THE NEXT few months are crucial for Robert E. Schiller, interim chief executive officer for the Baltimore City Public Schools. Under the new city-state partnership that promises so much for 109,000 schoolchildren, Dr. Schiller has no more than five months to lay the groundwork for sea changes in a system he has concluded is "academically bankrupt."
At a public meeting next week, Dr. Schiller will ask the new school board to embrace several initiatives designed to jump-start the reform process. Some of the proposals are long overdue, such as the establishment of a standardized city-wide curriculum, a necessity in a school system in which many students switch schools three or four times in an academic year. Of course, no curriculum will be effective unless it is accompanied by training and professional support for teachers.
The interim CEO is also proposing a longer school day to allow for more instruction in reading, science and math -- another good idea. And with an eye toward accountability, he is calling for standardized testing soon after school opens, with follow-up tests in January and again at the end of the school's spring semester. One year is not enough to judge any education reform effort, but Baltimore schools will never be able to demonstrate progress to skeptical legislators unless they establish "baseline data" with which later test results can be compared.
Dr. Schiller's most ambitious proposal is to pour additional resources into the early grades, including hundreds of new teachers to bolster reading instruction. The school system has many crying needs, but unless children are successful in reading by the end of third grade, their education will be stunted no matter how much money is spent on secondary schools and remedial programs.
Dr. Schiller, who by law cannot be named permanent CEO of the Baltimore schools, has minced no words in describing the deficiencies of the system he has inherited ever so briefly. But he has wide experience in dealing with troubled city and state education systems -- and he says there's no problem here that he hasn't addressed successfully elsewhere.
So there is real hope for improvement in Baltimore City's public schools. But it will take strong support from the school board, administrators, teachers and the public for Dr. Schiller's bold initial moves to set the stage for substantial progress.
Pub Date: 7/27/97