State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick yesterday ordered Baltimore to shake up three underachieving city schools, but city officials said they would fight the reform order.
Rankled city school officials accused the state of singling out only Baltimore schools -- Arnett Brown Middle, Calverton Middle and Furman Templeton Elementary -- when there are low-achieving schools in other parts of the state.
City school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey called the state process "cosmetic and wholly political."
The conflict escalates city-state tensions over imposed school reform. Last year, the state also named only Baltimore schools for improvement. The forced reorganizations of Patterson and Douglass High Schools have since earned some positive marks from city and state educators.
Because the city did not contest the issue last year, it is unclear how the clash will play out.
The city school board asked for a hearing before its state counterpart, and said it would not yet begin developing improvement proposals -- plans due March 15. The board could seek legislation to block the state process or pursue court action.
The school-reform regulations have no provision for a school system to appeal in this manner, said Valerie V. Cloutier, principal counsel to the state department of education.
She said the state board may grant the hearing, seek an injunction to force compliance, or ask the state comptroller to withhold funds -- some $400 million a year in state school aid to the city.
If city schools miss the first deadline for submitting school plans, she said, the state board could invoke its right to take over the schools and have them run by a third party, such as a university or community group or private firm.
In response to the city's protests, Dr. Grasmick said, "The schools fall where they fall, and I am not willing to compromise the integrity of this process by jumping over needy schools to get to other school systems."
For example, at Arnett Brown Middle School, no students achieved a satisfactory score on the reading portions of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) test. By comparison, 24 percent of students statewide and in 5.4 percent in Baltimore scored satisfactory or better on the reading test.
At Templeton, no third graders received satisfactory scores in 1994 on five of the six tests. Only 1.7 percent met the standard on the science test, compared to 12.5 percent citywide and 34.8 percent statewide.
Designed to hold Maryland public schools to high academic standards, the fix-it-or-lose-it reform program is part of an improvement program put in place by the state in the past five years. The state imposes reforms whenever a public school's achievement -- based on state tests and attendance -- is low and declining.
According to the state's formula for comparing school achievement, Arnett Brown was third from the bottom and Calverton fifth from the bottom in academic performance among the state's 198 middle schools. Both had shown declines from 1993 to 1994.
The other middle schools in the bottom five -- Baltimore's Lombard, Harlem Park and Booker T. Washington -- had low performance scores but had shown some improvement in 1994.
Furman Templeton was the lowest performer among the state's 791 elementary schools -- and had declined.
The state's ranking process is flawed, said L'Tanya Sloan, the Baltimore school system's chief of accountability, because it relies on statistics and not visits; because it does not take into account such factors as poverty; and because test scores representing only one or two grade levels are used to judge a school.
"We're not looking for a fight," said Phillip H. Farfel, president of the Baltimore school board. He added that school officials are addressing the low achievement, school violence, poverty and other needs of the system.
pTC "We're looking for help. We're looking for a partner. We feel the Baltimore City Public Schools are on the right path." He said three years of improving system-wide attendance and achievement scores should be evidence that the city can handle its own school reform without unfunded and uninvited state intervention.
Dr. Grasmick said, "Adding more money to programs that are not yielding progress on the part of the students is not the best way to go either."
Christopher T. Cross, president of the state school board, said reform should be seen as a catalyst for improvement, not a brand of failure. The state's regulations define "reconstitution" as changing a school's administration, staff, organization or instructional program, but don't mandate the method.
"I'm sure there are good things going on in city schools," he said. He added, however, "It's disingenuous to believe that changes going on are uniform and widespread because the scores for the three schools don't reflect it."