February 8, 2001 Vol. 12, No.2

School Reform Set For Year-Long Look By Visionary Panel

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick has announced formation of the Visionary Panel for Better Schools that will conduct a year-long examination of Maryland's nationally recognized school reform program.

The study group, whose members will be announced later this month, will be asked to review Maryland's progress over the past 10 years and to make recommendations on measures that can accelerate progress in the decade ahead.

"In 1989, the Governor's Commission on School Performance provided us with an outstanding blueprint for school reform," said Dr. Grasmick. "Over the past decade we have followed those guidelines faithfully in building a program that is, according to most experts, the best in the nation. Now we must determine how to improve the components of Maryland's reform programs so we can realize our dreams of success for every child."

Eight subgroups will work in cooperation with the Visionary Panel. The subgroups will include stakeholders and nationally known experts who will help advise the panel. 

ACHIEVE, a Washington, D.C.-based education research and advocacy group, will help identify experts from its vast national network to participate in the activities of the panel and subgroups.

The panel and its subgroups will study learning, teacher quality, leadership, accountability, assessment, achievement gaps, funding resources and communications.

State Reconstitutes One School

In its ongoing commitment to maintain statewide standards and accountability, the Maryland State Board of Education voted at its January meeting to place the Westport School in Baltimore City under state reconstitution and designated 12 low performing schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Prince George's counties to the probationary status termed local reconstitution.
Westport has failed to meet state standards or make substantial and sustained improvement the past several years. It was named for state reconstitution based on the school's attendance rate and results of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests given in grades three, five and eight. The school was placed in local reconstitution (formerly reconstitution-eligible), in 1997. 

Schools named for local reconstitution are provided additional resources and technical assistance by the state. State-appointed monitors track student performance. The schools named (see chart attached), and their school systems, are required to produce improvement plans for the schools.

"We cannot and will not allow children to attend low performing schools without intervening," said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick. "Maryland is unique in that we have a bottom line for schools in trouble."

In naming Westport, the State Board gave conditional approval to a proposal from Baltimore City Public Schools to take significant responsibility in the reconstitution effort. BCPS previously contacted several potential private management companies and tentatively selected one to operate Westport. BCPS also is in talks with the Baltimore Teachers Union regarding their involvement. The proposal will be finalized in the month ahead and be presented for approval to the State Board at its February meeting.

The proposal differs from the arrangement between the state and Edison Schools, which was selected last year to operate three failing BCPS schools. The state maintains direct control of the schools through Edison, which was given authority to replace all employees. Those filling the staffs of the three schools became employees of Edison.

Currently, there are 102 schools under local reconstitution.

2001 Reconstitution Actions

The State Board of Education, at its January meeting, approved the following actions concerning low performing schools:

Local Reconstitution (formerly reconstitution-eligible): Bay-Brook Elementary, Harlem Park Elementary, Thomas G. Hayes Elementary, Waverly Elementary, Charles Carroll of Carrollton Middle, Lombard Middle and West Baltimore Middle (Baltimore City); Woodlawn Middle (Baltimore County); and Gaywood Elementary, Longfields Elementary, James Madison Middle and Thomas Johnson Middle (Prince George's County).

State Reconstitution: Westport School (Baltimore City).

Maryland Schools Make Technology Progress, 
But Divide Exists

Maryland's public schools continue to make "remarkable progress" in improving student access to computers and the Internet, although major differences in use between high- and low-poverty schools persist, according to the results of the latest online survey of technology in the state's schools.

The survey was conducted by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education (MBRT) and the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), with assistance from The Johns Hopkins University Center for Technology in Education. The results indicate that the student-to-computer ratio for mid-to-high-capacity computers statewide has dropped dramatically, from 16-to-1 in 1995 to 6-to-1 today. The state target is 5-to-1.

The report also shows that 72 percent of all classrooms statewide now have Internet access. Five years ago, only 23 percent of Maryland classrooms could access the Internet.

  But as access to technology in the state's public schools continues to rise, challenges remain.

  "While student-to-computer ratios and classroom access to the Internet in the highest poverty schools are still well below average, the real 'digital divide' seems to be in the way in which technology is being used to instruct students," said MBRT Executive Director June Streckfus.

  The survey shows that the higher the poverty level in schools, the less frequently technology is used for tasks that require higher-level thinking and meaningful application of knowledge and skills. This is true even in schools in which access to computers and the Internet is readily available. 

   Students at schools in wealthier communities are more than twice as likely as their counterparts at schools in poorer communities to use technology to gather, organize and store information. They are three times more likely to use technology to perform measurements and collect data.

Nearly 35 percent of students at high-poverty schools report they never use technology to display data in charts or graphs. More than 55 percent say they never use e-mail, electronic bulletin boards or home pages.

"Technology can be a great equalizer, particularly for children in poverty," said State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "Given recent research linking improved student learning with higher-level uses of technology, it is imperative that we move quickly and decisively to bridge the gaps that currently exist."

State Board Makes Its Positions Known on 
Legislative Agenda 

The Maryland General Assembly 2001 session is in full swing and the State Board of Education wants legislators to be clear on where the board stands on a number of key education-related issues. At its January meeting, the State Board took the following positions:

Targeted Education Funding Act (HB 1): Would increase education funding for certain economically distressed jurisdictions; increase funding for special education and special education transportation; and base state education funding, in part, on the local income tax in jurisdictions. Board voted to support.

Public Charter School Act (HB 29): Would create charter school program and allow local boards to issue the charters. Voted to support.

Teachers' Retirement and Pension Systems - Reemployment of Retired Personnel (SB 88): Would exempt from offset of retirement benefits a retiree who has been hired by a school system in a specialized personnel position for which the local board considers a shortage exists; or as staff who works directly with students; or as a state monitor. Voted to support.

John Price Gun Safety Education Program (SB 124) and Education-Public Schools-Firearms Safety and Accident Avoidance Program (HB 130): Although differing in details, each bill would mandate gun safety programs as part of statewide curriculum. Voted to oppose each, emphasizing that the State Board has traditionally opposed measures that allow the General Assembly to dictate curriculum.

Student Nominees Set

The Maryland Association of Student Councils (MASC) has selected Christopher Lloyd from John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County and Lauren McAlee from South River High in Anne Arundel County as the two nominees for the position of student member of the State Board of Education.

The selections were made Feb. 3 at the annual MASC Legislative Session. Governor Glendening will make the appointment for a one-year term for the 2001-2002 school year. 

MSDE Bulletin
School & Community Outreach Office
Maryland State Department of Education
200 W. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Web site: www.msde.state.md.us

Ronald Peiffer
Assistant State Superintendent

Neil Greenberger