Baltimore school officials may adapt Calvert model Demanding program would be offered at all city elementaries

January 23, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials are taking steps to adapt a rigorous private school curriculum -- credited with improving two city public schools -- for use in every elementary school in the system.

According to documents obtained by The Sun, city and Abell Foundation officials have been discussing plans to write a curriculum for students in kindergarten through eighth grade that would be modeled after that of the private Calvert School.

"For so long, there has been the criticism and the concern that we were not taking greater advantage of the success of the program" at Barclay Elementary-Middle and Carter G. Woodson Elementary, schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday.

"So this is an attempt to see if we can make a Calvert-like program work for all of our schools," he said.

The plans are still preliminary. They have not been approved by Abell or Calvert directors or the city school board, said foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr., who proposed the new curriculum in October.

Also, it was not clear yesterday what effect recent city-state negotiations to overhaul the school system would have on the development of these plans.

Mr. Embry has proposed founding a nonprofit agency to write and market the Baltimore curriculum. The agency also would develop lesson plans to help teachers deliver the program's content, train the teachers and prepare tests to evaluate progress.

"We wanted a nonprofit so it wouldn't fluctuate with changes in school administration and with school-system staff," he said. "Dr. Amprey has had to cut his central office staff dramatically."

In his proposal, Mr. Embry wrote that the new curriculum would help Dr. Amprey achieve his oft-stated wish of preparing all city children to study calculus in their senior year in high school.

"Without a much more rigorous and detailed curriculum, as well as regular assessments, it will be impossible to realize your exciting goals," Mr. Embry wrote.

School-system critics, including its former curriculum director, have suggested in recent months that Baltimore schools lack a definitive and up-to-date citywide teaching plan that reflects the state's rising standards.

Dr. Amprey disagreed yesterday. "Our problem is not the content, it's the delivery," he said.

The Calvert program offers "close scrutiny, supervision and guidance, and that's what Abell is putting in place," he said.

Parents and Gertrude S. Williams, principal at Barclay, in Charles Village, started using the Calvert curriculum in September 1990 for kindergarten and first-grade pupils.

The school added a grade each year, and in the fall introduced it to sixth-graders.

In 1994, the partnership with Abell, Calvert School and Baltimore schools added Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill.

Officials at the Baltimore-based Calvert School, which sells its nationally acclaimed curriculum as a home-study program, decided last year to forgo further expansion into city public schools, Mr. Embry said yesterday.

Although city school officials have discussed for some time the option of writing a Calvert-like curriculum, this decision sparked his proposal, he said.

Calvert School officials could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

According to the memos, the new "Baltimore Core Curriculum" would meld the Calvert approach with a second experimental program called "Core Knowledge Curriculum" and the state's education standards.

Those standards, called the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, emphasize advanced thinking skills. Calvert's curriculum features precisely organized lesson plans and an intensive writing program: Children are expected to master skills before they advance. The Core Knowledge Curriculum specifies content that children should master in each grade level.

Mr. Embry has been negotiating with Calvert School -- and with developers of the Core Knowledge Curriculum -- for permission to use their products as models.

There are concerns about competition, trademark and other legal matters, but he hopes to resolve these, he said.

The Abell Foundation is supporting a pilot project using the Core Knowledge Curriculum in 10 city schools.

"We would provide 100 percent of the funding needed over several years to establish and maintain a group of curriculum experts hired specifically for this effort," he proposed in an October letter to Dr. Amprey.

Dr. Amprey accepted the offer in November.

Yesterday, he said organizers hope to begin with a pilot group of 10 schools this fall. They would start with kindergarten through second grade, then add a few grades each year through 2000 until the program includes eighth-graders in every city school.

That timetable is tentative, and the reach of the proposed program would depend on the school system's ability to provide the books and materials to support the curriculum.

The cost to Abell and to the city are not described in the memos. The complete costs are not known, Mr. Embry said yesterday, as many details are still being researched.

A Johns Hopkins University report on the Calvert experiment at Barclay last year documented four years of gains in student attendance and in children's achievement on state exams.

It estimated Abell's costs during the last four years of the project at more than $400,000.

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