Diversity and choice key for city schools

We share the editorial view that outgoing Baltimore City Schools CEO Andrés Alonso created a strong platform to sustain ongoing improvement in our schools ("School reform 2.0," May 12). But the editorial's call for more standardization around the system is off the mark.

Instead, we urge the system to use this moment to engage parents, school leaders and others in a discussion about how we define a high-quality school. What does a good school look like and how do we measure it?

In some ways, we know a good school when we see it: children are loved for who they are and challenged to be their very best. But the type of instruction and programming may vary widely at good schools, and that's appropriate.

Measuring student progress through testing is one component of assessing schools. But high-quality schools undertake ongoing reviews of student work, create a collaborative teacher culture, have engaged parents, and are led by strong principals and staff who can articulate and implement a clear mission.

Insisting on high standards is critical to upgrading more of our schools, but not standardization. Under Mr. Alonso, the school system has implemented policies that recognize the value of diversity. Now, parents citywide have choices for where to send their children to middle and high school. And a wide range of public charters and other contract schools give parents options with many of them showing the ability to close the achievement gap between white and black students.

We hope the school system will use this time between CEOs to engage in a conversation with school leaders, parents and others to find out if their needs are being met.

The new school construction plan offers a great opportunity to get community input because school buildings are a physical manifestation of what we value in education. Let's also talk to parents on waiting lists for public charter schools. This demographically representative sample of parents can help the system understand which sorts of models are most attractive and why.

The people of Baltimore know what they want in education; they are smart, loyal to the city and eager for its schools to continue their progress. It's time to engage them to make sure that progress is maintained.

Carol Beck and Jocelyn Kehl, Baltimore

The writers are affiliated with Supporting Public Schools of Choice.