Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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Md. school snapshots in a quick minute, Jan. 10

Sunset at Knapp’s Narrows, Chesapeake Bay, Maryland (Mark Schwenk/iStock)

Maryland sure has strong environmental education programs

  1. High school biology students in Howard County will be grading the quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed this year and for the next two school years in partnership with the Howard County Conservancy, the Howard County Times reports. The conservancy received a $510,000 grant through NOAA that will help students learn how real-world science can make the places they live more sustainable. In October, when the grant was announced, Marriotts Ridge students were studying a stream at the Mount Pleasant branch of the conservancy. “We tested the abiotic factors—pH, temperature, phosphate levels—and those were pretty consistent,” the Times quoted one ninth grader as saying. “I think this should be continued. If everybody’s enlightened about this, it would really have an impact on the health of water bodies in Howard County, and the Chesapeake Bay overall.”
  2. US Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, was on hand for the announcement. “Congress has been very engaged in grading our students, [with] testing, accountability,” he was quoted as saying. “What the Howard County Conservancy is doing is turning this around: the students are going to be grading us,” he said, referring to the way students will use their biological measurements and scientific understanding to develop report cards about the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. “What’s key about this program is that we’re not just doing a one-time field trip with the students. We’re working with them on a consistent basis,” the paper quoted Meg Boyd, executive director of the conservancy, as saying. “We’ll come back into the school each quarter and work with them as the students study the data they collect.”

Learning initiatives

  1. As part of the Apprenticeship Maryland program, which comes from legislation signed last year by Gov Larry Hogan, Washington County Public Schools and Frederick County Public Schools have received $5,000 grants to help with a pilot for the program, the Herald-Mail reports. The grants will be used to build up apprenticeships with local companies in the manufacturing and STEM fields, according to George Phillips, the school system’s supervisor of career-technology education. The new aims “to prepare students to enter the workforce by providing some of the necessary on-site employment training and related classroom instruction needed to obtain a license or certification for a skilled occupation.”
  2. Norm Augustine, chair of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission and a former Lockheed Martin CEO, told the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber that students in Maryland “don’t see STEM fields as particularly exciting. … Most young people have no idea what an engineer does.” He’s pushing more people to get involved in STEM careers, the Baltimore Business Journal reports, and used the example that companies like Microsoft and Intel continue to send tech jobs overseas because the STEM talent isn’t available from US college graduates. About 5 percent of the workforce in Maryland is in an engineering or math-related field, and schools “need to push science, technology, engineering and math education harder.” He believes pushing students to pursue STEM disciplines in college will encourage more of them to start their own tech companies, given a friendly climate for business in Maryland.
  3. Ella and Ivan Rusen are parents of a first grader in Baltimore County Public Schools. They write in the Baltimore Sun that a 1-to-1 technology program, which this year is providing tablets to every first grader, is a misguided use of valuable school resources and time. On top of that, whatever first graders learn today will be obsolete in 11 years when they graduate from high school. Clicking through numerous sites, they write, “consumed a remarkable amount of instructional time. Such time spent is time lost from actual content learning and meaningful instruction. These students typically spend one to two hours of classroom time on their tablets. … The number of students who receive free and reduced-price lunches in Baltimore County has been steadily climbing. … The $205 million approved for the computer initiative could go a long way toward addressing these genuine needs. … Tablet computer use is not giving our youngest children the best opportunities to learn at a crucial developmental stage.”
  4. Five new programs will be available to students at the Cecil County Technical High School, which focuses on the career and technical education curriculum to prepare students for careers after high school or college with actual experience in those fields, the Cecil Whig reports. The following programs will increase enrollment at the tech high school from what it was when the doors opened in August, about 270 students in 14 programs, to about 420 in 19 programs on the docket for the spring semester, which begins January 20.
    • Academy of Health Professions: Certified Clinical Medical Assistant
    • Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE)
    • Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness: Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement
    • Interactive Media Productions: Simulation and Gaming
    • Project Lead The Way: Biomedical Sciences

School board activity and recommendations

  1. The Annapolis Capital reports that the governor’s School Board Nominating Commission voted on January 7 to recommend four candidates for two open positions on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, which is completely appointed by the governor: James Appel, the executive financial officer at the state Department of Information Technology; Timothy Boston, a former teacher; Maria Sasso, a real estate agent; and Terry R Gilleland Jr, a former Republican state delegate. The first three are recommended for the District 30 seat, while Mr Gillieland is recommended for the District 31 seat on the board. Mr Gillieland is on record as saying Superintendent George Arlotto’s proposed $1.14 billion operating budget, about $51 million more than last year’s budget, is not a realistic request, and Mr Appel, a member of the Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County, said he would ensure the school system uses resources in an optimal way and partners with small businesses to achieve its goals. Ms Sasso, a Hispanic woman, feels she would bring a unique perspective to the board. She’s also a former vice president of the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County. Mr Boston, a member of the Anne Arundel Young Republicans, hopes the board can fix overcrowded schools and increase staff diversity to “close the achievement gap.”
  2. Teachers in the Carroll County Teachers’ Union staged a walk-out on the last day before the winter break in order to draw attention to ongoing contract negotiations they say are unfair after the method of building up pensions was altered, the Carroll County Times reports. “We have teachers preparing résumés,” the paper quoted Teresa McCulloh, CCEA president, as saying. “We’re frustrated. The morale is low. We’ve lost several thousands of dollars toward our earnings, pensions, and retirements.” Teachers in Maryland are allowed to strike, but teachers’ unions can’t authorize a strike action. In other words, if this were any more than a staged ‘walk-out,’ teachers would be on their own.
  3. Citing mismanagement of school district purchasing contracts and staff, poor communication over mold issues, and dismantling of a budget review committee, several community groups, based outside the schools, have started an online petition entitled “Cut Foose Loose,” calling on Howard County Public Schools not to renew Superintendent Renee Foose’s contract, the Howard County Times reports. Petition co-sponsors are The People’s Voice, a Howard County civic organization; Mold in Howard County Schools—Information for Parents; Voices of Parents and Stakeholders in HCPSS; and the Grace K McComas Memorial Webpage.
  4. The so-called “Coffee and Conversation” meetings that the Washington County Board of Education has become known for can’t happen, because Maryland’s Open Meetings law requires that minutes be taken at meetings of public bodies and that all board members hear the same thing for the entire meeting. The typical way of running the Coffee and Conversation town meetings would be to break up into smaller groups, where dialog would occur between one or only a few board members and a few members of the community. Not all board members were in on those conversations, but the board has adopted new policies that change the definition of those meetings, the Herald-Mail reports. Under the new policy, the two-hour “town meetings” could be conducted “for the purpose of enhancing communications between the Board of Education, as a body politic, and the school community.”

Ed Week ranks Maryland 4th among state education departments

  1. Several news agencies are trumpeting Maryland’s fourth-place rank among all states in the annual Education WeekQuality Counts” report. Maryland was behind Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont. Baltimore Sun, WBAL-TV (NBC affiliate)
  2. Reports to individual students have been sent out to most of Maryland’s public school students who took the PARCC tests in math and English last spring, the Easton Star Democrat reports. Fewer than half of Maryland’s students achieved scores that would be considered “at grade level” or “meeting or exceeding expectations.” As we reported, that was, mostly, what educators expected the results to look like. “These initial results provide a new springboard for Maryland students, as we continue our work to better prepare them for what lies ahead,” the paper quoted Interim State Superintendent of Schools Jack R Smith, as saying in a statement. “We have set the bar high, and this data reflects that. These results should be viewed in combination with other measures when assessing student progress.”

Gov wants to make Maryland more business-friendly

  1. Gov Larry Hogan wants the General Assembly to provide tax cuts for Maryland’s people who are suffering the most under current government spending mandates, the Baltimore Sun reports. Specifically, a top priority during the 90-day legislative session that begins this week is reversing laws dating back to the 1950s, including the education community’s “maintenance of effort” law, that constrain how the governor can spend about 80 percent of state revenue. “It’s completely absurd, it’s unsustainable and has to end,” the paper quoted Mr Hogan as saying. “To my friends in the General Assembly, let me be very clear: Fencing off money will not work. We will be happy to hold on to the money.” Leading Democrats said when the governor makes a move to cut education spending or other areas related to the state government’s core mission, it won’t fly: “He loses when he talks about cutting education,” the Sun quoted Richard Madaleno, vice chair of the Senate budget committee, as saying. “He can’t talk about what he wants to do because he will lose that argument. Instead he hides behind mandate.”
  2. The Hogan Administration issued new rules to expand testing for lead poisoning to every 1- and 2-year-old in the state, not just those on Medicaid or living in Baltimore City or other at-risk areas. Healthcare providers will test children at the appropriate ages, and parents will have to provide proof of lead-poisoning testing when their children enter licensed day-care programs or public pre-k, kindergarten, or first grade. “We have made great progress in reducing lead exposure in Maryland over the past 20 years,” the Washington Post quoted Mr Hogan as saying. “However, we need to test all children, not just a handful, in order to put an end to childhood lead poisoning in Maryland once and for all.”
  3. The Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) is a school-funding formula that benefits the state’s larger school systems by providing extra money to help them meet the needs of schools in districts that are much larger than the average district, whose needs are generally met by the standard formula. Gov Larry Hogan said he would include the GCEI in the budget, even though he didn’t release the funds last year, which upset school administrators, WAMU Radio (NPR) reports. “This year, I will become the first governor in the history of the state to ever fully fund GCEI in his second year,” the station quoted him as saying.

Political activity blossoms as legislature set to convene

  1. A war of words, brewing among Maryland Democrats, ostensibly about the plan to provide air conditioning in schools in Baltimore County, isn’t really about the air conditioning, Maryland Reporter.com reports. As the “tax collector for the state,” state Senate President Mike Miller addressed Comptroller Peter Franchot, “it is indeed fortunate that you do not have to worry about the bigger picture at the state or local level and can simply harangue others,” he said. But Mr Franchot, who considers his work to be on behalf of all citizens, even those from different political parties, came back: “If, as I suspect, your actions [with regard to air conditioning delays] were motivated by political concerns rather than stewardship of the public interest, I’ll also note that this would put our party squarely on the wrong side of a deeply meaningful education issue at a time when the party is laboring to remind Marylanders of our proud tradition of commitment to better schools. Put more directly, Senator, it would be a staggering display of political incompetence that neither your caucus members nor the Democratic Party as a whole can afford right now.” But there’s way more going on here than air conditioning worries, which Baltimore County is addressing over the next five years.
  2. The 90-day legislative session, set to begin on Wednesday, January 13, will be contentious and busy, Maryland Reporter.com reports. More than 1,200 bills have been drafted, with 179 having already been pre-filed, including some in education. But even before new bills are considered, the General Assembly is required to deal with bills that were passed last year but vetoed by Gov Larry Hogan. Bills sought by the governor will only add to the list, as he moves to fine tune the workings of state departments now under the control of his appointees (not education yet). “We have a lot of freshmen ready to spread their wings,” Senate Minority Leader JB Jennings told county officials last month. “They’re going to come out fighting for the issues they care about.” The number isn’t a record—typical sessions see the introduction of about 2,500 bills, with more than half dying in committee and about 700 enacted—but it’s on the high side.
  3. The Maryland Association of Counties has made it clear that finding more efficient ways to pay for school construction is among the group’s priorities for this legislative session, WHAG reports. “As a contractor, I can tell you there are things that sometimes being specified in the schools that are way above and beyond what is needed,” the station quoted Washington County Commissioner John Barr, who serves as president of the association, as saying. MACo also wants to restore local Highway User Revenues, which were cut last year to about one-fourth of what they were the year before, to address privacy issues and freedom of information over the use of police body cameras, and to deal with heroin addiction.

It’s getting cold out here, as districts move on budget issues

  1. Air conditioning may be all the rage in Annapolis, but for two schools in Baltimore County and one in the city, at least during January, it’s the cold that forced officials to send or keep students home as the winter break ended on January 4, because the buildings were without heat, the Baltimore Sun reports. Temps during the week fell into the single digits.
  2. Budget talks are beginning in Maryland’s 24 school systems, and we have reports from several counties: Montgomery; Harford, where parents push for more public involvement; Frederick, in the News-Post; Anne Arundel, where the public is already weighing in; and Baltimore County, where Supt Dallas Dance unveils a $1.5 billion budget plan.
  3. A leading economist has concluded that even though Howard County spends a lot of money per pupil to provide students with a good education, the county more than doubles its investment in the long run, WMAR-2 (ABC affiliate) reports. “The golden goose in Howard County is the school system,” the station quoted Anirban Basu of the Sage Policy Group as saying. “Howard County is not home to BWI Airport, the Ravens, the Orioles, Johns Hopkins Hospital. It’s not home to NIH or FDA. In fact, there aren’t that many large-scale institutions in Howard County.” People move to Howard County, the station asserts, for the schools, and Mr Basu’s study found the system supports more than $1.8 billion in local business sales, which is more than twice the cost of operating the district. Plus, “What we found is that home values are higher in Howard County, because of the excellence of the schools—not just for families with kids, but for all families, for all households.”

Some schools tend to come and go

  1. Structures that look like tractor trailers are being used as portable instruction spaces and classrooms by the Wicomico County Board of Education at Parkside High School, the Salisbury Daily Times reports. The school is undergoing a phased-in sequence of renovations, and the trailers fill the need for space in a school that now enrolls a student body that’s about 200 students more than the building’s capacity. The district bought the modular structures for $52,000 from the Queen Anne’s County school district and awarded a $180,003 contract for their transport. “The portables were available now, so they are being set up to be ready when the project begins,” the paper quoted Tracy Sahler, board spokeswoman, as saying. “This was a good time to do it,” and the BOE got “a good price. We will need them a year from now.”
  2. The Baltimore City School Board voted on January 5 to close four schools at the end of this school year, the Baltimore Sun reports: Westside Elementary School in the Penn-North neighborhood, which was right in the middle of April’s rioting; Maritime Industries Academy High School; Baltimore Community High School; and the Maryland Academy of Technology & Health Sciences. The board was acting on the recommendation of school CEO Gregory Thornton, who asserts that these schools are underutilized or have a poor performance or school climate. Voxitatis has, on several occasions, opposed school closings for all reasons except budgetary reasons, believing that the community should invest in schools to make them better or stronger, rather than shutting their doors. But alas, we don’t run the schools.

Baltimore riots still make the occasional news story

  1. Speaking of April’s riots in Baltimore, the Baltimore City Schools received a federal grant to help recover, the Baltimore Sun reports. The US Department of Education has awarded city schools nearly $300,000 for this purpose. Funds will allow the district to hire more social workers and train staff to help traumatized students at five schools: Frederick Douglass High School, Gilmor Elementary School, Matthew Henson Elementary School, William Pinderhughes Elementary/Middle School, and Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School. “There were times when students did not feel comfortable coming to school due to anxiety, anger, fear of traveling through neighborhoods, and overall dissonance regarding what was being reported by the media about the students and community of Baltimore City,” a summary of the district’s grant said.
  2. “We have to work harder and do more to ensure that our students feel safe in their schools and communities,” the Sun quoted Ann Whalen, senior adviser to the US secretary of education, as saying in a statement about the grant the department made to Baltimore City Public Schools. “As adults, it is our responsibility to help protect and nurture students, especially when tragic incidents occur that affect the school environment and impact the community in such a way that hinders learning. This grant will help the district move forward in restoring the learning environment.”
  3. One Baltimore principal blamed “a soft code of conduct” for some of the trouble that erupted in schools during riots, the Baltimore Sun reports. “There is a sense of lawlessness in many schools now because principals have been trained to turn the other cheek and accept any type of crime in our schools,” wrote Karl Perry, principal at Edmondson-Westside High School. “What I am going to do … is return to zero-tolerance enforcement of my expectations for appropriate behaviors.” Two months later, schools CEO Gregory Thornton promoted Mr Perry to oversee district-wide operations regarding suspensions, school police, and other enforcement actions. “My city was in crisis,” Mr Perry was quoted as saying. “I had the opportunity to reshape the mindset of Baltimore City schools, and that will then reshape our communities.”

Finding your voice

  1. An exhibition of student artwork, supported by the Maryland State Department of Education’s Fine Arts Office and the Maryland State Arts Council, was touted by First Lady Yumi Hogan when it was first put on display at the House of Delegates Gallery Space in the Lowe House Office Building in October. Among the 20 students whose work will eventually be moved to the State Education Building for permanent display were two students from Harford County, the Cecil Whig reports: Prospect Mill Elementary School fourth grader Erica Honadel and Joppatowne High School senior Francis Ibe.
  2. An assignment for an Advanced Placement English class at Towson High School led students to perform three random acts of kindness just before the winter break, the Towson Times reports. Kindness was bestowed on members of the school, like cookies for Monica Colbert, the assistant building operations supervisor, presented by 11th grader Denae Douglas, and on members of the community at large, like Jardon Marty’s gift to a stranger of a partially used parking receipt in Towson.
  3. Moriah Balingit in the Washington Post has the story of Prince George’s County’s first Youth Poet Laureate: Dominique Holder, a senior at Oxon Hill High School, wrote her first poem when she was a freshman. Her work, which is available in Everything Under Our Tongue, touches on social issues, race, self-image, and grief. “Do not bury so far into someone / That when winter dissipates / You shy away from the / Watery sunlight of spring,” she writes in a poem entitled “Letting go.” Her work is reminiscent of former US poet laureate Maya Angelou.
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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