BALTIMORE – The Maryland Scholars program, which offers a more rigorous curriculum aimed at better preparing public school students for graduation, will be expanded statewide this year, Maryland business and education leaders announced Thursday.
“As fast as the marketplace is changing, if you’re not prepared to hire and they’re not prepared to be hired, then we will fall behind,” Lt. Gov. Michael Steele told 150 business leaders and educators at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education. “The business marketplace is unforgivable. It doesn’t wait for you to catch up. You have the opportunity to shape the work force you want.”
The Maryland Scholars program was launched in two counties last year and increased the overall number of eighth- and ninth-graders enrolling in and completing higher-level math and science courses, which are the benchmarks for success in the increasingly competitive global workforce, according to State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick.
The program is a cornerstone of the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education’s “Achievement Counts” campaign, which works with schools to raise academic standards and ready students for higher education or post-graduate employment.
“Students need to know they’re making a $1 million-dollar decision,” said June Streckfus, executive director of Roundtable for Education, explaining that, on average, students will make at least $1 million more in their lifetime if they complete the scholars program and go on to college.
Frederick and Harford counties pioneered Maryland Scholars last year and saw increases in students – particularly low-income and minority students – enrolling in and completing algebra and science courses.
For example, in Frederick County 336 more students completed algebra I by ninth grade and 488 more seniors completed a fourth year of science.
In Harford County, 73 more high school students took chemistry courses and 457 more seniors took a fourth science credit.
Students from low-income families who took algebra I by ninth grade were up 48 percent in Harford County and 55 percent in Frederick County.
The pilot program was successful because it was designed by business leaders and provided a concrete outline of what courses to take, according to Don Morrison, a spokesman for Harford County Public Schools.
“These are business leaders who’ve gone through school, they’ve had the training, they hire every day, so they know what students need,” said Morrison. “It’s not just educators saying ‘We think this is good.’ It’s also business leaders who know what is good in terms of the preparation that a student should have.”
In addition to the expansion of the Maryland Scholars program, Grasmick announced Maryland schools will participate in the American Diploma Project, a similar program sponsored by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates that outlines a comprehensive curriculum designed to ensure success after graduation.
“This will guarantee, literally guarantee, that (students) will be ready for college or career ready exiting our high schools,” said Grasmick.
The American Diploma Project will initially be voluntary in Maryland, but Grasmick said several superintendents are interested in the program.