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Few changes in city since 1974; Strike: Twenty-five years have passed since Baltimore teachers walked off the job over deplorable conditions in schools. Is the situation any better today?


FEBRUARY MARKS the 25th anniversary of the city's longest (and most recent) teachers' strike, an ordeal that virtually closed city schools -- though they were declared open -- for the bleak second month of 1974.

Even though the walkout ended with a whimper -- the fragile partnership of rival unions could not sustain it -- and the teachers gained little financially for their trouble, in some ways February 1974 was a proud month.

The strike was not primarily about wages, although city salary scales trailed most others in Maryland. Most teachers had simply had it with large classes -- enrollment was 90,000 more than it is in 1999 -- inadequate supplies, a shortage of textbooks, crumbling buildings and condescending attitudes at 25th Street school headquarters.

"These teachers," says John T. Nolan, then a leader in the Public School Teachers Association, "some with 25 and 35 years of service, risked their careers by walking a picket line because they believed it was the only way left to protest the deplorable conditions."

Ninety percent of the teachers stayed out, and an amazing 85 percent of the city's parents kept their children home while officials maintained a monthlong fiction that they were holding classes as usual. (City officials feared losing state aid if they closed the schools.)

Parents were keenly aware of conditions in the schools, and many of them, children in tow, walked picket lines with teachers. At John Ruhrah Elementary School in Southeast Baltimore, neighborhood families opened their homes to the strikers. All across town, sympathetic principals offered coffee, doughnuts and support.

If nothing else, the strike made a statement -- and delivered it forcefully to city and state leaders. It brought parents and teachers closer together than they have been since.

Has anything changed?

Sadly, not enough, says Nolan, who attends an annual reunion of strikers from Frankford Elementary. "The conditions we protested 25 years ago were never fully addressed by succeeding city and school administrations, and today we're losing yet another generation of students."

A postscript: A scattering of strike veterans are working in Baltimore schools, and some are in management. Karl Boone, the PSTA president, became a principal and works in the central administration, with headquarters now on North Avenue. Ian Cohen and Andrea R. Bowden, teachers arrested on picket lines in separate incidents, are, respectively, principal of the prestigious Polytechnic Institute and head of the city's math and science programs.

City opens health clinic at Northwestern High

The city opened another school health clinic Monday at Northwestern High School. This one was made possible by a coalition of Northwest community groups and parents, and a federal grant makes it possible to hire six full-time health professionals.

The clinic is the 18th to be established in city schools, 12 by the city Health Department. Students at Northwestern will get a full range of health services -- mental health care, physicals, drug counseling, immunizations, sports physicals, treatment for minor illnesses and injuries and help in "family planning."

At the tone, the time won't be correct, anyway

The Y2K problem shouldn't bother school clocks. Urged on by a curious Education Beat reader, we've surveyed dozens of schools informally, and we've concluded that displaying the correct time is a rare happening in American education.

This isn't about clocks being, say, 15 minutes slow or fast. It's about a clock in the first grade showing 4: 30 p.m. at 9 a.m., while the clock in the third grade next door shows 11: 45 p.m. And the clock in the next room has been stopped at 12: 02 a.m. for 32 years.

No one seems particularly upset by this untimely situation. One thing about it: If Y2K creates clock chaos in the early hours of 2000, few in education will be able to tell the difference.

Few math textbooks prove adequate in middle school

City schools are about to spend $10 million on mathematics textbooks, so it was useful to hear about a study by the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science that rated a dozen middle school math books and found only four satisfactory.

The inadequate books cover too many topics for too long and in little depth, the AAAS says. The four satisfactory books are "Connected Mathematics" from Dale Seymour Publications; "Mathematics in Context" from Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corp.; "MathScope" from Creative Publications; and "Middle Grades Math Thematics" from McDougal Littell.

Found wanting are books from some of the best-known publishers: Harcourt Brace, Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, D. C. Heath and Prentice Hall.

City College sending five to debate in tournament

Five students from City College will be going to Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 20, to compete in the Harvard Student Congress invitational debate tournament.

Debate, a tradition at City dating to 1878, was discontinued in the late 1960s but reactivated 2 1/2 years ago with a grant from the Abell Foundation.

City debaters making the trip are Jonathan Akchin, Eleina Quaffai, Krystin Weaver, Eugene Fulton and former city school board student member Shannon Christmas.

Pub Date: 2/10/99

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