Grant to boost math, science

$13 million federal award goes to Balto. Co. schools

Low-performing pupils targeted

Teacher training, student summer program planned

October 24, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Science and math instruction in Baltimore County schools is getting a boost from a five-year, $13 million federal grant targeted at the district's poorest-performing students.

The grant from the National Science Foundation will pay for advanced training for 1,800 math and science teachers from low-performing schools near the city line, and will help those schools recruit talented teachers.

It also will fund weekend and summer programs to help poor-performing students -- many of whom are minorities -- with their math and science studies. And it will help pay to revamp math and science instruction by visiting scientists.

"It is a step forward in getting a quality teacher in front of students," said Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who has made recruiting high-quality elementary school and certified middle school math teachers a priority after seeing recent test scores.

Mathematics scores on last year's standardized tests dropped in several cases. For example, 25 percent of pupils failed to pass the state's minimum-skills math test by eighth grade. In the previous year, only 20 percent failed to pass.

Results were worse for African-American pupils. Almost 40 percent of black pupils couldn't pass the minimum-skills math test, called the Maryland Functional Math Test. By comparison, 84 percent of white pupils passed.

About 40 percent of the county's 108,600 students are minorities, and a third are African-American.

Barbara Dezmon, assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance, said the grant money should lead to more rigorous classes as the quality of math and science instruction improves.

"It takes the kids into higher levels of thinking, so it is enriching and accelerating," Dezmon said. "It builds on the children's skills and takes them to the next level."

The Achievement Initiative for Maryland's Minority Students, a group that advises the Maryland State Department of Education on minority issues, pushed for the program and its location in Baltimore County, Dezmon said.

The grant, announced late last month, will be administered in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The school system will work with UMBC to train and recruit math and science teachers.

The college has been running a program training new elementary school teachers and placing them in county schools. And it has been running another program in the city to boost students' math and reading skills.

The grant, said John Lee, director of urban teacher education at UMBC, "provides more resources to help students and improve teacher quality, quantity and diversity." And he stressed it would target low-performing schools.

Lee said the funding was important because the federal No Child Left Behind Act will require all students to meet certain grade-level standards by the end of the 2013-2014 school year -- or their school districts will lose federal funding.

By targeting the lowest-performing students and schools, Lee said, the new program will help the county school system satisfy the federal law's requirements.

The National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, awarded the grant as part of a five-year, $240 million grant program.

Donya Douglas, a NASA engineer who is a member of the county school system's Minority Achievement Advisory Group, said the grant's success would depend on its implementation -- making sure it benefits low-performing students and schools, for example.

"You have to have the teachers and administrators buy in," she said, "and what I'm hearing is they are not buying in in some schools, so what makes one think they'll buy into this $13 million grant?"

Douglas said students, too, must want to attend a summer program. "You have to change the whole culture within schools," she said.

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