School board OKs master plan

Revised proposal for city reforms now goes to state panel weighing further intervention


The Baltimore school board approved last night a revised master plan for school reform, a document it must submit to the state Board of Education as the state weighs further intervention in the city schools.

The plan was approved by seven of the nine school board members. Members Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman and James Campbell abstained from voting. Hettleman said he hadn't had sufficient opportunity to review the plan.

The school system did not immediately provide a copy of the plan last night. However, a presentation at the meeting summarizing its contents listed a variety of planned curriculum reforms.

In December, the state board rejected an earlier version of the plan, which addresses everything from curriculum to school safety to graduation rates.

School board Chairman Brian Morris called the plan "significantly stronger and more substantial than what we had before." But he and several other board members expressed concerns about the system's ability to implement the plan. Board member Diane Bell McKoy said she wants to know who will lose their jobs if the plan is not implemented.

In January, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick reported that the city school system has failed to meet key provisions of another reform plan set by the state in 2003 in response to perpetually low test scores. She said the system was not meeting its obligation to hire "highly qualified" teachers, and it could not demonstrate it was teaching children the standards they need to know to pass the state's standardized tests.

Grasmick has said she would determine what further "corrective action" is necessary for the state to impose on the city schools after she receives the revised master plan. State intervention will be less drastic if the school system demonstrates a clear vision for reform, she said, but she has declined to specify what that intervention might be.

All 24 school systems in Maryland are required under the state's so-called Thornton legislation to develop master plans and update them annually. Baltimore's update was the only one the state board rejected this school year. Thornton provides for an additional $1.3 billion a year for public education by 2008 in exchange for documentation of how that money is being spent.

In rejecting Baltimore's update in December, the state board directed the city school system to spend whatever is necessary to hire an outside monitor to evaluate the implementation of a rewritten plan. From this month until October, that monitor -- who has not yet been hired, according to the presentation made to the school board -- is supposed to evaluate whether the system is doing what it says it will in the plan.

Unlike the nine state managers sent by a federal judge to oversee city school system departments affecting special education, the monitor will not be involved in day-to-day operations, but will report back to the state on the system's own efforts.

Separately, the city school system was supposed to comply with a reform plan set by the state in 2003 in an attempt to raise test scores. The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to impose structural reforms on school systems that repeatedly fail to show adequate progress on standardized tests. Baltimore is the only school system in Maryland to receive such intervention.

That state plan required the system to ensure that all its teachers are "highly qualified" as defined under No Child Left Behind. However, the system has fallen far short of that goal, with only 42 percent of city teachers this school year meeting the highly qualified criteria of certification with subject-area expertise.

Baltimore's revised master plan is scheduled to be presented to the state board at a meeting late this month.

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