GBC’s Fry: Baltimore City schools making a comeback

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Recent standardized test scores confirm what business leaders who watch Baltimore City schools have instinctively sensed – the city’s public schools are making a comeback.

The Baltimore City Public School System’s 1st and 2nd graders are now meeting or exceeding the national average in math and reading. This is a big deal for a school system where early-grade achievement has routinely languished below the average of their student peers across the country.
It’s yet another encouraging sign that the school system is, indeed, gaining momentum in a systemic reform that will greatly benefit its more than 82,000 students. Other indicators include huge reported growth in school readiness among kindergartners, record progress on high school assessment exams, and the highest graduation rates and lowest dropout rates yet in 2008. Meanwhile, city schools’ 2009 enrollment is up – ending more than 40 years of decline.

What are major factors in this turnaround? The hard work of parents, administrators, teachers and students, according to city schools CEO, Dr. Andres Alonso, who himself deserves credit for courageous leadership since he took office in July 2007.

Dr. Alonso has enthusiastically tackled the difficult work of changing the culture of a troubled school system and engaged leadership and classroom talent that exists at the school level. He’s downsized the system’s bureaucracy. He’s asked school principals, teachers and employees to accept personal responsibility for their system’s outcomes. He has backed it up by channeling resources to schools to accomplish their goals.

Another key element is political unity in support of Dr. Alonso’s “no excuses” management style. Alonso still absorbs his share of community sniping, which comes with being a reformer in Baltimore, but he is able to manage the system his way with the full support of Mayor Dixon, Governor O’Malley and the city’s school board.

Let’s hope this unity of support continues. There’s much remaining to be accomplished in city schools. But it’s amazing what good things can happen when everybody is on the same wave length.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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