The MSTA's false hysteria

November 15, 1993

Fresh from the successful killing of a school voucher proposal in California's Nov. 2 referendum, the nation's largest teachers' union has turned its guns on Maryland, where the Maryland State Teachers Association has launched a campaign aimed at preventing a "seizure and privateering of neighborhood schools" bureaucrats of the state education department.

The campaign, titled "Hands Off Our Schools," has a hysterical ring to it that would get a failing grade in a high school course in logic, speech or rhetoric. In addition to buying $23,000 in radio commercials designed to whip up the crowd (and almost totally devoid of information), the MSTA is asking each of its members to contact three parents and urge them to join the cause.

What's the emergency? On Tuesday, the State Board of Education will vote on a bylaw that provides for "reconstitution" of schools that consistently fail to meet the standards of the Maryland School Performance Program. Yes, "reconstitution" is a polite word that could mean state takeover, followed by the turning over of educationally bankrupt schools to profit-making firms such as the one operating the Tesseract schools in Baltimore.

But it could mean any number of other arrangements. It could mean turning a school (or schools) over to a university or simply replacing a school's staff. The point is that "reconstitution" is a last resort. It would occur only after a school failed to come up with a plan for its own improvement, and it would apply only to schools that are not performing well -- and that are getting worse. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick says she expects few of the state's 1,200 schools will actually be taken over, but the MSTA campaign pictures her as one of an army of bureaucrats eagerly waiting to privatize schools and line their pockets.

Nor are Dr. Grasmick and her colleagues the enemy. The MSTA && knows full well that state takeover of "bankrupt" schools was mandated by the General Assembly, which is also concerned, rightly, with making Maryland public education accountable. And was proposed several years ago by the Sondheim Commission, a body on which the MSTA was represented.

Nor is the MSTA aiming at the right schools. "We have to bring our message to grassroots suburban folk and show the threat to their schools," says the association's written plan of attack. "If we don't make that threat come alive in the suburbs, we lose." But the state's most troubled -- and underfunded -- schools are in Baltimore City, the only subdivision in Maryland where teachers aren't represented by the MSTA. Baltimore is where the sky really is falling. If the association wants to whip up emotion, that's where it should concentrate its efforts.

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