P.G. schools flunk Md. test

System joins Baltimore City on the state's `corrective action' list

October 26, 2006|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Sun Reporter

The Prince George's County school system joined Baltimore yesterday in being labeled a district with so many failing schools that it could face state intervention, although state officials said they will give the county's new schools chief time to implement changes to improve student achievement. The Maryland State Board of Education voted yesterday to put Prince George's schools in "corrective action," a federal designation given to the worst- performing school systems in the nation.

Baltimore schools got the same label in 2003, and the state ordered changes. In contrast to past criticism, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday praised the city schools administration for the progress it has made in the past several months.

Specifically, Grasmick said the system's new leader, Charlene Cooper Boston, has given a sense of urgency to efforts to act in six areas identified by the state. "I am pleased to report that Dr. Boston has addressed each of these areas with a real sense of dedication," Grasmick said, adding that Boston has a "seriousness" about the issues.

Grasmick did not order further changes in Baltimore, and she declined yesterday to impose a plan of action on Prince George's County schools. She had the authority under the federal No Child Left Behind law to go so far as to require a new administration or further structural changes in either system.

A list released yesterday shows that 83 of 205 schools in Prince George's have been labeled as having failed for at least two years in a row. By comparison, 89 of Baltimore's 180 schools are in the same category, and many have been failing for longer than two years.

Grasmick said she is convinced that John Deasy, who took over in May as chief executive officer of Prince George's schools, has created an improvement plan that will work. Deasy is making more high-level classes, including Advanced Placement, available to students across the county. And he is credited with offering additional support to teachers in the lowest-performing schools, including advice from master teachers. The system is also providing extra classes to some students before and after school and on Saturdays.

A group of about 20 Prince George's politicians, school administrators and school board members came to the state board meeting in Baltimore yesterday to offer their support to Deasy.

Grasmick and state board members seemed sensitive to the idea that their actions might be perceived as political, coming just two weeks before the general election. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, and Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. have made education and the state of city schools a campaign issue.

"We don't want this to become political fodder because it is very important," said board member Dunbar Brooks.

In contrast with Prince George's, the state has forced Baltimore to make substantial corrections in its system. For instance, Baltimore was ordered to adopt specific curricula from two counties and to remove some top administrators from their jobs.

When asked about the disparity, Grasmick said, "There is no analogy here." Baltimore, she said, did not have a master plan that had been approved by the state and had moved too slowly to address areas of concern. Grasmick said she is "a very tough critic" and that she believed the Prince George's plans were "very robust." In addition, she said, some city schools have been failing for as long as a decade.

The board also released yesterday a list of schools with test scores that did not meet federal standards for at least two years in a row. Statewide, 235 schools -- or 17 percent of the 1,351 public schools in Maryland -- were on the list. Gary Heath, who heads the state's testing division, said that although that is a large number of schools, it is fewer than in many states.

About three-quarters of the states have a larger percentage of schools in the failing category than Maryland does. "Our system [of testing] is very rigorous, and our schools are doing very well," Heath said.

Heath said that 70 high schools did not meet standards for one year, about the same figure as last year's list. Five schools that had been considered failing came off the list, and other schools joined it.

Although the list is made up primarily of Baltimore City and Prince George's County schools, it includes schools from Allegany, Anne Arundel, Harford, Montgomery, Frederick and Baltimore counties. No Howard County schools are on the list.

There were few surprises in this year's failing list. Five schools have done well enough for two years to get off the list. Those are: Old Mill High School, Meade High School and Glen Burnie Evening High School, all in Anne Arundel County, and Gaithersburg High School and John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County.

Anne Arundel had nine schools on the poorly performing list, the same number as last year. Baltimore County had 13 schools on the list.

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