Montgomery reaps rewards of kindergarten

THE EDUCATION BEAT

Report: Pupils, especially those who live in poverty, benefit from all-day, early reading program.

October 02, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

MONTGOMERY County has a way of doing things on a grand scale - and of doing them right.

For example, the county set out three years ago to improve the reading of its youngest children. It started with those most at risk, placing them with trained teachers in small classes in all-day kindergartens.

At the same time, school officials vowed to track 16,000 of these kids individually from the first day of the program and to publish the results, even if they were disastrous.

FOR THE RECORD - The rightful initiator of initiative is identified
Wednesday's column said that Montgomery County's highly successful "kindergarten initiative" had been launched by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast's predecessor, Paul L. Vance. Weast, through a spokesman, was quick to point out that the program was started by his administration and differs in major aspects from Vance's efforts to improve the education of Montgomery's youngest children. I regret the error.

It was a gutsy move. Some in one of the nation's wealthiest school districts resented the attention paid to the county's growing population of poor children and those with limited English skills. Moreover, school systems seldom evaluate a reform with such openness and thoroughness.

But yesterday, Montgomery hit the jackpot. Superintendent Jerry D. Weast announced that achievement increased for all children in the project - and that low-income children showed even bigger gains.

And defying expectations, poor and middle-class children in high-poverty schools outperformed wealthier kids in other Montgomery schools with half-day kindergarten. The message here, according to Weast: Parents don't have to pull up stakes if their children are in school with poor kids.

It seems Montgomery is proving that all-day kindergarten is effective for all kids, and especially for those in poverty. And small classes, a focused curriculum and trained teachers contribute to reading achievement. Weast has a right to crow. Although his predecessor, Paul Vance, actually launched Montgomery's "kindergarten initiative," Weast stuck with it and directed the instruction to those who needed it most.

"The emerging results are impressive," said Weast. "The long-term advantage of this kind of achievement is important in reaching the school system's goal of reading proficiency by third grade and opening the door to success in all other subject areas, particularly writing and mathematics."

The superintendent said the system will follow the 16,000 children for several more years and make changes based on their progress. An immediate change Weast announced yesterday is an intensive phonics "supplement" this fall in the county's 18 Title I schools, where many children who don't hear English at home need to "unlock" the language.

State falls from D to D- in college affordability

Two years ago, I reported here the results of a state-by-state study of students' readiness for college. Maryland got generally good marks in the study, Measuring Up 2000, although it nearly flunked a category called "affordability."

Now the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education is out with a follow-up, Measuring Up 2002, and little has changed. Maryland's high school students are being prepared to succeed in college, according to the report, and the Free State is among the top states in "participation" - the percentage of high school graduates who enroll in college within four years.

But Maryland falls from D to D-minus in college affordability. Not enough of its scholarship programs are aimed at low-income students, while the average yearly tuition loan taken out by Maryland college students, $3,703, is nearly $800 more than undergraduate loans in the study's highly rated states.

In Flaxville, no child can be ignored in class

Update: On July 25, I wrote an article for Sun Journal on the plight of America's small rural schools, many of which are in danger of closing in a great national wave of consolidation.

One such school is the only one in Flaxville School District No. 3 in northeast Montana, where Superintendent Jim Riedlinger was praying last summer for an influx of families with lots of school-age children and predicting an enrollment of 19 or 20.

Here's what happened: School opened in August with 11 children: five in elementary school and five in high school, flanking one in middle school.

The Flaxville School has seven teachers and a music aide, rendering a student-teacher ratio of 1.57 to 1. It can be said safely that no student in Flaxville falls between the cracks.

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