July 24, 2009

Does the "plateau effect" really exist?

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

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

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

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

June 18, 2009

Including more males in the classroom

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

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

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


November 18, 2008

Baltimore County enrollment ebbs

For those interested in the ebb and flow of students in Baltimore County schools, check out this story about the latest report on enrollments and projections. 

Basically, the county has continued to see a slight drop in enrollment -- with pockets of growth and decline throughout the region.  

Some highlights: Enrollment as of Sept. 30 stands at 103,643.  Rodgers Forge Elementary is the county's most overcrowded school, nearly 80 percent over its capacity (709 students total there).  The central and northeast areas of the county are seeing the most growth, while the southeast and southwest are generally stable, if not declining. 

This report follows the city school system's announcement (and Sara's story) earlier this month about an expected increase in enrollment for the first time in decades. City schools had 81,274 students in 2007, and officials anticipate that number will rise to about 82,000.

For a look at the county's report, which will be presented to the school board tomorrow night, you can go here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County, Trends

October 17, 2008

Freak dancing rules

In my story today about freak dancing, I explore the latest dancing guidelines established at Centennial High School, which were crafted in response to a back-to-school dance that got out of control.

My colleagues Nicole Fuller, Arin Gencer, David Kohn and Sara Neufeld were able to give me the policies that each of the school systems they cover follows:

Continue reading "Freak dancing rules" »

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:25 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Region, Howard County, Trends

June 17, 2008

Will smaller high schools graduate more students?

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

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

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

June 5, 2008

For schools, it's cool to be green

Kudos to the students and staffs at several Baltimore County public and private schools --- Dundalk Elementary, Franklin Middle, Jacksonville Elementary, Norwood Elementary, Pot Spring Elementary, the Rosedale School, and the Odyssey School --- that are the most recent to join a growing list of "Green Schools" by learning and engaging in activities that help preserve the environment.

The county leads the state in the number of "Green Schools," with 42 of them, according to county, school and community leaders who gathered in the garden at the Old Courthouse in Towson. Also recognized were two "Green Centers" that were added to the list --- Marshy Point Nature Center and the Herring Run Watershed Association --- for their environmental education efforts.

"Baltimore County truly is a model for the rest of the state," said Carol Towle, who is the Green School coordinator for the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Since 1999, the nonprofit organization annually has recognized schools and centers for their efforts to teach children about the importance of protecting the environment. In that time, Baltimore County students have completed 650 projects, including tree plantings, recycling and pollution prevention.

Towle said the commitment of the county's schools demonstrates "the importance of having our young people accept the responsibility of preserving our planet."

MAEOE looks for examples of schools that tie the environmental lessons to the classroom --- such as incorporating math, English and reading skills into their projects.

For instance, at Pot Spring Elementary in Timonium (home to 580 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade), students and staff built a 200-foot long lawn sculpture made of 500 recycled laundry detergent bottles as a show of how to "reuse" things. All of the school's children were involved --- including pre-kindergartners and kindergartners, who helped by sorting the bottles by color. Kids in other grades handled tasks such as cutting string to certain lengths.

"Every student tied a bottle to the sculpture," said Karen Harris, the school's principal.

Examples of projects from the other schools include:

* Students from the Rosedale School planted 600 trees at Fleming Park in Dundalk to help reduce erosion and improve water quality, and planted more than 200 trees to reforest areas near Peerce's Plantation. To reduce energy loss through "phantom," or hidden usage, the school installed power strips so computers could be turned off completely at the end of the day.

* At Franklin Middle, students collected and recycled more than 75 pounds of batteries. They took old furniture that was heading to the trash and refurbished it and sold it at an auction.

* Working to improve indoor air quality at Jacksonville Elementary, a team of "I Spy Inspectors" looked for blocked air vents, dirty filters and mold.

* Students at Norwood Elementary worked with an arborist to select trees to plant on one side of the building. The trees provide wildlife habitat and shade for classrooms.

* At Dundalk Elementary, fifth-graders wrote, illustrated and printed a book about the Chesapeake Bay that is used in the school's library as a reference text. They also worked with carpentry students from Sollers Point High School to build and install bluebird boxes.

* Students at the Odyssey School built, maintained and monitored a bluebird trail and bird feeding stations. They also designed, built and test solar cookers.

For a complete list of projects and previously named schools and centers, visit the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education's Web site.

Posted by Gina Davis at 8:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Trends

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 11, 2008

Are schools doctoring discipline statistics?

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t just a problem in Baltimore.

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

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

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

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

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

April 9, 2008

Does staff replacement improve a school?

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

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

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

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

April 7, 2008

Florida attempts to overhaul sex education curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

April 3, 2008

Super superintendents

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

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

To read more, click here.

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

March 8, 2008

To freak dance or not to freak dance?

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

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

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

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

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

March 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

Does studying music make you smart?

For years, educators and researchers have noted that students who are good at the arts also seem to be high-achieving students as well.  Look at the test scores from the Baltimore School for the Arts or the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County and you can see this trend clearly. Those schools admit students based on their promise in a particularly artistic field, but not necessarily on their grades. So how is it that they do so well academically too?

The question, according to a Dana Foundation report released this afternoon, is this: "Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?"

The report examines the correlation between arts education and brain development, comblining the research of cognitive neuroscientists from seven universities in this country. Each one worked on a different study about the arts and the brain. So it appears that children who study the music, dance or drama develop "attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that has apply to other subject areas," the report says.

There are several conclusions of interest, according to report:

1. Being involved in the performing arts gives students motivation to focus for a long period of time. That long attention span helps students in other areas.

2. Correlations exist between music training and reading acquisition.

3. There is a link between high levels of music training and the abilitly to minipulate information in both working and long term memory.

The research is preliminary and does not establish definate causal relationships, according to the researchers. More study is needed to do that.

For those who want to read the studies, they're available here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Study, study!, Trends

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 11, 2008

Lies land Nevada high school football player in hot water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 5, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2008

Do Maryland students care about the presidential election?

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

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

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

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Trends

January 24, 2008

"Learn & Earn": Baltimore's not alone

As Baltimore prepares to pay struggling high school students for improved test scores, a Georgia school district this week announced an initiative to give cash to a group of kids for attending after-school tutoring in math and science. Check out this entry on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's education blog. Fulton County's "Learn & Earn" program made headlines on CNN yesterday. It was conceived by Newt Gingrich, of all people.

Today's coverage of the Baltimore controversy is here and here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 8:10 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Trends

Is it acceptable to call school officials at home?

Devraj "Dave" S. Kori, a 17-year-old senior at Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County, called up Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. He left his name and phone number and got a nasty message later in the day from the official’s wife.

The minute-and-change message from the wife blasted the student. At one point she calls him a “snotty-nosed brat.”

Kori (the student) got the last dig when he posted the message, along with the official’s work and home number, on his Facebook page. Needless to say the official received a fair share of calls – at home. Check out more of The Washington Post story here.

Since The Post broke the story, it has gained national attention. CNN ran an item about it. And the phone message left by Tistadt’s wife is up on YouTube. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the link had attracted close to 21,000 hits. By 5:30 p.m., the link had been removed.

What do you think? Is it ever acceptable for a student to call a school official at home? 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:10 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Trends

January 21, 2008

Should pregnant students be allowed maternity leave?

That’s the center of a debate brewing in one Denver high school.

Pregnant students there are asking for at least four weeks of maternity leave and not to be penalized with unexcused absences.

Colorado's public schools, like many school systems, tend to place pregnant students or new moms in specialized programs or craft individualized education plans for them.

Denver Public Schools has no districtwide policy, which leaves it up to schools to work out plans for students continuing their education, according to a Denver Post article.

What kind of policy does your school system have for pregnant teens or teens who have recently given birth? Do you agree with students receiving four weeks of maternity leave while not receiving unexcused absences?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, Trends

January 16, 2008

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

January 15, 2008

Food fights becoming costly, popular in U.S. schools

For all those students American students who missed the memo from Mama that warned against playing with food, these examples should thwart any future thoughts of food fights.

Seven Wisconsin high school students, ages 17 and 18, are facing fines and four-day suspensions after being involved in a food fight in their cafeteria last month.

In Howard County, a high school principal made news when he offered students a $30 reward for any information about students involved in a food fight in December. Read more here.

While researching the phenomenon, I found a slew of YouTube videos with cafeteria food fights. I also came across this theory that suggests that the popularity of YouTube has contributed to a growth in food fights. Apparently students are trying to one-up one another by starting food fights and then posting the mayhem on the site.

What is going on with all these food fights? Are these just isolated incidents, or are food fights a major problem in U.S. schools?

When I was growing up food fights were almost a rite of passage. I didn’t participate in these childish antics. (Not that I was a goody-goody. I was a fat kid who wouldn’t dream of throwing away his lunch.)

While I can recall dodging french fries and chicken nuggets, I can’t remember students facing court-imposed fines, or principals offering monetary rewards for information leading to the lunch launchers.

January 9, 2008

Teachers, administrators cheating everywhere

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

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

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

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

Surrounding states were no different.

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

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

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

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

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

January 8, 2008

‘Subprime’ chosen word of the year

For all you wordsmiths out there, I thought you would appreciate this post.

The American Dialect Society chose the word “subprime” as the 2007 Word of the Year at its annual convention Friday.

Members of the society chose “subprime”, an adjective that means "a risky or less than ideal loan, mortgage or investment" because of the public's concern for a "deepening mortgage crisis," according to a statement released by the group.

"Facebook," "green," "Googleganger" and "waterboarding" were runner’s up. Read more here.

Last year, the organization chose "plutoed," which means "to be demoted or devalued."

What is your favorite word of the year?

My vote goes to green. Everyone seems to be tossing that word around with regularity nowadays. 

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the World, Trends

December 19, 2007

Can poker help students ace math?

Is poker an ingenious way to teach math or a slippery slope to gambling addiction?

A recent New York Times article tells of a group that has taken up the question.

A Harvard Law School professor and a group of his students formed an organization this fall — the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society — dedicated to demonstrating that poker has educational benefits. They argue that the game, which is probability-based and requires risk assessment, situational analysis and a gift for reading people, can be an effective teaching tool, whether for middle school math or in business and law classes.

But Chad Hills, a gambling analyst for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit religious group, questions the idea. According to the NYT article:

"Kids are extremely vulnerable to gambling addiction,” said Hills, who likened poker to a “gateway drug” that leads to the harder stuff like craps and slot machines.

What do you think --- is this idea worth a gamble?

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

December 14, 2007

A principal problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the ACY's full report.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

December 12, 2007

How would you integrate students with disabilities into Maryland athletics?

While Nancy S. Grasmick's fate garnered a majority of the ink in today’s paper, the State Board of Education made other news when it recommended yesterday that school systems adopt a policy that would allow students with disabilities to try out for athletic teams. In addition, the board also wants to amend the Code of Maryland Regulations so that school systems can form teams made up of students with disabilities when there are low levels of participation.

I interviewed Lauren Young, director of litigation at the Maryland Disability Law Center, who said that the board needs to do more to increase access for students with disabilities. Read more of the story here.

Do you agree with Young? If you were on the board, how would you handle this topic?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:08 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Trends

Joppatowne: the first homeland security school? Hardly!

I wonder how the students and faculty at the Homeland Security Academy in Baltimore City feel after this USA Today story ran about Joppatowne High School?

The article states that the school has “the nation's first comprehensive high school homeland security program.” What the story doesn’t tell you is that long before Joppatowne unveiled its program, just down the road in that tinyobscure school system -- Baltimore City -- started its own program: the Homeland Security Academy located on the Walbrook campus. This program has been in existence since the 2005-2006 school year.

I always hesitate to claim that things are the first -- especially nationwide -- but I can say without hesitation that the program in Baltimore City was up and running well before the program in Joppatowne.

Just giving you guys a little clarity.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:54 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Trends

December 3, 2007

Leave the food and drinks at home at Howard County high school games!

Thinking about bringing food or beverages to a sporting event at a Howard County high school? Forget about it!

The school system has just announced that outside food and beverages will be banned at all county athletic venues including gymnasiums and stadiums. The effort is part of the school system’s attempts to thwart alcohol consumption and to keep their facilities clean.

The food and beverage ban in gymnasiums takes effect immediately. The stadiums ban takes effect when the spring sports season begins on March 1, 2008.

Read more about it in The Sun’s online edition.

What are your thoughts about the ban?

Taking a stand against public displays of affection: Hugs can land you in detention

Who knew that a simple hug could get a kid in so much hot water? Check out this Time article about American schools that ban several forms of non-violent physical contact.

Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Va., has one of the most stringent policies. The school bans high-fives!

Another school -- Fossil Hill Middle School in Fort Worth, Texas -- has banned students from hugging and holding hands. Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois, banned hugs earlier this year.

Is this excessive or necessary? Do you know of any Maryland schools that have similar policies (unwritten or on the books)?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:00 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

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

November 19, 2007

A closer look at Soulja Boy lyrics

As we've noted in earlier posts, the Soulja Boy dance is sweeping the nation, with teachers and students finding a rare meeting ground in pep rallies and the classroom.

But a casual conversation with my colleague Brent -- whose own eyes had been opened by some students -- spurred a closer study of the, um, rather interesting lyrics of this incredibly catchy song.  Let's just say that I doubt quite so many educators would be jumping in Soulja Boy's ride if they knew what he was planning -- or where he was going.

This ... revelation made me think back to a few years ago, when another popular song had the nation -- including then presidential hopeful Gen. Wesley Clark -- talking about shaking it "like a Polaroid picture." But OutKast's "Hey Ya" basically laments the problems of monogamy -- something many fans most likely hadn't gleaned as they were shaking it with abandon.

So now I'll ask y'all: Where do you think the line should be drawn as educators try to make pop-culture connections with their students?  Should we care about the lyrics -- difficult to understand anyway -- or is it all about the music?

[By Arin Gencer] 

Posted by Mary Hartney at 10:53 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Trends

Enrichment courses on the chopping block?

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2007

What grade would you give your parents?

A Connecticut school board member wants parents to be evaluated on criteria including: whether their children have done homework and eaten a good breakfast.

Needless to say he has caused quite a stir.

Steven Edwards, a Republican member of the Manchester Board of Education, wants teachers and school administrators give the parents a pass or fail check during parent-teacher conferences.

Read more about the story here.

Is it time that the tables are turned on the parents? With all the pressures that educators have to deal with, should parents also get a grade?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 9:17 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Parents, Trends

October 30, 2007

Maryland's "Dropout Factories"

Click here to get a detailed map of the schools labeled "dropout factories" by Johns Hopkins University for the Associated Press. Hopkins applied the label to schools where no more than 60 percent of the students who start out as freshmen make it to their senior year. The Sun ran this story today.

Maryland is home to 13 "dropout factories" including Meade High in Anne Arundel County and five schools in Baltimore: Edmondson-Westside High (a vocational school), Frederick Douglass High, Northwestern High, Patterson High and the now-closed Southwestern High. For whatever it's worth, Douglass, Northwestern and Patterson are the only large neighborhood high schools remaining in Baltimore. All the rest have been broken up into smaller schools within the big campuses. And many of those small schools are too new to have data measuring seniors who started as freshmen.

For the sake of the students at these schools, I hope the dropout factory label doesn't stick as other labels in education do. Which would you rather attend: A dropout factory or a persistently dangerous school? (Fortunately, no school in Maryland has the distinction of being both.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:38 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore City, Trends

October 19, 2007

Youth access to contraception

The news that schools in Portland, Maine, will allow their health clinics to dispense birth control pills to middle schoolers without parental permission generated enough national buzz to make the Today show.

Here in Baltimore, we've been giving out birth control at school-based health centers for more than 20 years. In 1993, we created international news with our program to give girls Norplant. 

In our article today, medical reporter Stephanie Desmon and I look back at the history of dispensing birth control to Maryland kids, and the effects. The state's law that allows minors access to contraception without parental consent is credited with a big drop in births to teen mothers, especially in Baltimore. But some parents and activists feel strongly that the law is wrong, as are policies such as Portland's. If middle schoolers are having sex, the critics say, there are bigger problems that adults need to know about.

Which side of the fence do you stand on? Does the benefit of preventing a pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease outweigh a parent's right to make medical decisions for a child?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, Trends

October 18, 2007

The digital dirt in the education world

What are you’re thoughts about my story today that delves into digital dirt being used against people?

Were you surprised by the digital dirt that exists in the education community?

Are educators held to an unfair standard? Are employers over reaching in their efforts to monitor the actions of employees outside of the workplace?

I’ll be responding to any comments you have about this story throughout the day.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County, Trends

October 16, 2007

Would you live in rent controlled teacher housing?

In New York City -- land of ridiculous rent -- a 234-unit housing project is being developed specifically for educators.

The $28 million project is backed with the New York City Teachers' Retirement System. Some are saying that this project could be the model for other cities in with soaring rents. Read more about it here.

Out here in Howard County, I constantly hear that teachers cannot afford to live out here. Many have to live in cheaper counties and commute long distances just to go to work each day.

10:23 a.m. UPDATE: This story hits close to home. There are plans to convert a building at 2601 N. Howard St. (Baltimore City) into 40 apartments for new teachers and office space for nonprofit, education-oriented groups. The project is slated to open in late spring 2009. Thanks to Sara for calling this to my attention.


Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Trends

October 5, 2007

Thoughts on the beverage ban?

Morning readers!

Today my story ran about high school’s cracking down on underage drinking at sporting events through the use of beverage bans. Essentially, all fans are prohibited from bringing beverages into football stadiums. And yes, that includes water bottles.

I found out about the ban from an e-mail that was sent home this week to parents at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia. School officials enacted the ban after several students were drinking in the bleachers during games.

In addition to Wilde Lake, Centennial High in Ellicott City has also enacted the ban. I’m now hearing that Atholton High in Columbia also has a ban.

While researching this story, I discovered that Baltimore City has a systemwide beverage ban. Harford, Carroll, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore Counties do not.

In Harford County, high school principals observe students during games and can ask someone suspected of drinking to take a breath test. During the past three years, each high school in Harford County has been equipped with a breath alcohol tester.

I recently learned that a high school in the Midwest makes students take a breath test before allowing them entrance into school events.

What do you think about this? Are these effective ways to curb drinking at sporting events? Do you think that the beverage ban – it applies to all spectators at games – is excessive. Weigh in. I’ll be responding to comments all day.

Continue reading "Thoughts on the beverage ban?" »

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 10:40 AM | | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Trends

October 4, 2007

Cracking down on underage drinking

Check out tomorrow’s paper to see what two Howard County high schools are doing to thwart underage drinking at athletic events. It’s part of a growing trend that might leave you parched…

Tomorrow I’ll be available throughout the day to respond to comments about the story.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Trends

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

Baggy pants: Part II

The baggy pants post yesterday generated a lot of discussion.

I think that it will be interesting to hear what you have to say after reading Tanika White's front page story in today's paper.

It appears that the issue is being considered here in Baltimore. Councilwoman Helen L. Holton has introduced a resolution to require youth to pull up their pants.

Thanks to Claude Call for giving us a heads up with yesterday's blog comment.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:37 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Trends

September 18, 2007

Cracking down on baggy pants

 It might be considered fashionable and a sign of the times, but wearing baggy pants might get you arrests, jailed or fined.

Talk about the fashion police….

Across the country, laws are being passed, and enforced, that target baggy pants wearers. Read more in this story.

Seems a little harsh to me. It appears that this trend is targeting young African-American males. I’m not advocating baggy pants, but I believe in equal treatment for all.

What do you think? Should people have the freedom to wear what they want?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 8:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Trends

August 30, 2007

Gas Woes.....

 I have a hunch that gas prices are affecting the way students are being transported to school this year.
 Parents, have gas prices affected the way you send your kids to school this year?  
 Are you using a carpool this year? Are you putting your kids on the bus? Are you allowing your kid to ride a bike to school? What about walking?
  If you are a transportation employee – coordinator, contractor, bus driver, etc – have you noticed an increase in the number of students riding the bus this year?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 7:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Trends

August 21, 2007

Mini-majors in High School

High schools across the country are "experimenting with specialization," according to the New York Times. In some schools, 9th graders apply for a major by submitting essays on why they're interested in fields such as sports management, fine arts, health sciences, etc. 

As part of high school reforms in Harford County, sophomores in the spring semester will select a field of interest, called a career cluster.

Do these types of specializations make high school more relevant?  Or do they force students to pick a "major" when they haven't had enough opportunity to explore their academic interests?

Posted by Madison Park at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
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