Test time for Amprey and Schmoke Management crisis: Mayor's memo is not enough; state looks for proof of change.


CITY SCHOOLS Superintendent Walter G. Amprey Jr. says "we are doing everything we can and should do" in his management of a school system in which too many students are simply not learning. If he really believes that, then there seems little likelihood he can satisfy state officials -- or Maryland taxpayers -- who are increasingly impatient with under-performing schools.

From the state schools chief, Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, to city-based legislators like Del. Howard P. Rawlings and Sen. Barbara Hoffman, state officials are looking for concrete results, not assertions that small changes in test scores prove the system is headed in the right direction. There is too much evidence to the contrary, from failure to make full use of grant funds (and having to return several million dollars to the state), to failure to follow through on promises of management changes or even to keep track of enrollment.

As for Mr. Schmoke, an internal memo leaked to The Sun suggests he may finally be getting serious about correcting the system's well-known management deficiencies. Unfortunately, the mayor has declined to specify any consequences for failing to correct these problems, and Dr. Amprey's public responses do not suggest a new urgency in addressing them.

The mayor's promise of "a report card" by Christmas is no substitute for true accountability. But without consequences for management failures and with little sense of urgency at the top, how can Mayor Schmoke or anybody else expect to move a system often hobbled by bureaucracy, red tape and sheer inertia?

The governance of public schools inevitably becomes a political issue -- and that's not always bad. Today's taxpayers are demanding value for their money and, as things now stand, their representatives in Annapolis have good reason to be wary of committing more money to a school system that cannot make efficient use of the funds it already has.

The most disturbing messages from Dr. Amprey and his hTC colleagues at the system's North Avenue headquarters are the assertions -- no, excuses -- that poor outcomes for city students are due not to failures of the school system but to the problems children bring with them to class. That is nothing but shifting the blame.

At the Barclay School and many other bright spots around the city, too many children are excelling despite enormous odds. City kids can learn. Given a sound curriculum and well-trained teachers they can even excel -- provided adults are determined that accountability throughout the system is based on what happens in classrooms, not on ambitions and intrigues at North Avenue and City Hall.

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