School board, equity panel review study

Student mobility, teacher placement among top concerns

`There's a lot of stuff'

Several proposals in 47-page report are already in place

May 16, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Two months after receiving a 47-page report about inequities in the Howard County school system and how to make the schools better, the school board met with the document's authors last night to try to better understand it.

The report, titled "No Child Left Behind," was researched and written by the Leadership Committee on School Equity, a 23-member group that studied county schools from November to March.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and County Executive James N. Robey created the panel in October in response to perceived inequities in the school system.

Issues addressed in the report include federal funding, technology, site-based management, open enrollment, redistricting, staff turnover and the high percentage of new teachers assigned to focus schools.

Focus schools get extra resources to combat students' low test scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Board members received the report March 15. Since then, some recommendations have become reality.

For example, the committee suggested a moratorium on the district's popular open-enrollment policy, which allows parents to move their children to schools that have empty seats as long as they provide transportation. Last month, the board imposed a one-year moratorium on the practice while it studies it.

Equity in the schools moved to the forefront last fall after The Sun reported that Columbia parents, who were dissatisfied with Wilde Lake Middle School, were paying $37,800 to bus their 63 children to the new Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton. They used the open-enrollment policy to switch schools, saying that Wilde Lake Middle was inferior.

Last night, the chairpersons of the committee's four subcommittees answered board members' questions and told them which of the report's 70 recommendations need attention fast.

Mary Kay Sigaty, chairwoman of the "Factors Affecting Equity" subcommittee, told the board last night that contentious issues such as open enrollment and redistricting were not necessarily the most important topics her subcommittee investigated.

While researching the report, Sigaty said, the subcommittee met many teachers who said they could get better results from students if their families did not move so often from school to school.

"The issue of student mobility is one that's extremely important," Sigaty said. "We are no longer completely in the business of educating students. Do we need to be doing something in terms of educating families and providing services?"

Committee leaders also stressed the need for accountability and improved teacher placement.

Too many inexperienced teachers are in the county's lowest-performing schools, said Kathleen Sinkinson, who led the "Staffing" subcommittee.

A stigma is attached to involuntary teacher transfers, she added, and some who would like to be moved find it too difficult to do so.

"We don't have our best teachers where we really need them," Sinkinson said. "We need to try to get the experience more evenly divided among schools."

Board members stressed that the issues in the report are complicated, time-consuming and sometimes contentious.

"There's a lot of stuff in here that we've been talking about for a number of years," said board member Stephen C. Bounds. "But there are issues below the issues, below the issues, below the issues.

"It's not going to be, `Oh, we really like these. Let's adopt them tomorrow.' It's going to have to be a process."

The board will hear a full report from Hickey on "No Child Left Behind" at its May 25 meeting.

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