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Maryland schools called models of Clinton's ideas for improving education; State has implemented accountability reform


The seeds of school accountability and improvement that President Clinton attempted to plant in his State of the Union message this week are already sprouting in Maryland, recognized these days as a national leader in education reform.

Threatening the loss of federal dollars, the president called for ending social promotions, helping the lowest-performing schools, issuing report cards on every school, improving teacher preparedness, reducing class size, adopting discipline policies and building and renovating schools.

"They are very familiar for us, but not for every state," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who has spearheaded many of the reforms in Maryland. "I think they are on target. We cannot permit failures for children."

Said Christopher Cross, president of the Council of Basic Education in Washington and past president of the Maryland State Board of Education: "Maryland has dealt with, and confronted, all of these issues."

The president's plan "is building on the efforts of Maryland and a few other states," he said.

Holding schools and school systems accountable has been a guiding principle in school improvement in Maryland for the past decade. It is the basis for the Maryland School Performance Program, which sets standards and holds all schools responsible for meeting them.

Based on the 1998 results of that program's tests, the Maryland State Board of Education will add next week to its list of 90 failing schools across the state.

This program, too, fits in with the president's plan, which charges states to identify poorly performing schools and change them. If those schools do not improve within two years, the states should exercise some sanction, including closure, he said.

Maryland's state board does not have the power to close schools, said Cross, adding that he advocated such a sanction when he headed the state board. The state can take over schools, though it has not done so.

A recent national assessment of school accountability cited Maryland of six states that have all the elements in place to make schools truly accountable -- tests, school report cards, rewards, sanctions, identification of poorly performing schools and assistance for those schools.

The study was conducted by the trade journal Education Week.

Grasmick said the president's proposed financial support for his initiatives would bolster programs under way here.

For instance, as an antidote to social promotion -- sending students to the next grade even if they do not pass -- the president is recommending after-school and summer classes and effective remedial plans started as soon as problems crop up. For this he proposed $600 million, three times current spending.

"I'm really excited about that. We're in the process of developing a K-12 prevention plan because you can't just move students on. This would give us funding to do that," Grasmick said.

Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers' Association, said Maryland is "way ahead of the curve" on many of the initiatives. He cited the group's work with state education officials on instituting a new, more rigorous test for new teachers and a forthcoming look at how well discipline regulations are being followed.

Cross said that the thoroughness of the president's plan was both its strength and its weakness. "It's a pretty comprehensive set of initiatives, but there are too many initiatives. The reality is that you cannot accomplish all of this," he said.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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