Schools to drop Studio course

`Mistakes' noted with program

February 15, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland announced last night that the city school system will replace Studio Course as the primary language arts curriculum used in its 23 traditional middle schools.

The system will continue to use some of the books, generally written by minority authors and considered by teachers and experts to be high quality, that it purchased under Studio, Copeland said. However, it will make sure children are selecting books appropriate to their reading level. And the focus will be on a curriculum that teaches children the subject matter they must master to pass the state's annual standardized tests.

Until those tests are administered next month, schools will incorporate into the Studio curriculum test preparation lessons. In April, when the tests are complete, the focus will shift to the curriculum centered on the state standards.

Studio has been widely criticized for de-emphasizing basic skills and using teen magazines to spark children's interest in reading. Charles Dugger, a language arts teacher at Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, told the board last night about a magazine used in his class that asked on the cover, "Do you want to be skanky or sexy?"

Brian D. Morris, chairman of the city school board, said repeatedly at last night's meeting that the system "made mistakes" with Studio. He said people need to be held accountable for those mistakes and "that's going to happen."

After a Sun article about Studio in December, Copeland convened a panel to review the curriculum. A report written by the head of that panel was released last week, showing that Studio was not preparing children for the state tests. Panel members interviewed nearly 50 teachers and 21 of the city's 23 middle school principals, finding that overall they were unhappy with the curriculum and they did not have the training and materials they needed.

In response to the report, Copeland issued a statement saying she would modify Studio but continue using it. But she was under pressure from politicians, including the head of Baltimore's Senate delegation, Nathaniel J. McFadden, to adopt a new curriculum. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said Baltimore students will be at a "huge disadvantage" on the state tests. And Morris said there was no guarantee that the school system would continue using Studio next school year.

Speaking at last night's board meeting, Copeland did not offer an explanation for the change in course. But she, too, acknowledged problems and said, "We want to make it right."

The school system spent at least $2 million to implement Studio, which strives to improve children's reading and writing ability by getting them to read and write more. The curriculum has a record in only one other city, Denver, where test scores have not gone up. Still, officials in Baltimore said the dismal scores in their middle schools compelled them to try something new.

According to a memo sent yesterday to school system administrators by Linda Chinnia, Copeland's chief academic officer, changes in the curriculum will begin in April and be fully implemented in the fall after the adoption of a new language arts textbook.

Copeland said the system will look closely at how it teaches language arts in middle and high schools. She said her staff will work closely with the state managers sent by a federal judge to oversee all school system departments affecting special education, including instruction. She said they will study whether to keep any other aspects of Studio besides certain reading materials purchased for classroom libraries. Studio requires every classroom to have a library of 800 to 1,000 books; the review panel found no classrooms that had that many books.

Michael Carter, chairman of the system's Parent and Community Advisory Board and a member of the Studio review panel, said last night that he doesn't feel system officials have been sufficiently forthcoming about the mistakes they made with Studio. "If the curriculum did not meet a need, say it did not meet a need," he said. "I look for honesty in adults. ... Children did not get the academic rigor they needed and were promised."

Dugger, who was also on the review panel, said he has faced retaliation at the school where he works because of his vocal opposition to the curriculum. He said Studio was "thrown down our throats."

Sally Mentor Hay, the director of Studio Learning, could not immediately be reached for comment last night.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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