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Contrasting studies

Colleges and UniversitiesArtIslamUniversity of Maryland, College Park

When a Quaker merchant named Johns Hopkins left $7 million in a will to found a hospital and a university in his name, few could have imagined the legacy of that investment would include historic breakthroughs in medicine and physics (as evidenced by a lengthy list of Nobel Prize winners), the education of a president (Woodrow Wilson) and an NAACP president (Kweisi Mfume), and the starting point for writers (Russell Baker, John Barth) and a billionaire-turned-mayor (Michael Bloomberg).

On a small portion of Hopkins' former estate sits Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, a city public school. Unlike the august institutions whose beginnings Hopkins bankrolled, the high school suffers from a high dropout rate, SAT scores more than 30 percent lower than the national and state averages and violence.

Such is the paradox of education in Maryland.

A scan of state students' performance on standardized tests in 2003 yields a predictably mixed bag, one shaken up by demographics and economics. College-bound seniors come up just short of the national average on SAT scores (1024, to 1026), while tests taken by kids in grades one through 12 show the usual results: Those in affluent counties perform much better than their poor counterparts in Baltimore City and in certain Washington suburbs (although there are fluctuations within counties).

For many children in inner-city Baltimore and other economically challenged and racially segregated areas on the Eastern Shore and in Prince George's County, near Washington, just getting a diploma can be a challenge.

With a dropout rate among African-American males close to 50 percent, Baltimore City high schools are often labeled "under performing." In response to the problem, the state education department took over the schools from the city government in 1997. Scores on standardized statewide tests have increased in the city since then -- a sign that perhaps the trend can be reversed.

Some city schools have a long standing reputation for academic excellence. Baltimore City College boasts a humanities program and an international baccalaureate program that are matched by few urban public schools in the country. The third oldest public high school still operating in the United States, City College has educated two former Maryland governors (Marvin Mandel and William Donald Schaefer), some famous authors (Russell Baker and Leon Uris), the father of chlorinated drinking water (Abel Wolman) and a sports executive (John Schuerholz of the Atlanta Braves) since it opened in 1839.

On the city's north side, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Western High School share a complex. Both schools are known for their outstanding programs. Poly turned out football star Antonio Freeman. Western, the oldest public all-female school in the country, educated Hadassah Hospital founder Henrietta Szold.

The Baltimore School for the Arts, a downtown magnet that draws talented musicians, thespians and visual artists from around the metro area, opened in the 1980s and has already graduated a handful of famous alumni, including Tupac Shakur and Jada Pinkett Smith.

In addition to the city's comprehensive public high schools, plenty of private schools with long histories have educated Baltimore's upper crust. The Gilman School, named after Johns Hopkins University's first president, offers kindergarten through 12th grade education for boys, while nearby Bryn Mawr and Roland Park Country School enroll girls. Calvert School, a K-8 facility, has had its curriculum -- known for integrating lessons together according to subject matter -- adopted by home-schooling networks, and has helped revive Barclay Elementary, a public school that serves many poor children in Waverly.

Schools across the state with regal, pastoral names like Garrison Forest, Georgetown Prep, Maple Shade, McDonogh, Park and Sidwell Friends offer education for the well-to-do Marylanders. For those who are forced by economics to use public schools, the highest-ranked among them are those in the wealthier counties of Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery.

Howard and Montgomery share the highest composite SAT averages -- nearly 1,100 per student. Howard, a booming county whose high housing prices can partly be attributed to its successful classrooms, features many relatively new schools with state-of-the-art theaters and labs. Older, more established Montgomery includes Montgomery Blair High School, which Goldie Hawn, Sylvester Stallone and Ben Stein attended. Schools in Baltimore County's northern section tally high on all tests and draw students from a wide socioeconomic mix.

Religious schools provide another option. Statewide, there are 40 Catholic schools, including Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti, which offers advanced placement courses. Its students score above the national and state SAT averages. More than 30 schools serve the Jewish community -- most of them in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs -- while six Muslim schools teach the Koran along with academics, including the Muslim Community School in the tony Washington suburb of Potomac.

The state's 14 public colleges and universities include four historically black institutions -- Morgan State and Coppin State universities, in Baltimore, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, in Princess Anne, and Bowie State University, outside Washington, D.C.

The majority of the nearly 300,000 higher education students in the state attend publicly funded schools, which include 16 community colleges. The state's flagship, the University of Maryland, has an enrollment of 35,000 students and is in College Park, near Washington. Many of its professional schools -- including dental, law, library science and medical -- can be found on its downtown Baltimore campus, which also includes the University of Maryland Hospital Center. A satellite campus just outside the city -- the University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- has begun to earn a reputation as a research and science school. It also boasts one of the top chess programs in the country.

Just north of Baltimore, Towson University graduates teachers, artists and a diverse mix of liberal arts grads. In Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy teaches 4,000 undergraduates annually.

The state also has numerous venerable private institutions, academic home to 50,000 students per year. St. John's College, also in Annapolis, concentrates on the classics and Greek scholarship, while schools such as Goucher College, north of Baltimore, focus on liberal arts. Among its faculty are acclaimed novelist Madison Smartt Bell. , another historic institution, in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore, emphasizes liberal arts and each year awards the Sophie Kerr Prize -- a $60,000 gift to a student for exceptional literary talent.

Considered one of the top art schools in the country, the Maryland Institute College of Art dominates a three-block stretch of Baltimore's downtown (including a beautiful former rail station), while the Peabody Institute trains top-notch classical musicians.

While Baltimore may not compare to Atlanta or Boston as far as college towns go, its dozen outposts of higher education have done much to develop the city's impressive intellectual culture. Some of the students who attend Johns Hopkins and the state's other universities may even choose to make their homes here in Maryland.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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