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Baltimore Resists Order To 'Reconstitute' 3 Schools

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The Baltimore school board spent much of last week at loggerheads with the state as the district resisted an order to restructure three troubled schools.

The city school board had sought to appeal the decision by Maryland officials that ordered one elementary and two middle schools to undergo "reconstitution," or wholesale changes in certain areas of operation.

"Baltimore city public schools do not deserve or accept this arbitrary action," Phillip H. Farfel, the president of the Baltimore school board, said in a Feb. 1 letter to state officials.

Last week, however, Christopher T. Cross, the president of the state board of education, rejected the district officials' request for an appeal hearing, contending that the district had already had opportunities to present its case. In a letter informing the local board of his decision, Mr. Cross urged the district to move ahead with the reconstitution of the three schools, which, he said, "are not performing satisfactorily and not meeting the educational needs of their students."

Mr. Farfel agreed late last week to submit reconstitution plans for the schools by the state's March 15 deadline. But he and Walter G. Amprey, the district's superintendent, continued to criticize the reconstitution order as "an unfunded mandate" that does not take the district's need for greater resources into account. The district last week continued to demand financial help from the state for reconstitution.

Policy in Flux

Maryland is among a small but growing number of states and districts that have adopted the practice of reconstitution. (See Education Week, June 23, 1993.)

Under the policy Maryland adopted in fall 1993, the state could identify a school as eligible for reconstitution if it fell well below certain standards and showed little potential for improvement. The state implemented the policy last year, naming two Baltimore high schools that ultimately avoided intervention through major restructuring.

The state board is revising its policy to put the onus on the district, rather than individual schools, to present a plan for changing a school's administration, staff, organization, or instructional program to address its problems.

~~"It is very difficult for a school, in isolation, to respond to a reconstitution order," and the district's leadership and resources are needed, Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent, said last week.

Last month, the state education department implemented the new policy--which still awaits board approval--and applied reconstitution below the high school level for the first time.

The Baltimore district's Arnett Brown Middle School, Calverton Middle School, and Furman Templeton Elementary School were selected for reconstitution based on students' attendance rates, state test scores, and, in the case of the middle schools, how their former students performed on certain tests at the high school level.

Discrimination Alleged

The district board refused last week to submit reconstitution plans for the schools, even though implementing them over two years would avert intervention.

In his letter to the state board, Mr. Farfel protested the state's decision to apply a new policy that is not yet final. He said it was unfair of the state to use the Baltimore schools "to work out its process."

The district board has alleged that the reconstitution policy--which, so far, has been applied only to Baltimore--discriminates against poor and minority children by failing to take into consideration the challenges of urban education. And the board contends that the state based its decision on too little data, did not visit the schools, and now threatens to demoralize those involved with the three schools and to undermine the reform efforts the schools had under way.

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