The Amprey Difference

June 03, 1994

The one factor that differentiates Walter G. Amprey from his predecessors of the past 40 years, black or white, is that he is the first superintendent who has declared Baltimore City's public schools a dismal failure. Instead of being a deceptive cheerleader, he is advocating fundamental change.

That's why he is trying to find a better model through experimentation and privatization.

That's why he has sent a letter to all 10,000 school system employees, advising them of forthcoming organizational changes that may affect their job assignments or ranking.

That's also largely why the 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union is demanding his head while its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, is campaigning against duplicating Amprey experiments in other cities.

The ferocity is understandable. If other superintendents, too, declare their schools failures and start demanding overhauls, teacher unions may not survive the resulting convulsions without painful adjustments and an erosion of their power. Like other trade unions, their first concern is their dues-paying membership. That's why they want to stop the Amprey ideas before they affect other cities and threaten union clout.

We support Dr. Amprey in his throwing the gauntlet before the education establishment. The Baltimore school system must be fundamentally improved before parents and children sue the city for educational malpractice.

There are no panaceas. But experimenting with different models, even if they may change the traditional methods of teaching and patterns of staffing, is a starting point. Assessing results will take time. Nothing would be more shortsighted than abandoning experiments before they have fully proven to be successes or failures.

Teachers in Baltimore face an unenviable task. An urban pathology of broken homes and brutality has created many dysfunctional children who are not easily handled by any school. The situation has not been helped by prior attempts to improve the school system through reorganization alone. The pendulum swings of such frequent upheavals have produced bureaucrats who are either defeatist or are prone to ignore rejuggling.

The lesson for Dr. Amprey is that staff reorganization alone will not improve education. Combined with other innovative measures, it may produce the desired result. Baltimore teachers and their unions should help make that happen.

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