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Baltimore Superintendent's Book Touts His City's Schools

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Robert Benjamin Special to Education Week

Baltimore--Just as this city has drawn national acclaim for its urban-renewal efforts, John L. Crew, superintendent of schools here, wants educators around the country to associate it with a revitalized school system.

And so the school system is spending $31,000 to publish and promote a 144-page paperback describing the improvements that have been made in the Baltimore schools since Mr. Crew took over as superintendent in 1975.

Written by the superintendent and three consultants, the book, "Effective Public Education: The Baltimore Story," soon will be offered for sale at $10.95 in the publications of such organizations as the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators. Some 4,000 copies will be printed.

The book lauds at length both public and behind-the-scenes efforts by Baltimore's mayor, businessmen, school board, and top school officials to improve student achievement and discipline. "From the depths of disgrace in 1975," a copy of the manuscript reads, "the system has reached a level of student achievement that few would have predicted five years earlier."

Problems Not Mentioned

The book makes no mention of such continuing problems in the Baltimore schools as overcrowded classes, budget deficits, layoffs, shortages of textbooks and classroom supplies, public disputes over school closings and other board decisions, and high student dropout and truancy rates.

But it provides some insights into how Mayor William Donald Schaefer and school officials vowed in the mid-1970's to quell public disagreements over the schools and create a positive public image for the system. Mr. Crew acknowledges the book itself is in line with this public-relations thrust.

"Over a period of time," Mayor Schaefer is quoted as saying, "it started to get to people that the school system was bad, bad, bad ... You've got to be telling people all the time that there is hope in our school system."

Some of the book's strongest passages condemn the state of affairs in the schools under the previous superintendent, Roland N. Patterson--without directly referring to him by name.

"Politically, public education had become a shambles," the book states. "Worse, it had become free theatre. It seemed every disagreement on the board became a media event; every administrative effort became a popular controversy; every education failure became one more nail in the school system's coffin."

Mr. Patterson, who was fired by the board in 1975 and still lives in Baltimore, has declined to comment.

As stated on the first page of the book, its purpose is to "destroy some myths about the poor quality of public education which is purported to exist in urban areas and to demonstrate that public education in large cities can be effective."

Mr. Crew, who refers to the book as his "contribution to the literature" on effective schools, added in an interview that he hopes it will prompt the same kind of positive publicity for Baltimore as has its renewed Inner Harbor area.

"The better Baltimore gets," he said, "the better its schools get."

However, the book has drawn some criticism suggesting it is an unseemly attempt at self-promotion--particularly in light of the school system's budget deficit, projected at $5 million to $9 million this fiscal year.

As its main evidence of a turnaround in the schools, the book cites rising test scores and declining incidents of student violence.

Student achievement, which had declined for six years prior to 1975, has improved each year since--to the point where pupils' scores are approaching national norms. And the number of reported violations of law in and around schools has declined about 41 percent over the last five years, the book says.

These statistical changes have been reported recently to the same degree in some other urban school systems.

Praises Leadership

In Baltimore, the book says, these changes are the product of leadership from Mayor Schaefer on down.

Faced with a school system that was "falling apart," the book says, the Mayor appointed "peacemakers" to head the nonelected school board, selected team players to fill the board's other seats, and insisted "that disagreements remain private."

One former board member is quoted as explaining how this works: "If I disagree with the majority of the board, then we hold discussions and work out our differences in private. You don't give people the impression that at the top there is continued chaos.... In the back room, it gets heated, but that's where it is.... When you come out you give the public the feeling that there is stability."

Quietude at the top, the book says, gave Mr. Crew the freedom to reorganize his staff, set instructional goals, establish proficiency tests and promotion and graduation standards, and tighten school security.

It notes, too, that decertification of the teachers' union during Mr. Crew's first years as superintendent may have made many of these changes easier to bring about than if a union contract had been in force.

The book was produced under a $14,000 contract with the Institute of Applied Human Resources of South Orange, N.J., a consulting firm which also has a $70,000 contract to develop a computerized test-scoring system for the Baltimore schools.

The institute turned the project over to three consultants: Nolan Estes, a former Dallas school superintendent now at the University of Texas; Eugene Geisert, a former New Orleans superintendent now at St. John's University; and Newton Renfro, described as a New Orleans journalist.

However, Mr. Crew said that he wrote certain sections of the book, as well as edited it "for accuracy." He is listed as its first co-author.

The book will be published under a $15,000 contract with the New Dimensions Publishing Company of New York City, and another $2,000 will be spent advertising it. School officials hope to establish a student scholarship fund with any proceeds.

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