Don't hold children as pawns

June 03, 1994

The 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union has declared Superintendent Walter G. Amprey public enemy No. 1.

Leaping lizards! Here is a man who is trying to re-establish quality education in Baltimore -- and the teachers' union wants to get rid of him!

What's happening here is quite simple: Stung by her recent near-defeat in internal elections, BTU President Irene Dandridge is trying to solidify her claim to the $77,000-a-year job she has held for 15 years. She thinks becoming more confrontational may help.

This example underscores how Baltimore's children are pawns in a school reform dispute between Dr. Amprey and the BTU.

Having declared city schools a failure, Dr. Amprey is trying to turn them around. He is encouraging experimentation and privatization. This has put him on a collision course with the BTU, which sees its clout and power base threatened.

It is interesting that before the BTU and its 850,000-member parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, decided that school privatization was a nationwide menace, Ms. Dandridge had some kind words to say about a pioneering private company, Education Alternatives Inc.

Similarly, when Dr. Amprey just six months ago was making noises about trying to get a job somewhere else, Ms. Dandridge said she hoped the superintendent would not leave Baltimore. "For continuity's sake, I would like to see us not change superintendents every three years," she said.

So what has changed since January? Nothing really, except that Dr. Amprey has proven that he means business when he says he will insist on changes, both in schools and in the education bureaucracy. As a consequence, a lot of teachers and their union, a status-quo organization, feel threatened.

We believe that the more Dr. Amprey succeeds in turning the schools around, the more power teachers will win. Parents and students will respect them. Politicians will listen to them more carefully -- and they will attract positive publicity.

Instead of seeing the Amprey experiments as monsters to fear, teachers should welcome them. Whether the result is smoother-running schools or better-performing students, teachers will find their job easier.

We support Dr. Amprey in his reform efforts. The community ought to as well. After years of failure, Baltimore finally has a superintendent who seems to have a plan. He needs aid and encouragement, not confrontation and obstinate opposition.

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