Teachers' union pans privatization effort BALTIMORE CITY School system defends Tesseract

March 31, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

The 9,000-member Baltimore Teachers Union yesterday gave the city's nine-school experiment in school privatization poor grades after seven months, based on an anonymous survey of about 180 teachers.

But school authorities and officials from the private company running those nine schools reject the union's contentions, saying the survey is unscientific and reflects continued BTU bias against the project.

"It's self-aggrandizement for the union," said school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who praised the project's progress in its first year. "They see this as a threat to collective bargaining in the public sector."

Union officials acknowledge that their survey was less than scientific but say it is a fair reflection of teacher frustration with the project, dubbed Tesseract by the private firm running those schools.

"Teachers don't see one thing that's been done so far that's going to make our kids any better off when they're tested this spring than they were last spring," said Irene B. Dandridge, co-president of the union, and a vocal critic of the project.

The survey reflects the views of about 60 percent of the teachers at those nine schools, she said.

The five-year Tesseract project began in September, putting Education Alternatives Inc., a Minneapolis-based firm, in charge of nine city schools with a total enrollment of 5,400 students, in a contract worth $26.7 million for the first year.

The company's program, being phased in this year, promises personalized instruction for students, two instructors in every classroom, and a wealth of computers and other high-tech equipment.

The teachers' union was an early supporter of Tesseract but has since grown critical of its implementation.

In its "report card," the union gave EAI failing grades for parental involvement, teacher morale and staff training.

It also awarded D's for class size, discipline and the use of interns, awarding passing grades only for school cleanliness and for the availability of materials and supplies.

Among the specific teacher complaints:

* Confusion about Tesseract's educational philosophy and the absence of a separate curriculum.

* High turnover and a lack of training for the low-paid interns who function as the second instructor in each classroom.

* Lack of consistency in the allocation of supplies and in the procedures and policies among the nine schools.

* Poor teacher training, and a generally poor relationship between EAI and teachers.

"We got the results we expected to get," Ms. Dandridge said. "I would have felt better, personally, if we could have given them all C's. But I'm not surprised."

John T. Golle, chairman and chief executive officer of EAI, rejected claims that the program is failing in the areas of teacher morale and training and parental involvement.

He said, for example, that all of the teachers at two Tesseract schools, Edgewood and Graceland Park-O'Donnell Heights elementary schools, have asked to remain at those schools next year, though they had the option to transfer.

He also said that the company has spent some $750,000 on Tesseract teacher training, tripled the amount of materials and supplies at the nine schools, and dramatically improved maintenance.

If the union's claims prove accurate, he said, "I'm surprised and I'm disappointed, and we will take corrective action. But I'm very, very skeptical that this is reflective of the majority of the teachers, based on what I've been told."

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