Schools plan new trial run

June 09, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

The private Calvert School, whose collaboration with the city's Barclay School has surpassed the most optimistic expectations, is expanding to another public school in the fall.

Calvert will take its detailed curriculum stressing mastery of the basics -- along with materials, support staff and training -- to Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday.

Woodson eventually would serve as a training site for staffers who would become Calvert curriculum coordinators and take its program to other city public schools.

"You know we've got pockets of excellence, but we've got to find ways to expand it to keep it going," Dr. Amprey said. "If efforts are working and we see enough to know they're working, we ought to spread the wealth."

The partnership at Woodson will begin with kindergarten and first grade, as it did at Barclay four years ago, then expand to other grades. Dr. Amprey said he expects private money to finance the effort.

Unlike other efforts to enlist outsiders to revive schools, Calvert has received widespread praise and virtually no criticism.

It has faced none of the union opposition that surrounds Education Alternatives Inc., the Minneapolis company working in 12 schools.

The secrets to Calvert's success are: the structured curriculum itself; adequate materials; parental involvement; high expectations clearly spelled out for teachers, their assistants, parents and children.

The intensive training immerses the teachers in the Calvert way, which leaves no doubt about what's expected of teachers, their assistants, parents and students.

All of them know, for instance, that first-graders will write in script, and do it perfectly. Not the first time, but sometimes the fifth, sometimes the 10th. Then, after they've corrected their mistakes again and again, their work goes on the wall.

For Woodson teachers, the lessons will begin in August, when teachers and their assistants take their places at desks and practice their cursive script, write lesson plans, watch videos on teaching methods, crack open textbooks and study for two weeks. When school begins, they're to be ready, without having to worry about what headquarters will decide they'll be teaching -- or whether they'll have textbooks.

Every month, parents are sent a report on each student's progress, along with a folder containing their best work. Then, at the end of the school year, the folders go into a black leather binder.

Insistence on perfection pervades the Calvert curriculum. So does stability.

At its heart, the curriculum has changed little since the school began sending it to homes worldwide around the turn of the century. With a strong emphasis on writing, the curriculum stresses basics, and students attack them from different angles in different classes simultaneously.

Calvert Headmaster Merrill S. Hall III said he views Woodson as a test of how well Calvert's curriculum can be applied in schools other than Barclay and possibly extended beyond.

"Was it really Barclay or can you transplant this? I think we owe people that answer," he said. "If the school system would like us to try to multiply this effect, the Barclay-Calvert effect, we would first of all have to prove that it isn't just a Barclay effect, that it works at other schools."

Woodson Principal Susan Spath said she had followed accounts of the Barclay-Calvert experiment closely, and she has no doubt that teachers and students will welcome the partnership.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, which is financing the $100,000 annual cost of the Barclay-Calvert experiment, said he's confident the new partnership with the North Baltimore private school would prove equally successful. "We know that it works, so it isn't a matter of hypotheses," he said. "And it's worked over three years, not just one, so there's no reason to think it won't be successful."

The effort at Barclay began with kindergarten and first-grade classes, and Calvert took on second-grade classes in the 1991-1992 school year, third grade the next year and fourth grade last fall. This fall, the program is to expand to all grades at the Charles Village elementary-middle school.

A third-year evaluation by a Johns Hopkins University researcher found that students in the program:

* Scored well above the national average in reading on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), while those who had not participated scored well below the average.

* Averaged more than 20 percentile points higher than those who did not have the Calvert curriculum on the reading and writing portions of the Educational Records Bureau Tests given at private schools nationwide.

* Scored above the national average on the language arts portion of the CTBS and in writing on the private school test. The first Barclay-Calvert class to finish third grade scored 20 percentile points above any of its predecessors that had not been in the program.

* Scored at the 60th percentile on the private school math tests, while their predecessors were around the 20th percentile. On the CTBS math test, those in the program averaged 10 percentile points higher than did students who were not.

Before the partnership at Barclay, test scores had sunk, attendance had dropped and students shared books -- which teachers sometimes fashioned from other books.

Backed by hundreds of parents and community activists, Barclay Principal Gertrude Williams fought to bring Calvert's curriculum to her school.

A protracted, highly public battle over the program ultimately pitted the mayor against Dr. Amprey's predecessor, Richard C. Hunter and played a key role in Dr. Hunter's ouster.

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