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High-achieving city schools' success masks the effects of concentrated poverty [Letter]

Erica Green's recent article on the Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now report is a powerful and no doubt well-deserved endorsement of eight Baltimore City schools ("City's low-income students among highest achievers," May 22).

However, her summary of the report masks differences between the students and communities served by these eight "opportunity schools" and other Baltimore City schools. Most of these schools serve historically stable, working- and middle-class class communities that include both whites and African-Americans.

By contrast, there are some schools in Baltimore where almost 100 percent of the students are eligible for free, as opposed to "reduced price" meals, and who live in areas of highly concentrated poverty with few resources (such as parks, adequate day care, safe streets, etc.) to support their schooling and their families.

Is the same true of the "opportunity" schools and their neighborhoods? In a city with so many families close to or below the poverty line, these distinctions make a difference and should be further explored before drawing sweeping conclusions.

Most importantly, Ms. Green fails to mention the public relations intent of the MDCAN report. In a leap of logic, the report concludes that the way to replicate the success of these excellent schools, only two of which are charters, is to increase the number of charter schools through a change in state law.

The real intent of the glossy and misleading report is to prepare for a forthcoming proposal from MDCAN to significantly alter the Maryland charter law in order to allow large, national charter management organizations into one of the last states in the nation that has resisted their advances.

MDCAN, their parent organization 50CAN, and the venture philanthropists who fund them, all use a narrative that first describes a crisis in public education and then proposes to solve part of the problem through the intervention of private enterprise. This narrative belies the impact of social conditions on school achievement levels, fails to address the needs of all children and sets up a veneer of change based on selective and under-researched success stories.

Helen Atkinson and Eric Rice, Baltimore

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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