School board to require phonics Draft master plan dictates curriculum for city grades 1, 2

January 31, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

In a simple yet dramatic attempt to change the way children learn, the Baltimore school board said yesterday that it intends to adopt a citywide curriculum that includes mandatory phonics for grades 1 and 2.

A citywide curriculum would also dictate what students throughout Baltimore learn and which textbooks they use -- which vary from classroom to classroom now -- so that a student who moves from one school to another can be assured of some consistency.

The change is just one part of a draft master plan the school board wrote yesterday and is writing today that will direct the schools through 2002, as required by the Maryland General Assembly.

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

"We have got to equip students with the ability to unlock words," said board member Patricia Morris.

An analysis of recent test results showed that students did poorly in reading because they lacked the ability to sound out words, said interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller.

About 15 textbook series are used in the schools, and the Baltimore curriculum is varied throughout the system, said Clarissa Evans, director of curriculum and instruction. A student in one first-grade classroom may be learning to read with phonics, while across town the students learn with the whole language approach.

A small percentage of schools would be allowed to choose a different curriculum from the one dictated by the board. But those schools would have only a short list of options, all approved by the board and likely to include the Calvert and direct instruction curriculums now in use at some city schools. Those curriculums emphasize phonics, discipline and mastery of one concept before another is learned.

Using a similar curriculum will help students in the city, because many city schools see children come and go during the year as they are shuffled from one relative's home to another or move with their families. And Schiller said research shows that since the system has allowed each school to choose its own textbooks, test scores have gone down or remained stagnant.

The change, which would take effect in September, would be very expensive to implement because teachers would have to be retrained to teach phonics and a specific curriculum. In addition, schools that may already be in the process of buying new textbooks might have to buy yet another set of books.

The school's chief financial officer is working on a cost estimate.

But the school board gave its tentative approval to the use of the citywide curriculum with little discussion and unanimity.

Other recommendations discussed yesterday at a two-day board meeting were far more contentious. On the issue of how to restructure the system, the board seemed more divided on whether to give some of its best principals authority over several low-performing schools.

The new "managing principals" would be able to replace staff, including the principal, at the other schools and would have authority over budget and other management issues. In effect, the board is thinking of creating so-called enterprise areas, where schools would have far more freedom and flexibility in deciding how to run their schools.

The managing principals would be given higher salaries and would be eligible to receive a yearly bonus when they meet specific goals, such as improving test scores.

"I would really like to embrace this concept, but not one of our schools is meeting state standards," said Bonnie Copeland. She and several other board members said they worried that the effectiveness of their best principals would be diluted if they had to assist principals at low-performing schools.

"We have to make sure we aren't taking a new principal about to have some success and giving them a lot more responsibility and dooming them to failure," said William Struever, a board member.

The school board decided to reduce to one the number of schools a managing principal would oversee and to make other slight adjustments.

The board will adopt a draft plan, which the public can comment on. A final version will be presented to the legislature in March.

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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