Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007

Middle school reform passes unanimously

The three-year initiative will be piloted at five middle schools this spring

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The school board on Monday night unanimously approved a revised middle school reform package that emphasizes a more rigorous curriculum, interactive technology-based instruction and more guidance counselors.

The $10 million initiative will be phased in over three years. The first phase, which costs $2.5 million, will be implemented at Benjamin Banneker in Burtonsville, Roberto W. Clemente in Germantown, Montgomery Village, Sligo in Silver Spring and Earl B. Wood in Rockville.

The first phase includes hiring more mathematics and literacy specialists and establishing a Parents’ Academy.

The reform will be implemented at all 38 middle schools at the end of three years.

While student achievement is the focus of the reform, the plan also promotes the need to better train teachers and principals. Only about half of the county’s middle school teachers are certified in specific subjects, according to the school system.

The board tentatively adopted the package during its Jan. 9 meeting, but delayed formal approval to allow new board members to understand the initiative. The board was then supposed to vote on the policy during the Feb. 13 meeting, but again delayed the vote because of a snowstorm.

Twenty-one of the county’s 38 middle schools last year did not meet adequate yearly progress goals, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. By 2014, all middle school students must score proficient or higher on the Maryland State Assessment tests in reading and math.

The tests are given each spring in reading and math to third- through eighth-graders. The state sets step increases of 3 percentage points to 4 percentage points for schools to meet each year on the way to the 100 percent proficiency goal.

School system respondsto sex-ed challenge

The school system has responded to an appeal to the state school board to overturn its new sex education curriculum.

The Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays and the newly formed Family Leader Network say the county school board released inaccurate information and did not put out material for public review before approving the curriculum. The groups want the curriculum — designed for eighth- and 10th-graders — thrown out before it is piloted at three middle and three high schools this spring.

In their appeal, the groups claim the lesson plans violate students’ constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and the right to freely exercise religion.

‘‘When stripped of incendiary language and unsupported assertions presented as ‘fact,’ it is evident that appellants simply disagree with the curriculum and want it rewritten to include their views on sexual orientation,” school system attorney Judith S. Bresler wrote in the response. ‘‘They base their objection primarily on religious grounds and on a fundamentally flawed view of the applicable law.”

‘‘They seem to say that what CRC is saying is not true,” said CRC President John Garza. ‘‘Everything we said is true.”

The groups will file a response to the school system in the next few days, Garza said. If the groups’ appeal fail with the state board, CRC will sue the school system.

The curriculum will be piloted this spring at Argyle Middle School in Silver Spring, Julius West Middle School in Rockville and Westland Middle School in Bethesda, and at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring and Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg.

The revised lesson plans include a 7-minute video on condom use and two 45-minute lessons on sexual orientation. The school system will allow parents to preview the materials. Parents must sign a permission form allowing their children to take in the lessons.

reform highlights

Aligns math and English curriculums with standards by The College Board, authors of the SAT.

Establishes an internship program for aspiring middle school principals.

Brings in new mathematics and literacy content specialists.

Uses technology to make learning more interactive.

More details at www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org⁄info⁄msreform