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Welcome to the Baltimore Curriculum Project's bi-monthly e-newsletter. BCP is a non-profit that exists to improve educational opportunities for all Baltimore City Public School students through direct operation of charter schools and advocacy of policies that provide equitable opportunities for all city schools and students. We believe that all students can learn when their teachers have effective tools and the training to use these tools; that all students deserve access to teachers with these tools and training; and that effective teaching tools are developed and improved through scientific research.

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In This Edition:


Kendrick Washington SpacerSpacer Tanyka Wright
Kendrick Washington
Tanyka Wright

2006 Carson Scholarship Winners

On March 26, 2006 Kendrick Washington (grade 5) and Tanyka Wright (grade 6) were honored at the 10th Annual Carson Scholars Awards Banquet at Martin's West. These Collington Square students were awarded $1,000 college scholarships from the Carson Scholars Fund. Recipients of the award must be nominated by a teacher, have a minimum 3.75 GPA, and write an essay.

Scholarships are awarded for attendance at four-year colleges and universities upon the student's graduation from high school. Tanyka and Kenrick will have the opportunity to apply for additional scholarships each year until they graduate.

The Carson Scholars Fund was founded in 1994 by Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson and his wife, Candy, to recognize and reward students in grades 4-11 who strive for academic excellence and demonstrate a strong commitment to their community. Since its inception the Carson Scholars Fund has awarded over 1,700 scholarships.

BCP would like to thank the Carson Scholars Fund for their generosity and congratulate Kendrick and Tanyka on this exceptional achievement.


BCP Board Elects 11 New Members

BCP would like to announce the election of 11 new members to our board of directors. These individuals bring a wealth of fresh energy and new ideas to our organization. We would also like to thank the following outgoing board members for their years of dedicated service: Bernice Whelchel, Harold Eason and Matthew Hornbeck.

LaJerne Terry Cornish, Ph.D.
Dr. Cornish is an Assistant Professor of Education at Goucher College where she teaches adolescent development and reading in the secondary content area. Dr. Cornish also coordinates MSDE approved programs in secondary education at the undergraduate level. Dr Cornish completed her doctoral studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, receiving a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture in 2005. She spent the first fifteen years of her professional career working in the Baltimore City Public School System

George Hess (BCP Chairman)
A Baltimore native, Mr. Hess has an extensive business background with 30 years in his family's retail business: Hess Shoes. He is the current chairman of the Rockport retail shoe store chain, current director of three companies, and the past director of 11 different companies. He has been involved in an array of activities with a focus on education including heading the Ramsay Conference group of the Greater Baltimore Committee, which provided council and support to Baltimore Public School superintendents. He has also served as trustee of the Peabody Institute, chair of the Gilman School Board, and President of the Baltimore Hebrew University Board.

Tina Hike-Hubbard
Ms. Hike-Hubbard is a Senior Program Director at the Enterprise Community Partners (formally The Enterprise Foundation). She has been instrumental in developing and managing one of the few comprehensive school/community reform efforts in Baltimore. She currently serves as the Education Committee chair on the Planned Parenthood of Maryland Board, serves as a member of the Baltimore Education Network (BEN) Board and has regularly served as an allocations volunteer for the United Way of Maryland.

David L. Holder
Mr. Holder is President of Access Capital Mortgage, LLC, a full-service mortgage lending and brokerage firm, providing residential mortgage loans in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Mr. Holder is also a co-founder and owner of Greenleaf Title & Escrow, a residential title and settlement company headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. Mr. Holder received his B.A. in 1995 from Cornell University and his J.D. in 1998 from the University of Maryland School of Law. Mr. Holder is a member of the Maryland Bar and the founder and director of the KIPP DC: KEY Academy lacrosse program.

Larry Matlack
In the spring of 2005 Mr. Matlack retired after 30 years of federal government service with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He served as the Deputy Associate Director for the Education and Human Resources Division of OMB. He was responsible for supervising a staff of 40 who worked on a variety of program areas including all the federal programs financed by the Departments of Education and Labor, the non-health programs in HHS, and 20 other independent agencies.  Prior to joining OMB, Mr. Matlack taught English for three years and tutored math. He has an M.S. in Education and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in English from Cornell University.

Heather Mitchell
Ms. Mitchell is an attorney with Venable LLP in Towson and specializes in commercial litigation. She received her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a B.A., summa cum laude, from James Madison University. She served as a Law Clerk to the Honorable Benson E. Legg, Chief Judge, United States District Court for the District of Maryland from 2002-2003. Ms. Mitchell is currently a Gubernatorial Appointee to the Children’s Trust Fund Advisory Board.

Anne Scarlett Perkins
Ms. Perkins served as an elected representative to the Maryland House of Delegates from a district in Baltimore City from 1979-1992.  She currently works for the Fund for Educational Excellence and the Baltimore City Public School System directing a Ford Foundation planning grant. Since 1999, she has been working as a Special Master for Judge Marvin J. Garbis of the United States District Court. Ms. Perkins serves on the Board of Trustees of The Maryland Institute College of Art (Chairman 1998-2003), The Bryn Mawr School, and Midtown Academy.

Toby Pitts
Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Pitts taught in a small residential school in upstate New York before returning to Baltimore in 1977. He spent the next 25 years at Merrill Lynch both as a Financial Advisor and as a manager of their Columbia, Maryland office.  He has served on the Board of Directors of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Planned Parenthood, The Boys’ Latin School and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. Mr. Pitts left Merrill Lynch in 2002 to focus entirely on education and has spent time with Save the Children in Jordan and Ethiopia, has volunteered in the finance department of the BCPSS and served as the interim director for the Boys and Girls Club of Central Maryland.

Stuart O. Simms
Mr. Simms is a partner with the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy. He is a native of Baltimore and a graduate of Gilman School, Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. Mr. Simms has served as staff counsel to U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Services, and State’s Attorney for Baltimore City. In 1997 Mr. Simms was appointed Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services where he served for five years. He currently serves on the boards of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Mentoring Partnership.

Jeanette Stewart
Ms. Stewart is a Systems Analyst Technician for the Social Security Administration, where she has worked for the last 19 years. She is also the concession stand manager for Gardenville Little League baseball, where she has served on the board for over 14 years. Ms. Stewart has 3 children, two attending Collington Square School. She is an active member of the Parent Teacher Organization at Collington Square.

Milt Thompson
Mr. Thompson is currently Director of Title I/Bilingual/Summer School and P-5 and a facilitator of the Kenosha School District Strategic Plan in Wisconsin. His career has included working for Federal Programs in schools (Title I, Title VII), principal at a K-5 school, charter school director, special education teacher and history teacher.  Mr. Thompson served as a board member of a private school, San Juan Diego Middle School, in Racine, Wisconsin. His awards and recognition include: Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award 2002, Administrator of the Year 1998, Wisconsin State Music Administrator Award 1999, Invitee to Consortium of African Leaders sponsored by Senators Hutchinson and Santorum.


BCP Receives Two Goldsmith Grants and Implements a Third

BCP has received two grants from the Goldsmith Family Foundation for City Springs and Collington Square. These awards follow a grant received for Hampstead Hill Academy in 2005. The new grants, part of the Middle School Grants Initiative, will be used to create a Language and Writing Center at Collington Square and implement a Restorative Discipline Program at City Springs.

Collington's Language and Writing Center will address the need to increase vocabulary acquisition and writing skills among disadvantaged children. The Center will be staffed by a full time teacher who will offer language and writing classes as well as walk-in assistance with writing projects.

The Center's vocabulary program will be based on the research of Andrew Biemiller, a leading expert in the field of language acquisition. Programs that focus on vocabulary development, comprehension, writing, and reasoning will build student confidence in their reading and writing abilities. Eventually, we plan to expand this Language and Writing Center model to City Springs and Hampstead Hill.

Implementation of a Restorative Discipline Model at City Springs will increase school and community safety. Restorative discipline "aims to give students the opportunity to take responsibility for their behavior, to reconcile damaged relationships, and restore material losses." [1] Restorative interventions include: class meetings, peacemaking/mediation circles, community meetings, peer mediation, peer court, community/school service, reflection exercises/journals, and after school ethics classes.

Restorative Discipline is based on the strategies created by the Community Service Foundation "to work with the toughest adjudicated delinquent and at-risk kids in southeastern Pennsylvania." [2] BCP plans to work with Just for Youth, Inc. and The International Institute for Restorative Practices to implement a Restorative Discipline Model at City Springs.

Hampstead Hill Academy's 2005 Goldsmith grant has allowed us to implement new research-based curricula for Science and History and to begin the development of a revised Humanities curriculum. The new humanities curriculum incorporates a manageable portion of the Core Knowledge curriculum with effective instructional methods and recent, relevant materials.

Through the Goldsmith Grant we have been able to provide professional development for teachers in the successful use and implementation of the science, history and humanities curricula. Central to that effort is assessing whether or not students are being taught to mastery. The grant has also allowed us to develop a variety of instruments to assess whether mastery has been achieved and to provide on-going feedback and assessment. This sort of continuous assessment is a crucial component of effective instruction as it allows teachers to adjust instruction, change student placement and/or provide additional practice materials.

Finally, the Goldsmith grant is also financing the acquisition of new science equipment needed to furnish Hampstead Hill’s newly constructed Science Lab that was built through a donation from Struever Brothers.We would like to thank the Goldsmith Family Foundation for their generous support of our schools.

  1. Small Schools Project: http://www.smallschoolsproject.org/index.asp?siteloc=tool&section=da-intro
  2. Mirsky, Laura. SaferSanerSchools: Transforming School Culture with Restorative Practices. International Institute for Restorative Practices: http://www.restorativepractices.org/library/ssspilots.html




"Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. Our requirements for world leadership, our hopes for economic growth, and the demands of citizenship itself in an era such as this all require the maximum development of every young American's capacity. The human mind is our fundamental resource."

-John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Education, February 20, 1961.




Drug Free Soul-Steppers are Grand Champions

City Springs Soul Steppers
Top row, left to right - Mykira Barnes, Regina Edwards (Assistant Coach), Kera Thompson (Co-Captain), Theodora Jones, Isis Jones, Sarah Jones (Captain), and Nadine Jackson (Step Instructor)
Bottom row, left to right - Candace Gough, Karen Ferguson, Lynette Miller, Daikeara Simmons, and Naquan Frazier

March is recognized as Drug Awareness month. On Saturday, March 25, 2006, GardenVillage Community Association in conjunction with the Baltimore County Bureau of Substance Abuse held their 9th annual "Stepping Out Against Drugs and Violence" step competition. Steppers from different communities, high schools and middle school squads participated in this event. The judges in this competition were looking for strong drug-free violence-free messages, originality, creativity, precision and coordination. Each step squad had ten minutes to make an impressive presentation.

Governor's Citation for Soul Steppers
The City Springs Drug-Free Soul Steppers were awarded the Governor's Citation for their "outstanding services to the citizens of this State."

We are proud to announce that our very own City Springs Drug-Free Soul Steppers entered this competition for the very first time and placed GRAND CHAMPIONS in the middle schools division. Their captain, Sarah Jones, a 7th grader, participated in the Battle of the Captains segment where she had to create a two-minute routine with a strong drug-free message and a solo performance before the judges with no help from her squad. She too placed Grand Champion, winning over two other captains.

Way to Go Soul Steppers. Keep up the Great Work!- from Nadine Jackson, Regina Edwards, and BCP





The Eagle Has Landed

The Eagle newsletter staff
The Eagle newsletter staff: (from left to right): Tashara Alsup, Jacquetta Bushrod, Ericka Burgess, Yasmiyn Gilmore, and Shada Phillips

Collington's outstanding school newsletter, The Eagle, is produced by teacher-coach Millie Scroggs and five dedicated student reporters: Tashara Alsup, Jacquetta Bushrod, Ericka Burgess, Yasmiyn Gilmore, and Shada Phillips.

Each issue of The Eagle includes school news, interviews, acknowledgements of student achievements, and more. The student reporters joined The Eagle after responding to a "help wanted" ad posted in the newsletter last semester.

Jacquetta Bushrod said that she became interested in reporting after she took a newsletter mini-course offered by Ms. Scroggs last semester. Ms. Bushrod is currently taking a Quilting mini-course, which will provide quilts for pediatric AIDS patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Yasmiyn Gilmore explained how the newsletter development process works. First, the reporters brainstorm about ideas for an upcoming issue. Then Ms. Scroggs will assign each reporter a group of teachers to contact for stories. Ms. Gilmore said that Ms. Scroggs gives the students a lot of freedom to work independently.

In addition to writing for The Eagle, Erika Burgess is an avid fiction writer. Ms. Burgess is currently working on a story about middle school girls and the everyday problems and pressures they face.

"All of us are friends since we've been going here since pre-K," said Shada Phillips of her fellow reporters. The group clearly works well together. Tashara Alsup is the latest addition to the newsletter staff.

Ms. Scroggs said that all of the reporters are outstanding students. Production of the newsletter is made possible in part by a grant from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), which paid for the purchase of the Adobe Pagemaker software used to create the newsletter.

Ms. Scroggs plans to teach all five students how to use the Pagemaker software so that eventually they will be able to produce the entire newsletter themselves. We look forward to great things from these young women and the next exciting issue of The Eagle.


Mardis Gras Comes to Collington

Mardis Gras Parade

On February 28, 2006 Collington Square's Ms. Broussard provided students with a day of Mardi Gras education and fun. First-graders, fourth-graders, and students from her Spanish Club enjoyed the festivities.

Ms. Broussard began teaching Spanish at Collington last year. This year she formed a Spanish Club, which meets every other Friday. Twenty 6th, 7th, and 8th graders participate in the club.

Having grown up in Southeast Texas, Ms. Broussard is no stranger to Mardis Gras. The day-long celebration included music and bracelets with bells for the first-graders, and necklaces for the fourth graders.

The Spanish Club ate lunch in Ms. Broussard's room while they discussed Mardis Gras history, listened to Zydeco music, wore masks and beads, and ate King Cakes. The cakes, which were special-ordered by Ms. Broussard, are a traditional Mardis Gras treat. They are baked in honor of the three Kings or Magi who visited the baby Jesus. A small plastic baby is baked into one of the cakes. Whoever finds the baby is made King and is responsible for throwing the party, or in some traditions bringing the cakes, for next year.

Everyone had a great time during the Mardis Gras celebration and learned a lot. Students can look forward to the next celebration on Cinco de Mayo.




New Arts Partnership with the Creative Alliance

The Creative Alliance logo

The Creative Alliance and Hampstead Hill Academy are partnering to provide a new book-based after school art program for grades 3-5. The program, Open Minds, will take place at Hampstead Hill. Classes will be held after school until about 4:15 once a week for 8 weeks, starting after Spring Break. A culminating exhibition will showcase the children’s work. The Creative Alliance is a community based non-profit organization that presents and promotes the arts and humanities.


"Hampstead Hill Nights" Outdoor Concerts

The Second Annual Hampstead Hill Nights is just around the corner.  The celebration will include a Jimmy Buffet cover band, a Motown cover band, and some great high school jazz bands. Hampstead Hill's own Mr. Berry will warm up the crowd as the opening act each night and his band will headline on one of the nights.

The dates are Thursday, May 11, Thursday, May 18 and Thursday, May 25. Gates open at 6 p.m. Entertainment will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Bring a picnic or buy dinner hot off the grill. No alcoholic beverages permitted. Children must be accompanied by an adult.


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Interview with Educator and BCP Board Member Milt Thompson

Milt Thompson is Director of Title I/Bilingual/Summer School and P-5 and a facilitator of the Kenosha School District Strategic Plan in Wisconsin. His career has included working for Federal Programs in schools (Title I, Title VII), principal at a K-5 school, charter school director, special education teacher and history teacher. He was recently elected to the BCP Board of Directors.

What initially made you want to work with Direct Instruction?

Primarily because I was in a school that had low student achievement, I wanted the most effective and efficient method for teaching children how to read. When you have a child that lacks basic skills you have to upgrade their skills quickly so that you can then build on top of those skills.

As I looked at the various tools available, I found that Direct Instruction (DI) had the most research behind it. DI was being used in enough schools that I could actually have some idea of its effectiveness.

What would you say are Direct Instruction’s strengths?

DI’s strength is that it does what it purports to do very well. For the most part DI is a learning‑to‑read and the beginning of a reading‑to‑learn program.

I’ve looked at various reading programs over the last ten years and some say they have the whole package; but they’re weak in phonics, fluency or comprehension. DI does a very good job of teaching beginning phonics, fluency and beginning comprehension.

What about Direct Instruction’s weaknesses?

The weaknesses are negligible. I think that they’ve revised some of the past weaknesses, such as the appearance of the program. If you wanted public schools to use DI, it was always a tough sell because it didn’t look pretty. In the public schools, where you have a lot of whole language people, you need bells and whistles in order to gain an entrance for a program as effective as DI.

What do you think of the criticism from people like Jonathan Kozol that directive approaches to education condition children to be automatons and stifle creativity?

I don’t agree with that because many of us in our forties and fifties were taught in schools using a very directive approach; yet, we’re the people that are creating the business and other occupations that people find themselves working at.

For the most part, we’re pretty good problem solvers. Apparently, the fact that my math teacher made me sit there and learn math facts rote or that I had to memorize 30 spelling words a week hasn’t stifled my creativity.

If you look at brain research, the brain will sort of free-spin on something that it doesn’t have mastery of and it will also concentrate on the lower level functions.

For example, take Trigonometry or Geometry. If a student doesn’t know what 7 times 7 is and they’re confronted with a geometric problem that involves computation, their brain will be occupied by the very rudimentary function of multiplication. Without a mastery of basic skills and basic processes our minds tend to stay at that level and we don’t move on to higher level thinking.

Let’s turn to Core Knowledge. What initially made you want to work with Core Knowledge?

As someone who works with disadvantaged African-Americans and Hispanics, I want the most direct path toward college, content, and attainment. The knowledge one needs to go to college is not hidden in a treasure chest buried somewhere. Many middle class families and upper class families structure and manipulate their child’s education in line with what they perceive to be the knowledge that gets you into college and beyond.

When I first saw Core Knowledge I realized that it had a high correlation to the kinds of knowledge that the ACT, SAT, GRE, and other college entrance exams require. To me, it was a shortcut for poor kids to have a curriculum that would give them the background they needed to do well in secondary and post-secondary education.

Would you say there any other strengths or weaknesses that stand out about Core Knowledge?

A weakness is that Core Knowledge is a framework rather than a curriculum. For any school that wants to pick it up, they’ve got their work cut out for them. One of the blessings of the Baltimore Curriculum Project is they came up with Core Knowledge lesson plans that schools could use. If all you have are the curricular guides from the Core Knowledge Foundation, they put a lot of pressure on the teacher to develop their own lesson plans.

What do you see as the biggest challenges to reforming underperforming high-poverty schools?

The culture of the school. Once you have a failing system or a failing school, the hard work is to try to build not only high expectations, but a culture that supports high expectations where the staff honestly believes that students can succeed.

All adults in the building must be convinced that: 1. all kids can learn; 2. the tools that you put in their hands will facilitate that learning; and 3. the administration also has the understanding, confidence and leadership to structure an environment – whether its student management, facilities management or time management – that will bring about student success. When you add all of these factors together, that is school culture.

Some educators say that even with the appropriate curriculum, support, and leadership, a high-poverty school in a high-poverty neighborhood will improve for a while and then plateau. Then the only way to move beyond that plateau is through extended teaching time and summer programs. But even then the demographics are going to create a glass ceiling.

They are partially right. If you watch the schools that succeed, they get to a point using a certain curriculum and then you have to have something that’s over the top.

I once visited a school in Chicago founded by Marva Collins.[1] Kids in seventh grade would read Plato’s Republic or other philosophical texts. They would discuss complex subjects and Ms. Collins and her teachers would lead the students in these discussions.

This school’s approach was so far over the top that some of her students ended up going to the most prestigious private schools in Illinois. Some of these children from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds went on to become doctors and other professionals.

Ms. Collins turbocharged most of what we do in using educational models. In other words, it’s not enough to develop a good school. You have to develop an outstanding school; almost a preparatory school in order to get off that plateau. You have to be teaching high school literature in 7th and 8th grade. You need to simulate the culture and some of the methodologies of high‑achieving schools like the Calvert School [2] or other private schools.

What do you see as the most serious barrier to student achievement in underperforming, high-poverty schools? I’ve heard some educators attribute low-achievement to lack of parental involvement.

There are schools out there that are doing exceptional jobs despite lack of parent support. For some families, you will have to create in this generation the parental support of the next generation.

My Dad had a third grade education. My mother had a high school education. They showed up at PTA meetings and other school events. Somehow you’ve got to teach people that education has a value. It’s funny - by my parents not having a high level of education, they valued it.

In the book No Excuses, [3] which highlights the 21 high-poverty high-achievement schools in the U.S., there were people interviewed who said they don’t even attempt to increase parent involvement. They figure that they can control what goes on within the four walls and that’s what they do.

Places like KIPP Academy [4] are an example of that philosophy. They’ve increased their school day and added Saturday classes. They’ve created a school culture where they’ve pretty much said “we don’t care what the outside factors are. We can control the inside and that is what we’re going to do.”

In the end, do you think poverty is insurmountable?

I don’t think so. Dr. Ruby Payne has a very practical approach to looking at poverty and how a low-income student’s frame of reference for instruction is a little different. One has to understand the aspects of poverty that impact students so you that can overcome them.

I’ve been in schools that are 100% free and reduced lunch and schools that are 10%. There is a world of difference. Not in the innate worth of the children, their capacity, or any of those factors. But when it comes to the kinds of instructional strategies you would have to use in those two environments – they are completely different.

In a book by Dr. Payne called Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty [5] she says that if you use a verbal test primarily with kids from poor backgrounds, they are not going to show any degree of giftedness. Studies show that these students have less vocabulary and less ways to express their ideas. As a result, most of our intelligence tests and tests that identify talent and giftedness will not show any degree of brilliance in students from poor backgrounds.

You have to have an understanding of the environments from which kids come. You have to find a teaching pedagogy that works despite that environment. You have to buy into the idea that what goes on with those students during the school day is what makes an impact. Then you hope that when these students become college graduates and professionals, that they will be involved as parents in their children’s education.

Of the options that exist under No Child Left Behind for restructuring schools, what do you see as the most viable options for individual schools and school districts as a whole.

If the school system was unable to create effective schools in the first place, then you have to question whether or not the school system will be able restructure the schools to become more effective.

The answer in some places is that you can’t trust the fox to reform the henhouse. That’s what intrigues me about the Baltimore Curriculum Project. I think that BCP is on the right road. You don’t create new schools. You restructure the schools that were in place, but you have an outside agency that can help.

If the administrator is ineffective, move the administrator out. If the staff needs to be restructured, you hire new people. You have to have the authority to do that.

BCP is stepping in and doing that. I think that’s the most effective way of restructuring schools. If a school system has a large number of failing schools and over time has shown that it cannot reform itself; I guess you have no choice but to have an outside agency involved in the restructuring and management of those schools.

Look at New Orleans. New Orleans is a lousy school system, for the most part. The state of Louisiana is looking to take over the school system. They’re going to create charters run by outside agencies. That’s an example of a system so bad that there’s no possibility of them knowing how to restructure to create effective schools.

In a generation if there was another Katrina, there would be more people who were too poor to get out of the way of a hurricane. People who would be trapped because they would not have the educational level that triggers the economics that provides those options.

I’ve noticed that more and more states are taking over failing schools and converting them to charter schools. Do you think it is more effective for a state to takeover a failing school and contract out school operations or for a nonprofit to approach a school and help the school become a charter school before the state assumes control?

You would hope that the nonprofit goes in before the state takes over because of the politics involved. We have a tradition in this country of local control of education. The feeling that an outsider is controlling the educational process creates a lot of resentment. It creates almost a saboteur mentality to whatever that outside agency is. The state government shows up and meets people that are dragging their feet and trying as hard as they know how not to comply. It creates a very ineffective, adversarial working relationship.

I think it is better if the state is the messenger that says “Look, Edison is coming in. You can work with them and you can have some say and some decision making in the restructuring; but, if you will not work with them, then they will run your school.” I think that is a more palatable message. It at least treats people like adults and tells them change is coming and here’s how you can participate in the change; but, if this doesn’t work then we do the change for you.

  1. Marva Collins Seminars, Inc. <http://www.marvacollins.com/>
  2. Calvert School <http://www.calvertschool.org/>
  3. Casey, S. (2000). No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. Heritage Foundation.
  4. KIPP: Knowledge is Power Program <http://www.kipp.org/>
  5. Slocumb, P. & Payne, R. (2000). Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty. aha! Process, Inc. <http://www.ahaprocess.com/store/Books.html>



Charter Schools as a Restructuring Strategy

No Child Left Behind Logo

The State's recently derailed takeover of 11 Baltimore City schools has brought the issue of school restructuring under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to the fore in Maryland. As part of the State's plan, seven middle schools would have been restructured. "The Baltimore City Public School System [had] the choice of engaging a third party to manage [each] school or re-opening [each] school as a public charter school, with the new management beginning the 2007-2008 school year." [1]

In the context of this recent debate on reforming Baltimore’s schools, it makes sense to review the provisions of federal and state law regarding school restructuring and consider the value of various restructuring options.

AYP and School Restructuring

NLCB requires each state to define the level of academic performance that schools and school districts must achieve within a time frame set by the law. This benchmark is known as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

If a school fails to meet AYP for :

  • Two consecutive years: The school is identified as needing improvement. A 2-year turnaround plan is developed by school officials. Students are offered the opportunity to transfer to another school.
  • Three Years: Additional services such as tutoring or remedial classes are provided to low-income students.
  • Four Years: The district must implement corrective actions, such as replacing staff or implementing a new curriculum.
  • Five Years: The school district must begin plans for school restructuring.

Approximately 400 schools in 14 states had failed to meet AYP for five years by the 2004-2005 school year. In addition, "about 750 schools in 31 states were a year shy of the five-year benchmark, and more than 1,000 schools in 40 states were just two years away." [2]

Schools may be restructured in one of five ways, within the constraints of state law:

  1. Close and reopen the school as a public charter school.
  2. Replace all or most of the school staff.
  3. Turn over school operations to a private company.
  4. Turn over school operations to the State educational agency.
  5. "Any other major restructuring of the school’s governance arrangement that makes fundamental reforms, such as significant changes in the school’s staffing and governance" [3]

As the list of restructuring schools grows, more and more states are considering the close-and-reopen option. There are approximately 3,661 charter schools in the U.S. and roughly 361 of these charter schools were converted from existing district schools. [4] This number includes voluntary and forced conversions.

State Takeover of Schools

Increasingly, states are assuming control of schools and reopening them as charters. For example,

  • In 2005 Cole Middle School in Denver, Colorado was taken over by the state and converted into a charter school. The state board chose to contract with KIPP as the education provider for the school.
  • In 2003 the Louisiana state board of education took over 26 failing schools. In 2004 one of these failing schools, Capdau Middle, became a charter school.

In some cases, a struggling school may convert into a charter in order to avoid state takeover. In 2002 the Sacramento, California school board reopened Sacramento High School as a charter school in partnership with St. Hope Corporation to prevent state takeover and possible closure. [5]

Advantages of the Close-and-Reopen Option

Closing underperforming schools and reopening them as charter schools, known as the "close-and-reopen" option, is one of the more comprehensive methods for school improvement under No Child Left Behind. This option addresses multiple aspects of school reform including curriculum, personnel, governance and school culture.

Under the close-and-reopen option, some or all of the staff and school leaders can be replaced and an outside operator brought in to manage the school. The process of rehiring staff can be helpful in changing school culture or successfully implementing new reforms.

For example, if existing staff members are asked to reapply for their jobs, the new school operator has the opportunity to hire only effective staff members. New staff members may also be required to committ to a new curriculum or new instructional requirements such as an extended school day.

The autonomy provided by charter status allows schools to cater to the specific needs of struggling students with extended teaching time, tutoring and customized programs. This autonomy provides a means for implementing effective research-based curricula that include all the necessary supports such as professional development and teacher coaching. Charter schools also provide the opportunity for new community engagement and input.

Other Restructuring Options

Other restructuring options often offer piecemeal approaches that may succeed at moving around the deck chairs but fail to affect real reform:

  1. Replace school staff - Schools may replace some staff members, but leave ineffective curricula and programs in place. This approach may leave the newly selected principal and staff without the autonomy necessary to make substantial changes in instructional approaches such as class size/organization, length of school day, and professional development for teachers.
  2. Turn over school operations to a private company - This option diverts resources from traditional public schools to privately-operated companies. For example, in Maryland "the State has redirected more than $10 million in public funding earmarked for City schools to fund retained revenue and overhead at Edison Schools, Inc." [6]

    According to a 2005 report by the Abell Foundation, the academic achievement of Edison-operated schools in Baltimore is "solid, but exceeded by comparable BCPSS." In other words, the State is paying more for similar or inferior results.
  3. Turn over school operations to the State educational agency. - The "research shows that reconstitutions and state takeovers have a mixed record of effectiveness in significantly improving chronically low-performing schools." [8]
  4. Other "major restructuring of the school’s governance..." - Schools may define "other major restructuring" in ways that do not address a school's fundamental problems. [9]

Challenges for the Close-and-Reopen Option

The close-and-reopen option can lead to parent and community resentment and the perception that the process is a "hostile takeover by an external entity." [10] It is "critical for the district or state to involve students, parents and the community members in this process from an early stage." [11] One way to avoid this problem and maintain greater input from the school community is for school systems to encourage struggling schools to convert to charters before the critical fifth year.

Whether schools elect to convert to charters or the school system forces their closure and reopening as a charter, these changes alone will not improve struggling schools. High-performing schools require a strong mission, committed staff, appropriate professional development, an effective research-based curriculum, progress monitoring, a safe environment, and motivated leadership.

Charter schools are one of the most viable restructuring options under NCLB. But it must be understood that a charter school is just a framework into which effective, research-based "instructional [methods] and management programs may be introduced." [12]

  1. State Department of Education. Proposed State Actions in Baltimore City Public Schools, March 2006. http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/
  2. Ziebarth, T. & Wohlstetter, P. (2005). Charters as a “School Turnaround” Strategy in Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2005. Robin J. Lake & Paul T. Hill (Eds.) <http://www.crpe.org/ncsrp/pubs/2005_report/HopesandFears2005_report.>
  3. No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. PUBLIC LAW 107–110—JAN. 8, 2002 115 STAT. 1485 <http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/107-110.pdf>
  4. Based on BCP research conducted from February - March 2006. We contacted charter school offices and associations around the U.S. to gather this data.
  5. News10 net. (10 December 2002). Charter Plan May Save Sacramento High from State Takeover. <http://www.news10.net/storyfull.asp?id=3180>
  6. The Abell Foundation. (September/October 2005). Going Public With School Privatization: State’s contract with Edison Schools, Inc. is in its fifth year. A new report examines the arrangement and raises the question: Is it a good deal for the Baltimore City Public Schools? The Abell Report, 18 (3), 1. <http://www.abell.org/pubsitems/arn905.pdf>
  7. The Abell Foundation. (September/October 2005). Going Public With School Privatization: State’s contract with Edison Schools, Inc. is in its fifth year. A new report examines the arrangement and raises the question: Is it a good deal for the Baltimore City Public Schools? The Abell Report, 18 (3), 7. <http://www.abell.org/pubsitems/arn905.pdf>
  8. Education Commission of the States. (2004). Closing Low-performing Schools and Reopening Them as Charter Schools: The Role of the State, 1-2. <http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/54/25/5425.pdf>
  9. Education Commission of the States. (2004). Closing Low-performing Schools and Reopening Them as Charter Schools: The Role of the State, 2. <http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/54/25/5425.pdf>
  10. Rhim, L. (2004). Restructuring Schools in Baltimore: An Analysis of State and District Efforts. Education Commission of the States, 24. <http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/53/24/5324.doc>
  11. Education Commission of the States. (2004). Closing Low-performing Schools and Reopening Them as Charter Schools: The Role of the State, 6. <http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/54/25/5425.pdf>
  12. Arkin, M. & Kowal, J. (2005). Reopening as a Charter School. Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates, 27. <http://www.ncrel.org/csri/resources/ncrel/knowledgeissues/Reopening.htm>




Raising Academic Achievement in Urban America
By Muriel Berkeley and Alison Perkins-Cohen

The recent crisis over control of public education in Baltimore City compels us all to consider the larger problem of urban education in America and the appropriate roles for the local, state and federal governments to play in solving that problem.

High-poverty, Low-achievement Schools

Nearly every urban area in the country faces problems similar to those in Baltimore. A recent study from Arizona State University indicates that only 1.1 percent of all high-poverty schools consistently achieve at high levels on standardized tests. [1]  As a result, in urban areas across the country, the problem of schools failing to meet No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) requirements for Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) is occurring on a large scale.

By the 2004-2005 school year, over 2,100 schools across the country had failed to meet AYP for at least 3 years in a row.  These schools are disproportionately located in urban areas where levels of concentrated poverty are high.  In the Sun’s April 9th interview with urban educational researcher David Rusk, Rusk argued that any school district with 60 percent or more students receiving free lunch is not going to do well academically. [2] That describes Baltimore and nearly every urban area in the US.

What Can Be Done?

What is an urban superintendent to do?  How can policy makers at the local, state and federal level work together to solve the problems inherent in raising academic achievement in high poverty urban areas?

Local districts have the responsibility to operate schools and history tells us that state takeovers of schools are not terribly effective.  Instead of operating schools, policy leadership from the state and federal levels could help urban districts create the capacity for necessary reforms by identifying research based practices.  State and federal policy makers could also provide the leadership necessary to implement reforms that are outside the control of local districts such as (1) creative thinking about the qualifications needed for a person to be highly qualified to teach urban disadvantaged students, (2) the provision of parental choice across districts and (3) equitable funding across districts.

Equitable Funding Across Districts

The provision of equitable funding to Baltimore city students has yet to be tried. Data from the Census Bureau indicate that Maryland State’s elementary and secondary educational funding effort is among the lowest in the country.  Specifically, for the 2003-2004 school year, Maryland ranked 47th in the United States for its educational funding effort – the amount spent by the State on elementary and secondary education per every $1,000 in personal income.

In fact, the Maryland State government contributes a smaller share of elementary and secondary education funding than every State but 6 – relying more heavily on local jurisdictions to pay for the cost of education.  As a result, Education Week gives Maryland the worst wealth-neutrality score in the country. [3]  This means that per pupil funding levels in the State’s poorer districts like Baltimore are significantly lower than its wealthier, suburban districts.

Clearly additional funding is not the only solution to Baltimore’s woes, but it is an important factor and one that MSDE acknowledges as significant in their support of funding for charter and Edison schools.  MSDE supports a funding formula for charter students that would provide substantially higher funding than that received by their traditional public school counterparts.

MSDE also continues to support a higher funding level for Baltimore’s three Edison schools.  If higher funding is required to make charters and Edison schools effective, why wouldn’t students attending traditional schools need and be entitled to the same level of resources?

Higher funding levels provided by the State would allow Baltimore City to implement a number of national reform models they currently cannot afford such as the provision of an extended school day in underperforming schools, smaller class size, improved professional development in research based teaching practice, the creation of family resource centers, and universal pre-K.

Conversion of Schools to Charter Schools

Another promising approach to reform that could be expanded at the city level is the conversion of underperforming schools to charter schools under the operation of not-for-profit operators. The conversion of an existing underperforming public school to a charter school offers two benefits that the creation of a new charter school does not.

First, conversion charter schools affect systemic reform by targeting reform efforts on existing schools that are failing – working with them to achieve success and thus providing a model that can be replicated in any public school.

Second, converted charter schools teach a city’s most vulnerable students. Research indicates that not all students and families will take advantage of newly created charter schools because they only admit highly motivated students engaged enough to apply to lotteries. Left behind are students most in need of educational reform opportunities. Conversion charter schools address the needs of these students.

National Need for Increased Focus on Conversion Charters

Unfortunately, nationally and statewide there is an insufficient focus on conversion charters. Only 10 percent of charter schools nationwide are conversion schools with the remaining 90 percent being newly created schools. [4]  

Baltimore’s record on conversions is better with 25 percent of local charter schools conversions.  However, this focus is still insufficient and more needs to be done at the local, state and national levels to encourage not-for-profits to engage in the work of converting failing schools to charters.


Testing required by NCLB clearly indicates that disadvantaged urban students are being left behind across the nation. It is also clear that there aren’t going to be any easy answers. 

However, we can hope that NCLB can also help pave the way for educators at the local, state and federal levels to identify the most effective ways to work cooperatively to improve the opportunities for these vulnerable citizens.  Otherwise, we will have succeeded only in identifying a problem but will have failed at the more important task of finding a solution to that problem.

  1. Harris, D. (March 2006). Ending the Blame Game on Educational Inequity: A Study of “High Flying” Schools and NCLB. Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU), Education Policy Studies Laboratory, Arizona State University. <http://www.asu.edu/educ/epsl/EPRU/documents/EPSL-0603-120-EPRU.pdf>
  2. Hill, M. (9 April 2006). Fixing schools by mixing them. The Baltimore Sun.
  3. (5 January 2006). Quality Counts at 10: A Decade of Standards-Based Education. Education Week, 25 (17), 96.
  4. Based on BCP research conducted from February - March 2006. We contacted charter school offices and associations around the U.S. to gather this data.


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