It scares Tiffany Butcher to think her classmates might graduate from Potomac’s Winston Churchill High School without the basic skills to do well in college and compete in the workplace.
So the 16-year-old is helping state educators create new high school graduation requirements to ensure that students learn the necessary reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills.
“Students can graduate with a high school dipolma, not having all the skills they need,” Tiffany, a junior, observed.
Tiffany is part of a bold school reform initiative announced last week by Maryland’s top three education officials.
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, Secretary of Higher Education Patricia Florestano and University of Maryland System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg don’t like what they see happening in Maryland schools. Their plan is to develop a virtual “K-16” school system, one that encompasses all levels of education.
“By coordinating efforts, we can improve the effectiveness of both of our systems,” Grasmick said.
Florestano agreed. “Cooperation is important,” she said. “We have to make sure our systems work together efficiently to get more students to higher levels of achievement.”
Among their objectives:
* Better training of teachers, both while they are in college and once they are in the classroom.
* Attacking the number of college dropouts.
* Reducing the number of students in need of remedial work.
* Better communication with business on what skills students need.
* Developing statewide tests for high school seniors, both to alert students to their weaknesses and to give college admissions officials a standard measure of student achievement. The State Board of Education will vote in January on a proposed testing system.
Tiffany, who recently testified before the board, said that grades can be misleading. Because students in certain schools get As may not mean they have mastered their subjects.
“What’s considered passing in Dorchester County, might not fly in Howard County,” Tiffany said.
The problem is reflected in remediation statistics. During the 1993-’94 school year, about 19 percent of students in Maryland’s public four-year colleges needed mathematics remediation, 7 percent needed English remdiation and 6 percent needed reading remediation, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
“You have kids in some [high] schools, working hard, getting As, and they get to college and realize they can’t cut it,” said Jeff Welsh, a commission spokesman.
Roland King, spokesman for the University of Maryland College Park, said that reducing the need for remedial work would free up student options and university resources.
For instance, of the students enrolled in 1993-’94, 30 percent required math remediation at some point. “In our role as the flagship for the state, we shouldn’t have to do any remedial work,” King said.
Educators and others recognize that the K-16 effort cannot focus exclusively on schools, but must also draw in businesses, parents and influential community leaders.
T.J. Bryan, dean of Arts and Humanities at Coppin State College, noted that public school systems must compete for students’ attention with television, friends, drugs and premature sexual experiences.
“Many of our students come from Baltimore City, and there are so many things out there, so many distractions,” she said.
Most school systems already have programs in place. In Prince George’s County, for instance, school officials have begun business parterships for mentoring, tutoring, work experience and after-school programs.
“We are really putting our heads in the sand if we beleive students can’t achieve because of their zip code,” said Louise Waynant, deputy superintendent.
Charles County’s 30 schools have 219 business parternships, said school system spokeswoman Linda Dent-Brown.
There, teachers are being sent into the workplace and human resources executives are coming into schools. “You’ve got a teacher receiving first-hand skills so they can take them into the classroom, and a CEO can see what students are facing,” Dent- Brown said.
June Streckfus, president of the Maryland Business Roundtable, which promotes links between business and education, applauded the new efforts.
The “K-16” effort, she said, “is the first time K-12 educators have really gone to the customers — higher education and business.”
In Montgomery County, where Tiffany attends school, county officials see potential gains.
“Education is definitely linked to economic development,” Montgomery County spokesman Steve Simon said. “One of the primary reasons people want to locate in Montgomery County is the quality of education.”
Tiffany takes an even broader view of what is at stake.
“There are world class standards in other parts of the world,” she said. “We are going to have to compete with [those students]. Students from Maryland need the same world class standards.” -30-