A partnership between the city's Barclay School and an exclusive private school continues to yield marked improvements in student performance, far outpacing those of Baltimore's high-profile "Tesseract" school-privatization experiment.
During each of its first four years, a new evaluation shows, the unique collaboration between Barclay and the private Calvert School in North Baltimore raised standardized test scores. Those scores are now at or above national averages for both public and private schools.
The effort also has improved attendance and parental involvement, reduced referrals to special education and increased participation in gifted programs, according to the 28-page evaluation by Sam Stringfield, a Johns Hopkins University researcher.
With financing from the nonprofit Abell Foundation, Calvert brought its teaching methods, support staff and emphasis on mastery of the basics to the school in 1990. Barclay began using the Calvert curriculum with kindergarten and first-grade classes, and has added one grade level each year. The effort now extends to the fifth grade at the elementary-middle school on Barclay Street in the Charles Village area.
At a time when even a cursory review of the educational landscape finds reform bursting out all over, often with promises of new ways of doing business, Calvert steadfastly clings to proven basics and uncompromising standards. That, Dr. Stringfield suggested, goes a long way toward explaining the success of the private school, which has stuck to the same methods for nearly a century.
"There's nothing revolutionary about the specifics of Calvert's curriculum," Dr. Stringfield said. "If you look at how Calvert works, they have explicitly avoided going for the latest thing. They never go for it. They didn't even have a computer lab until a few years ago."
The partnership has produced measurable gains that thus far have eluded the city's much higher-profile reform: the "Tesseract" experiment, now in its third year. That experiment has failed to yield anything approaching the gains at Barclay, although Education Alternatives Inc,. which holds five-year city contracts worth about $180 million, receives much more money than most schools in the district to operate.
Dr. Stringfield noted that even some of the core Calvert books haven't changed in a half-century; reading is still taught through phonics and children's classics; and even first-graders must write and rewrite daily until they perfect their script, usage and grammar.
He also attributed the success to intensive training for teachers and oversight by a Calvert "curriculum coordinator," adequate books and other materials provided by Calvert and clearly established expectations for teachers, students and parents.
Mary Nicholsonne, the school system's associate superintendent for instruction, said the overwhelming success of the Barclay-Calvert partnership prompted the school system to add a second Calvert partner this fall, Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill.
"There are lessons there at Barclay for all of us," Dr. Nicholsonne said. "I think it's the consistency of approach that really gives teachers a good feeling. They know what to do, and they do it well."
For Barclay Principal Gertrude S. Williams, who led a bitter public fight to bring the Calvert curriculum to her school, the results provide vindication. The partnership, she said, proves that, with a solid, proven curriculum, staff development and enough basics like books and other supplies -- often in short supply before the collaboration -- dramatic results can be achieved.
"When we fought for this curriculum, we didn't fight to become an 'in thing.' We fought because we wanted to show there's another way," Ms. Williams said. "There's nothing wrong with these children. They're not at risk. It's the city curriculum that's the risk.
"We don't look at whether [students] are wealthy or in a crime-ridden neighborhood or have one parent. We look at that child and know that child can learn."
That message has won over countless parents. The school now has a waiting list of more than 100 parents, Ms. Williams said.
The evaluation, released by the city school system, compared the performance of students using the Calvert curriculum with ,, that of Barclay students who immediately preceded the partnership.
The Hopkins evaluation found that:
* Students in the program consistently scored at or above the national average in reading on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills and on the Educational Records Bureau Tests, given to private school students nationwide.