Taking over Baltimore schools

Reform: Privatizing the worst ones is a good idea, but results will depend on state vigilance.

February 03, 2000

IT'S NOT the children. It never was.

Years of low test scores, hopelessness and frustration in Baltimore's public schools aren't the product of defective or dumb kids. They're about principals and teachers who don't do their jobs, and a system that has repeatedly adopted and ditched curricula. They're the fruit of a community that has woven a pitiful tapestry of excuses for its refusal to gird and nurture public education.

It's not the children who are failing; it's everyone else.

So getting everyone else out of the way to "reconstitute" the three worst city elementary schools makes sense. Drastic as it may seem to clean house and turn these schools over to private companies, the State Board of Education had no obvious alternatives.

The three schools that will be re-made -- Furman L. Templeton, Montebello and Gilmore elementaries -- have been on the state's list of low performers for four years. They've had a measure of help from the state's reconstitution program and, more important, they've benefitted like every other city school from the system-wide reforms of the last three years.

But where are their test scores? No fifth-graders at Templeton posted satisfactory scores on the Maryland School Performance and Assessment tests last year, capping a three-year decline in that school's scores. Only a handful of third- or fifth-graders at the other two schools met the standard.

No one should believe these schools haven't had sufficient time to show improvement. And the state -- already under fire for not making good on its threats to reconstitute persistently failing schools -- had no more time to waste.

The trick will be to make sure that the three private interests that want to run these elementaries can actually deliver on their promises. Two of them -- Edison and Mosaica Inc. -- have decent track records running schools elsewhere. The third, Kennedy Krieger Institute, has only managed a special education school before.

No private operator should be let off a tight leash. Results -- not escuses-- are what the state should accept from these companies.

It's not the children who are failing. It never was. Now that state officials are taking responsibility for the three worst city schools, any future failures will be theirs.

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