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April 10, 2009
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State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick

A few words from State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick

Another report was released this week with more good news about Maryland education. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) on April 8 released its annual look at preschool education, and found that Maryland’s state funded prekindergarten program ranks in the nation’s top 10 for the percentage of children enrolled.

With 37 percent of the state’s four-year-olds in state funded preschool, Maryland ranks ninth overall. When federal, state, and local resources are totaled, Maryland ranks third in the nation in funding of Pre-K.

This is good news, because our own research tells us that early childhood education is a wonderful investment. The 2008-2009 Maryland School Readiness Report, discussed in detail in the March 27 Bulletin, found that Maryland students in quality childcare settings are improving in the kindergarten readiness. Moreover, students who enter kindergarten ready to learn do better as they go through elementary school.

We are proud of the progress Maryland has made in early learning. It is an investment that pays off for our entire State.

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MSDE received recently received another big piece of good news: our department has received a lucrative three-year, $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to improve the state’s student data system. The competitive grant allows MSDE to establish a longitudinal data warehouse that will link educational information for individual students across years, and will follow each student, regardless where a student moves in the State during his or her schooling. The grant also paves the way for the design and implementation of a statewide system for reporting student course participation and performance.

Currently, virtually all student course data is stored and managed at the school and system level, making it difficult to track students if they change schools or school systems. Improved data is critical to strengthening student performance, and this new grant will help us construct a system that will better illuminate what works in our schools. It will help us assure that we can better follow the progress of students statewide, regardless where they move during their educational career.

MSDE plans to complete this phase of its ongoing data project by the end of March 2014. The Department began working on the initial components of this statewide data system in 2006 using a three-year $8 million federal grant that helped the State create a unique student identification number that is now being used with all students statewide.

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The creativity of Maryland students is a constant inspiration to me. I recently had another opportunity to view creativity at work, attending the 2009 Chesapeake “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) Robotics Regional Competition at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Halsey Field House. The FIRST Robotics Competition combines the excitement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to create a unique competition for the mind. It unleashes the world of innovation and design to high school-aged students.

For the first time in FIRST regional competition history, four Maryland high school teams were in the winning alliance:

Team 798 – The TechnoWarriors of Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County

Team 1195 – Havoc of Patriots Technology Training Center and Bowie High School in Prince George’s County

Team 1863 – The High Tech Parrots of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore City, and

Team 2866 – Project Mayhem of Owings Mills High School in Baltimore County

The four teams are qualified to attend the championship taking place at the Georgia Dome later this month, the largest contingent of Maryland teams to reach the championship in the program’s history.

Watching these students, who have a wonderful enthusiasm for math and science, gave me a feeling of intense pride and hope. I knew I was in the company of the next generation of scientists, engineers, researchers, mathematicians, and technicians. Competitions like FIRST Robotics provide a great outlet for student creativity, and I hope more students get involved.


Calendar

April is Environmental Education Month in Maryland

April is the Month of the Young Child

April 12-18 — National Library Week

April 13 — End of Legislative Session

April 27 — State Board Meeting


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EDUCATION SECRETARY DUNCAN ANNOUNCES STIMULUS FUNDING DURING MARYLAND VISIT

New U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to Maryland last week to announce the first round of federal stimulus money for schools across the nation.

Prince George’s County Superintendent William Hite (left), State Superintendent Grasmick, and Education Secretary Duncan greet children at Doswell Brooks Elementary

Prince George’s County Superintendent William Hite (left), State Superintendent Grasmick, and Education Secretary Duncan greet children at Doswell Brooks Elementary.

Secretary Duncan, joined by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Rep. Donna Edwards, State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, and many other dignitaries, visited Doswell Brooks Elementary in Prince George’s County on April 1 to announce that $44 billion was now available for states and schools under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.

“It is critical that the money go out quickly, but it’s even more important that it be spent wisely,” Secretary Duncan said.  “The first step toward real and lasting reform that will ensure our students’ competitiveness begins with absolute transparency and accountability in how we invest our dollars, educate our children, evaluate our teachers, and measure our success.”

The choice of Maryland as backdrop for the announcement was no accident, Secretary Duncan said.

“This state’s education system is arguably the best in the nation,” he said.  “They’ve done a phenomenal job.”

Much of the funding going to states and school systems is formula driven for Title I and special education.  But Secretary Duncan spent much of his time highlighting the Race to the Top competitive grant program, designed to reward states that have made the most progress on school reform.

“Every dollar we spend must advance reforms and improve learning,” he said.  “We are putting real money on the line to challenge every state to push harder and do more for its children.”

MSDE has established an ARRA website, which will include information on the federal stimulus programs for education.  Find it here.


COMMENTARY: RESTORING WELLNESS FOR OUR CHILDREN

By Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools, and Alan M. Lake, M.D., Chair, Obesity Prevention Taskforce, Maryland Chapter,
American Academy of Pediatrics

Take 15 for the Health of it!

Over the past few decades, our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy food choices have led to a dramatic reduction in our present and future health. This is true even for those who have not become overweight or obese. The most alarming data relates to children: childhood obesity has tripled over the past three decades, one in three children is overweight before entering kindergarten, and one in three children born today is likely to develop Type 2 diabetes earlier than ever as adults. We have reached the point where it is predicted that, for the first time in the history of mankind, this generation of children will have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

To reverse this trend, we must establish and foster partnerships to improve nutrition education and increase physical activity, literally from birth. The medical community has stepped up to the plate and will improve teaching and monitoring of nutrition guidelines and physical activity. Every local school system now has a school-based wellness policy to improve nutrition, health, and physical education. Both educators and parents need to support and expand these wellness opportunities. Physical and health education teachers are expanding their programs even in the face of financial constraints. The Maryland State Department of Education has expanded its Take 15 for the Health of It program to stimulate physical activity and has issued grants to introduce the Team Nutrition program into additional schools. The quality of the School Breakfast and Lunch programs is being improved through multiple new initiatives. Nutrition education in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and licensed daycare programs is being revised to make parents more aware of the importance of nutrition and exercise for children during the early childhood years. 

Parents are critical to the success of any wellness agenda. We recommend that parents take time to improve the nutritional value of meals, reduce fast food and “mega” meals, and offer a variety of healthy foods to their children. Parents should never, ever, underestimate the need to be responsible role models, making wise nutrition decisions and increasing personal and family activity. In a recent study of parents of third and fourth graders, 90 percent of parents admitted to “stashing snacks” for their secret use. When their children were asked, 100 percent knew exactly where the stash was hidden!

Community leaders are increasingly recognizing the need to restore safer neighborhoods where children can play and walk to schools and playgrounds. We need to work together to encourage increased local resources for safe exercise and recreational programs. We need to take advantage of existing resources and encourage children to establish a pattern of regular physical activity and extend the habit into adulthood. The average girl in America reduces her personal exercise by 80 percent between the age of 9 and 19 years. This correlates with increased weight gain and, with subsequent pregnancy, an increased risk for fetal nutritional concerns. Recent studies confirm lifetime ramifications of fetal over- or under-nutrition.

Restoring wellness is not just a plan or an agenda, it is an obligation for all of us. The challenge is to improve communication, cooperation, and commitment to build strategies for a lifetime of healthy habits. The challenge is to improve nutrition and physical education, not tomorrow, but today. The challenge is to meet our greatest obligation of all – that of improving the health and wellness of our children. Their future depends on it.

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