For Baltimore schools, it was a choice gathering Forum: Mayor talks of expanding school choices for city students, including using vouchers, at forum sponsored by conservative institute.

The Education Beat

June 26, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

IT DOESN'T sound right: Kurt L. Schmoke, conservative.

But there was the mayor Monday noon, along with several Maryland luminaries associated with the Democratic Party, speaking at a downtown forum on school choice. The forum -- and the accompanying lunch -- were paid for by the Calvert Institute for Policy Research, a new conduit for the conservative line in Maryland.

It was, as Schmoke himself said, "a gathering of people who don't often gather under the same roof."

Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican near-governor, sat a few chairs from the mayor, not far from a representative of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank. Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings was there, as was Bob Embry of the Abell Foundation, hardly a bastion of conservatism. Quite a drawing for an outfit that didn't exist a year ago and that operates out of a rowhouse in Charles Village!

Oklahoman is no-show

The mayor had come to hear J. C. Watts, the Oklahoma congressman who has become something of a national guru in the school choice movement.

When Watts, one of two black Republicans in Congress, didn't show up (without explanation), Schmoke kept things going. He extemporized for half an hour.

His task force on school choice has completed a round of six hearings, the mayor said, and is on course for a report in the fall. He's not dismissing any approach to expanding educational choices for Baltimore parents and students, he said, especially for those who can't afford expensive private schools.

A choice plan, perhaps one that gives vouchers to parents good for tuition at public and nonpublic schools, should make the city school system more competitive and "end up moving people to improve schools," the mayor said.

'Middle-class person'

Asked why that hadn't occurred in nearly two centuries of competition from private and parochial schools in Baltimore, the mayor said choice "has been limited to the middle class. Choice is something I have as a middle-class person."

Schmoke did not explain how extending choice to poor families would increase the pressure on public schools if that hasn't happened in 170 years of middle-class choice. But never mind. The forum sponsors, who learned the next day that Watts had been "detained" in his home state, went away beaming.

State board approves math 'core learning goals'

The state Board of Education approved yesterday a tough set of mathematics "core learning goals" that will become part of the state's exit examinations as high school reform is phased in over the next eight years.

Mathematics hasn't been as controversial as history and science, perhaps because reforming the math curriculum isn't as laden with ideological decisions. How disputatious can a quadratic equation be?

Still, the goals approved yesterday haven't been free of controversy. Some teachers complained they are too difficult for Maryland students.

But the approved goals, drawn up in consultation with business people and university mathematicians, are tough and uncompromising, according to Jo Ann E. Argersinger, provost at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and chairwoman of a task force attempting to align the state's curriculum from kindergarten through college.

Maryland students still will have to take three years of math in high school, but the state board approved yesterday a new optional course, yet to be developed, that will prepare any student who passes it for college-level mathematics.

"This should cut down on remediation in the two- and four-year colleges," Argersinger said. "We have situations where high school math teachers are teaching remedial math part time at the college level. It doesn't make sense."

3 'easy payments' of $99, then read at blinding speed

One of the advertisers on the Rush Limbaugh radio program is a speed-reading course that purportedly will help you read a 500-page novel in an hour, while retaining the plot as clearly as if it were that of "your favorite movie."

That's an example of efficiency that could change the face of education, we thought, so we called the 800 number and found ourselves on line with an enthusiastic salesman.

"You probably read word by word, left to right," he said.

"Right," we said.

"Our revolutionary technique has you reading entire sentences at one glance, and you read vertically, down the page, instead of horizontally, across the page."

"How much?" we asked.

"Three easy payments of $99 each," he said. "But you'll be so pleased the first month that it will seem inexpensive."

Maybe, but suddenly it didn't sound so revolutionary.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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