City schools given math, science grant

May 11, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Baltimore is among nine school systems chosen for five-year, $15 million grants to improve math and science instruction and increase the number of urban high school graduates who are ready for work or college-level study in those fields, the National Science Foundation announced yesterday.

Baltimore plans to use its grant to train teachers and students better in math and science and to accelerate the revamping of the city's math and science curriculum, from kindergarten through high school.

"This will allow us to push things forward faster and in much more depth," said Andrea R. Bowden, the school system's science and math coordinator. "This gives us the support to really put our program out there on line. In the past, we just never had enough money to get all the teachers trained as quickly as we would like."

The grants are part of an urban science program initiated by the foundation, a federal agency that encourages the advancement of science. The money is intended to help raise the generally low level of math and science achievement among students in America's urban school systems, especially among minorities.

Nationally, three-quarters of white eighth-graders perform at or above basic achievement levels in math. But only 37 percent of Hispanics and 26 percent of blacks meet the minimum standards, according to the foundation.

Baltimore is scheduled to receive $2 million for the 1994-95 school year, the first year.

Other school systems that are receiving grants are: Detroit; New York; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Dade County, Fla; Phoenix; Cincinnati; and Chicago.

Ms. Bowden said Baltimore already has embarked on reforms to improve math and science achievement. But she conceded it has a long way to go.

For instance, city school administrators say that all high school students should be "calculus-ready" by graduation. Toward that end, she said, the city now offers algebra in eighth rather than ninth grade and has eliminated less-challenging general math courses that were favored by many high school students but left them unprepared for college.

Also, Ms. Bowden said, new graduation requirements approved by the city school board this year require high school students to take biology, chemistry and physics. Previously, she said, most students took biology but only two-thirds took chemistry and just more than one in five took physics. As a result, she said, some neighborhood-zoned high schools do not offer some science courses because too few students sign up for them.

Standardized test scores, Ms. Bowden said, show that city students consistently place below national norms in math and science.

"We are far too low in our scores," Ms. Bowden said. "One thing we want to do is increase those. But we also want to increase enrollment in math and science courses generally."

Baltimore's grant will allow teachers to be trained at Morgan State University, which houses a foundation regional center for minorities.

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