U.S. education secretary applauds state move

March 31, 2006|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings expressed her support yesterday for the Maryland school board's decision to take over 11 failing middle and high schools in Baltimore.

"To sit idly by with the kind of data and results and chronic failure that has been demonstrated is educational malpractice," Spellings said. "Accountability is meaningless if there is no end of the line."

Spellings said she supports Maryland schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick's attempt to help the schoolchildren of the city. "She is a warrior on No Child Left Behind on behalf of the kids," Spellings said.

Grasmick is the first superintendent in the country to seek the takeover of schools under the four-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The state board voted Wednesday to approve Grasmick's plan, which calls for four large high schools to be managed by companies or nonprofits that report to the state. The city schools would be given the choice of turning seven middle schools into charters or establishing contracts for a third party to operate them.

Within hours of the vote, Spelling's department issued a statement backing the decision, but her comments yesterday indicated the degree of support for Grasmick in Washington as she battles a barrage of criticism from legislators, politicians and the community.

"I am president of the Nancy S. Grasmick fan club," Spellings said. Grasmick has worked on national commissions and makes regular trips to Washington.

In addition, Spellings, who has been in her job a little more than a year, has made several trips to Maryland schools.

She previously worked on education policy in Texas and helped draft the NCLB before replacing President Bush's first education secretary, Rod Paige of Texas.

National response to Maryland's groundbreaking action came from other camps yesterday as well. The Council of Great City Schools, a national group representing urban districts, issued a statement saying it was "skeptical" of the move.

"State takeovers and other dramatic changes in school governance have not proven to be the silver bullet," the statement said.

The council noted that Baltimore's test scores in the past few years have shown improvements in reading and math in elementary and middle schools.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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