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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:


Phandoria Walls Runner-Up for National Student Improvement Award

Phandoria Walls - runner up for the Wayne Carnine Student Improvement

The following is excerpted from an article in the Fall 2005 edition of ADI's Direct Instruction news.

Congratulations to Phandoria Walls from Collington Square School. Phandoria is this year's runner up for the national Wayne Carnine Student Improvement Award. The award exists to honor students who have made exceptional gains as the result of being taught by Direct Instruction programs and teachers. Academic gains that students realize often coincide with behavioral improvement as well as improved self-esteem and confidence. As runner up, Phandoria received a $100 prize.

Phandoria was nominated by Brenda Kahn, Collington's curriculum coordinator. Brenda wrote the following about Phandoria and her achievements in her nomination letter:

"Just when one becomes complacent with the power of the Direct Instruction curriculum, you encounter yet another student for whom this program is the key to their learning how to read. This year, I received a reminder on what is possible when you combine a superb curriculum with excellent teaching.

"Phandoria Walls entered Collington Square in late November of this school year. She was assigned to a third-grade homeroom, but chronologically belonged in fifth grade, and she was essentially a nonreader. Phandoria owned just a few sight words, and placement testing suggested a Decoding A [1] group. She was far below any other student in the school. Seven years into our implementation, we did not have any other students requiring Decoding A nor did we have a spare teacher to form a new group.

"Someone had the very unconventional idea of sending Phandoria to work with kindergarten students as a 'special helper.' The idea was to have Phandoria receive Reading Mastery I [2] instruction in a non-threatening and hopefully self-esteem building manner. A very gifted Direct Instruction kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Scott, provided the much needed instruction. Even more important than the instruction, Mrs. Scott provided an environment where Phandoria felt valued and important.

"Quite surprisingly, Phandoria was able to provide real assistance in handwriting to the kindergarteners while she learned how to read. The placement in the kindergarten classroom, though unconventional, proved to be exactly what she needed. In just 2 months, she made tremendous progress and was able to leave the kindergarten group and move ahead to Reading Mastery II. [3]

"Phandoria has continued to steadily improve and has entered Reading Master III [4] as a strong, fluent reader. The unorthodox placement would not have worked without the talents of Mrs. Scott and the efforts of Phandoria.

"Phandoria has striven to learn how to read, and throughout this school year, she has worked harder than any other student at Collington Square. In less than one school year, she has achieve three years of growth in reading. She entered our school feeling that she was stupid and that she would never learn how to read. She now believes that she is smart and that there is indeed nothing wrong with her (nor was there ever anything wrong with her). Watching Phandoria learn how to read and become a student has once again affirmed in my mind the power of Direct Instruction."

1. Decoding A is a remedial reading program for students with some basic reading skills such as letter recognition. It is typically offered to grades four and up.
2. Reading Mastery I is a beginner's reading program for students with no reading background. It is typically offered to kindergarteners.
3. Reading Mastery II is typically offered to first graders.
4. Reading Mastery III is typically offered to second graders.


Paul Duff Wins Scholarship to Attend Camp Dudley

Paul Duff - Winner of a full scholarship to Camp Dudley in upstate New York

Congratulations to Paul Duff from Hampstead Hill Academy. Paul has received a full scholarship to attend Camp Dudley in upstate New York. Founded in 1885, this prestigious camp is the nation's oldest camp for boys.

Paul is one of just four fifth- grade boys selected from more than 120 in Baltimore City to receive this honor. The scholarship is provided by the Rotary Club of Baltimore and Camp Dudley. The camp offers swimming, canoeing, archery, and fellowship with other students from around the world.

"We are very excited about the adventure Paul will go on this summer at Camp Dudley," said Hampstead Hill Principal Mathew Hornbeck. "He was our nominee for a number of reasons. Paul is one of the most affable and high performing students at Hampstead Hill Academy."

"He is a fifth grader who travels with a primarily 6th grade class and is doing very well. He is always so interested and ready to listen and engage in a discussion of ideas. Paul is a wonderful scholar, chess player, and all around great kid. He's going to have a great time at the camp. Paul interviewed so well that they actually jumped at the chance to admit him."

Mr. Hornbeck went on to praise Paul's mother, Cynthia Varner. Ms. Varner is Hampstead Hill's long-time office secretary. She has been associated with Hampstead Hill for more than 25 years, having sent her two older boys to school there and now with Paul in the 5th grade. In addition to her duties as secretary, Ms. Varner is an active PTO officer, parent volunteer and fundraiser. "She is the perfect example of a committed and caring employee that always does her best," said Mr. Hornbeck.

Paul's scholarship will allow him to return to Camp Dudley each summer and eventually go on to become a camp counselor. We wish Paul the best of luck in his future endeavors.


BCP is Outward Bound

  Dressed for Success. Hampstead Hill and BCP staff members prepare for a tree-climbing challenge. (From left to right: Joanna Musumecci, Jonathan Swann, Angela Scott, Matt Carpenter, Matt Hornbeck, Ralph Marcetti, Alison Perkins Cohen, Larry Schugam, Wayne Larrivey, Jeff Krick)

Outward Bound isn't just for kids. On November 4, 2005 BCP sent 23 staff members from Collington Square School, Hampstead Hill Academy, and BCP to the Chesapeake Bay Outward Bound Center in Leakin Park. The day-long Insight program was filled with outdoor games, problem-solving, and team-building activities.

The trip was organized by Jeff Krick, BCP’s Director of Student Services. “We wanted to offer a team building workshop with new challenges to our staff. We also hoped to generate excitement in Outward Bound's programs for the students,” says Jeff.

Outward Bound's mission is to inspire character development and self-discovery in people through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible. The programs teach participants to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world.

Teachers from Collington Square watch intently as two of their coworkers navigate the "tight-rope" walk. (From left to right: Millie Scroggs, Nicole Humphreys, Marney Dorsey, Michael McGlaughlin, Wendell Alston, Karen Lancaster)

Collington Square and Hampstead Hill staff members reported that they had fun learning about themselves and the teams they worked with. The teachers and administrators in attendance agreed that an Outward Bound program would provide a valuable learning experience for their students. Participants also gave specific suggestions on how to tailor the program to meet their students’ needs.

We are excited to report that all three BCP schools (City Springs, Collington Square, and Hampstead Hill Academy) have signed students up for 5 days of programs at Outward Bound next spring. We look forward to reporting on these programs, and how our students translate their experiences from Outward Bound into classroom success.


"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
- Aristotle (384-322 BC)



News from City Springs School (#08)

View the Field Trip Photo Album

City Springs Awards Students with Exciting Field Trips. Students at City Springs are regularly awarded for perfect attendance, scholarship, and leadership skills. On November 11, students from grades pre-K through five visited Port Discovery in Baltimore City.

In order to participate students had to complete all homework assignments from September through November 11. During the trip the students enjoyed arts and crafts, dress-up time, and educational activities such as learning about the calendar.

Shaw's Farm. On October 19 students from grades pre-K through five visited Shaw's Farm. The students, who were awarded for perfect attendance, picked pumpkins, ate lunch on the lawn by the barn, and went on a hay ride.

Medieval Times. Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders who exemplified good behavior for one month were treated to dinner and a show at Medieval Times on October 28th. Sixty students enjoyed an evening of merrymaking included spectacular demonstrations of horse riding and falconry, a magical play, and delicious food.

The Leadership Club. City Springs continues to recognize student leadership through its Leadership Club. At the end of each day teachers submit the names of students who have followed school rules and earned enough points during the day. The names are kept in one of three bags: one for pre-K - 2, another for 3 - 5, and a third for 6 - 8. Once a month a name is drawn from each bag. Winners receive prizes such as grab bags of school supplies and board games.


News from Collington Square School (#97)

Extended Day Program at Collington

Consistent with research indicating a strong correlation between increased instructional time and increased academic performance (particularly for disadvantaged populations) Collington Square has significantly expanded its extended day program this year.

For the past few years, Collington has used its restructuring funds to extend the school day by one half hour each day. In 2003-2004, this likely contributed to the significant increase in academic outcomes we achieved that year. However, during the last school year, BCP did not receive the funding necessary to run the extended day program until February – less than a month before statewide tests were given. With this loss of instructional time last year, Collington was able to maintain the gains made the year prior, but did not make any further gains.

This year, by operating Collington as a charter school, BCP and Principal Eason have increased control over the school’s finances. Accordingly, Collington was able to begin offering the additional half hour of instruction on the very first day school. In addition, for middle school students, school continues for another hour of instruction after that with school running until 4:15 everyday for those students (instead of 2:45). In December, this program was expanded to include first through fifth graders. Now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, those students join the older students in staying until 4:15.

Combined, these programs will mean a total of 113 additional instructional hours for first through fifth graders and a whopping 225 additional hours for middle school students – that is the equivalent of about 7 additional weeks of school. BCP congratulates Collington on this great program and thanks Principal Eason and his staff for their hard work and commitment to the students of Collington Square!


Math Smack Down

On Wednesday, December 21st, Collington Square School will hold their first "Math Smack Down" of the 2005 -2006 school year. The Math Smack Downs began three years ago as way to motivate students to learn their math facts. The competitions, with their wrestling theme, provide a fun, educational way for students to compete as a math class against their fellow students.

When Millie Scroggs and Brenda Kahn, Curriculum Coordinators, first designed the activity, they struggled with how they could enable groups of differing abilities to compete against each other fairly. They came upon the idea of giving each group in the competition math facts that they should know based on their current math placement. Tailoring the items to each team's ability allows multi-grade levels, age groups, and ability groups to compete against each other.

From the beginning, Millie and Brenda also operated under the premise that no child should be eliminated from the competition. The students compete as a team. If a student gets an item incorrect, they simply move to the end of the line for another try. Also, in keeping with the idea of team work, students earn bonus points for good sportsmanship and for displaying team spirit.

The students are gearing up for the next competition and looking forward to seeing who will earn the right to proudly display the Math Smack Down belt.


News from Hampstead Hill Academy (#47)

New Hampstead Hill Website

Hampstead Hill Academy's New Website

Hampstead Hill's new website – www.HHA47.org – is now live. The site will include class pictures, school newsletters, press clippings, admissions and uniform policies, holiday and events calendars, activities in our neighborhood, and information on student performance. Special thanks to parent Mark Frascati for his expertise in making the website a reality.

Hampstead Hill’s Food for Life Program
Hampstead Hill's Food For Life Program is working with the Weinberg Foundation, Fusion Partnerships, Inc., and the Food Studies Institute to bring healthy eating habits and cooking to the school.

Middle school students are learning about good cooking habits including hygiene in the kitchen, choosing ingredients, and tasty recipes. Food Educator Ariel Demas runs the Food for Life Program and hopes to make it available to elementary grades in the future. Beginning in January 2006, Food for Life will sponsor monthly Community Dinners.

  Students line up to answer questions posed by Principal Matt Hornbeck in the latest Math Rumble.

Let's Get Ready to "Math Rumble"

"Let's get ready to rumble..." shouted the announcer as dance music boomed and the fans cheered. No, this isn't a professional wrestling event; it's the Hampstead Hill Math Rumble.

On Wednesday October 23rd Hampstead Hill held it's annual Math Rumble, a contest to help students improve their basic math skills. Approximately 280 students from grades 1-5 participated.

The "spelling-bee"-like contest was held in the Hamptead Hill auditorium. Each class ascended the stage to the uproarious applause of their fellow classmates. The excitement in the air was palpable as each student stepped forward to answer an addition or subtraction question.

All participants in the Math Rumble received a certificate and individual students who answered correctly in each round received a medal. Classrooms with the highest percentage of students answering correctly received a classroom banner.

Principal Matt Hornbeck asked the math questions. He was assisted by Tony Berry (the Math Rumble MC), Kathi Sexton and her daughter Tracy (Judges/timers), and Geri Swann and Nancy Dannenfelser, who helped with logistics and set-up. We are proud of every student who participated in the Math Rumble. Another Math Rumble is planned for Middle School students in the near future.


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Interview with Educational Psychologist/Researcher Barak Rosenshine


Barak Rosenshine is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois. He is an education psychologist, researcher, and expert on instructional methods. His research has contributed a great deal to understanding the effectiveness of various instructional methods. Mr. Rosenshine earned an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Chicago in 1957 and was awarded a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Stanford University in 1968. He was on the faculty at Temple University from 1966 to 1970, before joining the faculty at the University of Illinois.

The following interview was conducted via e-mail.

Q: Mr. Rosenshine, why does school reform in low income communities tend to result in a period of improvement followed by a plateau beyond which the schools cannot progress?

The research on improving reading in primary grades has always, always, shown that teachers and specific programs are able to raise scores in decoding fairly easily, but it is very difficult to raise scores in reading comprehension after a modest gain. It is also much easier to obtain gains in math computation and more difficult in math problem solving.

So if your question is: why is it so much harder to raise scores in reading comprehension than it is to raise scores in decoding, or if your question is : why is it so hard to raise scores in reading comprehension -- then I have a few answers.

I am interested in finding out why it is so hard to raise scores in reading comprehension. I am also interested in whether or not this is more of a problem for low-income schools and why.

One problem is turnover. It's hard to do much with 75 percent turnover. I read that kids from low-income families who have stayed in the same school, do quite well.

That is consistent with our experience - generally we find that students we have had since kindergarten tend to be on grade level. However, if a student from a low-income family manages to say in the same school, does he face any other problems?

One of the skills that all kids face is fluent reading so that the mind can focus on comprehension and not on decoding or word meaning. I believe the Direct Instruction program is outstanding in developing such fluency.

Another necessary skill has been called "reading to learn," that is, approaching a text as a source of knowledge and not as a series of words to be voiced. Many of the cognitive strategies, such as learning to ask questions about a text, have proven useful in teaching kids to read to learn.

Another necessary skill, which is a particularly important test-taking skill, is the ability to infer. If you look at the passages on standardized tests in reading and try to answer the questions, I think you'll find that your mind has to re-read and go through gyrations in order to answer these questions. When we studied two different tests eight years ago, we found that many of the passages didn't have topic sentences and that the questions were different from the types of questions that appear in typical reading books.

So I believe, and others need to check me out, that there is a difference between the types of passages and types of questions that often appear on standardized tests and the types of passages and questions that are typically read in 4th and 5th grade classes.

One possible solution then, is to focus on inference skills in the classroom. I found that questions that appear in the Junior Great Books series do focus on requiring inference. I would hope that others would study the standardized tests, identify the types of skills that are necessary to answer the questions, and attempt to teach these skills in the classroom. But teaching the inference process that is required to answer questions on the standardized test is very difficult. I would inquire to see what others have learned on this topic.

Can limited vocabulary have an impact?

Vocabulary is a major problem. I saw a table on vocabulary growth that showed vocabulary growing at a 40 degree angle -- across age -- for middle class kids and at a 25 degree angle for lower class kids.

How does the teacher affect student achievement in reading comprehension?

Some teachers are more skilled than others. Even within a highly-structured program, some teachers are more determined that their students will learn. I have always enjoyed visiting those teachers and watching their skilled performance.

What about the impact of extended day? This year BCP has expanded its extended day at Collington Square School.

The most highly acclaimed charter schools all have an extended day and Saturday and summer school. The manager of KIPP said that their kids spent 68% more time in school. The additional time for those schools is spent engaged in instruction and practice in reading and math.

I also recommend using national programs that have the best track record, such as Direct Instruction and Success for All because of the advantage of a school-wide program and their national experience.

BCP uses both Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge in our charter schools. What do you think of Core Knowledge?

I'm a long-term fan of Don Hirsch, beginning 18 or so years ago when I used some of his articles in my educational psychology classes. I have the highest regard for the Core Knowledge curriculum.

For more information on student achievement and instructional methods see the following articles:


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Clarifications to the Charter School Act

On Thursday, December 1, a working group of the Senate’s Education, Heath and Environmental Affairs Committee met to develop a draft bill that would lend clarification to Maryland’s Charter School Act. Specifically, the bill would clarify the methodology that Local Education Agencies (LEA) should use in calculating the per pupil funding level due charters.

Based on research conducted through surveys to all the LEAs in Maryland, the working group tried to identify the average portion of non-restricted LEA funds received by schools in each LEA. The survey asked respondents to consider their total revenue, remove funds restricted for certain purposes or populations (such as Title I) and remove funds designated for Special Education and transportation. After those portions were removed, LEA’s were to report the portion of remaining resources that are allocated to schools. The survey results indicated that somewhere between 65 and 96% of the remaining portion is allocated to schools with most LEAs providing around 85% to schools. Accordingly, the draft bill would define commensurate as 85% of an LEA’s resources after all restricted, Special Education and transportation funds have been removed. This methodology would render a funding level close to what BCPSS currently provides charters. According to BCPSS’s response to the survey, schools currently receive 86.1% of such funds.

BCP expects to follow this legislation during the upcoming legislative session and continue our efforts to ensure funding provided charters is equivalent to, not more than, that received by traditional public school students.


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