'Warning Sign' flashed on schools partnership Report: Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY) says Baltimore's after-school program has not improved student achievement.

The Education Beat

June 17, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WHEN CITY and state school officials forged a "partnership" to run the city school system two years ago, Baltimore begged for extra millions in state aid.

Our wasteful days are over, the supplicants promised. We'll use the money wisely. You better had, answered the General Assembly skeptics. Our patience wears thin.

Now comes the first independent report on how well the money was spent in the first year of the partnership, and it makes for discouraging reading. Baltimore hasn't been the prodigal son, exactly, but it could have done better.

Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY), a 10-year-old nonprofit watchdog group, took seven months to examine the city's after-school program and its effort to reduce class size. Together, the two initiatives took $17.2 million in extra state funds provided to Baltimore in the school year just ended.

ACY finds both efforts wanting, mainly because they could not improve student achievement. Wasn't that the purpose of the exercise?

For example, the state aid allowed three additional teachers in every school, but class size remained at 20 or above in two-thirds of the city's classrooms. Worse, the schools failed to concentrate instruction on reading and mathematics, where most classes remained in the 21- to 25-student range.

Research shows class size must fall below 20 for students to make a difference in achievement.

Similarly, researchers examined 30 after-school programs at random and found several deficiencies. The system "did almost no basic research and gave practically no direction to individual schools in designing their after-school academies," the report says.

The report, titled "Warning Sign," is couched in language designed to spur immediate changes but not to sound alarming. Four years remain in the reform plan, after all, so it's not too late to act. Given the nature of the beast, Baltimore lacks the human and financial resources to pursue more than a few initiatives at one time, the report says, so it must perform those few tasks well.

"We're not interested in dumping all over the system," says Matthew Joseph, director of public policy for Advocates for Children. "Things can be improved, and rather quickly. We've been to Annapolis to fight for money for the school system, and we'll probably be there again."

Restocking library shelves

Baltimore's Cross Country Elementary School, which had lost all of its library books to water and termite damage, will be made whole again, thanks to generous educators, politicians and neighbors.

Among the developments:

Even before news reports of Cross Country's plight, schools chief Robert E. Schiller had exempted Cross Country from a citywide freeze on school library spending. This frees $15,000 for the purchase of books, according to Bertina Tyson, assistant principal.

Generous neighbors and people as far away as Chestertown on the Eastern Shore offered books and magazines. A neighbor dropped by yesterday with a $25 check, Tyson said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke promised help if aid from the school system and a book drive (which includes three other Northwest Baltimore schools) fail to restore Cross Country's library collection.

State Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg pledged $10,000 from his charitable foundation. Rosenberg said part of the money would go to encouraging reading in children's homes. "We've been in so many homes where there's virtually nothing to read," he said. "I'd like part of this grant to get some books in the homes. The rest goes to buying books for Cross Country's library."

"We're up and moving," Tyson said. "We've gotten wonderful support."

Teachers, students honored

Let's hear it for:

Nancy S. Cornelius, a teacher at Pointers Run Elementary in Clarksville, who on Monday picked up a 1998 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching. Karen P. Shrake, a teacher at Burtonsville Elementary in Burtonsville, got the same PTC award for science teaching from President Clinton.

Eugene Fulton, heading for his senior year at City College, who participated for the second consecutive year in the national debate finals of the Catholic Forensics League.

The three Baltimore City grand champions in the First National Bank of Maryland's "24 Challenge" mathematics competition, Sarah DeCarlo of Highlandtown Elementary, Jovon Holmes of Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary/Middle, and Derrion Stackhouse of Roland Park Elementary/Middle.

The three Baltimore County grand champs are Douglas Taggart of Powhatan Elementary, Sarah Abdelrahim of Hereford Middle and Rajat Kumar of Southwest Academy.

Winners get $1,000 savings bonds.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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