Choice as an education answer Saving children: Schmoke concedes he doesn't expect some city schools to get better.

March 10, 1996

THAT PARENTAL CHOICE as an education option is even being considered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is an awesome admission of his exasperation with city schools. Though not a blanket indictment, Mr. Schmoke is saying he no longer believes Superintendent Walter G. Amprey can get some principals to get some teachers at some schools to do better. And that for the good of the children in those schools, parents should be given the ability to move them to a school where they can get a decent education.

In a remarkable change of perspective, Mr. Schmoke now admits his "tinkering" with the school system structure has not improved it. He finally appears ready to focus on teaching, even going so far as to criticize the teachers' union, which he courted in seeking re-election last year by granting teachers a higher pay raise than the city could actually afford.

"It takes three years to get rid of an incompetent teacher," Mr. Schmoke says. "Because of the onerous nature of going through this process, the administrators have given up. They have stopped doing it. So the students and the parents are left to suffer."

Though Mr. Schmoke has created a task force to look at systemwide choice, his comments indicate his true focus is on the 40 city schools performing so poorly that the state has designated them for reconstitution. In fact, the only specific directive he has given his task force is to provide a vehicle for state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to install a choice program at a reconstituted school, rather than have the state take it over, with the state providing some support for transportation.

Schools closed because their students chose to leave could be resurrected. Mr. Schmoke is emphasizing the possibility of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, which helped create the Stadium School in 1994, assisting parents to open other new schools that could employ good teachers from those closed.

The possibilities are intriguing, but the whole concept of school choice is so fraught with pitfalls that one hesitates to support it as the proper tool for a school system that has already been experimented with to the hilt.

Until new schools are opened, those fleeing the old must have somewhere to go. The good city schools are already filled. The parochial and private systems would be strained. The suburban systems would resist an influx of city children and their perceived problems. Choice is no panacea for school system ailments. And it's certainly no substitute for tackling tough management decisions head-on.

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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