A nonprofit that raises money and provides support to city schools said Tuesday that students, educators, parents and school system partners are unified in calling for better guidance to help students prepare for college.
In a report based on focus groups and feedback from 225 people, the Fund for Educational Excellence said the city should increase the number of guidance counselors in high schools, give students more access to rigorous course work and tell families — earlier than senior year — about how to apply and pay for college.
Roger Schulman, president and CEO of Fund for Educational Excellence, said findings indicate families see college as a lucrative goal, but are often ill-equipped and uninformed on how to achieve it.
"We heard that academics are critically important, but it is not the whole story," said Schulman.
The report comes on the heels of poor showings by city school students on state assessments and other academic measures reflecting college readiness and success.
Last month the district posted single-digit pass rates on new state assessments aligned to college and career readiness. Other recent data shows the percentage of city students passing advanced placement exams is 29 percent, compared to the statewide average of 56 percent. And in SAT scores. the district saw an increased this year to 1143 out of a possible 2400 — but that's well below the state average score of 1490.
Another study by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium found 72 percent of city students coming out of high school must complete remedial courses to attend college — and only 10 percent receive a degree after six years.
The Fund's report says many students feel academically, socially and emotionally unprepared for college.
Schulman said barriers to college come as early as middle school, when students aren't offered Algebra, or when they desire to go to one of the city's college-preparatory high schools, but don't know how composite scores used for entrance criteria are calculated.
By the end of their high school careers, he said, students often encounter overwhelmed guidance counselors who can't give proper attention to each students' college-application process. That results in some students feeling they are steered in the direction of lower expectations.
"If we think kids aren't noticing that even within schools there are the haves and the have-nots, then we are blind," Schulman said.
Kendall Brewton, a junior at Morgan State University's School of Engineering, said he had to go outside his college-preparatory high school, Polytechnic Institute, to be counseled on financing his education.
Brewton also participated in focus groups where he said other graduates felt academically unprepared.
"A lot of Baltimore City schools don't prepare you for the workload," Brewton said. "Kids continue thinking that they can get through the same way, and that's not the case."
Mike Rennard, an eighth-grade humanities teacher at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School, said his conversations with recent city graduates indicate they need better help to understand the college experience — including such issues as managing meal plans, free time and personal budgets.
"Even the best prepared, they don't have any concrete sense of what it entails, what it involves," Rennard said. "There's a real need for city schools to develop more community partnerships to prepare students for all of these things that are going to be happening to them."
Yolanda Abel, the parent of a Western High School graduate, took her daughter on her first college tour when she was just in eighth grade. Otherwise, Abel said, the girl might not have learned about colleges until her senior year.
"Baltimore city schools waits too long, and it comes too late," Abel said.
Abel said a key recommendation in the Fund for Educational Excellence report calls for the district to provide resources to help parents chart their child's college track, as well as progress reports to mark milestones in their K-12 career.
"I've yet to meet a parent who doesn't want the best for their child," Abel said. "But that gets complicated by the parents' own educational journey and other stresses."