Four years ago, parents, teachers and leaders in the community around Baltimore's public Barclay Elementary School took a look at the curriculum of the private Calvert School, liked what they saw and approached the North Avenue administration about entering into a partnership with Calvert.
The reaction was hostile. True, the Calvert curriculum had stood the test of nearly a century, but it hadn't been worked over by curriculum committees, passed through the bureaucratic hoops and approved by then-Superintendent Richard Hunter. This was bottom-up school reform, not top-down. Fortunately, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sided with the community, Dr. Hunter was soon gone, and the Calvert curriculum was installed, thanks to the financial support of the Abell Foundation.
There's more than usual satisfaction, then, in the evaluation of the Barclay-Calvert partnership after three years: Student scores are up, attendance is up and class size is down. Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is talking about extending the experiment to a few other city schools. He notes that in the right kind of environment, inner-city public school kids can do extremely well.
Moreover, a circle is completed. Calvert was started in 1897 in one of the founders' homes by parents in search of "more modern methods than could be found in Baltimore [public] schools."
The techniques are not revolutionary. The Calvert program is very tightly prescribed. Teachers aren't told to "cover what you can" of a vast curriculum. They must cover a detailed body of material. There aren't a lot of fads and frills. The Calvert philosophy now -- and 96 years ago, before the curriculum began spreading to home teachers in every corner of the globe -- is that it is never too early to begin instruction.
What is most fascinating about this partnership is that it involves an "elite" private school doing its thing for many years and an inner-city public school with all of its attendant problems. If a curriculum can be successfully transplanted from the former to the latter, it tells us that there is fertile educational ground in all Baltimore neighborhoods.