City public school gets on course Curriculum: After implementing the Calvert School program, Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill has seen a dramatic turnaround in test scores.

The Education Beat

October 01, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE'S Carter G. Woodson Elementary School and the Calvert School are eight miles and a world apart.

Woodson is a Cherry Hill public school with 90 percent of its students eligible for free lunches. Calvert is a private elementary school in the Tuscany-Canterbury neighborhood serving many of the city's affluent children, with tuition approaching $10,000.

Yet on any school day, teachers and students at both schools are engaged in similar activities with the same rigorous, no-nonsense approaches put to the test at Calvert for precisely 100 years.

All students write and perfect a weekly composition, for example, and they don't move to the next task until they get it right. Expectations are high. Students' work is collected monthly. Phonics, now enjoying a renaissance after a long period out of favor, has always been the bedrock of Calvert reading instruction.

Woodson is the second city elementary school to establish a partnership with Calvert. The other, Barclay School in Charles Village, was first and famous. It was highlighted on network television and in national magazines and newspapers, and visited by educators from around the globe, making something of a celebrity of Principal Gertrude Williams.

The Barclay/Calvert partnership proved that a private-school curriculum can work in an inner-city public school.

Now Woodson is showing standardized test scores in reading, writing and math that are similar to Barclay's early results. Scores at Woodson increased dramatically in the first three years of testing, said Principal Susan Spath. In writing, students rose to above the national average, scoring 32 points higher than a comparable group of students not in the Calvert program.

These results were achieved among some of the city's poorest children -- without major changes in Woodson's teaching staff.

"Educational gains at Woodson have been realized, changing the what and how of the curriculum. The who remained the same," Spath and Barbara McHugh, an independent evaluator, wrote in a recent academic journal article.

Spath said yesterday that Woodson will continue phasing in the Calvert program even as foundation support for the partnership is phased out. "It's something we want, something that's proving its worth. And guess what? We're going to do it," Spath said.

But don't look for other city schools to attempt replication.

"You can replicate parts of it," said Spath, "but to really do it right, you have to implement all of the Calvert elements." That costs money. Barclay, in its early years, had a full-time coordinator at the school, as does Woodson. Teachers have to be trained.

Moreover, from the first, the private school folks have been reluctant to become saviors of public schools on a large scale. They have their hands full with the 390-student Calvert School and a 16,000-student worldwide correspondence school, headquartered in Baltimore.

Still, it's a bit sad that Spath, principal of a school with a proven program, has had more visitors from western Canada than from West Baltimore.

St. James & John marks 150th year next week

Happy 150th to St. James & John Catholic School.

The oldest Roman Catholic elementary school in Baltimore was founded Oct. 8, 1847, by the School Sisters of Notre Dame -- a time when nuns were not allowed to teach boys in parochial schools. Male students were taught by laymen until four Brothers of Mary arrived from Dayton, Ohio, in 1873.

Today, St. James & John has 249 students, all of them African-American and 80 percent receiving tuition assistance, said Principal LaUanah King-Cassell. The school is at 1012 Somerset St. in East Baltimore.

Prominent educators, church officials, politicians, parents and alumni will celebrate the sesquicentennial Sunday afternoon, and the school plans daily anniversary-related activities next week, including the laying of a time capsule.

Many public schools fill in for church, family

Over time, public schools have taken on many of the functions of church and family.

They're expected to teach children to practice good health habits, reject drugs, refrain from premarital sex, lead moral and ethical lives and respect animals and fellow humans.

In the past week, these items crossed Education Beat's desk: "How's your health ed program?" the American School Board Journal asks of its member boards. "Are you teaching each topic at the appropriate grade level? Is the topic introduced before children initiate undesired behaviors, such as smoking, drug use, sexual activity and eating disorders?"

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, claiming to be the nation's largest organization addressing anti-gay bias in schools, releases its first "report card" identifying schools that fail to protect students and teachers from harassment and discrimination. The average grade is C.

A report in the American Journal of Public Health says teens in New York City provided condoms by their schools are no more likely to be sexually active than teens denied access to contraceptives.

In a report titled "Closed Hearts, Closed Minds," the Institute for American Values says current school textbooks convey a "determinedly pessimistic view of marriage."

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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