Plan B?

March 02, 2006

It's bad enough that Baltimore school officials had to substantially revise their master plan for reforming schools in an effort to gain acceptance from the Maryland State Department of Education. But there's an open question as to how much consultation went on between the staff and the school board commissioners who had to approve the plan Tuesday night before yesterday's deadline to get it to MSDE. Is this any way to run a school system?

Last December, a panel of MSDE reviewers and outside experts rejected Baltimore's annual update of a master plan to improve student performance required under the so-called Thornton legislation. The reviewers believed that city school officials did not fully address major issues such as dealing with nearly 100 schools on the state's watch list for low performance. State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the reviewers suggested that the city schools plan should have been more comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, in how it proposed to help students who lag behind. They asked for a revised plan this week.

City school officials came up with a draft plan that included curriculum and other changes but was short on details - at least in the presentation made to school board members in a public meeting Tuesday night. While board members had seen the draft and seven of nine members voted to approve the new plan, one of the two members who abstained from voting, Kalman R. Hettleman, said that he had not had sufficient opportunity to review it. Even some board members who thought the new plan was a significant improvement voiced some concerns about how well the school system can implement it. That would seem to justify MSDE's insistence on an outside monitor, to be hired by the city school system, to evaluate how the revised plan is carried out.

This may turn out to be a stronger, more substantial plan that state education officials should not turn down again. But this important document should have been vetted more thoroughly. Whatever the merits of the plan, the process does not inspire confidence in the system's commitment to its students.

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