Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Maryland seeks to reform early childhood education

Learning academies, focus on low-income families among initiatives

Maryland is one of 35 states, along with Washington, D.C., to apply for some of the $500 million available for the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge, which will require states to reform their education and development programs for children from birth to age 5.

Among the 10 proposed projects in Maryland’s application are 24 local early childhood councils, creating a “breakthrough” center for early childhood development that would promote successful programs in Title I schools (those with high numbers of low-income students), and establishing “early learning” academies for teachers working in pre-kindergarten through the second grade. Conforming to the Challenge’s goals, the state also says it will track data and progress related to their early childhood programs.

Last year, the state won $250 million from the federal government to reform its public school systems. That grant, also under the Race to the Top reform program, required teacher evaluations to be based more on quantifiable methods such as test scores, and focused on incentivizing top principals to turn around low-performing schools. A pilot of the controversial new teacher evaluations is under way this year in school systems in Baltimore city, and Baltimore, Charles, Kent, Prince George's, Queen Anne's and St. Mary's counties.
The state draws on last year’s successful Race to the Top application in its proposal for the Early Learning Challenge. In the executive summary of its Early Learning Challenge application, the state wrote: “If awarded, Maryland would create a seamless Birth to Grade 12 reform agenda.”

Montgomery County Public Schools was one of two systems, along with Frederick schools, that declined to endorse the state’s Race to the Top application last year — in large part because it was concerned its professional evaluation system would be scrapped.

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