'The paralysis of analysis'

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

October 04, 1990|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

"Just do it!": Words of wisdom from Nike Shoes.

* Tuesday night, city school board president Joseph L. Smith opened a hearing on the system's proposed school-based management plan with a warning.

"I want to remind you that the board has not taken final action on anything," he told an audience of about 75 parents, teachers and staff persons sprinkled about the vast auditorium at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. "The board has received the plan but it has not accepted it."

A short while later, Smith repeated himself.

"I want to remind you that we are only talking about a pilot program," he said. "It may involve up to 20 schools, but it is only a pilot. There may be other things that we may try in other schools."

When he finished, the president of the Baltimore Teachers Union rose to assure the audience that the proposed school-based management plan was only a pilot and would not be forced on anyone.

Finally, a representative of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, which helped draw up the proposal, took center stage.

"We realize, and we want everyone to realize, that this program in no way represents a panacea," said the Rev. Curtis Jones, of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. "This is merely a pilot. The 20 schools who participate will be chosen on a volunteer basis only."

After a while, I think, the people assembled there began to get the idea: The school system is experimenting again.

Before he sat down, in fact, Jones uttered the truest words ever spoken about Baltimore schools: "Sometimes," he said, "we suffer from the paralysis of analysis."

How true, oh Lord, how true!

The school-restructuring committee studied and pondered and debated this idea for six months. It reviewed similar programs in other cities. It got input from teachers, from school administrators and from local politicians. (Alas, it somehow overlooked the parents.)

The committee produced a proposal, then a revised proposal and, coming soon, a revision of the revised proposal. Tuesday's hearing was the fifth public session on the plan since August and most people there thought there should be yet another.

The school board may consider the revised revisions next week. Or, it may delay a decision until parents have a chance to provide input, in which case the board will vote on a revised version of the revised revisions at a later date.

If we are very, very lucky, the experiment might begin next fall.

But, remember, it is only an experiment, a pilot program. It will involve only 20 schools at most, and only those who volunteer.

And what, you may ask, do they hope to find out?

At its core, this grand proposal seeks to raise student achievement by increasing the involvement of principals, staff, teachers, parents and students in the management of their schools.

Heck, anyone could have told them that. In fact, a couple of people did.

"Unless I was asleep, and I may have been, these things were supposed to be in place already," drawled the Rev. Sidney Daniels of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

"Good principals already involve their parents in decision-making," said Kathleen Wilson, who has two children at Baltimore City College. "I'm concerned that we may waste precious time pursuing whatever remedy is currently in vogue. The issue is effective school management."

Once again, the tragedy of our impoverished school system: Endless experimentation, endless debate, the paralysis of analysis.

It seems to me, Superintendent Richard C. Hunter could have accomplished most of these goals by decree.

"From now on," he could have declared to his principals, "you are going to have more authority for assessing and meeting the needs of your individual schools."

The principals could have said to their parents and teachers, "From now on, we are all going to work together and make this a really good school."

And the parents and teachers could have said to their children, "From now on, we want you to work a lot harder than you have before and do really well."

That doesn't seem so hard to me. That doesn't seem so mystical.

"Just do it!" says Nike Shoes in an attempt to persuade impressionable youngsters to buy their incredibly overpriced sneakers.

Maybe we ought to let Nike run the city school system.

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