PGCABS to Co-Host Budget Q & A Session with PGCPS Budget Office

by Tommi MakilaPrint

Budget season for Prince George’s County Public Schools is in full swing. The CEO’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2020 is now available on the PGCPS website. If you don’t have time to read the whole budget, consider reading the introduction, which includes specific changes in expenditures compared with last year’s budget (p. 16-19), as well as information on capital improvement projects (p. 20-25).  A less-detailed Budget in Brief document is also available.

Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools (PGCABS) is hosting, in collaboration with PGCPS staff, a question and answer session about the proposed operating budget on Wednesday, January 16 at 7:00 pm at Ernest Everett Just Middle School. This will be an excellent opportunity for interested residents to pose questions to the PGCPS budget office staff about the proposed operating budget. PGCABS hosted a similar Q&A session on the budget two years ago.

The Board of Education will host three public hearings during which residents will have an opportunity to comment on the CEO’s proposed budget. These hearings will be held on January 29 at Fairmont Heights HS, February 5 at Friendly HS, and February 11 at High Point HS, all at 7 pm. To sign up to speak at the hearings, call the BOE office at 301-952-6115, or sign up online. Each speaker will have three minutes to make his/her comments.

Student Learning Objectives: Making Sense of SLOs

by Natalie Barnes

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What are SLOs?

In accordance with grant programs such as Race to the Top, states are developing teacher evaluation systems to determine teacher-effectiveness. Students’ standardized test scores are often used to measure teacher effectiveness. However, standardized test scores are not “available or appropriate for all teachers and subjects,” according to a document put out by the U.S. Department of Education describing how states use student learning objectives in teacher evaluation systems. States can choose their own ways to evaluate teachers and Maryland has chosen to use Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) as part of their evaluation.

According to the Prince George’s County Public Schools Student Learning Objective Handbook, the state of Maryland has defined a Student Learning Objective (SLO) as “A specific, rigorous, long-term goal for groups of students that educators create to guide their instruction and administrative efforts.” The handbook continues, stating “Although SLOs contribute to the Student Growth component of the overall evaluation in Prince George’s County Public Schools, they are best utilized as an instructional tool. SLOs are a meaningful approach to measuring student learning because they enable teachers to determine the focus of instruction and how student learning will be measured. SLOs are not an “additional” task, but SLOs are designed for teachers to ‘formally’ monitor what they are already doing in the classroom on a daily basis.”

Essentially, two SLOs are created by each teacher and administrator. (A third district SLO is drafted by the Office of Curriculum and Instruction for high school teachers who are responsible for Biology, English 10, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Government (HSSA) courses in the previous year.) Each SLO states the goal that teacher or administrator has for his or her students during the year. The results are a portion of the teacher’s final evaluation score. Student growth measures are 50% of teacher evaluations. For teachers who teach content areas with state assessment data, the SLOs are 30% of the student growth measures while for teachers without state assessment data, the SLOs are 35% of their final evaluations score.

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Know Your Rights: How to Advocate for Suspended Students

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by J. Parker

The Prince George’s County school system has been in a state of educational change and growth over the past few months with the new interim CEO. Now, with the addition of new incoming school board members, there is a renewed sense of hope for a change within our school system that will continue to push our system towards new educational heights. However there is still much work to be done, with many concerns surrounding the policies and procedures of disciplinary practices within the county.

In the 2016- 2017 school year, a quarter of all elementary school children suspended in Maryland were from Prince George’s County despite current state legislation prohibiting suspension for grades 2 and under. In the 2017-2018 school year, 48 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were for disruption and disrespect and 1 in 4 children with out-of-school suspensions in Prince George’s county were students with disabilities.

On November 14, 2018, Delegate Erek L. Barron and former School Board Vice Chair Carolyn Boston, hosted a workshop at G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, Maryland. The presentation by the Maryland Suspension Representation Project (MSRP) focused on informing the public on their rights during the disciplinary process within Maryland, specifically Prince George’s county. The MSRP is a partnership between Disability Rights Maryland, Maryland Office of the Public Defender, the Public Justice Center, and the Youth, Education and Justice Clinic at the Maryland School of Law.  They are “committed to protecting the due process rights of Maryland students who face school push out.”

There were several key points and takeaways from the workshop, the first being that you and your child should be fully aware of various circumstances where your child has been suspended. If your child was physically removed for breaking school rules, kicked out of a regular classroom, told to go to the front office or the in-school-suspension (ISS) room for the rest of the day, told to go home for the day, or told you cannot enter the building, chances are they have been suspended or possibly expelled.

Parents must be notified in writing of all suspensions prior to the suspension start date. If you receive a call from the school or administration asking you to, “Just come pick your child up,” immediately clarify with the school whether or not your child is being suspended. If they are not, there is no requirement for you to pick your child up at that time and they should be allowed to finish the school day. If they are being suspended, then the administrator must provide you with documentation stating as such at or before you pick up your child that day.

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Elections 2018: Thomas, Boozer-Strother, Queen, Williams Win Board Seats

Four seats on the Prince George’s County Board of Education were up for grabs in today’s general election. Challengers Joshua Thomas (Dist. 2) and Belinda Queen (Dist. 6) defeated incumbents, while Sonya Williams (Dist. 9) successfully defended her seat on the board. Newcomer Pamela Boozer-Strother won the District 3 seat left open after Dinora Hernandez declined to run for reelection.

Here are the Maryland State Board of Elections unofficial results for the four school board races in Prince George’s County:

DISTRICT 2:

Joshua Thomas, 57.1%

Lupi Grady, 42.6 %

DISTRICT 3:

Pamela Boozer-Strother, 56.0%

Juwan Blocker, 43.6%

DISTRICT 6:

Belinda Queen, 53.5%

Carolyn Boston, 46.0%

DISTRICT 9:

Sonya Williams, 65.5%

Arun Puracken, 33.7%

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Question 1: Four Facts About the Casino Lock-Box Initiative

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by Llew Brown and David Duba

The 2018 mid-term elections will be held Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. In this election cycle, voters will make a number of choices that will impact public education in Maryland for years to come. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that the first amendment listed on the ballot is related to education funding, a key issue across the country in 2018. This past spring, teachers participated in large scale protests and went on strike in six separate states. These protests were inspired by wages being below the cost of living for school personnel and inadequate budgets for classroom supplies. They coincided with an incident here in Prince George’s County involving the inflation of pay for central office employees, and the early closure of schools throughout the county during the first week of classes due to an inability to adequately cool aging facilities. Given the array of issues facing public education, it’s reasonable to ask, “Where will money to fix public school issues come from, and how can we ensure adequate and equitable funding?” Read further to review a bit of history related to the use of casino funds, and the potential impact of question 1 on the future of public education funding in Maryland.

What is Question 1?

Question 1 on the ballot proposes a constitutional amendment that requires the governor to use casino revenue to supplement funding for prekindergarten through grade 12 in public schools, beyond the minimum levels prescribed by current funding formulas. Sometimes referred to as the “casino lockbox” amendment, passage of this ballot initiative could steer millions of dollars from casino revenues to fund public education.

Didn’t the law already require casino money to support education?

In 2008, voters decided to legalize gambling in the state of Maryland. Revenue from taxes on gambling was since added to the state budget each year. However, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, general tax revenue that was used to fund education prior to 2009 has been regularly diverted from education funding as casino tax revenue has increased. Money that used to be spent on education from the general tax revenue is being diverted to other projects like road construction and employee salaries. Put another way, gambling revenue has replaced education funding, not increased it. By voting yes on Question 1, money from casino revenue will be used to supplement funding for education, per an amendment to the Maryland constitution.

How much money is at stake? How can the money be used?

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Fixing Outdated Homework Policy is a Win for Everybody

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by Meredith Kaunitz

The opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.

Did you know that the Administrative Procedure for the Assignment of Homework (AP No. 6154) for Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) has not been updated since 1983? I’m not one for fixing what isn’t broken but there have been enough advances in evidence- based research in the past 35 years that it is clearly time to revisit.

The third edition of the book The Battle Over Homework, by Dr. Harris Cooper of Duke University, recommends certain specific guidelines for policy makers[1]. Among them is the recommendation that school systems set upper limits for the amount of homework that gets assigned according to developmental stage. It is called the “10-minute Rule,” and is described in the book on p. 92:

The rule conveys to students and parents that each night they should expect all homework assignments together to last about as long as 10 minutes multiplied by the student’s grade level. So, first graders could expect 10 minutes per night, second graders could expect 20 minutes, third graders 30 minutes, and so on. The rule is attractive because it is simple to communicate while also being consistent with research regarding both the length and frequency of assignments.

Currently there are no upper limits on the amount of homework that can be assigned in PGCPS. The recommendation comes from evidence that there is something called the “point of diminishing returns.” Anybody who has studied or worked in business knows this concept. At some point, your strategy for reaching your goal begins to cost more than the benefit and the benefit you are realizing gets smaller and smaller until it is non-existent. This means that after 10 minutes of studying your first grader is no longer learning anything. The same is true for a high school student after 2-hours of studying.

It is true that every assignment will take some students longer than others and that there is no way to predict specifically how long any one assignment will take each individual student. That is where teacher flexibility comes in. Some teachers make adjustments according to the individual needs of students with confidence that they know from their expertise they are doing the right thing. Others look to the procedures to find out what they are “allowed to do”. If they don’t see it explicitly written that they can or should take a specific action, they are reluctant to make adjustments for individual students.

This is especially true for students who do not have any diagnosis and explicit protections, such as an IEP or 504 plan. Teachers and principals may be afraid of overstepping their authority and getting in trouble. Clarifying what adjustments teachers and principals are empowered to take will only help prevent unnecessary conflict over homework. The homework policy as written states several points already supporting these ideas:

Procedure IV. A
Homework should be carefully planned and directed by the teacher in terms of:

  1. The achievement levels and skill needs of individual students.
  2. The interests of individual students . . .

5. Out-of-school time and facilities available for home student out-of-school activities.

Procedure IV. B

The following criteria are recommended to all teachers for the assignment of homework:

3. Individual differences and needs of students must be recognized in marking homework assignments just as they must be recognized in other phases of the educational process.

10. The length of time required to prepare the assignments should be given careful consideration. Assignments should be reasonable in scope, and geared to the age, ability level and attention span of the student.

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Community Listening Sessions Give Parents Opportunity for Advocacy

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by Khadija Bowen

On Monday evening Dr. Goldson, Interim CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), held her second of three listening sessions to hear input from parents and community members on how the administration can improve the school system. Her executive team showed up, school board member Raaheela Ahmed showed up, and delegates, county council and city council members were in attendance. But who wasn’t there? The community! There were many empty seats in the auditorium. To put it into perspective, the listening session was slotted to conclude at 8pm, and we were out of there by 7:30pm.

That I am concerned and disappointed is an understatement. With all of the grumbling, news headlines and negative social media posts that are floating around concerning PGCPS, I would have anticipated a huge turnout at the opportunity to speak with Dr Goldson personally.

This brings me to ponder on what the real issue is with our school system. Is it really poor administrators and teachers, or is at least part of the problem the lack of parent and community involvement? Until we all realize that we have a personal stake and interest in the well-being and success of our schools, our system will never reach the exceptional status that it is capable of.

I am proud that I made an effort to voice my concerns tonight. I left the session with guarantees from the executive office of changes that were to come. I received more cards and cell phone numbers than my card holder could handle. Best of all, I left with a sense that something is changing, and changing for the better!

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