Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

Report offers mixed news on urban schools


BALTIMORE FINDS itself in good urban company in state testing of elementary math and reading, but the city's middle schools haven't kept pace with similar schools nationally, according to a report released yesterday.

A national advocacy group for urban schools issued a city-by-city testing analysis stretching back to 1994, but not including state testing this year.

What researchers for the Council of the Great City Schools found was that the nation's urban school systems - from Oakland, Calif., to Miami to Baltimore to Boston - are posting "important" gains in math and reading, in spite of all the obstacles. Something good is happening in the cities; no one knows quite why.

The report says 92 percent of the cities have improved math scores in a majority of grades tested, and 80 percent have improved in reading.

But Baltimore's improvement in middle-school math was not nearly so encouraging. And reading scores were flat over the seven years, according to the study.

We're not talking about miraculous overnight changes here. Kids in the cities remain far behind their suburban peers, and it will be years or decades before they catch up. Racial disparities continue to be a major problem. But this bit of progress occurred against great economic and social odds. (One of the disturbing findings of the report is that urban school expenditures for the first time slipped below the national average in 1999.)

Michael Casserly, the council's executive director and an author of the report, said his organization will conduct follow-up case studies to get a more precise idea of what's happening and why.

According to the report, titled "Against the Odds," urban school districts are aggressively pursuing reforms: greater focus on high standards and a refusal to lower standards for city kids, effective preschool programs, regular assessments, extensive teacher training and smaller class sizes.

We might add two other ingredients that seem to have worked in Baltimore elementary schools: a citywide curriculum in math and reading and abandonment of "social promotion" - the automatic passing of kids from grade to grade if they're able to fog a mirror.

The Great City study was a tricky one because it looked at how cities did in state testing, and there are 51 ways of measuring student performance in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Maryland, of course, uses primarily the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, so Baltimore kids can't be compared to peers in, say, Richmond, who take the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.

Casserly said most of the cities are engaging in similar reforms, and one thing they have in common is "high expectations."

The city systems, he said, "are making broad gains, but we're not satisfied yet with how deep they are."

Teacher of the Year candidates applauded

Maryland's 24 Teacher of the Year candidates came to Baltimore yesterday and were festooned with flowers, hugged by state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, photographed and fed at the Maryland Business Roundtable.

They brought along their superintendents and principals, their children, their spouses, their students and their parents.

"I wish I had 40 of her," said Randy Sheaffer, principal of Bohemia Manor High School in Cecil County, who successfully nominated one of his math teachers, Barbara Ellen Wallace, for county Teacher of the Year.

Philip S. Benzil, president of the state school board, took up a similar theme. "I would implore each of you to clone yourselves," he said.

The Maryland Teacher of the Year will be named at a banquet in September. For now, though, it's back to the classroom this morning for the 24 candidates.

Hopkins to honor alumnus for historic DNA research

The Johns Hopkins University is giving out 5,251 degrees, certificates and diplomas during graduation ceremonies today and tomorrow. This includes 499 doctoral degrees, 116 of which are in medicine.

Among the honorary degree recipients is Maclyn McCarty, hardly a household name in these parts, though maybe he should be. McCarty, a 1937 graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is co-discoverer of the role of DNA in the transmission of hereditary information, one of the most important medical developments of the 20th century.

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