A mission to transform Baltimore’s beaten schools

For years, this city had one of the worst school systems in the country. Fewer than half its students graduated, enrollment had fallen precipitously and proficiency levels were far below the national average, reports the New York Times. In 2007, the school board hired Andres Alonso, a Cuban immigrant with a Harvard degree and strong views on how to change things. In three years, he pushed through a sweeping reorganization of the school system, closing failing schools, slashing the central office staff by a third and replacing three-quarters of all school principals.

Not everyone likes Dr. Alonso’s methods, and many find that his brassy self-confidence can grate. But few are arguing with his results. Since he was hired, the dropout rate has fallen by half, more students are graduating and for the first time in many years, the system has gained students instead of losing them. For Baltimore, such bragging rights are rare, given that it has lost more than a third of its population since the 1960s, as the middle class–both white and black–has fled to wealthier, safer suburbs.

“We were just about as low as we could be,” said Mary Pat Clarke, chairwoman of the education committee for the Baltimore City Council. “He blew into town with a suitcase full of ideas. Now the school system’s in motion.”

The city is a particularly stark laboratory for urban school reforms. It is a fraction of the size of New York, where Dr. Alonso was a deputy to Chancellor Joel I. Klein, and more troubled than Washington, whose many private schools and status as the nation’s capital have complicated overhaul efforts…

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