Bad Deal in Baltimore

by

Wall Street Journal
OPINION REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Progressives and unions gut a charter-school reform.

May 18, 2015 6:37 p.m. ET

The Baltimore riots produced national lamentations about urban poverty, but don’t expect much to be done about it. Witness how the Maryland legislature gutted a charter-school reform that could have offered an escape for poor children.
Baltimore schools are some of the worst in the country. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a mere 14% of Baltimore fourth graders and 16% of eighth graders were proficient in reading. One in four students fails to graduate from high school. This is a disgrace.

Many states have used charter schools as an alternative to let educators operate without the rules that favor teacher tenure and other protections over student learning in failing schools. But Maryland’s chartering law is one of the stingiest. It makes local school boards the sole chartering authority, and they see charters as competition. The state also limits the freedom of charter schools to innovate and demand high performance.
Baltimore has successes such as KIPP schools among its 31 charter schools teaching some 11,000 students, though those are remarkably small numbers for a city its size. In 2013 New York City had 70,000 students in 183 charter schools, rising to 210 for 2015-2016. More than 11,000 Maryland students are on charter waiting lists. That’s because, even with the state’s restrictions, charter students outperform those in traditional public schools in 4th and 8th grade reading and 8th grade math.
The tragedy is that last week Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill that leaves the city’s relatively few charter schools under the sway of the teachers unions. The new Governor’s original plan would have allowed charters to operate outside union collective-bargaining agreements, given charter operators greater autonomy over staffing and improved the state’s funding formula.
Those goals died at the hands of Democrats who dominate the state legislature, in particular state senator and former teachers union member Paul Pinsky. One of the first reforms killed was a measure to give charters the choice of participating in a collective-bargaining agreement. So charters must continue to answer to unions for work rules, tenure, even pay.
The reform victories that survived are modest. If a charter school has a good track record for five years, it can request exemptions from “textbook, instructional program, professional development and scheduling requirements.” How generous—a mere five-year wait to design a better curriculum. The law also requires the school district to let teachers transfer to charters if they want to go, and gives charters more control over the assignment of school principals.
Meanwhile, the Center for Education Reform notes that the law takes away much of the State Board of Education’s power to review local school-district actions on charters and makes it harder for the Governor to shape policy through appointments to the board. Under the new law, no plan for a charter school “may be construed to take precedence over an agreement of a local bargaining unit in a local school system.”
All of this reflects the power that government unions have over Democrats in Maryland, one of the country’s most left-leaning states. It also reveals the disconnect between the left’s rhetoric on poverty and its refusal to change the policies and practices that destroy economic opportunity. Look for another generation of education failure in Baltimore, and more riots down the road.

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