Student Member Eyes Achievement Gap

By Susan DeFord and Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 3, 2005

Seventeen-year-old Josh Michael of Ellicott City said he plans to make closing the achievement gap between white and minority students a priority during his term as the newly appointed student member of the Maryland Board of Education.

Michael, a junior at Centennial High School and president of its student government, was named by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr . (R) to the 13-member board last month. His one-year term will begin July 1. The student member of the board votes on all issues except budget, personnel and appeals.

Michael made closing the achievement gap one of the cornerstones of his campaign, along with ensuring school safety and promoting student activism. He also cited the shortage of certified teachers in Baltimore city and the failure of schools to prepare students for standardized tests.

"We need accountability," he said. "There's no excuse for different regions to not be performing at an acceptable level."

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that states rate schools according to their performance on standardized tests, such as the Maryland School Assessments in reading and math taken by students in grades 3 through 8. If schools do not meet state targets on those exams, they could be deemed failing. The law mandates that all students pass the MSA tests by 2014.

But looming even closer is the 2009 deadline for high school students in Maryland to pass state tests in English, algebra, government and biology to receive a diploma.

Michael said that students need more help, such as workshops, in learning how to take standardized tests as well as the SAT. He also supports more staff diversity training and providing more technical support to low-income school districts.

"Maryland education has really given a lot to me," Michael said. "I'd love to give back."

He means that quite literally. Michael said he plans to attend college in Maryland and hopes to teach high school math and science one day. His father, Warren Michael , is a computer science teacher at Centennial and coaches lacrosse there.

Michael was chosen for the student board member position from a field of five semifinalists, who spoke at the Maryland Association of Student Councils legislative session last month. After a question-and-answer session, the 600 student delegates voted to recommend two names to the governor's office. Michael received a phone call telling him that he had been appointed Feb. 18.

Tax Breaks on the Way?

Howard taxpayers may be getting a break on their taxes in the upcoming fiscal year because the local economy has been strengthening, said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County).

He offered few specifics beyond suggesting that seniors and working-class residents should receive special tax relief, along with a broad-based tax cut. County Executive James N. Robey (D) will soon present his proposed budget to the County Council.

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