Baltimore schools have improved significantly under a partnership with the state of Maryland, an independent consultant’s report has found, but the system still has much work to do before its students are performing on par with their peers throughout the state.
The report, delivered last week to the Maryland State Board of Education, represents the final evaluation of the profound 1997 restructuring that was designed to resuscitate the foundering 96,000-student school system.
While the analysis, running more than 600 pages, found improvements in leadership and student achievement, it advises the district to pay closer attention to reforming middle and high schools, improving facilities management, and ensuring that teachers have more of a voice in forging change.
“Compared to the situation that existed in the mid-1990s, [the Baltimore school system] is tremendously improved,” says the executive summary of the study, performed by Westat, a Rockville, Md.-based research firm. But the authors add that the district still “has a long way to go,” and “it is by no means certain that the system will achieve the turnaround that all hope for.”
The study found that the revamped management structure created by state legislation in April 1997 is working for Baltimore and recommends that it continue. Under that law, power over city schools was taken from then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and given to a new, nine-member board of commissioners appointed by the mayor and the governor.
Positions of chief executive officer, chief operating officer, and chief academic officer were introduced, and Maryland provided $254 million in additional funding over five years.
Westat researchers found that the new board has provided “strong leadership in improving what, by all criteria, was an educational system beyond the brink of failure.”
They note improved test scores, especially in elementary schools; the adoption of citywide curricula and expanded learning opportunities, such as summer school and after-school programs; and numerous improvements in governance, such as a clearly articulated and unified master plan.
“While we’re not nearly ready to declare victory, this report says we are on the right track,” state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said in a written statement.
Joy A. Frechtling, the associate director of Westat and the project manager for the 11-month Baltimore study, said no one could appreciate how far the school system had come without an understanding of “the depth of disarray” in 1997.
“They’ve made tremendous progress on all fronts,” she said. “But they’ve got to keep making tremendous progress to be a successful school system, and they’re going to have to work as hard or harder in the next five to 10 years to narrow the gap” between the test scores of city students and those elsewhere in Maryland.
A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week as Report Finds Progress In Baltimore-State Partnership