Johns Hopkins Magazine -- September 1998
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Stories in and of the Classroom

Battling apathy and anonymity
A "staff ride" in cyberspace
The doctor will see you--as soon as he logs on
No school is an island
Success breeds success
Tracking language instruction
Nursing acts to keep its men
Medicine sees a dip in applicants
Grooming student entrepreneurs
Dropout prevention that works

Battling apathy and anonymity

In 1994, Baltimore's Patterson High School could not have been in more trouble. A big school with more than 2,000 ethnically diverse pupils from mostly working-class families, Patterson was once a proud institution. Now students milled the halls instead of going to class. They broke windows and set fires in the school's trophy display case. Fights in the lunch room were common, as was verbal and physical intimidation of faculty. On any given day, 40 to 50 percent of students would be absent, as would up to 10 percent of the demoralized faculty. More than 80 percent of ninth graders flunked their freshman year. The situation was so bad, the state of Maryland had labeled Patterson one of the two worst high schools in the state and was threatening to take it over.

As Patterson prepares for the new school year, its situation has improved dramatically. Student attendance has soared as high as 80 percent. Teacher attendance has been near perfect, and the school now has a waiting list of teachers who want to transfer to it. Students report that the school now is a place where learning can occur.

What happened? Patterson's administration and faculty, with guidance from Hopkins's Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR), took the school apart and totally remade it. Patterson now houses five "academies," separate units that have their own principals, faculty, sections of the high school building, and curricula. They even have their own colors and entrances. Teachers tossed out the old schedules and instituted new 90-minute periods. The school reworked its curriculum, emphasizing more intense college-prep courses. Teachers began patrolling the halls, and calling a student's home if he or she didn't show up for class. Principals of the various academies began walking the parking lot, greeting students by name as they came in.

McPartland with students at Patterson High.
Photo by Jay Van Rennselaer
Guiding this change has been James McPartland, principal research scientist at CRESPAR, and his colleagues at the center. They engineered the Talent Development Model that Patterson used to reconstitute itself.

The model grew out of research that revealed two of the biggest problems at large urban high schools: anonymity and apathy. Teenagers at schools with several thousand classmates felt that no one cared enough to know their names or look out for their welfare. And they didn't see the point of much of their classwork. So they acted up, or drifted away. "They're not going to learn just because you're bigger than they are," McPartland says. "The kids have to see some meaning to the curriculum."

To alleviate the feeling of anonymity, McPartland and his colleagues advocate breaking large schools into separate academies. At Patterson High, all freshmen attend the Success Academy, which is meant to help them with the crucial transition from middle to high school. They receive intensive instruction in math and English, as well as study skills and training in conflict resolution, patience, and other social skills. It is during their freshman year that they select which of four career academies they will attend from grades 10 through 12: Arts & Humanities, Business & Finance, Sports Studies & Health/Wellness, or Transportation & Engineering Technology. Each academy has 250-350 students and a faculty of 14-18 teachers. Students have the same homeroom teacher for all three years.

By switching from the usual schedule of seven periods a day to four 90-minute periods, teachers gain more time for instruction, in part by alleviating time normally lost during class changes. McPartland estimates that schools pick up 100 minutes of work time every week by having fewer periods.

Joe Sanzone, who is principal of the Transportation & Engineering Technology academy, has been at Patterson throughout the change. "You get to know the kids very well," he says, describing the smaller academies. "They're not anonymous to us anymore. These kids knew that if we as adults didn't know them, they could do a lot of things and not be held accountable. I don't have the top academic kids in the school [in his academy], but my attendance was 80 percent by the end of the year. I've got them to the point where if they're going to be late or they aren't going to be in, they call me. That's an achievement for our students."

All academies share a core curriculum of college-prep courses, in addition to their various specialized courses. At Patterson and other urban high schools, where only a small percentage of students have traditionally gone on to college, this marks something of a major departure. Says McPartland, "People need to be convinced that all kids can do college prep work. There's lots of resistance to that."

Another startling aspect of the plan is that there are no repeater classes. If a student flunks a class, he or she must make it up on Saturdays or during the summer--and pay a fee. There is not much in the way of data to measure the effect of the changes. McPartland notes that CRESPAR has really just begun its work on instructional reform, having reorganized the school and restored order. The first class of seniors who went through the new Patterson will not graduate until next summer, and McPartland does not know, for example, how many plan to attend college. But he does note that this year's graduating class looks to be twice as large as in preceding years.

Patterson's hallways and classrooms are still noisy, and teachers still contend with their share of backtalk and disobedience. During a recent visit by teachers from a school in Philadelphia, one young female teacher stormed out of her classroom and angrily demanded that an administrator help her restore order. But McPartland says the improvement over the near-anarchy of just a few years ago has been dramatic.

Sanzone concedes, "We're still fighting to get the kids to achieve academically. We've been focused on reorganizing the school. Now we're working toward improving instruction."

CRESPAR's model has been implemented fully at two Baltimore high schools, with two other schools phasing the program in. There are several schools in Philadelphia that want to adopt the plan, and a handful elsewhere in the country taking a close look at it. The model is one of 17 approved by the federal government, and schools using it can qualify for Porter-Obey funds, which provide $50,000 per year for three years to cover the expenses of implementing the model. Hopkins provides facilitators, professional advice, and print materials to help schools make the transition.

"We think we've got the outline of what can work," McPartland says. "Now we want to see if we can make it work again and again." --DK

A "staff ride" in cyberspace

The first part of the day's printed agenda was familiar to any military person: briefing at 1040 hours, design op orders at 1200, and at 1300 break for lunch. But for 1430 hours, the agenda read "game," and at 1800 hours, "awards, beer/wine."

As one participant mused, "War is hell."

Generals for a day at "Gettysburg"
The "game" at 1430--2:30 pm for those readers who never went through boot camp--was a computer simulation of the battle of Gettysburg. The occasion was a "virtual staff ride" conducted by the Center for Strategic Studies. The center, which is part of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), periodically takes its students to battlefields to give them some idea of the situations faced by commanders. On this day, SAIS faculty members Eliot Cohen and Andrew Bacevich were experimenting with a popular computer war game to impart the same lessons.

Their idea was to make a group of their students Confederate generals at Gettysburg for a day. After a morning briefing from "General Lee," who actually was student Tom Ehrhard, two student "corps commanders" would in turn brief other SAIS students who would impersonate various Confederate generals. After lunch, those "generals" would sit before computer terminals in the SAIS language lab and maneuver their troops in a simulation of the actual battle. They would receive new orders from their commanders as the afternoon wore on, and maneuver their computer troops accordingly.

Cohen and Bacevich hoped to convey the difficulty of writing and communicating precise orders, and to give their students some sense of the "fog of war"--the deadly chaos and miscommunication that bedevils military commanders and costs innumerable soldiers their lives.

As Ehrhard studied a battlefield map in Room 812 and formulated his plan, Stephen Guenther (the Union's General George Gordon Meade) relaxed before a terminal in the SAIS language lab, where the "battle" would be fought. Guenther smiled and said, "My knowledge of Gettysburg is sketchy at best. If it's a coordinated attack, I'm toast. I can't react fast enough."

Late in the morning, Bacevich listened as Ehrhard tried to convey orders to his corps commanders, explaining what he wanted them to tell their subordinates to do with their troops. The professor spotted problems right away. "He kept repeating his strategic concept in different words," Bacevich said. "There was enough ambiguity that it will be interesting as the orders filter down."

Sure enough, by 1355 things were coming unglued. In a SAIS auditorium, the corps commanders were trying to brief their subordinates, who had questions the corps commanders could not answer. Vagueness began to permeate the briefing. Artillery coordinates were missing. One of the corps commanders issued orders for an attack; Bacevich noted that he had neglected to give a time for that assault to commence.

By 1430, the division commanders were ensconced before terminals in the language lab, each with his orders, a section of the battlefield on his screen, and a group of little pixelated computer troops to move around and put at mortal risk. Scott Douglas, a SAIS staff member, hit the "start" command, and the battle was on. Though not for long. "Everybody wait," Douglas said after a few moments. "Dr. Cohen has apparently crashed his computer." The system had to be rebooted and the game restarted as Cohen endured a few minutes of good-natured ribbing.

After 90 minutes, things looked bad for the federal troops. The rebels had taken strategic Culp Hill, and the Union battle line had broken. As expected, there was considerable confusion as division commanders tried to tell General Lee on the eighth floor what was happening, and he tried to tell them what to do next by sending written dispatches back and forth via couriers, who put the building's elevators to extensive use.

By 1700, it was over and the "generals" assembled for a debriefing. The computer tabulated 12,883 casualties on the Confederate side, 14,757 on the Union. Cohen and Bacevich were not much interested in determining who had won, though it was obvious that the rebel army had carried the day. The computer provided a replay of the game, projected on a large screen, and the two dozen or so students watched how the whole battle had unfolded. At one point, Bacevich pointed out a potentially disastrous miscommunication: corps commanders had issued orders for troop movement, but failed to give precise map coordinates. Division commanders knew they were supposed to move, but they didn't know how far.

The students clearly had enjoyed themselves. One of the Confederate corps commanders had been played by Henning Vaglum, a Norwegian. Said Vaglum after the battle, "Only in America could a Norwegian on a student visa come to this country and become a general in eight months."

Some time afterward, Bacevich evaluated the experiment: "Despite some hardware problems that caused momentary frustration, we thought that it was a success." On a subsequent staff ride to the real battlefield, he says, participants made connections that "showed us that the 'virtual' lessons carried over into other experiences. We thought that that was important." --DK

Illustration by Kevin O'Malley
The doctor will see you--as soon as he logs on

"Studies show that for every patient who sees a doctor, there is at least one [medical question] that the doctor can't get the answer to. So being an expert is winging it with success," says Harold Lehmann, a pediatrician and director of medical informatics education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Lehmann believes doctors would have the answers more often if they could access medical information more quickly and easily through the Internet.

As a start, he is putting notes for School of Medicine lectures online. Having completed about 50 percent of the job (transcribing 300 four-hour lectures), Lehmann says, "My hypothesis is that this will be useful in the clinical years--the third and fourth years of medical school--when students have forgotten everything." Practicing physicians will be able to tap into the database as well.

Might the School of Medicine one day offer a degree entirely online, enabling medical students from all parts of the globe to telecommute? "We wouldn't stand for that," says Lehmann. Learning medicine will always require hands-on experience. --MH

No school is an island

Without parental involvement, and good communication between home and school, kids are more apt to have behavioral problems and poor academic performance, says Hopkins education researcher Joyce Epstein.

Photo by Jay Van Rennselaer
For more than a decade, Epstein and her Hopkins colleagues have been working to forge stronger partnerships between parents, teachers, and community members. Two years ago, they founded the National Network of Partnership Schools--a network that provides schools a planning framework for six types of involvement in schools, plus reference materials, training, and technical assistance.

In each school, the heart of the program is an action team that includes teachers, parents, administrators, counselors, and students. Their goal is to strive for involvement on a variety of fronts by recruiting parent volunteers and including parents in school decisions, giving parents the tools they need to help their children learn at home, developing better communication between school and home, and finding ways for communities to play a role in strengthening educational programs.

The partnership program has had steady growth, Epstein reports. In 1996, about 200 schools, 30 districts, and seven states had joined the national network. There are now more than 1,000 schools, 100 districts, and nine states participating. The Department of Education has included the program in its list of 27 endorsed school reform models. --DK

Success breeds success

Success for All has, well, been true to its name.

The Hopkins-developed whole-school reform model has all the official trimmings of success. This upcoming year, the program will take in $30 million from its programs in 1,100 schools, doubling revenues in just one year. Featured in numerous media reports, Success for All has become the basis of a not-for-profit foundation, which is expected to move off campus in the fall.

Most important of all, children are learning. Nationwide, public school students using the program starting in first grade are as much as one full grade level higher in reading than comparison students by the time they reach fifth grade, the group's reports show.

The program is aimed at school populations that need remedial instruction. Touting nothing truly new, it is based on what works in research: one-on-one tutoring, follow-up with families, group participation, a focus on basics, and an active learning environment.

Robert Slavin
Photo by Doug Hansen
"Partly we are competing with MTV," says Robert Slavin, the developer of the program and co-director of Hopkins's Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk. "But even before MTV was invented we found the importance and effectiveness of having fast-paced, engaging instruction."

Participating elementary school teachers are trained in the Success for All model by program coordinators. The trick is in the combination of approaches. Students don't answer one by one, they flash the responses on slates or yell them out. Stronger readers are paired with weaker reading partners to help each other learn, and 20 minutes of at-home reading with parents--or a reading breakfast club--is required. Teachers devote 90 minutes to reading classes each day, and students are grouped by reading level rather than grade level. Similar approaches are applied to math, science, writing, and social studies.

Created 11 years ago, Success for All has slowly gained a following in the education industry, especially as the phonetics approach--the program's focus for reading instruction--has gained ground in school curriculums. Teacher support has been crucial. Before Success for All is implemented within a school, at least 80 percent of teachers must vote in favor of it. Says Slavin, "We want them to be aware and fully behind it. We don't want to work in schools where it was imposed on teachers."

Schools generally use federal Title One funds to pay for the program, which costs $75,000 the first year because of intensive training and materials, then drops to $25,000 the second year, and later to a $5,000 annual maintenance cost.

By next year, Success for All expects to be in 600 new schools nationwide--and beyond. "We are starting work in middle schools and are expanding internationally into Canada, Mexico, England, Israel, and Australia," says Slavin.

He will remain at Hopkins but stay involved with the program even after the new foundation establishes its headquarters in Towson. His wife, Hopkins researcher Nancy Madden, will be leaving the university to become the president of the foundation, which currently employs 225 staff members. --JPC

Illustration by Peggy Fussell
Tracking language instruction

A new lode of oil is being drilled near the Caspian Sea and there's a violent struggle for power among Iran, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and a handful of countries formerly under the Soviet Union. In this part of the world, Russian has been replaced by the nationalist languages of Kazakh, Azeri, Uzbek, and others. But few to no American diplomats or economics experts speak these tongues--so how will the United States know what is going on?

The National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), a not-for-profit organization based at Hopkins, is focused on avoiding this dilemma--one the United States has faced in other parts of the world, including east Africa and the Middle East. And in the post-Cold War era, such challenges are expected to increase.

"In the last decade, things around the world have changed rapidly. There are movements toward democratization and ethnic identities," says Richard Brecht, deputy director of the center based at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). "We don't have just Serbo-Croatian now, we have Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian, and possibly Bosnian."

This year, the center won a five-year $1.4 million federal grant to create an online database and other systems to track and analyze languages and international studies taught at universities across the country. Through this, the NFLC hopes to show which languages are being taught and where gaps lie. Such information--which eventually could be tapped publicly via the Internet--could also shore up federal spending on languages at a time when government funding is being scrutinized and possibly scaled back.

"If we do this well, program resources are forthcoming," Brecht says. "If we don't do a good job, resources will go down." Funding flows from Title VI, of the federal Higher Education Act, which helps colleges offer instruction and research opportunities in languages and international studies. Without this funding, some obscure languages would not be taught because of a college's limited resources. African languages, for example, are now being funded nearly exclusively through Title VI funds, Brecht says. --JPC

At Nursing: males in the minority
Photo by Keith Weller
Nursing acts to keep its men

Three years ago, Stella Shiber was flipping through enrollment reports at the School of Nursing when she noticed a surprising statistic. The number of students leaving Nursing due to academic failure was twice as high for men as it was for women.

Differences in academic background or ability did not appear to account for the sharp difference in attrition rate; male and female students had equivalent test scores and academic records, says Shiber. Something else was going on.

In truth, the news did not signify huge losses at Nursing; the attrition rate is only about 2 percent overall. But still Shiber, the associate dean of professional education, programs, and practice, was concerned. She invited male nursing students to discuss their experiences at a series of lunches; these grew into a support group for male students headed by Gary Dunn (BSNEd '79, MAS '85).

The difficulty, Shiber discovered, appeared to follow from being a minority. As of last year, there were 183 female and 27 male undergraduates; and 146 female and 14 male graduate students.

The biggest problem unique to these male students is a lack of role models, says Dunn. "There are very few men in the field or on the faculty." Nursing has only one full-time male faculty member, biostatistician Ronald Berk, and he is not a nurse.

"Men are socialized differently," continues Dunn. Many are taught to keep their feelings bottled up, to express affection through a slap on the back rather than a hug. When they enter nursing, they are encouraged to express their emotions more openly, both in the clinic and in the classroom. But some male students have a hard time reconciling the "touchy feely" with the macho.

Several male students also told Shiber and Dunn that they had been managers or owned their own businesses before enrolling at the School of Nursing, and switching from top dog to student was a difficult adjustment.

Compounding their problems in school, Dunn and Shiber learned, several students said that they lacked support from family and friends for their decision to go into nursing. Glen Landenberger (BSN '99) says that while his family has been supportive, many acquaintances have asked him, "Why are you in a women's field? You must be gay. Why don't you go on and become a doctor?"

At the support group sessions, students discuss any of the problems they experience in the clinic or classroom, and look for solutions, says Dunn, who also teaches on the part-time faculty at Nursing and is a program manager at the School of Medicine. The group also invites male graduates of the school to speak about their experiences. The result, says Bernard Keenan (BSN '86, MSN '93), the first male president of Hopkins's Nurses Alumni Association, is that men "no longer feel so isolated."

In the three years since Dunn began leading the support group, no male students have failed out of Nursing. --MH

Medicine sees a dip in applicants

The number of aspiring physicians seeking a slot at Hopkins's School of Medicine dropped last year, from 3,717 to 3,291, part of a national trend. For Hopkins, it was the second year in a row that applications to the freshman class declined.

Nationwide, medical schools received nearly 9 percent fewer applications last year than they did the year before, the first downward turn in more than 10 years.

While School of Medicine admissions officers are keeping a watchful eye on the dip in applications, fluctuations in the applicant pool are nothing new, says David Trabilsy, assistant dean of admissions. In the late 1980s, for instance, applications declined for several years, falling as much as 17 percent in one year.

What accounts for the peaks and valleys in enrollment is pure speculation, says Trabilsy. But the cycle appears to be inversely related to the health of the nation's economy. When the economy is robust, "there are a lot of good opportunities [in addition to medicine] for college graduates," he notes. An economic downturn would probably have the opposite effect, suggests Trabilsy. "In a recession, medicine is seen as a very secure, stable field."

At the same time, surveys of prospective medical students who decided not to pursue a career in medicine indicate that the loss of autonomy and other changes brought on by the growth of managed care are discouraging would-be doctors. The growing price tag for a medical school education--at Hopkins, $43,000 for one year of tuition, room, board, and expenses--and the debt that cost entails are another deterrent. Last spring's fourth-year students graduated from Hopkins with an average debt of $68,000. "It's clear that we and other medical schools are going to price ourselves out of existence if this trend continues," says Trabilsy.

One good sign, he says, is President William Brody's recent efforts to increase Hopkins's campaign goal by $300 million, and to earmark a significant portion of that money toward student scholarships.

Despite the dip in applicants, the caliber of School of Medicine hopefuls remains high, and the competition to get in remains fierce. Medicine received 27 applications for each of the 120 slots available to this year's freshman class. --MH

Illustration by Kevin O'Malley
Grooming student entrepreneurs

In addition to studying Sartre or fruit fly genetics, a growing number of Hopkins undergraduates are also learning how to found a corporation or complete a contract for buying a house. Courses with a business theme are now more abundant than they were a few years ago, and this past spring the Whiting School of Engineering tied them all together with a new minor in entrepreneurship and management.

Students are clamoring to get into these courses, says John Wierman, chairman of Mathematical Sciences and the head of the new minor.

About 250 students per semester take one or more of the entrepreneurship classes, according to Wierman.

"It's student driven," says Judy Lynn Goldenberg, an administrative law judge for the state of Maryland who teaches business law at Hopkins. "Every semester there is a bigger lineup of students waiting to get in."

Entrepreneurship courses include accounting, business law, corporate finance, leadership, international trade, and business ethics. The School of Engineering seemed a logical home for the minor, Wierman says, since many engineers become managers or start their own companies after working in the field for five to 10 years. They then need to know not only how to build a widget but also how to market that widget and analyze its economic standing.

However, two-thirds of Hopkins's entrepreneurship students are in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences. "You can apply the principles no matter what you do," says Goldenberg.

In Goldenberg's business law class, discussion topics range from affirmative action and sexual harassment to the recent Microsoft anti-trust case. Students attend court proceedings on business-related cases; learn to write partnership agreements for a (real or fictitious) business venture; and role play as realtor and first-time homebuyer, completing all of the documents required for the sale and purchase of a house.

"There is a feeling among some liberal arts people that [this program] is not appropriate for a liberal arts university to have," admits Wierman. "But to me, 'liberal arts education' means trying to incorporate all knowledge into a framework and trying to understand it. It's not just for the sake of knowledge [itself] but for being able to use it." --MH

Dropout prevention that works

About three-fourths of inmates who go through Maryland's prison system were high school dropouts. More than half of the state's welfare recipients didn't finish high school. And only 11 percent of dropouts are able to find full-time jobs paying wages above the poverty level.

These figures, cited in a recently released state task force report, are fueling efforts to help students earn high school diplomas. This year, one such effort partly developed at Hopkins- -Maryland's Tomorrow--celebrates its 10th anniversary. The not-for-profit group and others are cooperating in a state dropout prevention crusade that hopes to begin on the first day of kindergarten and extend past the 12th grade into the workplace or college.

"We want to keep them stimulated year-round, to have constant contact," says Marion Pines, senior fellow at Hopkins's Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and designer of Maryland's Tomorrow. "We need to think creatively about what we need to do to change education to make all kids successful."

Run under the state Department of Education, Maryland's Tomorrow now serves about 7,500 at-risk teenagers in the state's 24 school districts and gets $10 million in federal and state funding. Created as a statewide pilot program in 1988, it started out with about $3 million in state funds and served 3,000 students. Over the years, it has developed partnerships with state educators, area businesses, community leaders, and students' families.

Maryland's Tomorrow counselors follow at-risk students identified in eighth grade through the next five years, making sure the students attend school, keep up with homework, feel engaged in classes, and focus on the transition to jobs, including summer employment. Sometimes mentors or counselors provide an ear, other times a prod.

"You take a student who for some reason has issues with family, or behavioral or emotional problems, and you introduce a caring adult into their lives," explains Jill Symmes, chief of the state's family involvement and dropout intervention branch. "Students are mentored on a daily basis and given a continual support system."

Factors fueling dropout rates include low grades in school, chronic absenteeism, and low test scores in math and reading. Students are hit especially hard in the ninth grade, when they walk into big, often anonymous high schools. That's when the one-on-one attention can make a huge difference. "The ninth grade is critical," Pines says.

Another turning point comes after graduation. "There is a tricky transition from high school to college or work. They're rather vulnerable. If you don't stick with them for five years they may fall off," says Laura Noffke, a Maryland's Tomorrow program coordinator, who is also based at IPS.

In 1997, Maryland's Tomorrow won one of the first annual "Awards of Excellence" from the National Dropout Prevention Network (NDPN). Over the years, the not-for-profit's results have been strong: a 1995 report by the state showed that 27 percent fewer students who entered the program in the first three years (beginning in 1988) dropped out than a comparison group of teenagers. --JPC

Written by Joanne P. Cavanaugh, Melissa Hendricks, and Dale Keiger