Getting Reform Right

Our View: Alonso's Rx For Change: Shut Failing Schools, Expand Those That Work

July 29, 2009

Heartened by the release of standardized test scores showing big gains for city public school students, Baltimore schools CEO Andr?s Alonso is moving quickly to follow up with the next phase of his ambitious reform agenda. The department is closing seven more underperforming elementary and secondary schools at the same time that it expands three others that have proven successful.

The changes are part of a sweeping reorganization plan unveiled in March and are aimed at speeding up the pace of measurable improvements in student performance. In combination with other measures the superintendent has put in place, the plan seems to be working. But inevitably, some students and parents are going to be temporarily upset over losing neighborhood schools to which they've become accustomed.

Slated to close are George G. Kelson Elementary/Middle, Harriet Tubman Elementary, William H. Lemmel Middle, Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, Thurgood Marshall High and Homeland Security High. The Paul Lawrence Dunbar Middle School will close next summer after sharing a building this year with the National Academy Foundation, a new middle/high school, that will expand to include grades 6 through 12. The other two expanding schools are William Pinderhughes Elementary and the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship High School.

Some students, parents and staff at schools scheduled for closure may blame the department for not supporting them adequately. The problem is, there's no evidence they would have improved no matter how many more resources were made available. Thinking among educators - including new U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan - has moved away from the idea that failing schools can be fixed simply through infusions of additional staff and money; that usually doesn't correct what has come to be viewed as a dysfunctional school culture that robs students of both the means and motivation to succeed. Far better to close underperforming schools and replace them with ones that work. That way, at least students don't fall even further behind at a critical stage in their development.

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