teaching

September 5, 2007

A need for Arabic

 Check out this USA Today story about the growing demand for Arabic-language teachers.
  Are you a student currently studying Arabic? If so, what do you plan to do with the language?
 Are you a parent who wants your child to be able to study Arabic, but your child’s school does not offer the language? If so, are you pursuing language classes outside of the normal school day?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Teaching

August 31, 2007

First day gift giving

 Parents, did you send your kid to school with an apple to give to his/ her teacher this week? What about a gift card? Or – gulp -- something more extravagant.
 Teachers, were any of you on the receiving end of a first day of school gift from a student? If so, what did you get?  
 Most of you remember Hollywood’s version of the first day of school: a bashful-looking kid gives his/ her teacher an apple on the first day of class.
 Teachers, I want to know if any of your students gave you some stale cookies or a Tiffany & Co. bracelet. It could happen. Read this story from 2005.
 Nationwide, school systems established policies that prohibit gift giving. 
 In New York City a couple of years ago, school officials established a $5-per-student spending limit for teacher gifts.
 In the past, Howard, Baltimore, and Carroll Counties have placed price limits on gifts.
 Write in and share. What kinds of first-day gifts did you receive/ send this year? What gifts are acceptable? When does a gift become too much? Let me know. 
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching

August 28, 2007

Are students safe from their teachers?

I just put the finishing touches on a story about Kirsten Ann Kinley, the former Howard County teacher who was charged with having inappropriate sexual contact with two teenaged boys.
 A brief recap: she pleaded guilty today in Circuit Court to one count of third-degree sex offense in connection with incidents involving a 15-year-old boy more than two years ago. Charges of improper sexual conduct with the second boy were dropped after he refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
 For the rest, read the online version of the story.
 For a more complete story, including quotes from her attorney, read tomorrow's paper.
 With all that out of the way, I wanted to pose the question of safety. Kinley was the third teacher in Howard County arrested last school year for having inappropriate sexual contact with minors.
  Howard County Public School officials said the new-teacher orientation this month offered a session on appropriate teacher behavior with students. In addition, follow-up sessions will be held at the school level.
 Do you think that is enough? What measures would you like to see schools enact to prevent future incidents?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:30 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Teaching

July 10, 2007

Holocaust training for teachers

I just learned about an interesting training opportunity for teachers, and I wanted to pass it along.
 The Jewish Museum of Maryland will offer its third annual Summer Teacher’s Institute on Best Practices in Holocaust Education, a three-day seminar where teachers learn the affects of the Holocaust on world and U.S. history, government, English language arts and world religions.
 “Holocaust education is sometimes a very sensitive topic,” said Deborah Cardin, the director of education at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. “Teachers feel challenged in teaching it in a sensitive, compelling manner.” 
 Over the last two years, 80 teachers from both private and public schools have completed training, Cardin said.
“They come away with so much education and thought,” Cardin said. “They are able to make connections with things that are going on today.”
 The cost is $20 for two days of training, and $30 for the entire three-days.
 This year’s training will include: testimonials from Holocaust survivor and author, Leo Bretholz; a tour of the Jewish Museum’s Lloyd Street Synagogue, the state’s oldest synagogue; a tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.; and a workshop on curriculum based on Holocaust survivor testimony.
 “We need to make sure we are properly educating teachers and giving them proper training so that they can implement this in the classroom,” Cardin said. 
  The deadline to apply is Friday, July 20.
To register, or for additional information, teachers should call 410-732-6400.  


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Teaching

June 4, 2007

"Grow your own" teachers program sparks interest

I've heard from several readers who read my story this weekend about a "grow your own" teaching scholarship initiative in Baltimore County and who wanted to know how to apply for the program. The initiative, formally known as "Baltimore County Public Schools Scholarship Loan Program," was created this school year to encourage the system's graduates to consider careers in education and commit to returning to the county to teach in some of its neediest schools.

Among other qualifications, applicants must be a Baltimore County public school senior with a minimum GPA of 2.8. Scholarship recipients must maintain Maryland residency during college; declare a major in education and commit to teach in a "critical need" subject area, such as math, science or secondary special-education; and commit to teaching in a low-income school within six months of graduating from college.

Here's a link to the online brochure, which includes contact information:

Read Sunday's story about the program:,0,5928464.story?track=mostemailedlink

Posted by Gina Davis at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Teaching
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