Up to 38 schools likely to be put on failing list Board would name 29 in city, 9 in P.G.

January 28, 1998|By Liz Bowie and Mary Maushard | Liz Bowie and Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun Staff Writer Candus Thomson contributed to this article.

State education officials are expected today to put about 38 public schools on a list of failing schools statewide, including about 29 in Baltimore and as many as nine in Prince George's County.

This year's additions to the annual school-reform list would bring the city's total to at least 80 schools -- nearly half of the system, according to sources. These schools are considered so far below standards that they are in need of state supervision, and could be subject to state takeover.

Maryland State Department of Education officials would not confirm the number, location or identities of the schools, which will be announced during a meeting of the Maryland State Board of Education today.

Although the schools will remain under local control, they will have to develop improvement plans and show improvement within the next two or three years.

Since 1994, the Education Department has designated 52 schools as failing -- 50 in Baltimore -- but has never taken over management of any schools. This is the first time that Prince George's schools have been included, though that county traditionally scores second-lowest in the state on the school performance standards.

One source said state and city school officials were still negotiating yesterday afternoon about whether several schools would make the list. But state Education Department spokesman Ronald Peiffer staunchly denied that placement on the list was negotiable.

It is based, rather, on mathematical formulas that take into account the schools' performance on the annual Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, functional tests and drop-out and attendance figures, Peiffer said.

The designation means each school will get more state money to help improve. At Baltimore's Pimlico Elementary School, for instance, $240,000 was added to the budget last year and used to hire new teachers, aides and a social worker.

But principals, teachers and administrators dread their schools' being added to the list because that often means drastic changes and long hours spent in producing improvement plans under the guidance of state education officials.

Privately, one city administrator noted that most of the schools added to the state's list in the past four years have not seen a big jump in test scores since the process began. Students' performance at these schools, the administrator said, seemed to have more to do with an effective new principal than with the production of bureaucratic plans for the state.

The question facing the new Baltimore school board may be how to make significant changes in the leadership of schools.

In an indication that accommodations may have been made between the state and the city school boards, a source said, the "process" that each Baltimore school must go through after its designation is likely to be altered.

Schools' record

The schools put on the list have had failing, and declining, MSPAP test scores for two consecutive years. Elementary and middle schools are judged on attendance standards and test scores; high school standings are based on 9th and 11th grade functional test scores and attendance and drop-out rates.

In 1994, two city high schools -- Douglass and Patterson -- were the first to be chosen for the reform list. The number has grown steadily, with 37 city schools singled out in 1996. One school each in Anne Arundel and Somerset counties was listed that year.

Last year, 10 city schools -- seven elementaries, two middle and one high school -- joined the group.

The threat of intervention is not new in Prince George's County, which has the state's largest school system. Last fall Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, criticized the system for a "disturbing pattern" of overcrowding, poor test scores and teachers without full certification.

Rawlings' warning

Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening that if Prince George's wanted a massive infusion of state aid, it would have to submit to greater state oversight.

Failing schools must prepare a school improvement plan by April 1, and a "transition plan" for the next school year, under the reform program. Both of these plans are subject to approval by the education department and the state board.

Though several schools came close to takeover when they submitted inadequate plans in 1996, none has yet to be subjected to that sanction.

The failing schools' list is part of the statewide reform effort, known as the Maryland School Performance Program, designed to raise standards, make schools and teachers accountable and to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the state.

In addition to the sticks being handed out today, the state education department also issues annual "carrots," grants totaling thousands of dollars for schools showing sustained progress on state standards. Those awards were made in November.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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