Unlimited Access. Try it Today! Your First 10 Days Always $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Keep the faith in Baltimore schools' success

The uphill path of progress is rarely charted in a straight line.

Last week's news that test scores for city students declined, in contrast to steady gains over the prior three years, does not detract from our confidence in the direction of Baltimore City Public Schools — and it should not detract from yours.

Test scores are one part of our measurement of school quality and progress, but we also see ample evidence pointing to a school system that is deeply committed to student improvement and to delivering real results.

We see proof of that commitment in the nonperforming schools that have been closed in order to redirect resources to new schools better suited to support students' learning. We see it in the expansive engagement of parents and community members in our schools. We see it in the choice of schools now available to all middle and high school students, which allows parents to vote with their feet and select the school they believe will be best for their child.

We see it in the rapidly dwindling number of school dropouts: a 60 percent decrease over three short years. We see it in the enrollment numbers, which increased for three successive years — an unprecedented vote of confidence in the public schools by families — following four decades of shrinking enrollments.

We also see it in the greatly expanded pre-kindergarten program that prepares young children for school and creates a pipeline to success. We see it in the creative new options opened up for students who are over-age but still willing to work toward a high school diploma. And we see it in the statistics that show that gains at the high school level have been largely driven by progress among African-American young men, a population often written off by our society — but not by our school system and its current leaders.

But what about this year's test scores?

One year of data does not illustrate a trend. The context in which this year's Maryland School Assessment scores must be viewed is this: Reading scores dropped 3.4 percentage points in the most recent year, but they advanced 12.3 points over the last four years. Math scores showed a one-year decline of 4.9 percentage points but a four-year increase of 13.6 points. We believe the trend of several years shows a positive direction driven by sound strategies and strong leadership.

Baltimore City Public Schools has wisely declined to speculate on specific schools' results before taking a rigorous look at the variables that might have contributed to the test results. We have confidence that the examination of test scores will occur with the same transparency and resolve demonstrated recently when cheating on tests was discovered at several schools.

Baltimore schools CEO Andrés Alonso's strategy has been clear from the outset: empower principals and teachers to perform in an environment that promotes creativity and accountability, and empower parents and students to make informed choices about which principals and teachers are taking best advantage of that freedom. Radical reform of this kind demands a culture change, and it is extraordinary that Baltimore has witnessed significant test score increases in three of the four years of this work.

An unexpected drop in MSA scores, coupled with the discouraging news about cheating on the tests, is undeniably concerning. We look forward to hearing a full explanation from city schools on both counts, after thorough examination of all the data. But we are certain that city schools will perform that examination and explanation while relentlessly pursuing excellence for all our students. We expect, and they deserve, no less.

Diane Bell-McKoy is president and CEO of Associated Black Charities. Mark Fetting is chairman and CEO of Legg Mason Inc. Both are trustees of the Baltimore Community Foundation. Tom Wilcox is president of the Baltimore Community Foundation. His e-mail is twilcox@bcf.org.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Building local capacity to fight epidemics
    Building local capacity to fight epidemics

    The arduous and painful lessons learned from the ongoing Ebola outbreak and other recent epidemics like SARS, MERS, Chikungunya, influenza and of course HIV/AIDS, demonstrate how vulnerable the global community is to viral infections and how rapidly a virus outbreak in one part of the world can...

  • Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope
    Bridging the gap between hopelessness and hope

    It was 50 years ago this month that President Lyndon Johnson traveled to a one-room school house in Stonewall, Texas, where he attended classes, to sign the most expansive piece of federal education legislation ever enacted — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. ESEA was a key part of the...

  • Taking the early presidential plunge
    Taking the early presidential plunge

    With Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio now in active competition for their parties' 2016 presidential nominations, it's guaranteed that voters will be subjected to one of the longest preludes to the actual election yet recorded.

  • Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly
    Maryland agencies should bid their projects fairly

    This winter, Gov. Larry Hogan made a critical move toward improving how Maryland selects its contractors. Faced with several questionable contracts up for approval by the Board of Public Works, the governor joined with Comptroller Peter Franchot to reject proposals that seemed too expensive or...

  • Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)
    Recipe for a good life (Note: It's hard and messy)

    It is a rare privilege, I think, to be privy to the thinking of people, great or small, while they are wrestling with their conscience.

  • Hungry kids can't learn
    Hungry kids can't learn

    If you know me, you know that cake is my life. But as much as I'd love to eat sweets for breakfast every morning, I know I need healthy food to fuel my day. Whether your day involves shaping a cake into a crazy scene from Jaws like mine, working at a bank or fighting fires, we all need breakfast....

Comments
Loading

59°