$27 million reform effort will include 2 city schools

October 04, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

A high school and a middle school in Baltimore will become national laboratories for school reform as part of a $27.7 million federal effort led by the Johns Hopkins University to find ways to reach "at-risk" students and to rebuild failing schools.

The U.S. Education Department announced yesterday the five-year grant to the Johns Hopkins University and Howard University in Washington, which will jointly run a research center.

The center will examine why some poor and minority students succeed and others fail, the impact of cultural factors on educational success, and how schools can work to prevent violence.

It will be directed by Robert Slavin, research scientist at Johns Hopkins, and A. Wade Boykin, director of the graduate program in psychology at Howard.

In Baltimore, Hopkins researchers hope to overhaul the two schools, neither of which has been selected, beginning with the 1995-1996 school year. Similar efforts are planned at two schools in Washington.

Hopkins will be using techniques it has tested for two decades, but they have never all been combined in one school.

All students will take college-preparatory courses, and those who need remedial help will get double doses of some subjects during the school day. Exams will be prepared by department heads, and teachers will be evaluated in part on how well their students perform.

Instead of having five or six teachers in a day, students will have only two or three, so they spend more time with each teacher in hopes of building stronger bonds and breaking down traditional animosity.

Grades will be based in part on how much students improve, not just on their level of achievement. Team teaching will be in, "tracking" students according to academic ability will be out, with emphasis on building on strengths instead of continually telling students their shortcomings.

"What we're trying to do is place ourselves in the role of students -- all the elements of whether a kid likes school or hates it," said Hopkins researcher James McPartland.

Too often they feel unwelcome and uninspired, said Dr. McPartland, pointing to dropout rates exceeding 18 percent, dismal attendance and poor performance.

"The trouble is that kids, who are born bright and able, fall off the train at each stage," he added.

The Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk will replace Hopkins' Center for Disadvantaged Students, which received about $1.5 million a year until federal funding ran out last week.

The new center will receive some $4.7 million in its first year, allowing researchers to continue and expand efforts to help pre-school and elementary school students.

"The work of this new center will solidify the research base needed to put an end to the cycle of student failure that has become all too familiar," said Sharon Robinson, assistant education secretary for educational research and improvement. She said this represents a stepped-up effort to apply education research to school improvement efforts.

The Hopkins-Howard team competed for the grant with 10 other contenders from throughout the nation.

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