Seizing a chance to influence the reforms planned for city schools, a circuit judge has directed a Baltimore grand jury to study policies and programs that may improve parent involvement and boost student achievement.
Judge John Carroll Byrnes -- a longtime advocate of character education programs -- will submit the grand jury's findings to the new school board, which will be chosen by the governor and mayor by June 1.
After discussing the project with the grand jury yesterday, Byrnes said "the time is right" to focus attention on the roles of parents and students in improving city schools. Under a state-monitored overhaul of school management, the new school board must decide how to invest $254 million in new aid to improve scores on annual school performance tests.
Byrnes told the grand jury: "We might triple the $254 million and triple the degree of management accountability and still not get to where we want to be in terms of school and child achievement, unless some of that money and management is focused on the family support component of education."
City grand juries often take on public policy research in addition to their more widely known duty of deciding whom to indict on criminal charges, Byrnes said. Judges often choose the topic to be studied.
This jury will find plenty to review: Of the 179 city schools, only about 60 have formal PTAs, although many have other types of parent advisory groups.
By September, 152 schools will include character education programs such as peer mediation in their curricula, said character program director James Sarnecki.
Also, if funding can be found by September, a Johns Hopkins University-based program that has launched parent activities in 80 schools would like to expand citywide, said its director, Joyce Epstein.
A recent study of the Hopkins-based program has linked parent participation to improved school attendance and to slight gains in writing and reading scores, she said. But the study also concluded that better teaching would contribute more to the kind of significant gains that Baltimore must make to boost student performance.
Pub Date: 5/16/97