Tag: public school

House of the Day: Row House With Updates, On Best Street in Medfield


1132 Roland Heights Avenue, Hoes Chapel
2 bedroom(s), 1 bathroom(s)
1132 Roland Heights Avenue
1132 Roland Heights Avenue
1132 Roland Heights Avenue

UM Sends Its Best and Brightest Math Stars to High-Needs Schools


Everyone’s got a theory about how to close the education gap, and they range from the lofty to the simple. Starting this year, some members of the University of Maryland College of Education will try to change one small thing:  putting well-trained, quality math teachers in high-needs schools.

“We’ve known for years that there are not enough well-trained, quality mathematics teachers to meet the staffing needs of schools,” says UM assistant professor Lawrence Clark. The reasons are many — one big one being that those of a mathematic or scientific bent have the potential to earn way more in the private sector. In an attempt to fill the gap, some schools are recruiting teachers from the Philippines, while some teaching programs offer alternative pathways to certification. This is working to a certain extent, but the lack is still there — and high-needs schools are the hardest hit.

Enter the National Science Foundation, which is teaming up with the university to fund 42 $14,000 scholarships to juniors and seniors interested in teaching math in high-needs middle or high schools. The chosen Noyce Scholars (named after Robert Noyce, who co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel) will have to commit to two years of service for every one year of scholarship support. The program will also provide support for its students during those tough early years of teaching.

Clark says he hopes that the project will “dispel myths about high needs schools and show students that high needs schools can also be good schools with great teachers, supportive parents, and amazing kids.” The first group of Noyce Scholars will be chosen this spring.

Sexual Harassment: Do Students Get a Written Excuse?


The reasons I lost the will to teach high school are many. Most of them have to do with all the impediments to doing the one thing teachers are known for—teaching. And to be fair, I’d already given my notice of resignation when the “matter” I’m about to describe happened. In fact, it happened because a student wanted to give me a special farewell present.


It was mid-year of my fifth year of teaching. (Half of all teachers quit by their fifth year.) If I’d just held on for one more semester, I would have been vested in the retirement program. But all the money in the world, or all $200 a month I’d receive sometime after 2040, couldn’t justify the lack of administrative and parent support for exorbitant class sizes and teaching to the test, while the extra eyes I’ve attached to the back and sides of my head “manage” classroom behavior, as my brain delivers a lesson I planned at night during my personal time with my family because the hour I’m given during the work day was eaten up by meetings and covering the classes of my ill colleagues due to the shortage of substitutes.


It’s courtesy in most jobs to give two weeks’ notice. I gave three months’ notice. Finding teachers is difficult. And if I left before the end of the semester, I’d leave a new teacher with incomplete grades for over 200 students they’d yet to build a trusting relationship with. There are only a few people I dislike enough to put in that situation. 


It was my last week of class. We were in the third period of a four-period day. I was teaching a junior IB English class. IB stands for International Baccalaureate, an honors program that’s often reduced to a place to stick the reasonably well-behaved kids. About 10 minutes of class remained. I’d instructed the class to work in groups on an exam review while I called students back privately to my desk one-by-one to discuss their approximate final grade.


This was often the time when I found myself blown away by rhetoric and creativity that I hadn’t seen all semester. You can’t give my paper a C. I wrote that when my grandmother was in the hospital having her spider veins cauterized and my terrier was getting around on one of those tripod wheels for a broken leg when he got too much speed going on the second floor and rolled down the stairs and broke the other leg.


When I called Greg* to discuss his E (E is the new, more encouraging version of the F) I was prepared for a parade of excuses. To his credit, he didn’t make any. Yet he hovered over my desk like the curly hair hung over his eyes.


I stood up to indicate that our conversation was over. I even said, “You’re acting weird. Is there anything else?”


“Yeah,” he said.


I leaned towards him to hear his question.


Greg threw his arms around me and pressed his body tightly against mine. Almost in the same motion he mashed his open mouth on my neck, trying to reach my lips. I shoved back and yelled, “Get off me, get off me.” Greg pressed his mouth harder into my face and clutched tighter. I felt panicked and trapped because he’d latched onto me. His trim yet muscular body blocked my only way out from behind my desk.  I rocked my body to gather momentum as I shoved more forcefully against his chest. All the while I repeated my plea, “Get off me.” This time I pushed hard enough to make him stumble. He laughed lightly. I ordered him to get out.


I sat down at my desk, legs shaking, hands quivering. In any other profession I could have the luxury of recovering from an attack in a private office or at least a cube. I could leave immediately for help. I could sanitize my saliva-sodden neck in a private bathroom. Instead, I had a classroom packed with 32 teenagers that I couldn’t leave unsupervised. That I couldn’t crumble emotionally in front of.


Few students had caught the entire scene, of course. The noisy group work and an ill-placed, load-baring column that created blind spots regardless of how I arranged the desks meant Greg’s actions went mostly unnoticed until I yelled.


Fortunately the students who witnessed the entire attack thought of a solution for me—they went to find a teacher to cover my class. The rest of my class stared and whispered. I could hear various students asking me what just happened and was I okay, but I couldn’t concentrate enough to answer back. 


The bell rang as a colleague came to cover my class. The new class coming in already knew some version of the story from Greg’s hall roaming. Calming them down was a challenge when I was having difficulty keeping myself composed.


I waited in class, showing my colleague the assignment, until the late bell rang and the hallways cleared. While trying to find the school’s police officer I saw Greg 12 feet in front of me, lurking in the halls. I ducked into a faculty lounge to avoid him. My anger was boiling because I couldn’t get distance from my attacker. I exited the lounge into a different hallway. There Greg was again. I ran into my department chair’s office a few rooms down and slammed the door.


I was trapped. Greg trapped me behind my desk. He trapped me from using the hallways to find help. He trapped me from being able to come to work, do my job, and go home. And now I was trapped in my department chair’s supply closet of an office.


Just as I was crying to my D.C. about where this guy would get such an idea, the school’s police officer walked in, accompanied by the principal.


“We have more important matters to take care of,” the principal said. My expression must have matched my bewilderment. She patted my arm. “You understand.”


I was beginning to understand too clearly. How could I expect this kid to see how crazy—and illegal—his actions were when the school’s foremost authority figure laughed the “matter” off. It was one of those times that I look back on with an abundance of cutting one-liners. Unfortunately, I was too overwhelmed to think clearly at that moment. The best retort I mustered was, “Let’s just call this ‘matter’ assault.”


The Corporal who left with the principal to take care of those more important issues, like boys lounging in the bathroom instead of sitting in class, told me he’d be back to check on me. In the meantime he was dispatching the school’s newest officer to take my statement.


This new officer took care of business. Within minutes of taking my statement, she had rounded up and isolated the student witnesses. These brave students corroborated my story; ratting out your friend is not a light gesture. But not only had they wanted to come forward — as reality sank in, they felt guilty. They hadn’t jumped to my rescue. I think they were embarrassed and scared that they had remained frozen. I knew exactly how they felt. I’d always considered myself the type of person who’d clock anyone who tried to hurt me. I never entertained the idea that I wouldn’t be able to defend myself.


To make matters worse, I was very aware of the double standard. If I had done this to a student, the principal would have made it a priority to call the news stations, assemble the entire school, and then make a show of handcuffing me in the gym and escorting my butt to jail. I was actually concerned that somehow the principal would spin the blame onto me. She wouldn’t fault anything as archaic as hemlines. Her attention was on the latest buzz word in education, de-escalation. A theory that makes teachers accountable as mind readers who must anticipate, and therefore prevent, teenagers from misbehaving.


The disappointing truth is my concern wasn’t far-fetched. A few colleagues didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It might be a stretch to categorize their comments as victim-blaming, but their effect was the same. But he’s just a kid, he doesn’t know any better. Boys will be boys. You should be flattered that he was going to miss you so much.


This kid was 17. The law recognizes that by age 16, in some cases 14,  a teen is intelligent enough to face adult charges. And boys need to learn how to be men. And flattered is how I feel when I receive a “thank you” card, not a tongued-assault on my face. My male colleagues seemed to get this more intuitively than the females. It made me wonder about a drawback of feminism. Had we gone so far to avoid the appearance of whining that we couldn’t recognize a legitimate violation of rights?


There are so many students in this school that six administrators are responsible for managing discipline. The administrator assigned to Greg suspended him for five days. It was a respectable punishment considering all the ways administrators’ hands can be tied when data on suspensions and expulsions affect a school’s reputation and budget.


It would have been nice, though, if the suspension had kept Greg out of the building and away from me. Instead, he kept coming to the school trying to talk to me. One day he even tried to hand-deliver a letter. Which, I was told, was completely within school policy as long as he was accompanied by an adult. Could this include any high school senior? I was nervous to be alone in my room while I was trying to finish grades and tie up loose ends for the new teacher.


The juvenile justice system seemed more considerate of my rights, but it was tricky to navigate. I received a book-thick packet of instructions from the Juvenile/Victim Assistance Unit. I submitted my victim impact statement prior to the informal hearing. This wasn’t supposed to waive my right to be present at the hearing, but after some confusion and a record snowfall that closed government buildings, I received notice the day after the rescheduled hearing. The Intake Worker presented me with two options. They’d found sufficient evidence of assault from my letter and the arresting officer. I could pursue the assault charges before a judge, or I could recommend that Greg receive probation. I was worn out. Otherwise I wouldn’t have quit my job in the first place. And ultimately I was tired of seeing this guy everywhere I turned.


The Intake Worker and I agreed to 90-days probation. In addition to the probation, Greg would be required to complete three programs about the effects of assault and abuse. The programs included trips to domestic violence support groups and ERs to see and hear from assault victims. I justified my uncharacteristic decision to back down from my day in court by convincing myself that he’d learn more from these programs than he would from a sealed record.  


This incident did not take place in an impoverished city school; it happened in a county school. This was not the first time I complained about students’ sexually-charged comments about their teachers. I was not the only teacher in this school who experienced some level of sexual harassment. On several occasions I counseled teenage females who bragged about the way they were going to “go after” my male colleagues.


My sensitivity could be heightened considering that my brother, a former teacher, is serving five years in prison for a consensual “matter” with a 17-year-old. Before he gave in to meeting her off campus, he’d filed complaints with his principal that the student visited his classroom too often. (He wasn’t her teacher.) But I also have a sense from talking to teachers throughout several states that mine is not an isolated experience. Fending off unwanted sexual advances is just part of the job.


*Name changed.


Who Gets Bullied? (It’s Probably Not Who You Think)


Three years ago, Baltimore City school officers received 12 formal reports of bullying. The next year? 26. The year after that? 231. And last year? A whopping 541.

Which hardly means that kids were nice five years ago, and suddenly turned mean. Instead, it probably reflects a growing awareness both locally and nationally of the prevalence and consequence of bullying. Shaniya Boyd, a fourth-grader at Gilmor Elementary School, was so scared of classmates who knocked away her crutches and kicked her in the head that she tried to jump out the window of a classroom. The incident resulted in some soul-searching by the school system, which reacted by strengthening city school’s bullying policy.

After a string of horrible stories about young children committing suicide after being tormented by bullies, the US Department of Education started paying close attention, too. But anti-bullying activists worry that some kids will fall through the cracks:  students at private schools. Unlike their public counterparts, they don’t have to have bullying prevention policies, nor do private schools have to report incidents.

Who’s bullying who, anyway?  According to a recent study, it’s hardly a matter of the popular kids picking on the super-dorks. In fact, the kids at the very top and bottom of the social ladder weren’t actually all that involved in bullying. Who was? Everyone else:  “overall, the majority (56%) of students were involved in aggression or victimization, either as pure aggressors (25%), pure victims (14%), or both (17%)…. kids do not always fall into the stable roles of bully & victim. Instead, they seem to be sporadically pulled into conflict.”

If such a large proportion of kids are involved, do schools have a place to intervene? And how should they?

School Day Gets Ever Longer…for Some


Three Baltimore schools will serve as testing grounds for a new expanded school day program, thanks to the TASC Expanded Learning Time initiative. According to the Open Society Foundation, one of the program’s funders, “these schools will partner with local community organizations to provide students with engaging, enriching activities that reinforce classroom lessons” after the normal 3 PM closing time.

President Obama himself has trumpeted programs to keep kids in school longer, either through lengthening the school year or extending the school day. Advocates claim that more time in school leads to better performance and greater rates of on-time graduation. And the more time kids are at school, the less time they have to get in trouble. (It’s also worth keeping in mind that U.S. students have an incredibly short school year [180 days], compared to other industrialized nations. Japanese students spend 243 days in school each year; even the notoriously lazy French have 5 more school days per year than we do!)

Rather than keeping kids sitting at desks for 3 bonus hours a day, TASC schools fill the extra time with “rich and varied” activities from sports to academic enrichment. With the traditional school day increasingly taken up by test-prep activities, TASC makes room for extracurriculars, experiments, art classes, PE, and other hands-on “extras.”

It’s a shame, though, that experiential learning, fun projects, and other ways to keep kids engaged are relegated to the “extras” column. Does this program sound like the right kind of move to you?

Cheating Scandal Spreads to Pennsylvania


It’s one of those news stories that just gets more depressing:  the cheating epidemic that hit Baltimore earlier this year has moved on to Pennsylvania, where a whopping 89 schools were flagged for possible testing improprieties. (28 of these were in Philly, a city with 257 schools; in the Baltimore scandal, 2 out of 56 elementary schools were implicated.) As a New York Times story notes, “Never before have so many had so much reason to cheat. Students’ scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure.”

The Pennsylvania story is much like the one in Baltimore, which was similar to a previous scandal in Atlanta:  School districts have little incentive to call foul on fellow educators; cramped newspaper budgets mean that damning reports sit gathering dust on reporters’ desks. When the news finally breaks, everyone wrings their hands for a little while, but ultimately not much changes.

The New York Times reporter concludes that we need a top official with the clout and political will to make a real investigation happen — and to make sure the cheating doesn’t recur. What do you think — does that sound like a likely prospect for Baltimore?

Seven Baltimore County Schools Among Best in the Nation Says Newsweek.com


Newsweek.com named seven Baltimore County public schools among the top 500 public schools in the nation. In order of ranking, the schools were Eastern Technical High School (no. 131), Hereford High School (no. 219 and alma mater of Baltimore Fishbowl intern Marta Randall), the Carver Center (no. 232), Pikesville High (no. 388), Towson High (no. 413) and Dulaney Valley High (no. 446). The schools rankings were based on graduation rate, average SAT score, average AP exam score, and the percentage of students who go on to college, among other statistics. Results reflect data from the 2009-2010 school year. Newsweek.com reached out to over 10,000 schools to compile the final list.

Individual data lines up the schools differently. Take average SAT scores, for example. As reported on newsweek.com, they were Towson, first, with 1742 (out of a perfect 2400); Hereford: 1686; Dulaney: 1672; Carver: 1654; Eastern: 1623; Loch Raven: 1573 and Pikesville: 1539.

In Maryland, the highest ranking school was in Poolesville High School in Montgomery County which ranked 64th in the nation (SAT average: 1828). The next highest was Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, which came in at number 91 (average SAT of 1824). The two Montgomery County high schools were the only two Maryland schools in the top 100 and featured in Newsweek magazine–the others were featured online at newsweek.com only.

Summer Learning: Not As Bad As it Sounds


We tend to think of summer as a time when kids relax, play around, laze in hammocks, and generally try to stay as far as possible from anything remotely educational. But a decades-long Johns Hopkins study shows that kids learn a lot over the summers, even when they don’t necessarily notice that it’s happening. And those summers can make all the difference, especially for disadvantaged students.

For the Beginning School Study, Hopkins researchers followed Baltimore City Public School kids for more than a quarter-century — from first grade through adulthood — looking at how summer experiences affected academic performance. Those lazy summers turned out to be hugely important.

All students in the study — whether they were economically disadvantaged or not — made comparable strides during the school year. Surprisingly enough, it was the summer months that made the difference. While school wasn’t in session, better-off students were going to the library, taking lessons, visiting museums, playing soccer, and just generally taking advantage of resources that helped them learn and develop. Disadvantaged kids didn’t have the same access to these programs — and so fell behind.

During those months, disadvantaged students started to lag significantly in reading, so much so that they were nearly three years behind their peers by the end of fifth grade. And, according to the study, nearly all those losses were due to the difference in how they spent their summers.

Baltimore has started to address the issue with programs like YouthWorks, which offer jobs and financial literacy training to high school students. Over at the Audacious Ideas blog, Brenda McLaughlin suggests that private camps and programs reserve a quarter of their spots for disadvantaged students: 

“While the economics of this proposal may seem improbable, consider the economics of our current school year. We spend nine months and tremendous amounts of energy and resources to promote learning and achievement for all students while school is in session; and then we step back for three months only to let 1/3 of that investment fizzle away. We have created an incredibly inefficient system in terms of how we invest our resources.  What many people don’t realize is that we will pay for this inefficiency regardless, whether it’s proactively through summer scholarships, or retroactively through social services and lost tax revenues.”

How else could schools, students, and parents help make up for the summer learning gap?