School board OKs hiring of curriculum consultant

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school board approved last night the hiring of a consultant to help administrators institute broad curriculum changes in response to a critical independent audit.

The school system will pay $75,000 to Los Angeles-based Arroyo Research Services to create a "curriculum management plan."

Sonia Diaz, the school system's chief academic officer, said after the meeting that the plan will focus on bringing cohesion to administrative offices that were operating as "independent silos."

The hiring of the firm is the system's latest response to an audit this year that found teachers are inundated with new programs but given little guidance on using them.

Arroyo has worked with administrators "to establish a road map that would serve as an initial, immediate response to the curriculum audit," Diaz said.

In March, the system hired Diaz to oversee the curriculum. And in July, school administrators awarded a three-year, $7.4 million deal to a New York firm to overhaul the curriculum. As part of the agreement, Kaplan K12 Learning Services Division will "develop and execute" the curriculum, the system's documentation of what children need to learn and how that material should be taught.

Kaplan also is expected to help create guides for teachers on teaching a course so that it meets established expectations and to provide professional development. The audit found the school system lacking in all of these areas.

Also last night, the leader of the county teachers union voiced concerns about a new system in which teachers track student progress through checklists.

Teachers can volunteer to use the system starting this fall.

The checklists, which include skills such as the ability to convert fractions to decimals, would be issued quarterly along with report cards.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, warned that the new progress-reporting system would burden overworked teachers.

"It is not that I don't want to report to parents" on the academic progress of their children, Bost told the school board. But she said that teachers have full schedules.

"Putting another layer on top of that is not the answer at this time," she said.

Bost has also said she fears that teachers would be blamed when a child fails to master skills listed on the reports.

The system, created by an assistant county superintendent, was first used in the spring in northwest-area schools. Some educators have reported that the system gives parents more detailed information on their children's academic strengths and weaknesses.

In other action, the school board approved additional spending for renovations at Loch Raven Academy.

To pay for the repairs, administrators have proposed using $553,626 that had been set side for renovations at Franklin, Golden Ring, Stemmers Run, Parkville and Dumbarton middle schools.

Two board members, Joy Shillman and Rodger C. Janssen, abstained from the vote after voicing concerns that money would be taken away from other schools that still needed repairs.

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