Innovative, Successful Education

June 28, 1994|By IRENE DANDRIDGE and LORRETTA JOHNSON

The marketers of Education Alternatives, Inc. have spun a tale worthy of Pinocchio that all is bad in Baltimore public schools, and that parents' and children's only hope is to buy the company's product to turn things around.

While Pinocchio's nose has been growing longer, hundreds of Baltimore's kids have benefited from innovative educational programs developed, shaped and implemented by Baltimore's own teachers and other school staff.

Many Baltimore schools are now rich with positive, exciting programs that are motivating students to excel. Baltimore can build on these successes by duplicating them in other schools and creating new ones to fit students' particular needs. The excitement of learning is spreading throughout Baltimore classrooms and should continue.

What is not working is EAI's brand of education now in about a dozen schools. The program comes nicely packaged with all the right slogans, catchwords and promises -- smaller class sizes, ''dramatic'' improvement in test scores, happier students.

The problem is, just like new products that become flashes in the pan, EAI's brand of education should have a very short shelf life. Classes in EAI schools are not smaller. In fact, since EAI eliminated most special-education classes, the regular classroom sizes have swelled because of -- often inappropriately placed -- disabled children. Test scores of children in EAI schools have not shown ''dramatic'' improvements. The latest batch show a drop in reading scores and only a slight increase in math scores. These followed earlier scores that showed a significant drop in achievement.

Why hand over taxpayer dollars to an out-of-state, for-profit company like EAI, which has a proven record of failing to improve student achievement, when Baltimore already has talented teachers who have proved themselves as creators of successful programs?

Walter P. Carter Elementary School is one shining example of a school that is bursting with innovative programs. Virginia Marshall, a teacher there, designed ''Catch Me Being Good'' as a way to curb discipline problems by improving the self-esteem of all kids. Children ''caught being good'' earn points for such things as attendance, completing homework (bonus points are awarded for homework signed by a parent) and classroom participation. The incentive for earning a lot of points is the right toparticipate in the best end-of-the-year ''Fun Day'' activity.

The proof is in the pudding. Ms. Marshall says there was a definite improvement in the behavior of kids whose teachers participated in the program.

Also at Carter Elementary, Felix Dembeck -- a retired vice principal -- created ''Where Friends Meet to Discuss and Solve Problems'' for extremely disruptive boys. Mr. Dembeck spends two hours a day, three times a week, with about 20 boys to help build their character, to be a positive role model and to be there when they need to talk.

''I'm white. They're all black. It doesn't matter. I respect them and tell them they can do better than most people give them credit for,'' he said. ''If each elementary school had a program like this, it would work beautifully.''

About seven Baltimore elementary schools are using ''The Responsive Classroom'' curriculum. Along with the regular academic curriculum, students are exposed to a non-traditional program stressing social skills and cooperative learning. ''Teachers are more like facilitators. Kids learn more by teaching each other than by a teacher standing in front of them all day,'' said Theresa Gresham, the program's teacher coordinator at George Street Elementary.

George Street also enjoys a successful partnership with

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. The company has provided computers for classrooms and several employees volunteer their time as after-school tutors. ''All our kids come from single-parent households. We asked if BGE could send black males who would serve as positive role models. And that's exactly what they sent. It's been wonderful,'' Ms. Gresham said.

On the high school level, Lake Clifton-Eastern High School is on the cutting edge of innovative programs to introduce kids to the world of work. Students enrolled in the four-year Law Education Program get a double dose of social-studies courses, with an emphasis on the law. By the 12th grade, students have an opportunity to participate in internships -- arranged by the program's coordinators -- in Baltimore law firms, the State's Attorneys office, the police department, the Sexual Assault Recovery Center and other law-related offices.

If the world of finance interests a Lake Clifton-Eastern student, the Academy of Finance is an option. Through a generous grant from Shearson Lehman Bros. of New York, the four-year program offers courses on economics, banking, the stock market and other financial issues. And like the law program, the finance academy also offers internships in city brokerage houses and other financial institutions.

These are just a few examples of the exciting opportunities for Baltimore public-school students. More improvements and educational reform programs need to be implemented.

But don't these few examples say volumes about the creativity and dedication of Baltimore's teachers and their students? Who needs outsiders with a failed track record when there is home-grown talent working hard to improve and enliven Baltimore schools? There's nothing slick about that. It's just good, solid creativity at work.

Irene Dandridge is president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Lorretta Johnson is president of the union's paraprofessional chapter and a vice-president of the American Federation of Teachers.

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