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What One Fewer Day of the Iraq War Could Buy

by: Eric Luedtke

Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 06:36 PM EDT

Today seems to be YouTube day, but this is an interesting one. Thanks to Sharon Dooley for forwarding it.

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Maryland Test Scores Improve

by: Eric Luedtke

Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 06:56 AM EDT

Test scores on Maryland's No Child Left Behind mandated tests continue to improve. Nancy Grasmick gets her picture in the paper for it too. Here, though, may be the most honest quote of the article:

"Fact number one is that Maryland sets the bar defining proficiency very close to the ground," said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. "State officials are under enormous political pressure to show progress."

Because as long as test scores look like they're going up, even if it means teaching to the test and abandonment of untested subjects, Grasmick has an argument for keeping her job.

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A Real Analysis of Merit Pay

by: Eric Luedtke

Tue Jul 08, 2008 at 09:08 PM EDT

One of Red Maryland's writers has managed to work himself into a lather over the Maryland State Teachers' Association's tentativeness concerning merit pay proposals. Not surprisingly, the limit of analysis consists of insisting that a few quick things (merit pay, ending teacher tenure, charter schools) will magically fix education, and calling teachers unions socialist. Because calling the other side names makes you right.

The touchstone for the posting is an article in the Sun that talks about increasing use of merit pay schemes in Maryland. And it's a good read, because, quite frankly, this is something that will see increasing play in education. Politicians like it, it sounds good to the public, and, despite the Red Maryland writer's gesticulations about MSTA, the majority of teachers, and most teachers unions, support some forms of merit pay. In a recent national survey, 80% of teachers said they would support merit pay for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low performing schools, and 64% for national board certified teachers (a form of merit pay that already exists in Maryland and has been supported by MSTA). And a close reading of the article, heck, any reading of the article, points out that the system of merit pay being implemented in Prince George's County was negotiated between the teachers union and the school system. In other words, teachers union leaders were at the table in creating the system.

You see, the question isn't whether merit pay is a good idea. Unions are all for getting their members more money, and merit pay is one way to do that. They just want such systems to be created with input from teachers, not just by legislative or administrative fiat, and they want to make sure any such systems are fair. So the real question is how to implement merit pay, and whether it is good public policy to implement it in certain ways. Here are just some of the problems that need to be dealt with:

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Green Lite

by: Gilbert

Wed Apr 30, 2008 at 07:25 PM EDT

A tornado smacked into a Takoma Park resident's house last weekend, reported mayor Bruce Williams. According to the resident, who buttonholed the mayor at the Sunday farmer's market, it caused “substantial damage" to the home on Erskine Avenue.

Coincidentally, only a week earlier the city’s Emergency Preparedness Committee presented a report to the city. It is a good thing that the tornado did not tear up more of Takoma Park, because it is not ready for a large-scale disaster, according to the committee. They are still discussing how to communicate with residents if there should be one. Among the possible means are siren signals (though they city would have to buy new sirens, having sold the one the fire department had), and emergency radio receivers. The receivers are inexpensive, they said, and are standard household equipment in places such as Florida where hurricanes or tornados are frequent occurrences.

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Think Locally, Act Locally

by: Ann

Sat Mar 22, 2008 at 10:57 PM EDT

Over the last eight or so years, we have witnessed a regressive and reactionary transition in America. Most distressing to me has been the conservative harnessing of the religious right as electoral storm troopers and the growing influence of these troglodytes in forming educational and scientific policy. As I observed our country's political life degenerate, I looked for ways to fight back and have an impact. I have been very vocal on blog sites, I have made contributions to civil rights organizations, and I have shown up at political rallies, but still I wanted to do something in the area of electoral politics that might actually make a difference. Although I don't have much time, and I don't have much money, I've finally come up with something that I can do, that I think might make a positive impact, or at least has the potential to prevent harm...

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"Are We Teaching and SELLING Creationism/Intelligent Design at Annapolis High School?"

by: PMF

Mon Mar 17, 2008 at 05:11 PM EDT

On Sunday, March 16th CP reported the following: "3. A MESSIANIC SCIENCE TEACHER AT ANNAPOLIS HIGH.....We read with little more than a raised eyebrow about this one in today's paper until we came to the part where this supposed science teacher said he considers his teaching "to be one form of ministry." Uh oh. CP promises to look into this more...." Unfortunately, The Capital's article is not available on The Capital's web-site, but the story gets weirder.

Annapolis High School Science Teacher Neill Russell, a self described Messianic Jew, which likely means he considers himself Jewish but views Jesus as the messiah and the New Testament as the divinely revealed word of God, is teaching science to our children in our public schools....or is he teaching "creationism" and "intelligent design"? He has just published a book called, "Newton's Riddle. The Psalm 83 Conspiracy Revealed" which The Capital describes as a "Bible based thriller..."...and it gets weirder.... This is a concern not because of the teacher's personal religious beliefs, but because he is making them quite well known to the public as evidenced by the book, and this article in The Capital which states that he considers his teaching "to be one form of ministry." Creationism and so-called "intelligent design" is nothing more than a pseudo-intellectual game, a smokescreen for fundamentalist beliefs cloaked in the rhetoric of science.

Mr. Russell is putting his books into the hands of students and staff at AHS and using them to sell his book! Let me make this very clear. CP has no objections to a person of faith practicing or teaching science. The concern is whether his beliefs, which are profound enough to lead him to publish about them, are spilling over into the classroom. And read on, because you'll see how he has brought them into his classroom.

There may be more of this going on. No less than two science teachers at nearby South River High School extol the book in The Capital. One is named Debie Lesko and the other is Linda Lamon. It gets yet weirder.... Annapolis High Principal Don Lilley says he likes "the way Mr. Russell connects Biblical stories to the modern day...." but seems to have no concerns otherwise. Lilley was at a conference and unavailable for comment as of Monday morning. A call was not returned by late Monday afternoon. It gets yet weirder.... The Capital says, "Mr. Russell sees no conflict between his firm grounding in science and his faith.....said he believes in intelligent design and has a Web site devoted to explaining how God could have created the universe in 'six days and 15 billion years.' "

Oh yeah. I could have graduated in high school in four years or a billion years and maybe never attended classes as well. I believe that School Superintendent Kevin Maxwell needs to look into this matter and consider it carefully. It's not just one teacher and one book.

Visit to see a video about the book or at which describes the book as, "More thrilling than the Da Vinci Code.....Find out for yourself what God does not want you to know...Satan's Prophetic Plan for planet Earth". This video shows a student wearing an Annapolis High School sweatshirt extolling the book in an AHS school science classroom. In other scenes, also filmed in Annapolis HS, shows more students AND STAFFERS holding up the book saying, "Read this book". These videos used AHS students and staff-members in Annapolis High School classroom's, hallway and an office. So he is using his students to promote his book for his commercial, religious and even his political (see it for yourself...) gain.

Imagine the conflicts--including asking students to promote your own book!

In a web-site about his wife's "miraculous" recovery from liver cancer, a picture shows Jesus in the hospital operating room. In the video on that site, he tells his daughters that "Jesus healed momma." Remember, this is what The Capital said on March 16: "...he considers his teaching 'to be one form of ministry' and his book another."

Superintendent Maxwell and Principal Lilley, we need you to weigh in on this one and quickly please. Again, the teacher's beliefs are not the concern. It's that he is using students to promote them in the school. There are plenty of private religious schools in this area. Creationism and other pseudo-science based on theology belong there, if they choose, but not in our public schools. Let's get to the bottom of this and make sure that Mr. Russell, and these other science teachers, are teaching science, and not their religious beliefs.

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A Few Disturbing Items in Today's Capital

by: PMF

Sun Mar 16, 2008 at 06:33 PM EDT

Aaaaah.....the Sunday paper. Lots of ads. The comics. And controversy.

1. FOR THIS WE HAVE THE FIRST AMENDMENT???? The Capital now has the local hospital writing, laying out and paying for the "Health and Fitness" page. Editor Tom Marquardt admits he is "not entirely comfortable with the arrangement" after stating that, "We don't have a health reporter to write about medical issues..." Tom, that's the problem! Get a health reporter! Oh, that would cost money while the new arrangement makes money. Hmmm.

Maybe they should try this model in the entertainment section. The restaurants could write their own reviews. What about with government? Fire the local government reporters and just have the mayor and county executive's staff send in a report every day with a check. After that, we'll just change the name of the newspaper to more accurately reflect the collusion between the state and the media. We'll call the paper PRAVDA. It means "truth" On the other, the paper is considering welcoming columnist Amy Goodman as a regular contributor. That would be a most welcome and interesting development.

2. WHEN THE SCHUH IS ON THE OTHER FOOT.... In a guest editorial, Delegate Steve Schuh of elitist, gated Gibson Island protests that "...Maryland is dominated by the Democratic Party". That's because the people elected them Delegate Schuh. Poor Mr. Schuh is upset about partisanship. I guess those folks on Gibson Island who have been used to owning everything for so long now think the system is unfair once it starts allowing for other to compete with them to own a piece of the big pie.

He notes how 73% of General Assembly members are Democrats. Yeah--well that's because the people elected 73% of them as Democrats. He is upset that leaders of both houses of Maryland's legislature, as well as cabinet members and judges are Democrats. That's the system Mr. Shuh and it was done just the opposite way when Mr. Ehrlich was governor. Did you complain about partisanship control at that time? I don't recall Mr. Schuh complaining about this when George Bush Inc. owned the White House and both houses of Congress. Nor did he complain when both houses of Congress conspired to keep Bill Clinton from being more effective. Mr. Schuh failed to mention how our county is headed up a Republican and the majority of the County Council is Republican as well. Does that not reflect a Republican majority? Nor did he mention that until recently, our governor was a Republican.

I guess it's too bad for Mr. Schuh that Gibson Island cannot be a state. That would certainly guarantee a Republican majority.

3. A MESSIANIC SCIENCE TEACHER AT ANNAPOLIS HIGH.....We read with little more than a raise eyebrow about this one in today's paper until we came to the part where this supposed science teacher said he considers his teaching "to be one form of ministry." Uh oh. CP promises to look into this more....

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Hopeful Signs for Baltimore City Public Education

by: Carolyn in Baltimore

Sat Feb 16, 2008 at 06:08 PM EST

( - promoted by Isaac Smith)

I was recently in a group asked to present to the City Council Education Committee. It was a great experience (and far different from my experiences testifying in Annapolis). Mary Pat Clarke had some questions - she needed background on Charter School funding - because Dr. Alonso will be meeting with them to propose some changes to the City School model.

Details below: 

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On the O'Malley-Grasmick Detente

by: Isaac Smith

Thu Feb 07, 2008 at 10:52 AM EST

It's a few days old, but I wanted to highlight Martin O'Malley's decision to not try to remove Nancy Grasmick from her job as state school superintendent. As you may remember, O'Malley, along with Mike Miller and Mike Busch in the General Assembly, were set to pass a law restructuring the state board of education such that O'Malley could have the board replace Grasmick with someone new. O'Malley has a long and bitter history with Grasmick, so why did he demur? The Sun article from yesterday lists a few reasons:

There are a variety of reasons some General Assembly members were reluctant to vote against her. For starters, some legislators have said, it may have turned voters off to see more than 100 lawmakers vote to fire someone who had served the state for so long.

"The constituents I heard from did not want the change to happen," said Del. Dana M. Stein, a Baltimore County Democrat. "People that called or e-mailed me to express their views on this felt the process should not be changed to displace Dr. Grasmick."

Despite her closeness to Ehrlich, Grasmick has many strong political allies in the legislature, many of whom lobbied in the past week for a compromise between her and top state leaders. Possibly adding to her political clout is the $70,664 in campaign contributions she, her husband and family members gave since 1999 to more than 30 state candidates.

Some legislators also were reluctant to risk a backlash for a move that had a chance of being successfully challenged in court. Maryland laws and regulations allow the state board to get rid of a superintendent only "for cause." Even if the firing held, the board likely would have had to negotiate a buyout that could have reached nearly $800,000, or four years' worth of her $195,000 annual salary.

Avoiding what had been developing into an ugly and bitter fight, Grasmick agreed to pursue three O'Malley education initiatives, none of which is likely to stir the pot: supporting and training good principals, doing a biannual survey of teachers statewide and providing better career and technology programs in the state's high schools.

Now I know some liberals, Eric for example, consider Grasmick to be a bad administrator, a lockstep supporter of failed policies like No Child Left Behind, etc., and I'm sure these are all valid reasons to criticize her. But I don't think I was the only liberal who was a little disturbed that Gov. O'Malley was trying to, in effect, change the rules in the middle of the game. Didn't we recently get rid of the last Governor for doing much the same thing? I may look like just another partisan, but deep down I'm a serious process liberal, and politiicans trying to restructure the government for their own ends, be they Democratic or Republican, is a major offense in my view. But I'm glad to see Gov. O'Malley is taking the high road in this one.

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Assorted Links

by: Isaac Smith

Thu Jan 31, 2008 at 10:40 AM EST

  • The General Assembly is considering repealing a provision in the special session tax package that required homeowners to apply for a tax credit they had previously gotten automatically.
  • Prince George's County Council Chair David Harrington narrowly beats Rushern Baker to succeed the late Gwendolyn Britt in the state Senate. Harrington, you'll recall, was one of the handful of Prince George's Democrats who endorsed Michael Steele back in 2006.
  • Gov. O'Malley is backing a bill to require all new and renovated state buildings meet green building standards.
  • The 'beg-a-thon' for school construction money from the Board of Public Works begins.
  • Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are supporting a bill that would effectively boot state schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick from her job.
  • Why is Del. Sandy Rosenberg going to baseball spring training in Florida in the middle of the legislative session?
  • The Sun editorial page backs transit-oriented development.
  • Maryland, the District, and Virginia are forming a new partnership to promote sustainable economic devleopment.
  • Sen. Lisa Gladden gets caught promoting a 'red-headed Eskimo twin' bill. Read the post to see what I mean.
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Not a Good Day for O'Malley, Busch, and Miller

by: Isaac Smith

Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:03 PM EST

On the same day the Governor called Nancy Grasmick a "pawn of the Republican Party" and reiterated his desire to have her removed as Schools Superintendent, we learn that Maryland has been rated by Editorial Projects in Education as having the third best school system in the country. Of course, this cuts both ways: The next time conservatives complain about teacher's unions or "runaway government spending," we can just say that's the price we pay for being among the best in education. At the same time, the ranking disguises a lot of problems with Maryland schools, particularly in Baltimore City.

I also have to wonder about the rating system's accuracy: In 2006, we were 25th, and now we're third? What's up with that?

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Throwdown Throwup

by: Isaac Smith

Sat Dec 22, 2007 at 06:22 PM EST

Brian -- If you're going to continue to taunt me and my fellow bloggers with so-called skeptical reports on climate change that get debunked before they even hit the ground, it makes the Big Blogosphere Pissing Match™ you've been aching for not that appetizing.

But it's Christmas, so I'm in a sporting mood. Why don't we talk about something you wrote a few day ago, in which you criticized my fellow blogger Eric for not knowing basic economics, because he does not consider the possibility that instead of applying the sales tax just put on computer services in a more equitable manner, Maryland should "eliminate the entire sales tax hike, and cut state spending."

A fine idea, of course. But as you surely know, it's one thing to talk in generalities, and quite another to get down to specifics. So what, Brian, would you cut? Here's the FY2008 budget; have at it. And of course, it's not just enough to propose budget cuts, but you have to demonstrate that these cuts will not impair the ability of the state to carry out its duties in education, in health care, in public safety, etc. You may not think the state has such duties, and that perhaps is the difference between you and me.

I will say that, like most Republicans, you display a child-like faith in the ability of tax cuts to induce economic growth, even though the connection between the two is tenuous at best. Certainly the tax hikes at the beginning of the Clinton adminstration didn't hurt economic performance all that much; and while the Bush administration's tax cuts blew a huge hole in the budget and helped exacerbate economic inequality in the US, economic growth didn't, at least until recently, suffer as a result. What does matter is investment in such things as education, infrastructure, etc. that create a high-skilled workforce and a hospitable place to do business. This is why states like Maryland and New Jersey, in spite of (or maybe because of) their high tax levels, have among the highest median incomes in the country, and states like Alabama and Mississippi, in spite of (or maybe because of) their low tax levels, are towards the bottom. And education, infrastructure, etc. cost money; there are ways to spend the money more effectively (as I've discussed before), but if we as a people want a brighter economic future, then we need to invest the appropriate resources into getting there. Framing the issue as a simplistic equation (tax cuts = economic growth) betrays a poor understanding of economics, in my humble opinion.

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Four More Years of Nancy Grasmick

by: Isaac Smith

Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 11:46 PM EST

She's keeping her job after all:

With a combination of sterling profes sional credentials and shrewd political maneuvering, the nation's longest-serving state school superintendent has managed to hang onto her office under four governors.

Tuesday, the State Board of Education gave her the glimmer of a chance she might serve under a fifth. It awarded Grasmick, 68, a new four-year contract that would keep her in her job until after the 2010 gubernatorial election -- if she can hold on.

The board acted in brash defiance of the state's three most powerful elected officials -- Gov. Martin O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

The three Democratic leaders can exercise broad control over the funding, governance and policies of the Department of Education, and O'Malley's appointees will control the board come July.

But few in Maryland government would underestimate an appointee of Democratic Gov. William Donald Schaefer who managed to retain her post through eight years under Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- with whom she had a frosty relationship. 


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Grasmick Under Fire

by: Isaac Smith

Tue Dec 11, 2007 at 02:11 PM EST

Maryland schools superintendent Nancy Grasmick has been in office for 16 years and has earned quite a few enemies -- most notably Gov. O'Malley over the Baltimore school system. Now it seems that the State House leadership is moving to have her not be reappointed to the job:

But yesterday, legislative leaders sent a sharply worded letter urging the board to hold off [on an appointment decision] until after July 1 - when a board with new members appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley could make the decision. The letter said it would be inappropriate for a lame duck board to take the vote.

"Our office received an indication that certain board members were going to seek to embarrass the governor by having a closed-door session to reappoint Dr. Grasmick to a four-year term," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday, in explaining the decision to send the letter.

Education policy is not my strong suit, I must admit, so I invite commenters to talk about the implications of Grasmick being tossed out. There also seems to be some ambiguity about whether holding off on an appointment decision is allowable under state law, or whether a "lame duck" appointment can go through.

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Blogging the Budget: O'Malley Moderates on Education Funding

by: Eric Luedtke

Thu Nov 01, 2007 at 04:28 PM EDT

A coalition of pro-education groups has been lobbying Governor O'Malley heavily since he released a budget proposal that cut into Thornton education funding. O'Malley's proposal would have frozen any increases in Thornton funding for two years, effectively a cut given inflation and increases in cost of education that inevitably happen with the passage of time. The proposal also would have capped future annual increases in education funding at an arbitrary 2.5%. The coalition seems to have been successful in convincing the Governor to restore some funding (link: press release). He recently revised his proposal to provide a 1% increase over the next two years and eliminated the artificial cap on increases in funding, tying the increases instead to the Consumer Price Index.

It's difficult for school systems to take short term hits in school funding, for a variety of reasons. The labor contracts they sign with employee unions usually last for three years, so salaries are hard to cut (not to mention that such salary cuts undermine efforts to build a stable workforce of well-trained teachers). And a big chunk of the annual increases in school budgets goes to expenses that are difficult to control, such as increases in fuel and energy prices. So what gets cut is programs and construction money, the latter particularly tragic since the physical infrastructure of education in many parts of the state is marginally acceptable at best. In other words, cuts to education funding could undermine some of the progress schools have made since Thornton passed. I think most of you will agree that education is important enough that the state should maintain as steady a commitment to it as possible (with the exception of the reader who called education a 'pet project' in the comments a couple weeks ago).

But whether the legislature supports this change in the budget proposal is an open question. The Maryland State Teachers Association is calling for its members and supporters of public schools to contact their legislators in support of the new proposal, and have set up an action page to make it easier for people to do so (link: take action). I know I'm biased, since I work as a teacher, but I believe there are certain basic social commitments that the state should maintain, and education is one of them. Take the time to drop your legislators a note and give them a friendly reminder of that.

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Do Charters Pass the Test?

by: Carolyn in Baltimore

Thu Oct 04, 2007 at 10:57 AM EDT

( - promoted by Isaac Smith)

There is a new article in the Baltimore Sun on Charter Schools. It basically advocates controlling the money and schools until the jury comes in on all charter schools nationwide based on reading and math scores. Ugh! Where does the Sun get such one dimensional thinkers?  Oh wait - he's on the school board. He teaches at Hopkins.

Did he not even talk to Mr. Alonso, the new school superintendant, who claims charter schools as part of his system and has plans to make the other schools have more control over their direction and money? 

Has he bought in completely to the Bushie idea that all you want from your population is ability to read and count? 

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Baltimore Teachers to Protest for Free Planning Period

by: Andrew Kujan

Tue Oct 02, 2007 at 12:15 PM EDT

I don't really know the keys to fixing the problems with some Baltimore City schools, but I am willing to wager that more administration is not one of them.  That’s why I am glad to see Baltimore City teachers fighting for a new contract that will protect some of the autonomy that makes their job bearable.

James Williams, Baltimore branch NAACP member and parent advocate, said last year’s contract is structured so teachers work strictly in accordance with rules and stipulations. But he said many teachers go beyond the call of duty.

“The big issue is that the school board wants to take away an hour of planning time each day and have the teachers meet with administrators instead,” he said. “If they do that, it takes away valuable time teachers could use to tweak the rhythm of their teaching [styles].”

I would like to hear what some of our readers with school-aged children think of this, or better yet, someone with teaching experience.

As someone with simple work experience, I cannot imagine anything more irritating, disruptive, and wasteful than a daily meeting with administrators who have little knowledge of what I am currently working on.  Its 45 minutes of time that could have been better spent.

Not to mention, I find it rather insulting that Mr. Alonso thinks teachers exist in some sort of vacuum, without already established collegial relationships with their fellow teachers and supervisors.  To mandate this 'relationship' is silly, and seems more designed as a public relations move than a strategy for improvement.

But I could be wrong.  Any thoughts?

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What cutting Thornton means for Maryland schools

by: Eric Luedtke

Sun Sep 30, 2007 at 12:34 PM EDT

Pretty much everyone involved in public education in Maryland has been living under the pall of storm clouds since the budget crisis began. There are few, if any, fields of endeavor that a more dependent on the support of government than our public schools. And so it is with little surprise that part of the Governor's package for fixing the deficit seems to be a scaling back of increases in education funding through a partial abandonment of Thornton, the revolutionary funding increase in Maryland education passed by the assembly five years ago. In other words, many of the same politicians who got it right in 2002 seem to be scared off by the simple fact that a quality education costs money, and are backing off of their earlier promises in the face of the first real challenges to them.

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Thornton to Not Be Fully Funded (Again)

by: Isaac Smith

Fri Sep 28, 2007 at 01:53 PM EDT

I can't say I'm surprised:

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) indicated yesterday that he will propose spending $169 million less on public education next year than required under law as part of his solution to Maryland's looming $1.7 billion budget shortfall.

Under O'Malley's proposal, education spending would increase by $119 million next year and the state would start funding a much-delayed plan to send tens of millions of additional dollars to such jurisdictions as Montgomery and Prince George's counties, where the cost of providing education is more expensive.

But the result would be to curtail increases called for under the state's landmark Thornton plan, which has pumped nearly $1.5 billion in new money into Maryland schools since its passage in 2002.

Among the critics of the proposed cutback is Alvin Thornton himself, who says that student performance may drop without proper funding.

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Graduation Tests and the End of Liberal Education

by: Andrew Kujan

Mon Sep 10, 2007 at 03:03 PM EDT

(Image originally found at

When I say liberal education, i am not referring to any sort of political indoctrination. There was a time, quite recently in fact, when Maryland students were not required to complete any sort of "test" in order to graduate.  I graduated High School because I acheived a C+ or better in all of my general education classes.  These courses included history, science, math, english, physical education, and the arts. 

These days, things are different, apparently.  One must complete a series of tests in different subject areas, and a lot of class time is devoted not to learning, but instead to passing the test.  Billions of dollars have been spent in the creation and adoption of offical tests, both in the private and public sectors.  Be aware, these tests are created not by teachers, but by educrats and corporations. NCLB has been nothing if not a infusion of federal and state dollars into the coffers of textbook publishers, test prep. companies, and in many cases, private schools.

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