Keep Their Hands on the Schools

November 15, 1993

Twenty-one states have laws and regulations specifying the consequences for schools that are consistent failures. The State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a bylaw tomorrow that would make Maryland No. 22.

Schools that fail to meet the tough standards of the state's performance program, that show no signs of improvement and that can't get together a plan for self-improvement would be "reconstituted" by the education department. That's a polite way of saying the state would take them over.

It makes good sense. It made sense to the Sondheim Commission, which studied Maryland's schools and recommended the program in place now. Only a few schools will qualify for educational bankruptcy, according to state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, and these will probably be turned over to third parties. They might be universities. (Boston University is operating the schools in Chelsea, Mass.) Or they might be profit-making firms like the one running the Tesseract schools in Baltimore City.

But wait. Here comes the Maryland State Teachers Association with a last-minute blitz against the bylaw. Its centerpiece is a $23,000 radio ad campaign that states as a fact that the state board will "vote to seize control of our public schools and take authority away from parents and local citizens."

The commercial implies disingenuously that Ms. Grasmick and her fellow bureaucrats are waiting with anticipation for the chance to privatize dozens of public schools, as though this were a proxy battle over a mega-corporation. And the MSTA asks each of its 44,000 members to call three parents and enlist their participation in the campaign.

Such tactics are unbecoming an organization that claims to represent professionals. The MSTA knows full well that only a handful of schools will ever be "reconstituted," and then only as a last resort.

It also knows that those schools are likely to be in the city, not in the suburbs where the organization says it is directing its campaign. And when it tells the bureaucrats to "keep your hands off our schools," it knows it is talking to people who are obliged by law to keep their hands on the schools and to make them accountable to the people who pay to support them.

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