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New Maryland Governor O'Malley Speaks Out Against NCLB

Comments from Annie: Here are 3 news reports on the Maryland Youth Inaugural forum we attended along with over 100 students from MD, and our newly elected Governor Martin O'Malley on Monday.

I was stunned by the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun's articles because they both delivered reports that omitted the first-hand testimony of student after student in brilliant comments critical of NCLB. And all 3 papers failed to mention the Gov's stand against NCLB.

To this end, I will write my own report. I have to skip direct quotes, I apologize. The testimony and the Gov's comments were so captivating, and I was not prepared to keep my own notes.

The forum was by invitation to 2 students from each public school in Maryland. There was a last minute change in venue due to a police officer's funeral scheduled for the original forum date. There was also a mix-up about parking. The forum was held in the auditorium of St. John's College, a college that stands out for it's Great Books program. Over a hundred students attended.

Actually, we were not invited to attend this forum, exactly. But we went on the excellent suggestion of Sue Allison of Marylanders Against High Stakes testing. She reported about Gov. O'Malley's campaign promises to work to re-negotiate the rampant use of High Stakes Testing in MD's high schools. We thought that this would be a good opportunity for us and our children to express our thoughts on NCLB in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. As a bonus, we got to see Sue.

The forum began with a power-point presentation . The song was "Teach your Children Well" from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The slides and quotes were of kids and Gov. O'Malley, a medley of visions of our schools; typical election-type hype. But, the song was great!

Gov. O'Malley was introduced twice. First by his Lt. Gov, Anthony Brown, and also by Congressman Dutch Ruppersburger. Both these speeches were fairly standard-fare political hype. The Governor came onto the stage with a manner of casual familiarity with the kids. His intentions were well-guided and the kids were receptive. He repeatedly told them that this was their forum and that he wanted to hear from as many of them as was possible.

He also gave the press their story by announcing his plan to give millions of dollars toward school construction. The press, as you can read below, ran with that. But, the students had more pressing issues to discuss.

The kids began cautitously, but with the help of their new Gov, they relaxed and began to open up. The first few comments began with discussions on global warming and the environment; both thoughtful and pressing issues. Several other questions seemed fairly staged or formal, as if they were selected in a survey of political current events issues. But, the turning point came in several questions/comments that began a string of more, and more, and more... Before the forum was over, nearly every student in the room had time to speak their thoughts.

A student from Glen Burnie, a school district visited by President Bush last year and applauded for it's AYP accomplishments, spoke in a voice that was both innocent and wise beyond our wildest expectations. He said that the HSA and other federal or state-required and county-based tests were bringing the level of learning down in his high school. He said that his teachers were teaching nothing more or less than what the tests demanded. He said that the "proficiency level" being taught made it impossible for the brighter, more capable students to be challenged. And he said that his best teachers were suffering, some quitting in the wake of these changes.

The auditorium erupted in applause with these comments.

And the Gov. appeared thoughtful and stunned. He asked for more depth to the student's words and asked for an idea of when these changes began, which not coincidentally marked the beginning of policies in preparation for and coinciding with NCLB compliance.

The Governor was outraged and said so. He clearly renounced the operations of public school policies forced into operation by NCLB. Again, the audience erupted. Hands went up everywhere in the auditorium. Student after student weighed in on the damages being done in their classrooms since NCLB. The applause was deafening.

Somehow, Sue Allison, one of only several adults to be recognized, was able to speak. She quickly spoke about the quality and unreliability of tests and scoring. She told the Governor that there is more accountability for dogfood than for test products and their scoring for our public schools. The audience exploded in loud agreement.

Practically every other comment and discussion thereafter were criticisms of NCLB policy and the destructive path of compliance in our classrooms, on teaching, on learning, on teachers, and on students.

One young courageous teacher spoke out and was quoted in the Annapolis Capital newspaper: "I think that we're losing in our classrooms the ability to discuss, to share ideas and opinions," David DeMatthews, an American government teacher at Edmondson-Westside High School in Baltimore, told O'Malley

The Governor promised these students and their teachers that he would weigh in on their behalf, that he would not forget their concerns, and that he would like to help effect changes that would ease the impact of high stakes testing in our public schools. He also spoke with a clear direction against the harmful and oppressive policies of NCLB.

At the end of the forum, the Governor and his colleagues took personal comments from anyone who desired. We spoke with him and hand delivered notes which he promised to read. We were able to tell him briefly of our concerns and he responded in support and informed agreement.

Although the press spent some time afterward interviewing students, ridiculously little of their passionate comments made it into the newspaper articles.

The following correspondance is self-explanatory. Sometimes I wonder why I even read the paper.

You totally ignored the true gist and almost entire focus of the forum. You left out the many informed voices of the youth. What a worthless piece of reporting when you had the opportunity to report accurately on the energy and first-hand experiences of these thoughtful students.

I'm sorry you feel that way, but the governor made important news
yesterday. So that announcement and fallout in Annapolis takes

Luckily, the gov-elect didn't see it that way--which is why he held a
YOUTH forum...and why he listened intently---and why he clearly spoke
AGAINST NCLB. If THAT isn't news, you are sadly out of touch.

He has spoken out before against NCLB. That's not new. The $400
million commitment, which he said himself he intended to make news
with, was the headline.
Thanks for writing!

He has spoken out against Nancy Grasmick before but I would like to see
the report where our Governor-elect has spoken out so clearly against
the policies of NCLB. Your headline does not pre-empt or cancel the
importance of the many statements made by our students against the
destructive forces of NCLB policy. And it does not, or should not
overshadow the news that our new Gov. also made clear statements against
NCLB and the effects of the policies in our schools, on our students,
and on our teachers.

Your personal preference should not interfere with such news. The issue
of reauthorization is upon us again. The students spoke eloquently. So
did O'Malley. Report accurately and thoroughly about the youth
forum--don't pick and choose or decide which aspects of the forum are
news. O'Malley was obviously shocked at how thoughtful and astute these
students were, and how clearly they identified key issues about NCLB.
You should report the nature and content of the youth who created the
agenda and rose to the occaision.

The audience exploded with applause every time another student spoke
about the real issues and experiences in their schools. You chose to
leave their voices, and their specific complaints out of your report for
the most part--what a shame.

The president of MAHST also spoke eloquently on testing. You heard her.
The audience of over 100 students, teachers, and parents exploded with
her comments.

Report in fairness and balance accurately, not with your own agenda and
priorities. Our students, teachers, and parents, as well as our
Gov-elect deserve nothing less.
You are welcome.

It's not a matter of personal preference by any means, it's a matter of
what's new -- and news. Again, thanks for writing.


O'Malley Proposes Millions For Schools
New Buildings Would Replace 'Learning Shacks'

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 16, 2007; B01

Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley said yesterday that he will propose spending a record $400 million on public school construction next year, making good on a costly campaign promise aimed at reducing the number of "temporary learning shacks" that have sprung up on schoolyards in the Washington suburbs and elsewhere in the state.

"We need to catch up with the backlog that affects all of you," O'Malley (D) told more than 250 high school students and others attending a Maryland Youth Inaugural two days before his swearing in as Maryland's 61st governor.

The event came as workers assembled scaffolding and set up chairs outside the State House in Annapolis for O'Malley's inaugural ceremony tomorrow and as transition aides continued to scramble on other fronts.

O'Malley plans to announce his two latest Cabinet picks today, aides said. He will nominate John R. Griffin as secretary of natural resources, a position he held during the past Democratic administration until he was dismissed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening, despite Griffin's popularity with conservationists. O'Malley also will seek to elevate Richard E. Hall to secretary of planning. Hall is a longtime manager in the Planning Department.

The picks will bring to seven the number of Cabinet choices O'Malley has made public, and aides said several others are close but will not be in place by tomorrow. The Department of Natural Resources plays a central role in efforts to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and also focuses on the state's public lands, forests, wildlife and fish. The Planning Department works with local governments to chart growth.

Yesterday's focus was squarely on education, as O'Malley and Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown (D) spent nearly two hours fielding questions in a town hall-style meeting on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis. The pair got an earful from students who said preparation for state high school assessment tests demands too much classroom time.

O'Malley said he is a firm believer in standards but pledged that his administration "will be taking another look at this and trying to get the balance right."

O'Malley's announcement on school construction was not a foregone conclusion, given a tough budget year ahead and recent warnings that he might not be able to fully fund his education priorities in his first year.

Momentum for increased funding has swelled in recent years in the wake of a 2003 report that identified $3.85 billion in needs by 2013 and recommended a minimum of $250 million a year in state spending.

Annual funding dipped as low as $117 million early in the tenure of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), whom O'Malley defeated in November. But this year, the final of Ehrlich's term, the legislature bumped up spending to $323 million. Ehrlich indicated during last year's campaign that he would have proposed $338 million for school construction next year.

O'Malley's announcement was greeted cautiously by some legislative leaders, who said the record spending on school construction could pinch money available for capital projects planned at universities, museums and other facilities.

"It depends on what's in the rest of their capital budget," said Sen. P. J. Hogan (D-Montgomery), vice chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "As high of a priority as school construction is, there are other priorities."

O'Malley's proposed spending, the highest since the state's school construction program began in 1970s, also falls well short of wish lists drawn up by Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which weighed in at $134 million and $137 million, respectively. This year, the counties each received roughly 12 percent of the $323 million allocated statewide.

Speaking to reporters after the event, O'Malley said he was hopeful that his budget, which will be made public this week, will also include funds to hold the line on tuition at Maryland universities again next year.

O'Malley also allowed that his budget will "probably not" include funding next year for a geographic component of a school-aid formula that could send tens of millions of additional dollars to Prince George's and Montgomery.

O'Malley said, as he did last week, that he remains committed to phasing in those dollars in coming years and noted that an additional $580 million in increased education aid is mandated statewide next year.



O'Malley pledges funds for school construction
Budget to include $400 million; inaugural set tomorrow

By Jennifer Skalka
Baltimore Sun
January 16, 2007

Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley promised yesterday that his first annual budget will include $400 million for school construction, a commitment he made during the first-ever Maryland Youth Inaugural, held at St. John's College in Annapolis.

"We're making news," said O'Malley, perched on a stool with Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown by his side in the school's auditorium. "Don't tell the press this tonight. We don't want them to know until we reveal our budget. ... We are going to put $400 million into school construction this year, in this year's budget."

Education is also listed as a key priority for the new administration in a draft of O'Malley's inaugural speech, which he will deliver tomorrow. A copy of the address, obtained by The Sun, has the mayor saying the state must take responsibility for "long-term investment in higher education."

"In Maryland, the opportunity for young people to achieve a better life than their parents is in peril, with college costs rising beyond what families can afford," the draft says.

The speech, to be delivered in front of the State House after O'Malley is sworn in as Maryland's 61st governor, discusses the challenges facing the state and the nation, among them making higher education more accessible, providing health care to the uninsured, curbing rising energy costs and lessening the economic burden on middle-class Americans.

The theme, "Peril and Possibility," echoes throughout.

"As one Maryland," the draft says, "we have choices to make about our shared future. Will we allow our future to be defined solely by peril, by the challenges and difficulties that loom over these next four years? Or will we seize possibility. Will we define our state's future, building on Maryland's strength?"

The draft speech, dated Jan. 9 - aides say it has been revised recently and was written by the governor and top advisers - does not contain specifics for solving those problems and others.

Instead, the address is more thematic and includes many of O'Malley's favorite campaign lines about loving neighbors as ourselves and fostering "a unity of spirit and matter."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the governor, said O'Malley's State of the State address, scheduled for Jan. 31, will include more details about how he proposes to tackle each issue.

O'Malley's school construction announcement drew strong applause from the 200 students, teachers and parents who attended the 90-minute town hall-style event at St. John's. Later, Democratic leaders praised O'Malley but said they want to know how he will pay for the initiative.

"I also want him to keep his other campaign promises," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "He also campaigned on keeping slots at the tracks. I think that should be done this year as well."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said he agreed with O'Malley's figure but noted without specifics that other projects will have to be delayed to pay for the governor-elect's proposal. "It's in the budget, so we're there," Busch said.

The Assembly dedicated about $323 million in the most recent fiscal year to capital projects including school construction.

Outgoing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. promised last summer that if re-elected he would commit $250 million annually over a five-year period, a figure in line with the quarter-million dollars a year recommended by an education funding commission headed by state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

Abbruzzese said O'Malley is recommending $400 million for his first-year budget and $250 million annually in each successive year.

Under state law, O'Malley must introduce his budget plan Friday, two days after he is sworn in. The school construction pledge, a frequent campaign trail refrain, marks the second such promise in recent days. Last week, he promised full funding for environmental land purchases.

Those attending the St. John's meeting were hopeful that O'Malley and Brown will make education - specifically funding for construction and a re-evaluation of state testing standards - a primary focus.

The event was originally scheduled for today, but the funeral of a Baltimore policeman required that it be held on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Attendees appeared to be most engaged talking about the Maryland High School Assessments, exams administered at the end of courses in biology, English and other subjects. Several expressed concern that learning is compromised because teachers are forced to teach to the test.

"I think that we're losing in our classrooms the ability to discuss, to share ideas and opinions," David DeMatthews, an American government teacher at Edmondson-Westside High School in Baltimore, told O'Malley.

O'Malley, who was casual enough to call several speakers "man" and at one point "beatboxed" (the hip-hop art of using one's voice to make drumbeats and other percussive noises) as a student recited his after-school club's mission, promised new leadership at the Maryland State Department of Education. He also vowed to review state testing requirements.

"We will be taking another look at this and trying to get that balance right," O'Malley said.

Frederick Ramsey, a junior at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, said he was grateful for the opportunity to see the governor-elect in person and that he looks forward to learning more specifics about O'Malley's plans.

"He answered some [questions] very well, some he didn't," Ramsey said. "They'll all have to be addressed."



O’Malley plans $400M for school construction

Teens get chance to ask questions

Annapolis Capital
Jan. 16, 2007

Like a press corps veteran, Rebecca Stolzenbach took the microphone.
Rising from the crowd, the 15-year-old North County High School sophomore asked Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley what he’d cut to meet his goal of funding education.

The outgoing mayor of Baltimore hoped to make state government leaner. He admitted that some capital projects — he didn’t say which ones — might have to wait a year or two in order to address Maryland’s school construction and repair backlog.

But he did deliver a present to the more than 100 high-schoolers gathered for the first-ever One Maryland Youth Inaugural at St. John’s College yesterday.
Mr. O’Malley said his first state budget, to be released later this week, will contain $400 million for school construction.

“Don’t tell the press this tonight,” he jokingly told the students gathered in Francis Scott Key Auditorium.

It’s not clear how much Anne Arundel County will receive. The state Interagency Committee on School Construction decides how much construction money each school system gets, and local officials have a chance to petition the state Board of Public Works for more.

Mr. O’Malley said he would be fair in doling out state funds. He tried to allay fears that he would funnel money to Baltimore, noting that when he became mayor, critics said he’d shift city funds toward northeast Baltimore.

“In a representative government, one can not be re-elected unless one represents all the people,” he said.

Yesterday’s event gave students a chance to talk with Mr. O’Malley and Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony Brown. The Democratic duo will be officially sworn in tomorrow, replacing Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

“You’re going to find in your life that somehow, some way you’re going to serve the people of Maryland,” Mr. Brown said.

“The battle in this life is whether you’re going to change the world or if the world will change you,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Before the event, Rebecca said she wanted to get a feel for Mr. O’Malley’s priorities. “I hope to see great improvements in the school system,” she said.
Laura Watts, a 17-year-old senior at Severna Park High School, wanted to know how the governor-elect will keep college tuition affordable without raising taxes. She was also concerned about the overall state of education.

“Even though I’m a senior and going off to college, it’s still going to affect me and other students in the state of Maryland,” she said.

A number of students and adults voiced their displeasure with Maryland’s standardized testing system. They said it forced teachers to spend too much classroom time teaching to tests at the expense of the overall curriculum.
Mr. O’Malley said he heard them loud and clear.

“I was surprised at the degree to which the kids were pretty much unanimous that the pendulum had swung too far toward the culture of testing, to the point where we’re dumbing things down,” he said afterward.
Mr. O’Malley shared his thoughts on other matters, including whether the state should teach illegal immigrants.

While chastising the federal government for not doing enough to protect the country’s borders, he said, “We compound and make worse that irresponsibility when we create barriers to education, barriers to transportation” and other services.

The governor-elect said he’s against legislation requiring all local school boards to be elected, saying that decision should be left to local jurisdictions. Anne Arundel County doesn’t have an elected Board of Education, although some local lawmakers want to change that.

And he talked about reducing cynicism toward government.

“It’s been my experience in the last 15 years that while government is not the total answer ... There is a certain synergy (that) can touch us all ... if our leaders can bring us together,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley answered questions for about two hours, then stuck around to sign autographs and pose for pictures with students. He tried to take a casual tone with them, at one point putting his hands to his mouth to make beat-like noises like those you hear on rap songs.

Rebecca was impressed that Mr. O’Malley took the time to answer questions.
“He was very positive. He seemed very optimistic,” she said. “He seemed like he wanted to help the education system.”


— Annie and three reporters
Three papers



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