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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Howard County school system Vision 2018

      We have all seen the targeted programs to increase student performance in this Country.  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and now the Core Curriculum have set goals to improve the educational achievement of students in the United States.  While the Race to the Top and Core Curriculum are still waiting final results the failure of the No Child Left Behind to improve student achievement doesn't seem to lead one to the conclusion that any new curriculum is the answer to why students in our Country seem to lag behind the rest of the world in student achievement.  Any comparison of countries is a little like comparing apples to oranges because of the significant differences in the populations of the countries around the world.  The homogeneous population of some countries in the world make an unfair comparison to our heterogeneous population in the US.
      The Superintendent of the Howard County Schools has released the Vision 2018 plan outlining a direction for the next 5 years.  Like most strategic plans it talks very broadly of the goals for students, educators, families and the community.  On each of these fronts Howard County is fortunate to have excellent resources.  Today I wanted to focus on just one of these areas--the family.  This area is one of the most overlooked areas in student achievement measures.
      Some years ago I was working with a partner to develop a program for Baltimore City grandparents who were raising grandchildren in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in the City.  The grandchildren attending schools in these neighborhoods faced challenges that were significantly more difficult than most children in Howard County.  Violence, crime and disrupted families were a fact of life for many of these children.  Our program had worked with one school for 5 year old children to prepare them for kindergarten.  We met with the grandparents to insure that their grandchildren attended the school with few absences, did their homework and had grandparents reading to their grandchildren.  We gave the grandparents books from the Baltimore Book Bank to insure that each home had books.  The principle of the school saw how our work with the grandparents had increased the attendance rate for the grandchildren and she asked us to work with the single mothers for some of the other students. Almost none of the children attending this school came from two parent households. She explained how she was being constantly evaluated on student attendance and didn't have many resources to work with many of the single parents.
    So how does this issue translate to Howard County?  We must seem light years ahead of the school I mentioned in the last paragraph.  We have a highly educated, high income population heavy with professionals.  Certainly children coming from these families enter our schools much better prepared than most other communities.  Parent involvement a problem in Howard County---land of the "helicopter parent?" For many of our high performing schools parent involvement is probably a non-issue.  But we have some schools that have students who may not come from families which have the same focus on education.  My question in reading the Vision 2018 plan is how the school system will identify ways to enhance the school preparedness for students from these families.  While we are in much better shape than the challenges faced by the schools in Baltimore City it is an important question for which our schools should plan as we see more divergent student scores at schools in Howard County.

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