- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

BALTIMORE Nine city high schools will be broken up and six to eight more will be added to the school system as part of a five-year plan to improve Baltimore's high schools, school officials said yesterday.
Baltimore's nine, large "neighborhood" high schools which serve some of the city's poorest areas are just too big to be effective, said Carmen Russo, the chief executive of the city school system.
The nine schools account for a third of the city's 27 high schools, but serve 55 percent of the high school population.
The city's largest high school has 2,356 students, and 15 percent of the seniors at larger high schools do not graduate. Many do not even make it to the 12th grade, school officials said.
The plan, patterned after programs in San Diego, New York and Chicago, could become a model for other school systems in the state, such as the Prince George's County system, that have similar problems of attrition and high dropout rates. The nine schools will be divided and will start their new curriculums in three years, Miss Russo said.
The overhaul is aimed at combatting high absenteeism, low standardized-test scores, low college-acceptance rates and school crime.
The plan includes building a new partnership with the national, nonprofit College Board. Educators from the board would give high school teachers new ways of incorporating technology into classes and making classes more interesting for students, officials said.
"Right now, we're not meeting their needs, and so they're leaving," Miss Russo said after the conference. "Our high schools are dinosaurs from the industrial age. Children living in 2001 are comfortable with technology and the old method just doesn't work."
The new system, which would renovate existing school-system buildings and would not require any new construction, would give students more specialized classes to choose from, said Patricia Martin, executive director of the College Board's regional office in Philadelphia.
The way the high schools work now, advanced students are given the options of taking specific courses that give them more practical knowledge of a subject, Miss Martin said.
Students who are less advanced are left behind, often stuck taking "nebulous general math and science classes" while their peers take algebra, calculus or computer science, she said.
"This is not going to be business as usual," Miss Martin said of the change. "We're not going to just open up a bunch of smaller schools. We're going to ratchet up the instructional value."
She quoted studies in which 70 percent of students said they expect to attend college, but fewer parents say they expect their children to attend college.
"We've not had these kids stretch and grow. We haven't given them enough rigor," Miss Martin said, adding that nationwide, many students drop out of high school because they're bored, not because they are less intelligent than their peers.

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