School Board Approves Eliminating Middle School Reading Classes

Proposal to unify school schedules, tweak content offerings passes on a 5-3 vote.

After weeks of controversy, the Howard County Board of Education late Thursday voted 5-3 to pass a proposed middle school program that eliminates formal reading classes in favor of project-based modules for some students and seminars and intervention programs for others.

Three years of required reading instruction will be reduced to two quarters of instruction under the board's decision.

The meeting began amid a side dispute in which one member asked to be allowed to participate electronically, sparking a heated exchange toward the end of the meeting.

Brian Meshkin, who participated in the meeting by phone from California, changed his opposing vote of two weeks ago to one of support, joining board Chairwoman Sandy French, Vice Chairman Frank Aquinio and members Janet Siddiqui and Ellen Giles.

He voted with the majority after accusing some members of allowing him to participate in the meeting via telephone only because they thought he would vote in favor of the proposal.

French denied Meshkin's accusation and said she at no time asked Meshkin how he intended to vote, nor did anyone else share with her any suggestions of how he planned to vote.

Members Allen Dyer and Cindy Vaillancourt and student member Tomi Williams voted against the proposal.

As approved, the middle school program will fill many needs, school administrators maintained.

By instituting a seven, 50-minute period schedule, all 19 Howard County middle schools will run on the same schedule, as opposed to the hodgepodge of schedules now found across the system.

To better align with the impending Common Core State Standards, physical education class time will be increased; world language instruction will be added to the sixth-grade curriculum and, because of the five-minute time increase in class periods, instructional time in core subjects will be significantly increased over the school year.

One casualty, as many educators consider it, of the proposal, is the middle school program's dedicated reading class.

The time added to physical education classes and the time needed for the new world language program had to come from somewhere, and school officials cut the only thing that could reasonably be cut, Howard County education Association President Paul Lemle said.

The association, though content with compromises that have been worked out over the past several weeks, particularly in regard to preserving negotiated teacher planning periods, remained opposed to the elimination of the dedicated reading classes.

Lemle said he was surprised and disappointed by the vote, and is worried about this year's fifth-graders who are "OK" readers now.

He is concerned about a school board that can "just throw away 10 quarters — two and a half years — of reading instruction when no one knows the effects of that decision.

"There will be no mulligan for next year's sixth-graders," Lemle said after the meeting. "I feel like I was the only honest guy in that room tonight."

LOVE2READ February 12, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I am EXTREMELY bothered by Meshkin's vote. I believe his feigned response was a red herring attempt to keep the public from talking about how his vote decided the fate of many Ho. Co. students. If you view the the previous BOE meetings on this issue, Meshkin is very much opposed to the proposal and extremely critical of it. He has many questions and makes negative judgments. Then, miraculously, he changes directions and accepts a proposal which addresses NONE of his previous questions or criticisms. The whole episode was an obvious swiftboat attempt to bring charges against the very group he was siding with and rouse the emotions of the people who he formerly sided with so that he could change his vote--the deciding vote-- and walk away from the whole mess blame free. His goal was to deflect attention from himself so that he could change the vote without being the object of discussion. Instead, people would focus on the circus of his own creation.
Ann Delacy February 12, 2012 at 07:21 PM
@HoCoTeacher2--a well written and informative article. One should also question the Common Core Standards that are currently being sold as the new education fix of the year or decade. If Math, English Language Arts and Reading are being assessed, then why did HCPSS remove the reading classes?
Ann Delacy February 12, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Well stated, Jack.
Ann Delacy February 12, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Just what do we know about the Common Core Standards? Here is an excellent source: http://www.pioneerinstitute.org/pdf/common_core_standards.pdf
HoCoTeacher2 February 12, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Wish I could...but current teachers can't serve on the Board (as I understand)
Sue February 12, 2012 at 10:14 PM
HoCoTeacher2 This is an awesome analogy. Just awesome. Run for the school board and I'll manage your campaign.
Ann Delacy February 12, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Listen careful to the video of the middle school meeting, Tom. You will hear a number of things revealed.
HoCoTeacher2 February 12, 2012 at 11:06 PM
The biggest mistruth? That Howard County was the only county in the state to still have reading classes. Completely false. I will post the information here soon. We WERE #1 in the state - we HAD reading classes...Howard County will now FALL BEHIND other counties in the amount of reading time allocated in the school day. Should be REALLY interesting to see how this all pans out. Of course...adding 5 whole minutes to Science and Social Studies and ELA will make ALL the difference! Are they kidding?
Sue February 13, 2012 at 12:08 AM
I wonder if Mr. Meshkin would have voted the same way if he had been physically present in the Board room and could see the look of grief, anguish, and disgust on the faces of most of the community members as they listened to the misinformation that was shared in support of this proposal. What an awful decision made by a dysfunctional Board.
teacheach1 February 13, 2012 at 12:22 AM
If you are interested in the Common Core standards go to the Maryland state department of education site .. The one noted previously is outdated
Laurie Butts February 13, 2012 at 12:48 AM
They do not have a clue what they've done. There goes our reputation! So, what will happen now w/ Reading assessments?
Sue February 13, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Good work!!!!!! The School Board made this decision without all the straight facts. Ridiculous!!!!!!!!
Leslie Kornreich February 13, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Margie, Laurie, Ann, Lorraine, HoCoTeacher2, and all, All of you have made such good, true points. Our school system has indeed become about teaching primarily what is on the standardized test, and it has regrettably become the only measure by which we judge the success of our students (and pretty soon, our teachers). Just look at the elementary school day -- science and social studies are referred to as "content" and each is taught only 1/3 of the school year. Why? Because they are not covered on the MSA. Not until middle school do we begin to teach kids about the world they live in and the richness of other cultures (although hopefully a little bit of that will come with the elementary world language program). With regard to the most recent middle school program of studies restructuring, I believe we are making a huge mistake eliminating the stand-alone reading class and I fear for the kids who will not get those years back. I am very concerned that this proposal was rushed through with essentially no meaningful input from the actual teachers and students most affected by it. We must include more meaningful public input (not just feedback after the deal is done) at all levels of the school system, and we must steer away from a one-size-fits-all model of education and make education personal. I am running for a seat on the Board of Ed and would love it if you all would contact me to talk or learn more about me at my website: www.lesliekforboe.com.
Sue February 13, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Not to mention all the money the county has spent on books and materials for the newly updated reading curriculum that is now no longer needed. What a farce!
Thomas Diller February 13, 2012 at 01:54 AM
What was the misinformation?
Thomas Diller February 13, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Ann, I watch just about every board meeting, every budget hearing, every policy review. There is VERY little that I miss! Please tell me, specifically, what was revealed and I will go back and watch it again. And for the third time, which part of Giles' comment do you "disagree" with?
Jack February 13, 2012 at 03:05 AM
What reputation? The reputation we are spoon fed? Not only does the hcpss teach to the test which requires blindness from the parents, a rubber stamp from the BOE, incompetence in the administration and a teaching staff willing to perform substandard work, it also involves lowering the bar on the test each year. That is right folks, for the most part there is silence because those of us who speak out are met with retaliation. The hcpss reputation is worthless, just ask our graduates. All of you need to take a good look at the whole product of the hcpss and for those of you who recieved your education befor 1989 you will need to question your own education. Even if we teach reading does not mean we teach anything else well. In Algebra 1 we only teach 40%, not the full course. If we do not teach math we can not teach science. We do not teach any vocational courses. By the time most people realize what happened it is too late. Go down to Howard community college and take a first year class so you can see and hear with your own eyes the quality of our graduates. It is pathetic. Right here in this thread I have seen 4 candidates for BOE. This is where you have the discussion, right here publicly. As to Ms. Giles, it is called posturing and lacks the balls required of the candidates speaking publicly.
Ann Delacy February 13, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Jack, teachers are powerless. If you have attended or viewed any BOE meeting, you will have gained some understanding of how little they are respected by the majority voting block. As you stated, the failure to march lockstep is rewarded with negative consequences plus the inability to advance. Many of my supporters are people within the system who are afraid to be seen with me due to a fear of retaliation. An administrator at Wilde Lake MS warned her staff that I didn't support the school. Two years ago at a Simulated Congressional Hearing, then BOE member Pat Gordon, reported on a teacher who agreed with me on some mundane issue. The teacher was called in for a conversation with her/his supervisor. One should also look more closely at hiring and promotion policies at all levels. I know where to look and how the system works. It is indeed time for a change in leadership at every level. BTW, how many former HCPSS Central Office staff now work at MSDE?
Laurie Butts February 13, 2012 at 04:10 AM
I graduated in 1981 and am proud of my education here in the county. I transferred before I started my freshman year, from WLHS to a new school that was opening w/ a tremendous principal who had an incredibly impressive background in education. It was such a shame that he died the week before our second year there began. The teachers that were at Centennial were top notch and I do not question my education at all. I do not agree w/ the comment about our teachers willing to perform substandard work. They give more than they should with the salary they receive ("i before e except after c"....take note of spelling errors).
Jack February 13, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Mr Bruzga keeps a file on me in his office, as of last year it was 8 inches thick and growing. Not the largest and just one of many on those who will not be appeased. I would imagine his counterparts keep similar records on those of us who speak out. For those of us who speak out we are threatened and our children are retaliated against. For those of us who went to the Ombudsman we were publicly outed, twice. I have both a right to every aspect of my children's lives and a responsibility to that access. I have to speak out and stand up for them. I can not nor will not be silenced. We all must speak out. Look at the children who suffered for decades in Cradlerock, a decade in Reservoir, the children with no schools in the east and so many others. We all have to speak out, we can not be cowards.
Jack February 13, 2012 at 04:32 AM
"I do not agree w/ the comment about our teachers willing to perform substandard work. They give more than they should with the salary they receive" Yes this is a sore point but how can one teach self esteem by rewarding a child with an "A" when the child performs at 25% or teach to the test. Yes they had to. When these 2 methods were used we had an embrace of substandard work. We have some very good teachers and we have some good teachers. We also have a few who should be removed from the trade. Now the administrative level, now that stinks from the top down. Then we have the parents and yes we share the blame. Our biggest problem is allowing the system to appease us when we know the other children are left without.
Jack February 13, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Below is a comment in response to mine on "teaching staff willing to perform substandard work" "I don't know what teaching staff you are talking about...because all the teachers I work with give 100% effort every day in our classrooms thank you very much." As I said it is a sore subject but I am not seeking office nor recognition nor one cent in compensation. Still it must be addressed, every issue must be placed on the table. If the answer is to change the atmosphere our teachers work in so they have open input without fear of retaliation then this is where we must change however we must strive to improve the teaching trade which both includes hiring the best and letting go of those who do not perform just as in any field. There has to be communication between everyone, not limited as it currently is by group position. There has to be a discussion on every subject and it must be ongoing. Change is not something which must be abruptly disruptive, it has to be constant and fluent.
Jack February 13, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Change is not something which must be abruptly disruptive, it has to be constant and fluent. This is probably one of the answers we need. It allows for improvement and growth which is what this vote and the years building to it failed to do.
Jack February 14, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Laurie Butts, I owe you an apology. My comment "and for those of you who recieved your education "befor" 1989 you will need to question your own education", I should have said "after" 1989 as this was when public schools in America began their current path and decline.
Adam R March 03, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Just saying this well after this conversation is over but I recently found out HCPS only requires one year of Gym or being on a sports team. I find this more offensive than cutting the reading classes. An involved parent can encourage reading at home to fill this void, but two working parents cannot get their children to have to have some exercise at night. This should be encouraged and required as part of the education process during school. Students need a break and need to get off their butts. Gym classes should be required every year of HS!
Ann Delacy March 03, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Adam, in order for HCPSS to continue to rank high in the state of Maryland, they must focus on teaching to State and Federal mandidated tests. Instead of being innovative or setting the standards for education, this BOE has decided to march lock-step with their central office masters. It is truly time for a change. IF you ask for the data on a particular program, don't hold your breath waiting for an answer. It is time to put a person who has actually been a teacher in HCPSS and knows how th system operates on the BOE. What we have now are lawyers, a doctor, people in business and a person who taught many years ago in another county.
Jack March 03, 2012 at 05:59 PM
You need to look at these so called gym class. It would be in your childs best interest to take this in a 3 week summer school class befor they enter the 9nth grade. Not only is the length of time inadequate, the quality is rock bottom. Actually if you are a parent it is your best interest to forget any propaganda fed by the hcpss or Howard county government and take an in depth look at what your children are being subjected to under the pretense of education. Ann, teaching to the test or no longer educating our children is a problem beyond anything a new parent could comprehend. I pitty the unsuspecting parent.
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Jack, I risk being labeled as having an ax to grin by exposing the system. The more I learn (and I know a lot) the more sickened I have become. There is absolutely zero transparency. The Public Information Department is really a PR department for the Central Office. If you have a real concern, it is best to go to Rose Dennison, the Ombudsman.
Jack March 04, 2012 at 05:34 AM
As much as I promoted Rose Dennison, the Ombudsman and her office it is probably not where anyone wants to go. Twice every person who sought this help were publicly outed. Relationships between the Ombudsman's office and the hcpss make this nothing more then a tool for appeasement. We need an independent Office of the Ombudsman if we are going to see any change. Ann, you seem to have a dilemma. You were once part of the system. I do not know you and that is not enough for me to judge you. Hopefuly you have always spoke out. Right now very few candidates are speaking out and I have respect for the ones who choose to engage the public. Continue to speak out .
Ann Delacy March 04, 2012 at 12:20 PM
Jack, I was administratively transferred from Owen Brown MS in 2002 for reporting on the principal to Dr. Cousin. I later discovered that the principal, Linda Carter, who was hired by HCPSS from Baltimore City because she was great at raising test scores, was the same person who supplied the bogus test scores for Michelle Rhee's advancement. Believe me, there is even more to that story.


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