By andrei Blakely
BALTIMORE – After six years of analyzing schools turning in unsatisfactory test results and poor attendance records, the Maryland State Department of Education has found 93 schools that could be handed over to private corporations for improvement.
Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, Wednesday toured the first three schools to turn private. The mandatory privatization by the state is believed to be the first in the nation.
Those schools may end up being models for the 93 schools found to perform below the satisfactory level for the state. If the listed schools continue to decline, or if the model schools are very successful, more public schools could be turned over to private corporations.
All three newly privatized schools are under the control of Edison Schools Inc., a New York-based charter school company. All three are elementary schools in Baltimore: Gilmor, Furman L. Templeton and Montebello. Each of the schools’ performance and attendance declined.
“We’re hoping, unlike Baltimore City, that the state doesn’t have to make this decision (in other jurisdictions),” said Grasmick. “We are saying to school systems that this has some potential. We had to take the first bold step. I could not see conscience-wise about 1,500 students who were not getting an education.”
Most of the 93 schools eligible for privatization are in Baltimore, but 13 are in Prince George’s County and one school is in Anne Arundel County.
Grasmick said the other school systems are taking steps to avoid being privatized.
For example, in August school principals in Prince George’s County criticized a decision by Iris T. Metts, county school superintendent, to cut the comprehensive school improvement fund. The cut moved money to “high poverty schools” and cut teacher positions at other more affluent schools.
Howard Burnett, Metts’ executive assistant, said some of the listed Prince George’s County schools have shown improvement. County officials do not expect privatization to occur, he said.
“There are no expectations that we won’t meet the established scores,” said Burnett.
Part of the problem in Prince George’s is there is not enough state funding for schools, Burnett said.
“I don’t think you would find anyone who believes enough funding is available,” he said.
None of the jurisdictions with schools in danger of privatization wants such a takeover, so it’s not a decision the state made hastily.
“During the six years schools were being named as eligible, most research said to allow the schools five years (to show improvement),” said Peiffer.
Elementary schools in Baltimore have an average attendance of about 91 percent, while the state average is 95 percent. None of the students at Furman L. Templeton produced a satisfactory score on the reading section of the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program test.
Initially, the teacher’s union and the schools’ community protested privatization and the union attempted to block it in court. The union attempt was overruled in August, and neighbors now say they’re satisfied with Edison’s progress.
“I think there is hope for our kids and parents,” said Blondelia Edwards, an advocate for special needs children. “We think our children will learn. It is a new year for us.”
During the tours, Grasmick was impressed with the schools’ progress after only a few months work.
Edison Schools was founded in the early 90s and has become one of the leaders in the private operation of schools. The company runs about 79 schools across the country.
The Edison Schools curriculum focuses on parental involvement and technology. It has discipline that is grounded in teaching accountability. The company gets $7,460 per student from the state for the three schools, however the company spent $1.2 million improving Gilmor alone, said Dwight Jones, company spokesman.
The state has a five-year contract with Edison. The progress of the program will be analyzed after three years.