Business leaders support higher goals for students

December 09, 2008|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

A group of Maryland business leaders announced a partnership with the Baltimore school system yesterday to encourage students to take harder high school classes.

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education is trying to double the number of high school students statewide who complete the requirements of a federal college scholarship program for low-income families.

Only a third of the state's high school graduates - 25,000 - meet the requirements of the Maryland Scholars program. The roundtable wants 50,000 meeting the requirements by 2011, and it is beginning its push in Baltimore.

The program asks students to go beyond state requirements to take Algebra 2, chemistry, physics and two credits of the same foreign language, while maintaining a grade-point average of at least 2.5.

Other states also have scholars programs, and the federal government has allocated $4.5 billion over five years in college tuition grants for state scholars who qualify for financial aid.

To motivate students to work toward specific careers and steer them into harder classes, the roundtable is deploying hundreds of business officials to speak in public schools. This fall, volunteers have already made 228 classroom presentations in 35 city high schools.

The roundtable has also started a Web site, www.bewhatiwanttobe.com, where teens can explore their career interests. To get students to prepare for high school, it will soon send speakers to Baltimore's middle schools.

June E. Streckfus, the roundtable's executive director, said yesterday that the quality of a student's high school classes is the biggest predictor of success academically and in the workplace. She announced the partnership at Frederick Douglass High School along with Mayor Sheila Dixon and city schools chief Andres Alonso.

Dixon said the partnership will help students "connect the dots" between what they're learning in school and the skills they'll need in the work force. Alonso said it "pushes this discussion about what it is that our kids need to know." Noting that the state graduation exams that students must now pass measure only ninth- and 10th-grade skills, Alonso said, "Our kids, beginning in the middle schools, need to be able to know and do so much more than we're asking them to know."

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