THE CITY-STATE "partnership" forged two years ago to operate Baltimore schools is still unique in a land of troubled urban education.
Educators, politicians and journalists have been making the trip to Charm City to determine how we're doing under a system that has city and state sharing in the governance of Baltimore schools. While Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke actually gave up authority in the partnership agreement, the trend in other cities is in the opposite direction.
In Detroit, Mayor Dennis Archer will take over city schools this summer under terms of legislation signed into law last week by Michigan Gov. John Engler.
In Oakland, Calif., a move is under way to place the troubled school system under Mayor Jerry Brown. "It's not the kind of thing you jump at," said Brown. "But if they want someone to do it, I'll step up to the plate."
In Chicago, which gave Baltimore the idea of a business-oriented "chief executive officer" instead of a "superintendent," Mayor Richard M. Daley has controlled the public school system since 1995.
In Cleveland, where the system was taken over by the state at mid-decade, the school board was dissolved last summer, and Mayor Michael White appointed a nine-member board with governing authority.
Mayoral takeover of collapsing city districts also is being considered in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Buffalo, N.Y.
Chicago is the darling of urban school reform models. Headlines speak of a "dramatic turnaround" under Daley and Paul Vallas, a former Daley budget aide hand-picked to run the 431,000-student system.
At a recent meeting of the National Governors' Association in Washington, Vallas wowed the states' chief executives and a C-SPAN audience with a rosy portrayal of the system. Critics who accused Vallas of using smoke and mirrors could hardly be heard amid the applause.
Behind Chicago, next in national interest is Baltimore. The wrinkle here is that Schmoke gave up authority jealously guarded by mayors since 1898 and agreed to new accountability standards in exchange for a modest infusion of state money and the settlement of three lawsuits.
But because the city retained some authority under terms of the partnership -- the mayor shares in the appointment of school board members, for example -- charges of "educational apartheid" did not ring out here, as they have in a rancorous spring in Detroit.
What all the reforms have in common is that they address the failure of urban school boards to tackle the huge problems of urban education. What they also have in common is that they have more to do with the flow of authority than with improved student achievement. The easiest reform of all is rearranging the deck chairs.
Achievement tests indicate home schooling works
We now have an idea of how well home-schooled children do on standardized tests.
About 21,000 students from 12,000 families were tested a year ago. They also filled out a questionnaire requesting background information. Among the findings:
Achievement test scores of this group were exceptionally high, typically in the 70th to 80th percentile.
Where they use a curriculum that is graded, a quarter of the home schoolers are one or more years ahead of kids their age in public and private schools.
Their parents have more formal education than parents in the general population.
The median income of their parents is higher than that of all families with children in the United States.
Almost all of the home schoolers are in two-parent families, with the parents married.
The study was conducted by the University of Maryland, College Park and Arizona State University and published last week in the Education Policy Analysis Archives, an electronic scholarly journal.
Where the jobs are: information technology
Stat of the week:
According to a study by the Information Technology Association of America, 58 jobs are open in professional basketball, 346,000 in information technology.
Pub Date: 3/31/99