On the Cutting Edge to Improve Urban Education

Article ID: 520660

Released: 21-May-2006 10:50 AM EDT

Source Newsroom: University of Maryland, College Park

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Newswise — The Maryland Institute for Minority Achievement and Urban Education (MIMAUE) - just celebrated its fifth anniversary at the University of Maryland. An institute created and run by Education Professor and Associate Dean Martin Johnson, it is a national leader in focusing attention on ways to improve urban schools and raise minority achievement.

MIMAUE works with individual school districts to solve real-world problems of student achievement. Research and outreach programs that involve faculty, students and administrators put this program on the front-line of efforts to help minority students succeed.

"Educating students in urban school systems remain a challenging problem, both locally and nationally," says Prof. Johnson. "We are aware of the problems of low achievement and the instructional and leadership approaches that have been shown to make a difference but we still have a long way to go to make our urban schools place with strong academic expectations."

MIMAUE has focused its efforts to close the achievement gap on schools in Prince George's County. The Bladensburg Project has been in place for five years and has become an important outreach program for the university and College of Education. Prof. Johnson says, "We have offered leadership development, university coursework, tutoring services, mentoring activities and research activities for faculty and students." He adds that the Bladensburg Project is seen "as a model of how colleges and K-12 schools can interact around common educational issues."

MIMAUE also sponsors an annual colloquium that takes an in-depth look at issues facing minorities and urban school districts - and discusses possible solutions. Past sessions have covered school violence, ways to close the achievement gap, special education and minority achievement, and how to stimulate high achievement among minority students.

Newsdesk recently spoke with Prof. Johnson about MIMAUE, urban education today, ways to get more minorities into math and science careers, and AP testing.

Q - How did MIMAUE come about?

With the arrival of Dean Edna Syzmanski, much attention was focused around the major issue of minority achievement in the nation, and in the surrounding school systems. Many efforts were already in place in surrounding schools, and in particular in Prince George's County, focusing on school reform and how to address student achievement. The institute was formed to coordinate and lead those efforts and to bring the research of the College of Education faculty to bear on the issues of student achievement in our school systems.

Q - How would you characterize urban education today? How far have we come - and how far do we have to go?

Educating students in urban school systems remain a challenging problem both locally and nationally. We are aware of the problems of low achievement and the instructional and leadership approaches that have been shown to make a difference but we still have a long way to go to make our urban schools place with strong academic expectations.

Q - Are we training new teachers to deal with urban education issues - to help ensure that the teachers - and their students succeed?

At Maryland, we work hard to insure that our teachers are both aware of the whole range of educational issues that impact urban and non-urban schools. We place students in schools that are highly diverse, and have all of the characteristics of urban schools. We involve students in readings and other experiences that help them understand that many factors impact a student's academic performance.

Q - Your background and training is in mathematics - there's an increasing need for students to go into careers centered on math, science and technology - how do we make sure that minority students have the tools and desire to consider careers in those areas?

More and more effort is being placed on teaching students better mathematics earlier in their educational career. For instance, elements of Algebra are found even in kindergarten and students in middle grades are enrolled in credible algebra courses. High schools are evaluating their mathematics and science courses and becoming more inclusive about who enrolls. Technology is being infused into the science and mathematics courses which bring about new ways of teaching that stimulate more interest. Hopefully, through new instructional methodologies and more interest and excitement from teachers, we will see more minority students choosing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.

Q - Talk about the Bladensburg Project in Prince Georges County.

This project has been in place for more that five years and has impacted Bladensburg HS along with William Wirt Middle School and three elementary schools. We have offered leadership development, university coursework, tutoring services, mentoring activities and research activities for faculty and students. Many College of Education faculty have been involved either through teaching courses or through sending college students into the schools for various educational internships. We see this as a model of how colleges and K-12 schools can interact around common educational issues. We expect the project to be completely revitalized with the arrival of a new (Prince George's County Public Schools) superintendent and instructional leadership team.

Q - We'd like to get your thoughts on AP (Advanced Placement) tests and minority students - are urban schools prepared to offer these kinds of classes and be successful? We've seen recent reports of high schools that offered the classes and have yet to have one student pass with more than a one or two score (out of a possible five). What must be done to raise the bar on these programs?

Students must have the necessary background preparation to be successful to pass AP examinations. I would think that schools would evaluate their course offerings and who teaches them to determine if they are providing the necessary preparation. To me this is where it begins with strong accountability in courses leading to the AP exam. Given that, there is the need for carefully prepared teachers in AP classes. This variable must also be studied. I am not sure students have a chance to succeed in some of the situations where we add new courses.

The MIMAUE website is located at: http://www.education.umd.edu/institutesandcenters/MIMAUE/

Dr. Johnson's online profile can be found at:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/experts/experts_profile.cfm?expert_id=104285716

Education Experts at the University of Maryland can be found at:http://www.newsdesk.umd.edu/culture/release.cfm?ArticleID=1111


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