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Time to get tough

January 27, 1999

What happens when you threaten a misbehaving child with punishment but never follow through on those threats? As anyone who's ever been a parent will tell you, the child's behavior doesn't improve and may even get worse.

That's how we felt this week when we heard that Nancy Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent of schools, is giving the schools which have been on the state's list of poorly performing educational institutions another year to shape up. During that time, Grasmick said she'll ask the General Assembly for cash to hire expert instructors to help schools improve teaching skills and test performance.

The problem that we have with this approach is that some of the schools on Grasmick's list have been there since 1993. This "get tough" strategy is way overdue, and Grasmick should have begin putting together a plan to respond to the problem a long time ago.

Grasmick and other officials explained that they had hoped that the mere threat of a state takeover would prompt teachers and principals in poorly performing schools to shape up. In 1994, two Baltimore schools were warned that they were in imminent danger of takeover, and for a while, things seemed to improve.

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Unfortunately, it was only temporary. Attendance and promotion rates rose, but test scores continued to drop, leading a Baltimore child-advocacy group to complain that the time the schools spent on probation was just "extra years of no results."

In Baltimore, Grasmick says, schools need an extra year's time to improve because they're operating under a new "master plan" written after the city yielded partial control to Maryland in 1997 in exchange for additional $250 million in state funding.

We say enough is enough. Baltimore and the other school districts around the state which have had six years to improve need an example. Find the worst of the bad schools, can the staff and have the state take over. When the prospect of losing one's job becomes a real possibility as opposed to an oft-repeated threat, we'll bet everybody's performance will improve.

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