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State lawmakers from Prince George’s seek broad probe of graduation rates

IMG_0158Members of the Prince George’s County’s legislative delegation joined the call Thursday for a state investigation into charges that county school officials doctored grades to increase promotion and graduation rates.

In a letter dated Thursday, the delegates called upon state Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon to examine the claims. The letter was signed by Dels. Jerry Walker and Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a Bowie resident and vice chairwoman of the delegation.

The claims were made by four members of the county school board, including David Murray and Raaheela Ahmed of Bowie.

“Given that the Maryland State Department of Education has oversight over public school districts in Maryland and the educational interests of the State, we respectfully request the resources of the Maryland State Department Education for purposes of an in-depth audit and further investigation of such serious allegations,” the delegates wrote.

The allegations of grade tampering came to light this week when county schools CEO Kevin Maxwell revealed that four school board sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, asking him to conduct an investigation into possible irregularities. He dismissed the claims as “politically motivated” and revealed that a similar probe conducted last fall turned up no evidence of grade-tampering. However, Dr. Maxwell has refused to sit down with reporters as such fox for on camera interview despite repeated requests.

At a jam-packed and often heated school board meeting Thursday night, during which the $1.9 billion school budget was passed, Maxwell repeated his defense of the school system.

“The false allegations about our graduation rates strike at everything that Prince George’s schools stand for – past, present and future,” Maxwell said. “These allegations denigrate why teachers teach and why principals lead. They are a personal attack on every teacher, counselor administrator and employee in this system.”

In their letter, the delegates said the state probe of anonymous allegations last fall did not go far enough because the school personnel interviewed in that investigation were selected by Maxwell.

“It has come to our attention that a high level of concern exists for those schools that experienced a significant change in graduation rate or that have a significant disparity between graduation rates and the performance of students on high school standardized tests,” delegates wrote. “We are also aware that the local change in grading policy may be causing both confusion and disagreement among teachers and parents and this issue could certainly be clarified through a careful MSDE review.”

County officials adopt slightly increased budget for FY 2018
The other nine school board members and a group of county high school principals released statements this week denying the charges and supporting Maxwell.

But Ahmed and Murray stood by their claims, saying Thursday they’d heard and seen enough evidence from system employees to indicate that something was amiss with the grading system. Hogan’s office has forwarded the letter to state education officials.

“There was enough information that I had received – testimony, having seen documents – that there convinced me there was reason for some of these things to be true,” Ahmed said. “I had reason to expect issues – widespread issues.”

Tracie Miller, principal of Gwynn Park High School, was joined by several other high school principals at the board meeting in Upper Marlboro as she spoke out in defense of her colleagues at the meeting.

“We, as high school principals, are extremely offended about the allegations and hurtful accusations that we pressure teachers to to give students grades in order to (increase) the graduation rate,” she said. Such claims, she added, “stain all of us.”

Many parents have come forward with information that their children grades appear suspicious after receiving an A in their report card. Other students who skipped school for many days got A’s and B’s as part of their grades in a shocking revelation to make the adminstration look good.

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Maryland school official responds to fraud allegations in graduation rates

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Prince George’s County schools Chief Executive Kevin M. Maxwell, in front, is shown in a file photo. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

Four members of Prince George’s County’s school board have urged Gov. Larry Hogan to order an investigation into what they allege is a systemic effort to fraudulently boost graduation rates in the Maryland school district.

The members, a minority bloc on a 14-member board, say the state’s second-largest district engaged in “widespread systemic corruption” that has inflated graduation rates since 2014. They allege that grades were changed and that students were credited for courses they did not take.

“Whistleblowers at almost ­every level in [Prince George’s County Public Schools] have clear and convincing evidence that PGCPS has graduated hundreds of students who did not meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements,” the four said in a letter.

The accusations drew a strong reaction from other school board members and senior school system officials.

School district officials said Monday afternoon that the state had investigated the system’s graduation rates several months ago. The state did so at the request of the federal Education Department, which got an anonymous complaint last summer.

Investigators found nothing improper, district officials said, providing a state letter discussing the result of the examination, which included several hours of interviews with five people who work in the school system. The school officials also released a federal response saying the matter was closed.

“We already feel this situation was thoroughly investigated and . . . the allegations were unfounded,” Deputy Superintendent Monique Davis said Monday.

The board members who wrote the letter, dated May 30, are Edward Burroughs III (District 8), David Murray (District 1), Raaheela Ahmed (District 5) and student member Juwan Blocker. Burroughs, who provided the first signature on the letter, is a frequent critic of Kevin Maxwell, the school system’s chief executive.

The letter noted that Maxwell started as the top leader of the 132,000-student system in summer 2013 and that he has touted graduation rate improvements as a significant achievement.

Maxwell, who was appointed to a second four-year term this year by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), issued a statement that called the letter “politically motivated” and welcomed state education officials to “fully explore” the matter.

“These claims are an affront to the hard work of our teachers, administrators, students and parents over the last few years,” he said. “I categorically deny any systemic effort to promote students who did not meet state graduation requirements.”

State data shows that four-year graduation rates in Prince George’s have improved from 74.1 percent for the class of 2013 to 81.4 percent for the class of 2016. That jump was the largest for that time period of any school system in the state, data shows.

Even so, the county’s rate lagged behind the statewide rate (87.6 percent) and the rate in any other Maryland school system except the city of Baltimore’s.

Prince George’s officials attributed their gains to increasing expectations and standards since Maxwell arrived and efforts to provide support to students.

Nationally, on-time graduation rates have risen in recent years, and many school systems, especially those that are lower-
performing, have felt pressure to show gains, said Michael Hansen, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

The letter was first reported Saturday by Fox 5 News. It requested that Hogan (R) order the state’s attorney general and the Maryland State Department of Education to investigate and also asked that documents be seized and a process created so that whistleblowers may come forward without fear of retribution.

A spokeswoman for Hogan called the allegations “very concerning” and said in an email that they had been forwarded to the state education department.

A state Education Department spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.

The letter alleged that whistleblowers have evidence about the ma­nipu­la­tion of student records both before and after graduation.

According to the four board members, the whistleblowers said:

●Courses that students had not taken had been added to their records;

●Grades were changed without teachers’ consent;

●Students received credit for service learning hours that they had not earned. Maryland requires students to amass a certain number of service learning hours for graduation.

“These actions, which alter the much touted student graduation rate, are occurring across the school system leading us to believe that there are accomplices and complicity at the highest levels of the school system,” the letter said.

In a separate letter to county citizens, nine other school board members said Monday they were shocked and dismayed by the allegations and had no knowledge or evidence of systemic corruption to increase graduation results.

They said it was “appalling” that the minority bloc ignored local leadership and chose to “secretly share and distribute information that seeks to belittle the hard work of students, educators and parents.” The school district has monitoring and compliance systems in place, and those who cut corners would face “definitive sanctions,” the nine wrote.

Baker told reporters he had not seen the letter to the governor but had spoken to Maxwell. Baker said any allegations would be taken seriously, but he also commended the district’s success.

“They’ve done a great job in the school system to get the graduation rates up,” he said. “The teachers and principals have worked really hard. And so I know that they are going to look at this seriously. We’re very proud of the work the school system has done and the progress they’ve made.”

Via Washington Post 

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Democrats in Disarray; Delegate Calls Miller and Zirkin “Democrats in Name Only”

IMG_9557.JPGDemocrats have fallen into complete disarray as they’re now turning fire on each other. More than a dozen House Democrats walked off the floor today and held a press conference outside of the State House to fight for the “Maryland Trust Act” also known as the Sanctuary State Bill.

Delegate Joseline Pena-Melynk (District 21, Prince George’s County) went after Senator Bobby Zirkin (District 11, Baltimore County) and Senate President Mike Miller (District 27, Southern Maryland). This is a clear case of mainstream Democrats looking for bipartisan solutions by listening to the people being taken hostage by an increasing number of extremists in their party.

She said, “Senator Bobby Zirkin is a DINO, a Democrat in Name Only. As 2018 approaches, people you are going to hear us tonight in the news. Who lives in his district? Shame him. We don’t need a Democrat like that. We need someone who is going to protect everyone. Who’s not going to compromise. How can you not be a true Democrat? You killed the bill. Shame on you and I hope your district takes you out.”

“Senator Miller, this is a priority for the Democrats…Did we need an issue like this, absolutely so the people know what we stand for. Act like a Democrat. We don’t need anyone who’s not a true Democrat. These people behind me have a spine and not everyone can say that.”

It’s unfortunate that extremist Democrats have held reasonable ones hostage because they listened to their districts. When Senate President Miller looks like the most reasonable person in the room, how extremist are the Maryland Democratic Party now?

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Maryland’s Senate president said a bill that added protections for people in the United States illegally won’t pass the Senate in its current form. 

You can watch the whole video here: https://www.facebook.com/bpsears/videos/10154449969122286/

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1 Arrested After Student Stabbed at Maryland High School

C7YQOjIUwAA4_KFTEMPLE HILLS, MD.- A student was stabbed during class at Crossland High School in Temple Hills Monday morning, Prince George’s County police said.

Police said the victim was stabbed after a verbal argument turned violent with 18-year-old Nathaniel Coates. The stabbing occurred during a class that was happening outside on campus.

Officers arrested Coates and recovered the weapon. Police said Coates is a former student.

According to authorities, the victim has been taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Crossland High School was not put on lockdown since everything happened within a short time frame.

See more >>> NBC4

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Structure of the PGCPS board of education debated by members

rushernsegunkevin-1050x722By YASMINE ASKARI

Members revisited the conversation of Prince George’s County Schools Board of Education’s hybrid structure during its work session last Thursday. The discussion first focused on reasons to oppose an amendment that would change the board’s ability to override the recommendation of the county’s school CEO and then shifted into a discussion of the accountability of appointed officials.

The current 14-member board is a hybrid of four appointed officials, nine elected and one student member, with both the current chairman of the board and the vice chairman of the board appointed officials.

At Thursday’s session, board members were presented with an amendment that would change the supermajority vote requirement to override the CEO’s recommendation from a two thirds vote amongst board members to a three-fifths vote.

Curtis Valentine, a member of a board subcommittee, recommended the board oppose the amendment based on the committee’s understanding that there will be a review of legislation in the coming year that will allow board members and the community to comment on every aspect of legislation related to the board’s hybrid structure and not just the three specific changes.

While the board Chairman Segun Eubanks was quick to point out the board’s tendency to vote unilaterally and dub the current hybrid structure “one of the most important and profound school governance experiments in the nation” he was quickly rebutted by board member Edward Burroughs III.

Burroughs contended that the voting rule had made a difference.

“Last year, [board member Beverly] Anderson chaired the budget committee and worked with the administration for a long time on the budget. And we had a vote to put math and reading specialists at the bottom 25 of our schools and we got eight votes. That failed by one vote,” Burroughs said. “If it was three fifths, those students today would have math and reading intervention that they desperately need. So that makes a difference to me. I don’t care about process and waiting for a report. Those kids needed that service right there and then, immediately.”

He then shifted the conversation to critique Eubanks praise of the board’s structure.

“When we talk about this being this world renowned structure, I disagree,” Burroughs said and pointed out that chair of the board Eubanks familial relationship with County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is a problem.

“When the county executive determines to appoint his former brother-in-law to chair of the board, that is a problem. That is not democracy, that is not good for the system, that is not good for checks and balances,” Burroughs said. “And it makes a difference. When you have non-elected board members, and four appointed board members, and we are being told that we cannot elect our own leadership, that’s crazy.”

Burroughs went on to critique both the board chairman and vice chairwoman’s management of the Head Start program.

“If you look at Head Start, we were not able to hold our board chair and vice chair accountable for their actions or misactions on behalf of those kids because of this structure. It means something to me that all four labor unions are agreeing on this. There’s a reason they all support this.”

Burroughs was hastily thanked for his comments by Eubanks who proceeded to defend himself.

“I’ve been an educational professional for 35 years. I’ve read more books in education than some folks around here have read any books about any subjects in their entire lives. I have committed my life to social justice and I don’t care who I’m related to, or was related to, or was ever related to, I am one of the most qualified educators in this county, and in this state, and in this country,” Eubanks said. “I will stand by records. I will hold up against anybody on this board or anywhere else.”

It was somewhat of an abrupt turn from a work session that started with discussion on legislation, but other members began to voice their views, including Anderson and student board member Juwan Blocker.

While the board ruled to oppose the amendment, the conversation on the board’s hybrid structure was barely settled.

“This hybrid board has covered up a lot of nepotism in Prince George’s County,” Blocker said. “We need to be the ones who decide our leadership.”

Via The Enquirer Gazette

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Board member Juwan Blocker – “This hybrid board has covered up a lot of nepotism in Prince George’s County,” Blocker said. “We need to be the ones who decide our leadership.”

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Board member Edward Burroughs III.

 

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Prince George’s County schools cancelled due to A Day Without Women

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Prince George’s County Public Schools were closed last Wednesday in a last-minute decision due to a high number of teachers and staff members taking the day off for the Day Without a Woman protest.

“Throughout Prince George’s County Public Schools, a high number of school-based and support staff have requested leave for Wednesday, March 8. As of 5:30 p.m., approximately 1,700 teachers and 30 percent of transportation staff have requested leave. We cannot transport students and provide safe, productive learning environments without adequate staff,” Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell said in a statement. “As a result, schools will be closed tomorrow for students. We apologize for the inconvenience this will surely cause to many families.”

The day-long strike, which coincided with International Woman’s Day, was organized by the Women’s March on Washington. Following the lead of the “Bodega strike” in New York City by Yemini store owners and the Day Without Immigrants, the strike intended to highlight the importance of women in the workforce and as consumers.

“This was not a union led effort,” said Theresa Dudley, president of Prince George’s County’s largest teacher union, the Prince George’s County Educator Association. “I was just as surprised as everyone else when they closed school for the children.”

Most teachers were reluctant to come forth on whether they took the day off for the protest due to the county’s stance on stating political views. Despite this, Dudley disclosed that many teachers went to the rally in Washington in representation of Prince George’s County educators.

While some parents on social media expressed disappointment about the short notice, parent organizations such as Reform PGCPS were more supportive.

“The timing of the cancellation was surprising and appeared a last minute resort, however, given the high rate of projected staff absences, the system did not have much choice,” the group said in an email.

“Our organization recognizes the importance and impact of such an event and is supportive of the cause. There is of course the question of the timing of the event during the workweek, scheduling it during the weekend might have allowed more women to participate without having to lose wages,” the group stated.

Other parents on social media noted that while schools had been closed, the school lunch program was still running for underprivileged children.

“Great job PGCPS in recognizing our community needs and much respect for using this platform to inform all,” one parent said on Facebook.

Prince George’s County was one of three large school districts to cancel classes due to the protest. Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina also cancelled classes due to the high number of staff taking leave.

The Enquirer Gazette

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Maryland House moves to curb suspensions, expulsions of young pupils

md_general_assemblyThe House of Delegates approved legislation Thursday that would significantly curb the practice of suspending or expelling the youngest public school students without first taking other steps to improve their behavior.

The measure now goes to the state Senate, where a committee approved a similar bill Thursday.

Delegates voted 91-48 for the House measure, which bars the suspension or expulsion of prekindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades students except in narrow circumstances — such as bringing a gun to school.

Students could be suspended for up to nine days in the House version — five in the Senate’s — only if a mental health professional determines there is an “imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff” that can’t be addressed another way.

The legislation directs that schools provide “intervention and support” for students who are suspended or expelled instead of merely sending them home.

Del. Brooke E. Lierman, the House sponsor, said she’s happy with the bill as amended.

“The bill still sends a strong message to the schools and the Maryland State Department of Education that the General Assembly does not think it is appropriate to suspend or expel our youngest learners,” the Baltimore Democrat said.

If the Maryland State Senate passes its bill as the committee amended it, the two chambers will have to resolve their differences before the bill becomes law.marylandmap2

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