- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

BALTIMORE — The Maryland school board yesterday used the muscle of the federal No Child Left Behind Act to justify taking over four failing Baltimore high schools and to order the city to find a third party to run seven poorly performing middle schools.

Edward Root, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, said Maryland cannot allow long-running failures in local leadership “to handicap a generation of students for life, relegating them to the bottom of the economic rungs of our society.”

“It’s time for the state’s frustration with the lack of progress, the failure to deal with problems more seriously in a timely manner, to be expressed in action. Today is that day,” he said at a state school board meeting in Baltimore.

The board voted to empower the state to put a third-party entity, such as a nonprofit group, in charge of turning four high schools around academically. That organization would report directly to the state.

The city will be allowed to find third-party management for the seven middle schools. Those schools also could be run under a charter school system.

The board’s decision would be in effect for the next school year.

State and local officials have been wrangling for years over control of Baltimore’s troubled school system, which has been plagued by poor test scores and deteriorating buildings.

The issue is highly charged in this political year, pitting Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, against Mayor Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick dismissed any suggestion that the board’s decision was politically motivated. She said the problems with Baltimore schools have spanned three governors and could continue through the administrations of three more.

“Whatever action may be ever taken related to any school system in this state, there will always be a governor and there will be always be a mayor,” Mrs. Grasmick said.

Mrs. Grasmick said the board’s move yesterday was “among the most significant actions we’ve ever taken” because it is the result of a long history of trying to address academic shortcomings in Baltimore.

The 11 schools affected by the board’s decision have had very poor test scores for years.

“We cannot allow students to be denied an adequate education because a system is not providing quality instruction,” Mrs. Grasmick said after the board’s vote.

James Kraft, a member of the City Council, described the vote as “an unprecedented move.”

“Ms. Grasmick’s actions are absolutely unnecessary in light of the Baltimore city public school system and [city] school board’s significant efforts to improve the city’s school facilities and student performance,” Mr. Kraft said.

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