One of the big education fights that contributed to the ouster of former Baltimore school superintendent Richard Hunter five years ago concerned the request by the city's Barclay School to adopt the private Calvert School's curriculum. Dr. Hunter fought it even after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke suggested the experiment wouldn't be such a bad idea.
After four years of operation, Barclay's educational performance has now been evaluated by Sam Stringfield, a Johns Hopkins University researcher.
His verdict: The Calvert curriculum continues to yield marked improvements in Barclay's student performance.
The success of the Calvert-Barclay partnership prompted the city public school system to add a second Calvert partner this fall, Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill. While it is too early to assess success there, the initial impressions are positive.
"There are lessons at Barclay for all of us," says Mary Nicholsonne, the public school system's associate superintendent for instruction. "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."
If the Hunter years were characterized by inflexibility, Baltimore has been experimenting with a variety of approaches to education since Walter Amprey became the superintendent. The most massive -- and most controversial -- is a privatization effort involving a for-profit company called Education Alternatives Inc.
In contrast, the Calvert-Barclay experiment, after the fierce initial fight to get it going, has proceeded smoothly, leading Dr. Stringfield to quote the Chinese "I Ching": "Difficulty at the beginning bodes well for long-term success."
Calvert School, the private North Baltimore institution which developed the curriculum mostly for home study, is no EAI.
It is not listed on the stock market. It is also hesitant to expand into too many public schools, for fear that it would become too time-consuming and complicated.
Barclay's success with the Calvert curriculum has not been cheap, but the school, fortunately, has had a rich uncle in the Abell Foundation.
Then again, no experimentation is cheap, as can be seen from the EAI experience thus far. The question remains: Shouldn't the city consider expanding the evidently successful Calvert curriculum to other schools, even as it explores other alternatives? Perhaps some of the forthcoming empowerment money could be used in zone schools to fund teaching methods that work.