Shoring up talent

Our view: Provide more advanced academic programs

April 15, 2008

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso wants to invest more in students who are at opposite ends of the performance scale - those who are high achievers as well as those who are struggling. The idea is to shrink the bottom, give more heft to the middle and expand the top. It's a smart way to enhance the system's strengths and strengthen its weaknesses - one that the Board of School Commissioners should approve.

Expanding programs for high-performing students could help slow down the system's own brain drain. Last year, more than 800 first-graders, but only 83 seventh-graders, tested above grade level on standardized tests. That drop occurs because early potential is not nurtured sufficiently and performance declines over time. And that failing has to be reversed.

Mr. Alonso would provide $22 million, up from the current $5 million, to encourage principals to create more programs that would help sustain high performance, such as enriched reading or math classes. And he is taking steps to ensure that the money reaches more than the schools with a sizable portion of high-performing students. The money would still come to schools as part of a complex strategy to target more spending on individual student needs. At its meeting tonight, the board should approve this sensible plan that includes giving principals discretionary control of more than $5,000 - compared with the current $90 - of the $13,000 per pupil that the system now spends.

At the same time, Mr. Alonso is right to provide more incentives for principals to pay special attention to specific groups. In addition to extra money for advanced students, he would target $58 million for struggling students in all grades. There could be a double bonus for lifting low-performing students to advanced proficiency. Mr. Alonso would also provide $11 million for low-income high school students as a way of extending some of the educational extras that a federal program provides for students in lower grades.

The overall goal is to promote excellence throughout the system, giving all students more academic role models to emulate.

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