State Takeover of Public Schools?

July 30, 1993

No, the State Board of Education isn't about to seize control of every public school in Maryland. It could, though, take over operation of the worst schools in the state -- if local educators fail to make rapid improvements that produce results at these schools. That's the gist of the board's preliminary plan to enforce tough performance standards in Maryland classrooms.

This might sound extreme to some local educators. It might alarm foes of centralized government control. But the plan isn't as extreme as it seems at first glance. More to the point, though, such a tough plan is badly needed.

Technically, as many as one-quarter of Maryland's 1,250 public schools could be taken over by the state under this plan. These are the schools that have scored poorly on the local schools' report card, known as the Maryland School Performance Report that measures classroom learning. Other measuring sticks will be class attendance, dropout rates and graduation results.

In reality, only a dozen or fewer schools are probably in danger of a state takeover. These are the worst of the worst, schools where the teachers and administrators are failing in their attempts to reach the students. These schools need help; their students deserve a decent education.

Fear of a state takeover could be a powerful prod for local educators. It would be humiliating for them to see the state march in, dismiss administrators and even hire private contractors to make sure the students are getting a fair shake. And it would be a major political embarrassment for local elected officials, who might miraculously find new funds they can tap to improve these schools in a hurry.

When the board gives its final approval to the plan in the fall, Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will have a potent weapon to hold over the heads of city and county educators, especially the ones who have shown great reluctance to make dramatic changes in their poor-performing schools. The message to them will be clear: improve student test scores or face the consequences. And the consequences won't be pleasant.

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