Change in the Baltimore City Public School System began in 1997, with a new city/state partnership, the adoption of a master plan for improving the system, increased state funding and labor-management teamwork.
Maryland state officials believed that a district governance change would be a first step toward addressing the fundamental problems within the system, at the forefront of which was its dismal student performance record. The Maryland State Legislature adopted a law creating a "partnership" between the state, city and district, resulting in a new board of commissioners to run the district. The board chose a CEO and also worked with the union to create a five-year master plan for the district, which is revised annually.
The School Improvement Plan
In consultation with the union, the board of commissioners adopted for the 1998-1999 school year the Open Court reading program for early elementary grades and the Houghton-Mifflin program for upper elementary grades. All elementary school teachers were trained in the new programs before the school year began; this training was mandatory, and teachers were paid to attend.
The district’s plan directed attention toward the lowest-performing schools that had shown the greatest need of assistance. In 1998, the district removed its 33 lowest-performing elementary and K-8 schools from their reporting areas, asking each of them to adopt a model reform program in consultation with faculty. Eighteen schools adopted the Direct Instruction program, 13 schools adopted Achievement First and two chose Success for All.
Labor-Management Partnership that Supports School Improvement
In 2000, the board hired a new superintendent who routinely included the union in key decisions about reform and teacher needs in the district. As a result, the union was able to work out specific contract adjustments regarding training, work rules and transfer policies necessary for effective reform.
The district proactively identified 10 low-performing schools, pulling them out of their regular geographic reporting areas, and formed the CEO District. The union negotiated an agreement whereby teachers in these schools would receive compensation for working extended school days and an extended school year, transfer and employment rights, and access to additional professional development activities. The agreement also called for the district to hire certified teachers in these schools before filling vacancies in other schools. One unique feature of this contract agreement was a performance bonus for teachers and paraprofessionals in these 10 schools that formed the CEO District.
Mean test scores increased across the system. For the first time in two decades, the majority of second and third graders scored above the national average on standardized tests, including the California Test of Basic Skills. Also, it was the only district in the state that posted improvements across the board on the Maryland state assessment. Moreover, two Baltimore City Public Schools were removed from the reconstitution eligible list. In addition, the CEO District schools increased their median percentile rankings on the TerraNova in three years, moving from the 28th percentile to the 36th percentile in reading and from the 23rd percentile to the 38th percentile in math.
For more on Baltimore City Public School Systems’ efforts, see also: