Tag: public education

St. Mary’s College of Maryland Earns Double Honors from Kiplinger

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winter swimming
winter swimming

Last month, the popular trendcasters at Kiplinger called out the Top 100 Values in Public College Education and five Maryland schools made the cut: University of Maryland, College Park, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Salisbury University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Towson U.

Then, earlier this month, Kiplinger ranked the 10 Best Public Colleges with the Highest Graduation Rates, and one Maryland school made the grade: St. Mary’s College. So why all the press?

Big Fish Q&A with Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools

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At the outset of the past decade, Baltimore City changed its public schools superintendent with alarming frequency – a dizzying parade of six different bosses in six years. Given the dispiriting prevailing academic circumstances, few relished the job: a less than 50 percent graduation rate, a decades-long slide in enrollment, and appallingly low test scores compared to the national average.

In the summer of 2007, yet another new Baltimore City Public Schools CEO, Andrés A. Alonso, plunged into this apparent cauldron of failure. “We were just about as low as we could be,” Mary Pat Clarke, who chairs the City Council’s education committee, told The New York Times in December 2010. “He blew into town with a suitcase full of ideas. Now the school system’s in motion.”

Alonso set about implementing an ambitious reform program, dramatically altering the school system’s size, structure, and sensibility. In the past five years, he has shuttered underperforming schools; dismissed approximately 75 percent of the system’s principals; eliminated central office personnel by a third; established individual school autonomy by shifting central-office resources and decision-making to principals; introduced critical reviews of teachers based on their students’ achievement; and hired monitors to oversee state assessment testing in an effort to prevent cheating.

His top-to-bottom overhaul has resulted in soaring enrollment, increased graduation, decreased dropouts, and significantly improved test scores.

Still, problems — both perceived and real — vex Alonso’s vision for change. In recent months, The Baltimore Sun has revealed a school system that has allocated scarce financial resources to non-classroom-specific purposes: notably, $65 million to personnel for unused leave over five years; $14 million in overtime pay since 2009, including $78,000 last year alone for Alonso’s driver/security escort; and $500,000 for posh office renovations at BCPS’ North Ave. HQ.

Big Fish Q&A with Diana Morris, Director of Open Society Institute-Baltimore

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Morris_Diana

Almost two and a half years ago, following an engaged and engaging discussion at the central branch of the Pratt Library about how Americans talk — and don’t talk — about race, Open Society Institute-Baltimore director Diana Morris weighed in with a pithy, insightful analysis of our nation’s seemingly institutional racism.

“In America, we focus a lot on individuals; we don’t think about systems,” Morris noted in December 2009, prefiguring the current cataclysm surrounding the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. “Even in school, we don’t talk often about systems unless we happen to take a course in college about sociology. So that’s very helpful to me when I think through ‘how can we really talk effectively about the criminal justice system, which so adversely affects people of color and people who are poor.’ And that’s a system at work, and some of them are sort of unofficial or informal systems, and some of them are formal systems, but it’s more than just an individual bias. And we want to be able to convey that, because unless we can really pierce those systems, we’re not gonna really get effective change.”

Since 1997, Morris has brought a pronounced passion to effecting change in this city as overseer of the local outpost of gazillionaire philanthropist George Soros’ international Open Society Foundations. Specifically, OSI-Baltimore, according to its website, concentrates on “three intertwined problems: untreated drug addiction, an over-reliance on incarceration, and obstacles that impede youth in succeeding inside and out of the classroom. We also support a growing corps of social entrepreneurs committed to underserved populations in Baltimore.”

Pointless Silos or Will Rebuilding Baltimore City Schools Mean Shutting Some Down?

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Two movements are promising to rock the foundations of public education in Baltimore. One is the Transform Baltimore campaign, which is drumming up the political will to finance $2.8 billion for renovation and construction of Baltimore City Public Schools buildings. The other is BCPS CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso’s plan to shutter at least a dozen schools by 2014 — because their buildings are crumbling.

The two movements don’t appear to be operating in concert. Transform Baltimore’s $2.8 billion figure is taken from a report put out in June 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s Education Reform Project. Authored by Frank Patinella and Bebe Verdery and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Buildings for Academic Excellence: A Vision and Options to Address Deficient School Facilities in Baltimore City” thanks CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso for answering questions. But the collaboration seems to have ended there.

According to Erica L. Green’s reporting in The Baltimore Sun, BCPS will release the first draft of its own assessment — a $135,000 independent study — this month. That objective report will ground the CEO’s decisions about which schools are beyond repair. (The schools to be closed for failing by other measures — such as test scores — are not included in the dozen or more figures cited above.)

Edweek just published an article on the effects of school closures on district budgets and academic performance. (To sum up: They don’t help budgets much, nor do they hurt student performance as much as you’d think.) The article also touches on the pitfalls districts should avoid — namely, political fallout due to a breach of public trust. (Adrian Fenty’s fate as mayor of Washington, D.C. — the mayor who appointed schools chancellor Michelle Rhee — is a case in point.)

It seems hugely important, at least to me, that thinking about improving schools and thinking about improving neighborhoods happen together. Some community organizations are already doing that. But these efforts are doomed to fail if Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore City Planning Office, and Baltimore’s many nonprofit organizations, however consolidated, operate as self-contained silos.

Dr. Alonso has an opportunity to model systems thinking for a generation of Baltimore City Public School students. He can be the CEO who worked with local nonprofit organizations, community groups, and city planners to set an urban public school system on a better course. Or he can be the superintendent who closed a bunch of schools because an independent study gave him permission.

Some Questions:

Should Baltimore City Public Schools’ efforts to address failing infrastructure operate in tandem with Transform Baltimore’s efforts? Why? Why not?

Might BCPS challenge itself to think in interdisciplinary ways about how to “right-size the district”? For example, rather than rely on one report by an independent assessment team, could BCPS enlist geography, urban planning, and urban studies teams from Baltimore-based colleges and universities to work on solving systemic issues of poor attendance, high attrition, and low enrollment alongside BCPS?

In the same interdisciplinary vein: Has Transform Baltimore — the nonprofit consortium spearheaded by the ACLU-MD — considered joining up with TransForm Baltimore – The Zoning Code Rewrite – which is a project of the Baltimore City Planning Office (and currently accepting public comments on its first draft)?

Additional source + recommended reading here.

Edit Barry writes the blog Re:education in Baltimore — this post is original to Baltimore Fishbowl. Find her on [email protected]

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