In the News: Experiment Seeks to Transform Troubled Baltimore Schools as Federal Grants End

As the federal School Improvement Grants program winds down, Tim Prudente of the Baltimore Sun writes about one low-performing school in Baltimore, Mary Rodman Elementary, which is using one of the last grants to be given under the program.

City schools chief Sonja Santelises and her staff decided to pair Rodman and two other troubled schools with Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle in East Baltimore, regarded as one of the system’s best. The teachers will share lessons, visit each others’ classrooms and collaborate with their counterparts across the city.

“This has such powerful potential,” Santelises said. The three schools getting the help from Commodore John Rodgers are among five in the city targeted for overhaul this year through an expiring federal grant program.

In an Education Next feature from last year, “Incomplete Reform in Baltimore,” Ashley Jochim and Betheny Gross looked at how the school district’s once-promising reform efforts seemed to have stalled.

The school funding system is under legal threat, with a group of charter schools suing over alleged underfunding. Fewer than half of the principals at the heart of the decentralized reform strategy remain on the job. Bureaucratic barriers to school autonomy and improvement remain, from costly contract-driven funding obligations to middle-management practices that limit school budget flexibility. Baltimore’s leadership is in flux, with the departure of its latest superintendent in May after less than two years.

Baltimore, at least right now, is a story of incomplete reform, a stark example of the limits of a reform strategy that sought dramatic change while leaving many old political and administrative arrangements in place.

— Education Next

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