From dropout to college student Literacy: Allen Hackett was illiterate well into adulthood but earned a diploma from Howard County's external degree program and hopes to earn a degree at Howard Community College.

The Education Beat

October 19, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THIRTY YEARS ago, Allen Hackett was kicked out of school in Howard County. By his own description, he was a bitter and rebellious teen-ager.

He was illiterate well into his adulthood, but he summoned enough will and energy to learn to read and earn a diploma in the county's external diploma program.

At 44, he has advanced from menial work to night building supervisor at Centennial Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City. He is attending Howard Community College with an eye toward earning a degree.

Wednesday morning, he read an inspirational speech flawlessly before 150 business executives, educators and union officials launching a drive to improve Maryland workers' skills.

"The more people are educated, the better life will be for all of us," Hackett said simply. He got a standing ovation.

Maryland needs many more people like Hackett, said state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, and it needs more businesses and unions willing to invest in literacy training. "Those with marginal skills today are in jeopardy in ways we don't know," Grasmick said.

Literacy Works, as the campaign that began Wednesday is called, is part of a national effort. Its organizers face a daunting challenge: Although there are about 150 programs in the state to provide adult literacy instruction, nearly 800,000 Marylanders lack high school diplomas, and about 250,000 of them have completed fewer than nine years of school.

"Illiteracy is a cancer," is how Grasmick put it.

Report card still out on value of tutoring

President Clinton wants to recruit a million volunteers to tutor American children in reading. He has asked for $2.75 billion to do it.

Barbara Wasik isn't against voluntarism, but she is far from alone in questioning the tactics of Clinton's America Reads Challenge. A researcher at the Johns Hopkins University, Wasik took a hard look at 16 volunteer tutoring programs and found that only two had scientifically sound evaluations.

Wasik says there is no evidence that volunteer tutoring is useless. "But there is insufficient evidence that the programs improve children's reading achievement, and less evidence concerning what forms of volunteer tutoring programs are most likely to work."

Among unanswered questions: Should tutors be paid? How much training do they require? Which students benefit most?

One of the problems with volunteer tutoring, Wasik said, is that, like other education programs, they come and go with superintendents, with funding -- and with the wind.

City's superintendents have staying power

Speaking of superintendents, the Council of Great City Schools, made up of the nation's 49 biggest school districts, including Baltimore, is out with research findings on that most endangered of all education employees, the superintendent.

Those findings show Baltimore is the picture of stability. The average tenure of a big-city school chief is two years and nine months; Baltimore's have lasted an average of 5.2 years over the past three decades.

John L. Crew Sr. and the late Alice G. Pinderhughes lasted seven and six years, respectively. Walter G. Amprey was in office from 1991 until early this year.

Other intriguing data from the council: Forty-seven percent of the big-city districts are led by blacks, 37 percent by whites, 16 percent by Hispanics. Seventy-eight percent are led by men, 22 percent by women.

The average salary is $139,474, just under the $140,000 to be paid Amprey until next June under the terms of his contract buyout.

Waldorf to dedicate elementary school tomorrow

The Waldorf School of Baltimore, part of the world's largest network of private schools, will dedicate an elementary school tomorrow at 4801 Tamarind Road in Coldspring New Town.

The $2 million building, which includes classrooms and specialty rooms for grades one through eight and administrative offices, is the 26-year-old school's first permanent home in Baltimore.

The first of 600 Waldorf schools worldwide was established 78 years ago in a German cigarette factory by the nontraditional educator Rudolf Steiner, in whose honor the new Baltimore building will be dedicated.

E-mail entrenched in college courses

Factoids of the times:

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that e-mail is used in a third of college courses.

The report also says the proportion of campuses requiring students to exhibit competence in using computers has risen to two of five.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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