Baltimore making progress in school reform, study says

More resources needed, independent firm finds

February 02, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimore got a midterm report card on education reform yesterday -- a cautiously optimistic assessment of its ambitious attempt to revitalize a school system beset by decades of decline.

An independent evaluation found the city school district has "made meaningful progress" in improving elementary classroom instruction, hiring better teachers and tracking students whose records used to be lost when they transferred from school to school.

But the city needs considerably greater resources -- and has to devote more attention to its older schoolchildren -- to turn around schools that consistently rank near the bottom of the state on most performance standards.

Those are among the key findings by Metis Associates Inc., a New York research firm that conducted a six-month, $405,722 study of Baltimore's reforms.

State school superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick called the report "very encouraging about the city-state partnership."

"It showed the city is moving in the right direction," she said.

City school board President J. Tyson Tildon was also upbeat, though he said the report failed to capture the extent of the reform efforts.

A wide array of initiatives has been introduced -- from charter schools to teacher mentoring to summer programs -- since the city agreed to yield some control of its schools to the state in 1997 in return for $254 million in additional aid over five years.

The report stops short of giving a large-scale prognosis for a school district where more than half the 103,000 students are not at grade level.

Instead, the evaluation details the strengths and weaknesses of specific initiatives, from the school system's master plan to teacher training. It also includes a long list of recommendations.

One of the most controversial is a call for a dramatic increase in per-pupil spending. The city and state spend an average of $7,576 per student. The report urges increasing that amount by $2,698.

"From the point of educational research, it's sound," said Matthew Joseph, director of public policy for the Baltimore-based Advocates for Children and Youth. "From the point of politics, it's just not realistic."

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