ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 14 -- Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced the formation of a commission today to evaluate schools throughout the state and recommend ways to improve performance of individual schools as well as whole school systems.
The 12-member commission, to be headed by longtime Schaefer intimate Walter Sondheim, former president of the Baltimore school board, will examine test scores, demographics, truancy and dropout rates and then offer what Schaefer described as "constructive criticism" of weaker schools.
Schaefer said the commission's work would not result in a reduction in state funds to healthy schools, but he said he could not say whether more state funds would be targeted to needy school systems. The governor said he discussed the formation of the commission with several local school superintendents and found no resistance to increased state oversight in local education.
"They're going to come up with some tough stuff," Schaefer said of the commission. "If I was a secure superintendent, I'd say come on in, take a look, see what you can do, give us a hand."
Sondheim, an adviser to Schaefer who was instrumental in the development of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, said the commission's task will be to look beyond statistical averages that can mask deficiencies in a particular school or school district. He said the commission would try, for example, to show educators at poorly performing schools what they can learn from more successful schools with similar student populations.
"We're not planning to go around pointing the finger at anyone," said Sondheim. The commission would travel a "very, very narrow path, a very touchy path."
State School Superintendent David W. Hornbeck said the commission's work would reveal "our warts" but said that addressing school problems such as illiteracy and high dropout rates is necessary if they are to be solved.
The dropout rate in Baltimore, the state's most troubled system, is more than 40 percent, one of the highest in the nation.
Schaefer acknowleged that he made a mistake earlier this year by trying to study and overhaul the beleagured Baltimore school system. City and school officials viewed it as state interference in local affairs and rebuffed the effort, choosing instead to have their own study done of the school system.
The governor subsequently created a task force to target $600,000 in special state funds to elementary and secondary schools in six poor rural counties.
School officials in Baltimore said today they welcomed the commission's help. "We have confidence that a project of this sort headed by Walter Sondheim will have the greatest integrity," said Edmonia Yates, deputy school superintendent. "This study should shed light on the needs as well as the strengths of Baltimore's educational system."
Superintendent John A. Murphy of Prince George's County and a member of the commission, said he does not expect resistance from local school districts. "Performance accountability is an issue that has to be dealt with," said Murphy.