Thanks, Teach


Teachers hating parents, teachers cheating on standardized tests, teachers becoming (gasp!) Facebook friends with their students… maybe we here in the Fishbowl have been guilty of passing along gloomy news over the past few weeks. But here’s something that melted even our cynical little hearts:  a bunch of videos (and Facebook posts) from folks thanking teachers for having changed their lives.

The movement was started by the Huffington Post and it’s called the “You Made a Difference” Campaign. It’s nice to see so much gratitude directed toward educators. It really is important work (and I might as well use this tiny little pulpit here to give some shout outs of my own — thanks, Mrs. Baylor! Thanks, Mr. Peck! Thanks, Ms. Morse!), and too often we only appreciate teachers years after the fact.

Got any teachers you’d like to thank for changing your life — or just making the school day a bit better?

Education Reform Theories Get Tested in East Baltimore


According to friends of mine who’ve gotten Master’s degrees in education, going to school for teaching can sometimes feel a little backward — after all, the most important learning happens when you’re at the front of the classroom.

Plenty of learning will happen for teachers and students alike when Johns Hopkins’ School of Education and Morgan State’s School of Education and Urban Studies take over the daily operations of an East Baltimore school this fall, putting all those theories about “best teaching practices” and “urban-based K-8 education” to the test.

The dean of the Hopkins School of Education says he’s looking forward to putting education reform ideas into practice:  “Johns Hopkins is involved with this school because we can make a difference. We are committed to reducing the achievement gap and making this a demonstration site of best practices. We like to say this is a small school that will leave a big footprint.”

And the school won’t be staying small for long. As it stands now, the charter school has been operational for 3 years, and serves approximately 260 students. In a couple years, though, it’ll re-open as a 90,000 square foot facility with a capacity for 540 students, the first new school built in East Baltimore in a quarter century.

And in an ideal world, Hopkins employees who live and work in the area will happily send their kids to the public school that their institution helped to reform. A lofty-but-reachable goal? Or an impossible dream? Let us know what you think.

Climbing the Steps to High School


School has begun, and, if you’re like me, you’re probably still helping your kid put the finishing touches on book reports and finish the dreaded summer math. You’re arguing about whether she needs a brand-new tin of $40 colored pencils, or whether his backpack from last year has some cool left.

And, if your kid is entering the eighth grade, you’re panicking with each mail retrieval of glossy brochures and postcards announcing the open houses of every high school in a 30-mile radius. Each school boasts about its academics, its sports, and its technologies. Some institutions show off their lush campuses; others, their well-adjusted students.

The latest mailing on my kitchen table is an oversized postcard from Maryvale. On the front, two girls—a white one in a sweatshirt that says “we are” and a black one in a sweatshirt that says “maryvale”—seem overjoyed to participate in this racially balanced school with a “new turf field, track and practice fields” and “school-wide iPad grogram.” My eyes go naturally to the bottom bullets: financial aid and County transportation.

Many of my friends have done this before. “It’s worse than college,” Andrea Dixon tells me. Her daughter, Margot, is in my daughter’s eighth grade class. We are sitting with 20 other moms and dads at our children’s desks for this mandatory meeting, where parents of eighth graders will learn the high school application process.

Andrea’s been through this nightmare before with her older son. She rolls her eyes: “The pressure, the financial applications, the waiting.” And what makes it even more rotten is that every eighth grader in the vicinity is applying to all the same schools at the same time, and all their acceptance letters are mailed out on the same day.

Mary Carol Lidinsky, our kids’ homeroom teacher, has prepared a handout to help us with the process, which includes school selection, paperwork, test prep, open houses, shadowing, school fairs, up to three different kinds of testing, deadlines, fees—my head is swirling.

If you break it down, it sounds less daunting. After all, you’ve been giving it quite a bit of thought at the dinner table for the last two years. I know that our discussions have helped to narrow our focus—away from Catholic schools and toward a couple of City schools.

You’ll make choices based on a number of factors. How close is it? How big is it? Who teaches there? What’s the curriculum? We are looking specifically for schools with a good music department. We hear McDonough has an excellent program, and they send a bus to our neighborhood. Those details push that school to our top choices. Other top choices for us are Baltimore School For the Arts, where Serena has been attending TWIGS for saxophone, and City College. With her excellent grades thus far, a City graduation could mean free college tuition at Johns Hopkins University through the Baltimore Scholars Program—a detail that pushes the BSA to the top of the school heap.

Ready or not, here are the steps necessary for the high school application.

Step 1: Attend High School Fairs

Don’t have a clue where you want to send your kid? Have many clues but want more options? At a fair, you can get visit a dozen schools at once. The Catholic Archdiocese has at least 19 fairs between now and the second week of October.

Non-Catholic private schools also show at fairs, and Baltimore City’s “Choice” fair is held this year on November 19.

Step 2: Attend Open Houses

Narrow your choices, and head to some open houses. You can search for your school’s open house date online (or call the school). How many open houses you attend is up to you.

Step 3: Shadow

Pick your final three schools together, and schedule a date for your son or daughter to shadow—that is: follow another student around his or her school. Be sure your date does not conflict with important dates at your own school (field trips, testing). Your child should be prepared to be interviewed, too! Finally, for a more realistic picture of the school, shadowing is best done without a friend; having that camaraderie could make the school seem more fun or more friendly than it really is.

Though it’s only a day, shadowing is the best way for your child to decide whether she can spend the next four years there. Don’t be surprised if his favorite school makes him uncomfortable or her last choice becomes her favorite. (And don’t expect a clear explanation for the change of heart!)

Step 4: Paperwork and Deadlines

If organization is not your strong suit, this is the time to get a calendar—and panic. You’ll need to fill out applications—and your child will probably need to write an essay—for each of the schools you’ve selected. You’ll also need letters of recommendation, copies of transcripts, and application fees (about $50 for each school). And your child will need to take the required High School entrance tests.

Letters of Recommendation:

Give your teacher enough time! Remember: the other 20-plus kids in the class could be asking for letters, too. Provide teachers with pre-addressed, stamped envelopes. And help them with the recommendation process by preparing some background. Mrs. Lidinsky recommends detailing the following: School Activities (sports, clubs, student council); Leadership
Qualities or Roles; Outside Activities (sports, clubs, groups); Special Talents and Hobbies; Service Projects and Volunteer Work. Finally, include a list of qualities others see in you that would benefit a high school.

Note that City, private, and religious schools all have different application processes. While your teacher can mail letters of recommendation for you to private schools, you’ll have to send them to City schools yourself—along with proof of residency.


The High School Placement Test for Catholic Schools (HSPT) is given on December 3rd and December 10th. The Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) is given on multiple dates in multiple locations. City schools also have their own criteria and tests. Of course, each test has a different study guide, and those textbooks are recommended.

Financial Aid:

If you’ve been keeping yourself in the dark about tuition costs, now’s a good time for a reality check—and half your paycheck. McDonough, my kid’s top private school choice, is in the $25,000 range. That annual tuition doesn’t include books, musical instruction, field trips, and other miscellaneous expenses (for some other fancy private school, a nice wardrobe that won’t subject your kid to ridicule; for McDonogh, uniforms).

But don’t let the price tag frighten you. Though you will be applying for financial aid through an independent agency, many high schools have additional monies to spend on the right student. High school application forms often ask what you think you’re able to spend, taking into
consideration help you might receive from grandparents and other sources.

If they want what your child has to offer, schools will give you additional support.

Step 5: Wait—Patiently or Otherwise

You’ll likely spend a good bit of time on the phone making sure all those separately mailed documents—test scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts—have reached the schools. It’s not uncommon for these important items to be misplaced, so get to know your school administrators (in a good way). Acceptance letters are usually mailed at the end of March.

By the end of our meeting in Mrs. Lidinsky’s Homeroom, I am overwhelmed but ready to make my lists and fill out my applications and schedule all the open house visits and shadowing and testing and—who am I kidding? I’m ready for a beer and a nap.

Before we get up, Andrea and I each tuck love letters to our daughters in their desks for them to find on Friday. We’ve been doing that for nine years at this school, in every classroom, on every floor, as we have attended report card conferences and meet-the-teacher nights, our adult-size behinds spilling over their tiny chairs, our big knees banging on their low tables.

Now here we are talking about high schools. When did our children’s desks grow so big?

Online cheat sheet for parents of soon-to-be high schoolers:

For information about applying to Baltimore City public high schools, go here. For a list of open houses at Baltimore Independent Schools go here. For information about Baltimore area Catholic schools, here. For the AIMS Baltimore-Area Independent School Fair, click here. And for ISEE test dates, visit here.

The Worst Part of Teaching: The Parents


Ron Clark was named “American Teacher of the Year” and — more importantly — was anointed by Oprah as a “phenomenal man.” He clearly loves teaching kids. And he hates parents.

Well, while that might be overstating his case, Clark does have some pretty harsh words for a certain kind of problematic parent, the type who cause more trouble than their children.  He recounts a series of stories of parents bringing lawyers for meetings with teachers; parents calling the media to berate teachers who are just doing their jobs; no wonder, then, that today’s new teachers remain in the job for an average of only 4.5 years, and that many list “issues with parents” as a reason they leave the profession.

So what does Clark want parents to remember? Nothing too revolutionary:  that teachers are educators, not baby-sitters; that making excuses for your child’s behavior helps no one; that being grade-obsessed sends the wrong message. All of which sounds eminently reasonable. Not surprisingly, though, he gets attacked in the comment section of his story (everything from “Why should I believe a teacher at face value and not my own child?” to “Are you a moron, or are you trully as ignorant as you sound?”).

So Baltimore teachers, city and county, private and public, give us your horror stories anonymously and we’ll print them.  Consider it a favor to you and to parents! (Hey, we don’t want a bad reputation.)  Contact us at [email protected] or write your story in the comments below. 

Teachers:  any horror stories? Who’s the most frustrating parent you’ve ever had to deal with?

The Nation’s Most Expensive Private School


Private school tuition is an expensive privilege no matter the location, but some tuition bills are higher than others. This summer, we looked at tuition rates at area private schools and found that Baltimore private school tuition averages at about $23,000.

That’s a great deal compared to the nearly $40,000 price tag at the country’s most expensive private schools listed by Business Insider.  Take a peek and tell us: How much is too much?

The Best College in the WORLD is…


Sometimes being the best in the country just doesn’t feel… impressive enough, which must be why the QS World University Rankings exist. If you’ve ever had the sneaking suspicion that Harvard isn’t quite as #1 as it seems to think it is, well, you were right; the top-ranking school in the world is, once again, Cambridge.  (Rounding out the top 5:  Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Oxford.) Baltimore’s very own Johns Hopkins is the 16th best school in the world, which sounds very nice indeed.

This year, the organization included a new and upsetting feature — well, upsetting if you’re paying for college in the U.S., that is — where you can compare international universities by both rank and tuition costs. #1 (Cambridge) costs around $15,000/year for domestic undergrads, and $5,000 (!) for post-grads. (No, that last figure is not missing a zero.) The #2 school, Harvard, runs around $39,000 for undergrads and $37,000 for post-grads. It’s enough to make you consider moving to England.

More sticker shock from survey organizers:  “In Paris, École normale supérieure ENS, ranked 33rd, and Ecole Politechnique ranked 36th both offer undergraduate courses for less than a $1000 and Postgraduate courses for less than $8,000. In Germany, the highest ranked universities are; University of Heidelberg at 53rd and Technical University of Munich at 54th in the world, each charging less than $2000 for domestic and EU citizens.”

View the complete rankings here, and a discussion of survey methodology here.

Hopkins Adopts Orphans (Orphan Books, That Is)


Last week, a whole bunch of prestigious schools — namely, Hopkins, Cornell, Duke, and Emory — announced that they’ll join together to make millions of so-called “orphan books” from their collections available online for students, faculty, and researchers at their own institutions. These orphan books are at the heart of Google’s  $125 million class action settlement this spring — but what these schools are doing is a lot more noble, and a lot less controversial.

Books published before 1923 are in the public domain because their copyright has expired, and books that are currently in-print have publishers, agents, and authors making sure royalties are fairly distributed. But in between these two groups are millions of books (and other works of art or scholarship) published after 1923 but out-of-print, where no one knows who owns the copyright. Perhaps the publisher has folded, the author and his/her descendants have died — but now no one’s around to give permission to use the work in question. Orphan works drive archivists, writers, and biographers crazy, because they’re there, but (according to copyright law) need permission to be used — and no one has the ability to give that permission.

Google stirred up controversy by going ahead and scanning millions of orphan books, and making them available for search online. The good-Google argument is that they’re taking obscure-but-useful books out of limbo; the evil-Google argument is that they’re sneakily monopolizing the rights to (and profits from) texts that they don’t have the copyright for.

But what Hopkins is doing is far less controversial. By making them available to the limited university community (and by not profiting from ad sales), the universities will make hard-to-find materials available for the people who need them. As many as 4 million volumes of material, in fact. Get ready to start reading!

The Class of 2015: Different From You and Me


You may want to sit down for this one:  the freshmen you see moving into dorms this week were for the most part born in 1993, have always had access to the internet, and — perhaps most disturbingly — Ferris Bueller is old enough to be their father (if he weren’t fictional, that is).

You can thank Beloit College for these factoids, which come from its annual Mindset List, a catalog of the disturbingly speedy way that references change, worldviews shift, and generation gaps gape. Some of the list’s most startling items below:

For the Class of 2015,

  • Andre the Giant, River Phoenix, Frank Zappa, Arthur Ashe and the Commodore 64 have always been dead.
  • The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  • There have nearly always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
  • More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  • The Communist Party has never been the official political party in Russia.
  • Women have always been kissing women on television.
  • Their older siblings have told them about the days when Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were Mouseketeers.
  • Music has always been available via free downloads.
  • Public schools have always made space available for advertising.
  • They’ve always wanted to be like Shaq or Kobe: Michael Who?
  • Refugees and prisoners have always been housed by the U.S. government at Guantanamo.
  • The New York Times and the Boston Globe have never been rival newspapers.

Read the whole list here.

The Glory (and Misery) of the Random Freshman Roommate


Future freshmen at Hocking College in Ohio take the Myers-Briggs personality test, with the results getting sent to the Office of Residential Life for better roommate matching. “[We] make every effort to match you with another student who has some of the same interests and personality attributes as you,” the college reassures incoming students.

But is it really so important to live with someone similar to you?  In this weekend’s New York Times, Dalton Conley mourns the era of the random roommate:  “When we lose randomness,” he notes, “we also lose serendipity.”  Today’s students aren’t just taking long personality tests to ensure compatibility; they’re often scoping one another out on Facebook as soon as they get their acceptance letters, and finding a like-minded stranger to request as a bunkmate.

While it makes sense to keep the messy students and the smokers together, something is lost by such precise sorting.  Conley cites a 2002 Cornell study that found that white students who were assigned a roommate from a different race were more open-minded about race by the end of the year. That’s just one example of the peer-to-peer learning that takes place over the course of a semester, where students figure out how to get along with someone perhaps very different from themselves.  “And if you end up with the roommate from hell? You’ll survive, and someday have great stories to tell your future spouse, with whom you’ll probably get along better,” rhapsodizes Conley. Easy enough for him to say; for all his love of randomness, he’s not volunteering to spend a year sharing a 10-foot-by-10-foot space with a stranger, you’ll note.

What was your college roommate like?

100 Grand to Skip College?!


Attention, young entrepreneurs: In San Francisco, Peter Thiel, who is a co-founder of online home run PayPal, has started what could be a revolution in the higher education community. He is offering $100,000 to students–high school graduates and college students under age 20–not to go to college.  So, what do you have to do for the money?  Have a good idea, and try to turn it into business.

As recipients of the “20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship,” fellows embrace the life of young entrepreneurs for two years–they develop new scientific and technical projects, learn about business models, and begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow.  In addition to the cash, these kids receive another huge payday–they spend their time working with real life entrepreneurs and scientists, as mentors for their projects.  Project areas this year include biotech, career development, economics and finance, education, energy, information technology, mobility, robotics, and space.

Being selected may be less likely than being struck by lightning, but for those young people out there who are smart and creative, and have a great idea, why not try?  As Thiel promotes his scholarship, he reminds students (and their parents) that college will still be there waiting after the two years are over; and with $100,000 stipend in the bank, these Thiel Fellows can actually pay for it.

Applicants are asked to “design a project to change the world.”  Okay…that’s not intimidating, right?  But when you are 18, maybe it’s not!  Kids are so full of promise and creativity, perhaps it’s the perfect time for them to take a swing.  Thiel is all about innovation–his plan is to shake things up, challenge the traditional ways of doing tech business, and disrupt the status quo.  Although he finished college, and grad school, before making his own business millions, he thinks that the current college debt load is such a risk to future entrepreneurs that he encourages young entrepreneurs to skip that step, if they can.

This year, the inaugural year of the program, Thiel chose 24 students from more than 400 applicants, who came from many different countries, high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, four-year colleges, and grad schools.  For these kids, the next two years will be life changing, whether they launch their fortune-making businesses or not.