Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Something smells fishy in Baltimore...

How schools get it right By Liz Bowie Sun Reporter

Tucked amid a block of rowhouses around the corner from Camden Yards is an elementary school with a statistical profile that often spells academic trouble: 76 percent of the students are poor, and 95 percent are minorities.

But George Washington Elementary has more academic whizzes than most of the schools in Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties.

These students don't just pass the Maryland School Assessment - they ace it. About 46.2 percent of George Washington students are scoring at the advanced level, representing nearly half of the school's 94 percent pass rate.

I love a success story as much as the next person, but somethings are almost too good to be true. I could understand George Washington excelling if their scores had gone up incrementally over the years, but according to their amazing performance has happened suddenly over the last two years.

In 2004, only 46% of their 3rd graders scored proficient in reading, in 2005 it jumped up to 76%, and in 2006 an amazing 96% of their kids pass the MSA.

The 3rd grade cohort from 2004 jumped up to 87% in 2005, and to 97% in 2006. This is amazing progress.

The same pattern in repeated in every grade.

Now according to the Baltimore Sun article, George Washington Elementary uses the same curriculum as the rest of the city and doesn't have a high level of parental involvement. They do have a homework club for an hour a day after school and have a 3 week summer program.

So I wonder what the secret of their improvement was... is their homework club and summer program that great, did they suddenly replace all their average teachers with superstars, or did the same teachers spontaneously improve their performance.

George Washington teacher Tracy Larkins says teachers at her school have been given a degree of autonomy. When staff members go to the principal with a new idea, they usually will be allowed to try it out, she said.

You have to wonder if one of the ideas wasn't to give the kids the answers to the test.

hat tip to This Week in Education

Disclaimer: If the school really is a miracle worker, I will profusely apologize and become their biggest advocate, but the scores certainly do warrant investigation. Who knows, perhaps we can can their magic and pass it around to the rest of the education establishment.