Baltimore Schools Chief Andres Alonso is either tough or vindictive, depending on your point of view. Either way, Alonso’s policy of demoting and firing principals of schools with stalled or falling test scores (as well as allegations of cheating) despite satisfactory evaluations has led to 22 city schools beginning the school year without permanent principals.
The adminstrators union characterizes Alonso’s frequent personnel adjustments as “vindictive” and “capricious,” while Alonso defends his accountability measures — which essentially amounts to firing a principal after two our three years of sagging test scores. Now, we all know a personnel change can sometimes make a positive difference in a school, but creating a toxic, paranoid environment by frequent firings is a negative side-effect worth reckoning with. And many problems — especially complicated problems like educating our children — are not more likely to be mastered by merely intensifying the consequences of failure.
It’s clear that when Alonso blew into town in 2007, city schools were worse off than they are now by some key measures — graduation rates, for one — and this was achieved by some dramatic changes — closing schools, replacing principals, etc. — but it seems to me there are limits to the “accountability” solution. For example, Alonso has been here for five years and schools are apparently still not up to his standards, on the whole. How long will he give himself before he fires himself?
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