Important progress for Baltimore schools

Test scores: Big gains are good news, but this is no time to take the focus off reform.

May 18, 2000

YOU COULD hear them exhaling all over the city.

It has been three years since city and state school officials promised to rescue city school children from lives doomed by a sorry education. Three years since they committed $250 million and countless hours to completely revamp the school system.

They've been holding their breath all this time (so have city parents) waiting for the efforts to pay off. Finally, there's cause for relief: In nearly every elementary school, at nearly every grade level, city kids made huge gains this year on standardized tests.

Whew! It has been a long time coming.

Now, sustainability is the issue. These gains suggest something's going very right in Baltimore City schools, but there's little time for extended celebration or three cheers. There's more work to do to keep the system moving forward.

First on the list is the selection of a new chief executive. Current boss Robert Booker is scheduled to leave in June, and his successor must build on what he achieved. That means keeping close watch over academic progress, but it especially requires diving into the business and management side of the system, which -- to put it mildly -- hasn't experienced as much success during the reform effort.

The school board has whittled applicants down to four finalists -- two out-of-state educators, state deputy superintendent A. Skipp Saunders and former school board member Bonnie S. Copeland. All four have strong academic backgrounds, but it's critical that the board select the best manager, someone who can get control of the system's complex financial and managerial challenges.

In addition, city schools' capital needs are becoming more urgent. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's recent $40 million contribution to the system's capital budget is the largest ever, but that money can't be spent wisely until there's a plan to deal with the expensive and wasteful overabundance of city school buildings.

It's nice to see city and state school officials breathing easier in the afterglow of pupils' strong test score performance. The rest of us just might be able to do the same once they tackle some of the city school system's other crippling problems.

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