A year ago, candidate Parris N. Glendening typically hedged when asked whether he supported Maryland's ambitious public school reform effort. Having won office and taken stock of the state of education in Maryland, he has now signed on. At a press conference last week, he announced his own education initiatives and put his stamp on the reform process.
There will be some new money, including $10 million to be proposed in the fiscal 1997 budget to reward schools that show improvements in student performance. But the bigger news is simply that Governor Glendening now has his name on the TTC reform process, ensuring that the five-year effort will stay on course. That public commitment is crucial to its success.
Public school reform is no easy task, as has been amply demonstrated by the strained relations between state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the Maryland State Teachers Association. Governor Glendening, who freely admits that he dislikes confrontational politics, is justly proud of encouraging a warming trend in that relationship. If it continues, the results should be beneficial all around.
The real drama of the Glendening announcement came beforehand and behind the scenes. Even so, his school initiatives are welcome. He has tackled the tricky issue of whether to spend money for new school buildings or renovate old ones, rightly coming down on the side of renovations extensive enough to truly modernize these existing facilities. When people can take pride in their neighborhood schools, they are less tempted to more farther out into the suburbs. That, in turn, lessens the pressures on outlying counties to shift limited resources away from existing public schools to build new ones.
The governor also recognizes the value of a carrot as well as a stick. Currently, the state releases the names of schools that score poorly and show declining performances in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program and can call for their reconstitution. But there has been no comparable effort to publicize and reward high-performing or sharply improving schools, in large part because legislators haven't wanted to spend the money. Now that a new governor has made it a priority, the reward system has a better chance of getting off the ground.