Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Editorial

A disappointing schools report [Editorial]

Baltimore school officials are putting the best face possible on what can only be called a disappointing performance by city students on a rigorous national exam that tests proficiency in reading and math. Though city students scored small gains in reading, only 14 percent of fourth-graders and 16 percent of eighth-graders were performing at grade-level, while math scores remained flat or declined slightly. Just 13 percent of city eighth-graders and 19 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient on the math exam.

These results show the city's schools still have a long way to go toward graduating students who are fully prepared to succeed in college or the work world and that they are at best barely holding their own in relation to other large urban school systems. A system in which more than four out of five students don't have the skills needed to read, write or solve basic number problems clearly cannot be said to be adequately meeting the needs of the city's school children.

Though city students' overall scores on this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress registered small but statistically significant gains over the last time the test was given in 2011, Baltimore still ranks among the bottom third of large U.S. school systems nationally despite an ambitious school reform effort. In effect, city students are standing still or even falling compared to students in other cities who took the test.

This year's scores put Baltimore behind some systems that serve similarly large populations of low-income, minority and students for whom English is a second language. It's a measure of the slow pace of progress here that the public schools in Washington, whose student demographic profile isn't that different from our own, actually surged ahead of Baltimore just over the last two years.

No one should have any illusions that the city's schools can be turned around overnight or that there is some magic formula that will suddenly produce drastic improvements in standardized test scores. Nor should this year's scores be taken to mean that nothing fundamentally has changed as a result of the reforms introduced over the last six years by former city schools CEO Andrés Alonso.

Many of the structural changes Mr. Alonso put in place, such as closing failing schools and replacing them with new charter and transformation schools, shrinking the school system's headquarters staff in order to devote more resources to individual classrooms and giving principals more authority over budgets and staffing, helped put the schools on a solid foundation for long-term improvement. By urging principals to reduce out-of-school suspensions and develop alternatives to expulsion he also stressed the need to keep students in school where teachers can work with them until they graduate.

But while those reforms were necessary, they weren't by themselves sufficient to achieve the sustained improvement that Mr. Alonso always insisted was the ultimate goal of reform. For that effort to be successful, the school system must also be able to engineer a snowball effect, in which higher quality classroom instruction, improved student attendance rates, greater teacher accountability and modern, well-equipped school buildings combine to build on the momentum generated by structural change.

The modest 4 percent to 6 percent gains city students registered on this year's NAEP exams show that's not happening yet, and educators need to figure out why. This will be the greatest challenge facing the next schools CEO, and the city board of education's search committee ought to be making a point of seeking out candidates with serious, practical ideas about how to address the barriers to achievement that Mr. Alsono's reforms left in place.

The city can never truly prosper nor attract the young families it seeks if it can't do a better job of educating its children. Without in any way denying the great strides that have already been made, Baltimore's future will remain bleak unless it finds a way to provide schools that adequately prepare a vastly larger proportion of its young people than it does now.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Thornton was reckless to keep schools open
    Thornton was reckless to keep schools open

    Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton's decision not to delay or close the schools during Tuesday's1-3 inch snowfall appears misplaced in both time and place. My wife and I attended Baltimore elementary schools in the 1940s when 1-3 inches of snow was commonplace and no need for alarm for...

  • Explanation of city schools deficit doesn't add up
    Explanation of city schools deficit doesn't add up

    Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton has been giving briefings to lawmakers in Annapolis about the system's projected $60 million budget deficit and his plans to tackle it in hopes that they will reverse the $35 million in additional cuts the system faces in Gov. Larry Hogan's budget. But...

  • Council should pay more attention to schools
    Council should pay more attention to schools

    How ironic! Exactly one year ago, City Council members "were shocked" by school violence. How well I recall the sickening accounts of attacks on teachers.

  • Restore money to city schools
    Restore money to city schools

    Baltimore City government seems to have a solid and lengthy history of giving tax breaks and incentives (TIFs and PILOTs) to developers of downtown and waterfront property such as Harbor East ("Developing Baltimore at the expense of its children," Feb. 13). For some reason, the Democratic-led...

  • Out-of-wedlock births are the problem
    Out-of-wedlock births are the problem

    Any bright intern could tell us the "scope of the problem" involving school discipline for African-American kids ("Overpoliced and underprotected," Feb. 16). The issue is, what is the root cause? And the answer is way too many kids born to unwed mothers who are either overworked and/or into...

  • Baltimore needs Hogan's charter school reform law
    Baltimore needs Hogan's charter school reform law

    As a longtime supporter of public education in Baltimore City and elsewhere, I believe the Public Charter School Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015 now before the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates will benefit thousands of underserved students in our state ("New effort underway to...

  • Md. schools deserve better
    Md. schools deserve better

    In a recent commentary, Del. Herb McMillan of Anne Arundel County accuses Democrats, including myself, of spreading "fear tactics" regarding Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed K-12 education spending for next year ("Liberal Md. Dems: The sky is falling," Feb. 5).

  • State aid to schools is up overall
    State aid to schools is up overall

    While I don't take issue with the numbers in your article on state aid to Baltimore City schools, the story is misleading because it does not clearly state what the overall budget numbers will be for the schools between this year and next ("Baltimore's development boom leads to loss in school...

Comments
Loading