Tough questions for Boyse Mosley

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

February 26, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

If Boyse Mosley were permitted to run this city the way he runs his school, the anonymous letter implies, we'd all be in deep, deep trouble.

Mosley is the flamboyant principal of Northwestern High School who has said that he might run for mayor in September's Democratic primary.

He has been, as you undoubtedly know, a merciless critic of his superiors over the years, a man who has never been afraid to speak out. He probably is the best known public school principal in the city.

But Mosley has never run for political office before. Neither his school performance nor his pronouncements have ever been examined in the public arena.

Even now, Mosley hasn't actually thrown himself, body and soul, into the ring. At most, he has sent out public feelers just to see if the money men will respond.

But that tentative foray into the political realm was more than enough to change the rules of engagement regarding Mosley. It was enough to spark the Letter.

The Letter.

The Letter began arriving at people's homes sometime in late December, addressed to "Citizens concerned about our young people" and signed by "a former Baltimore City educator."

Since then, it has been photocopied, passed around, remarked upon, rumored about, snickered over. The Letter.

"My wife, when she saw it, was very angry," Mosley said yesterday. "But I said, 'Hey, I criticize the mayor, don't I?' I suppose that when you're out there you've got to take the heat. I have no problem with that. My only complaint is that it was anonymous."

The Letter begins with an attack on Mosley and says that he "fosters a school atmosphere that caters to his enormous ego but is not conducive to teaching or learning. . . ."

"The net result is tragic," the anonymous writer continues. "The students at Northwestern High School perform below the rest of Baltimore City on all measurable standards."

What makes the Letter so devastating is that its personal attacks are buttressed by statistics. And, for the most part, those statistics are accurate.

In fact, Northwestern students last year scored below the city average on each of the state's standardized functional performance tests. The school last year had one of the highest dropout rates among city high schools and one of the lowest promotion rates. Daily attendance at Northwestern was one of ++ the worst in the city.

"The data is essentially true. I've never hidden that," said Mosley. "That is why I have fought so hard for reform. That is why I have been so critical of school system policy."

True, several of Mosley's proposed reforms have been rejected or ignored over the years.

A few years ago, he tried to ban interscholastic sports so that he could focus that money on reading and math programs. He once suggested that welfare benefits be withheld from parents whose children did not regularly attend school. Not long ago, he insisted that a dress code be adopted for teachers as well as students.

"When I try to bring these issues before the board, I get crucified," said Mosley. "If you're going to hold me accountable, give me the authority to do the things I wanted to do."

In one sense, then, Mosley is doing what he should do. If he thinks he's right, and if he finds he cannot effect change as a principal, then he is right to seek the power that an elected office would give him.

But the record shows that, while he may not be the worst principal in the city, he certainly cannot claim to be the most successful.

Significantly, school system statistics show that the problems confronting Northwestern's students are similar to those faced by students in other comprehensive high schools. Several comparably disadvantaged high schools had better test scores, and better dropout, promotion, and attendance rates.

Maybe those principals should be speaking out, instead.

"If Mosley cared as much about his students as he does about getting publicity for himself, his students might do better," concludes the Letter. "But Mosley does not believe in these youngsters, they sense it, and it shows in their high dropout rate, low attendance, and poor performance."

The Letter raises some very tough questions. And now, at last, with his hat almost in the ring, Mosley will have to address them.

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