To the Editor:
It’s quite surprising that legitimate researchers Kenneth K. Wong and Francis X. Shen would write, and your paper would publish in its “Leading for Learning” report, an essay without the most basic level of fact-checking (“Mayors Can Be ‘Prime Movers’ of Urban School Improvement,” Research Perspective, Oct. 14, 2009). The city of Baltimore does not have a mayorally run school system. Baltimore schools were a department of the city government prior to 1997, but, after years of failure, the governance structure was changed under the Bradford consent decree in the American Civil Liberties Union’s adequacy suit against the state of Maryland (Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education), on behalf of the children of Baltimore.
An independent school board, with authority similar to that of the other county school boards in the state, runs Baltimore schools, which get about 20 percent of their funding from the city. The consent decree, and subsequent enabling legislation, directed that school board candidates be vetted by the state board of education for specified qualifications and that a list of qualified candidates be submitted to the mayor and governor for joint appointment. Baltimore’s schools need the strong support of the mayor on a variety of issues, but by no definition can the current structure be described as mayorally run.
Test scores have risen and important reforms have been put into place with the new structure and increased state funding, an outgrowth of our lawsuit. A better research project would be to compare the prior failing school system with the current, more successful system and determine which factors have been most important in this rebirth—increased funding, improved leadership, higher numbers of qualified teachers, and/or governance.
Education Reform Director
American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland
A version of this article appeared in the December 09, 2009 edition of Education Week as Baltimore’s Schools Are Not Mayorally Run