City schools, city politics

September 05, 1995

Baltimore City starts its new school year tomorrow in an atmosphere not entirely conducive to learning. The Sept. 12 municipal primary elections are just around the corner and the schools and their leadership are a big issue. They ought to be.

Under Baltimore's governmental system, the education department is a highly politicized operation. The mayor effectively hires (and fires) the superintendent, even though that decision is formally ratified by a school board appointed by the mayor. Since the superintendent is seen as the mayor's choice, the board -- which is supposed to set policy -- usually does not challenge the school chief's recommendations.

This explains why the board could so effortlessly shift from the policies of Superintendent Richard Hunter to those of Dr. Walter S. Amprey, even though they were almost diametrically different in educational approaches.

Far too often, today's education is not about children or learning, but about money and power. Textbooks and teaching systems are a big business promoted by giant profit-making industries; that's why the old texts are discarded so easily and new ones bought. Similarly, the primary goal of teachers' and administrators' unions usually is the protection of their members' jobs and higher salaries; children's interests come later.

It is time to put the well-being of the children of Baltimore first. Parents shoulder a great responsibility in seeing that this is done. They can be the politically active lobby that will make City Hall, the teachers' organizations and the school bureaucracies listen. But among the sad statistics generated by Baltimore City schools is this: only 50 of the 182 schools have PTA organizations.

This is a shocking situation, which is partially due to city schools' having a choice about whether they want a PTA. Some principals, apparently jealous about their power, do not see the value of parent involvement. That attitude is intellectually wrongheaded and educationally intolerable. Parents are the most important motivators of children.

The good news is that although the number of PTAs is low, it has nearly doubled in the past two years. With concentrated efforts, it can easily be increased further. To get involved, call 435-8564.

Despite the city schools' many problems, crowds of happy and motivated children will report to classrooms tomorrow, ready to take learning seriously and fulfill the high hopes they have set for this year. Parents and guardians should not fail them in encouraging the kids to give all they've got to their schools and their futures.

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