Baltimore school reform hasn't been 'incremental'

December 28, 2010

The prescription developer David Tufaro writes for those interested in serving as Baltimore's mayor is based, in part, on an outdated diagnosis of public education options available in city schools ("A reform agenda for Baltimore's next mayor," Dec. 27).

Mr. Tufaro's view that education reform in Baltimore is incremental suggests that he has missed dramatic, positive developments in city schools since leaving the Maryland State Board of Education in 2008. City schools CEO Andrés Alonso and the Baltimore Board of School Commissioners, with steady and strong support from City Hall and Annapolis, have fundamentally changed what it means to be a student, parent, teacher or principal in city schools.

Families now have the option to choose schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels from a portfolio of offerings that includes a greater number of charter schools than any other community in Maryland. Principals directly manage nearly 80 percent of school resources (compared with 3 percent in 2008) and parents have a voice in school-based budget and principal selection decisions. The school district's new contract with the Baltimore Teachers Union is a national model that engages teachers in school reform at an even deeper level. Any added flexibility in teacher contracts will require changes in Maryland law.

These transformative steps are already producing encouraging results: Central office staff is down by a third. Student academic achievement and graduation rates are rising steadily. And the high school drop-out rate has decreased 56 percent in three years. In this achievement, Baltimore outpaces urban school districts across the nation.

City schools have successfully executed all the "radical education reforms" for which Mr. Tufaro praises outgoing Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty. To be sure, there is more education reform work to be done in Baltimore. Leadership that recognizes and builds upon what's working is the kind of leadership we need.

Lisa Akchin, Baltimore

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