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Op-ed

Morgan State University center to focus on eliminating educational disparities in Baltimore and beyond | GUEST COMMENTARY

It is no exaggeration to say that at this moment, education across the nation is in crisis. COVID-19 has further exposed the huge deficiencies and inequities in America’s K–12 education. Widespread teacher shortages, falling enrollments, learning losses in core curriculum areas and mental health challenges have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Baltimore, like all of the nation’s great cities, must face the challenge of re-imagining schooling now and into the future. COVID-19, unlike any other public health crisis in modern history, placed life in our urban spaces on pause and forced us to consider why specific populations were underserved in pre-pandemic times. Our collective timeout allowed us the critical opportunity to examine the substandard “normal” that preceded COVID and to use the knowledge gained to benefit our residents, and particularly our children, by constructing a new paradigm: an improved, equitable and mutually beneficial “new normal.”

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This moment also presents an opportunity to construct a Baltimore in which equity guides our public and private decision-making and is at the center of a new economy that embraces the power of our city’s diversity. The role of public education in the development of a re-imagined, more equitable Baltimore is paramount.

On the corner of East Cold Spring Lane and Hillen Road, Morgan State University stands with a community of scholars, students and alumni who are optimistic about Baltimore’s future and who are eager to contribute to its transformation. Guided by our School of Education and Urban Studies, Morgan is poised to launch the National Center for the Elimination of Educational Disparities (NCEED), a cooperative education innovation center committed to addressing the needs of pre-school and school-age populations and their families. Hardly a disconnected ivory tower research center, NCEED will be a community-centric, high-touch-point hub focused on the practical challenges facing children in Baltimore.

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To advance this mission and elevate today’s discourse on education beyond classroom theory and political rhetoric, we need a true catalyst for innovation. NCEED’s pilot initiative, the Family, Student and Teacher Academic Resilience (fSTAR) project, is one example of the transformative work we are initiating within our city’s public school system to strengthen family and community engagement in education. NCEED will employ a multidisciplinary approach to such areas as the development of teacher cultural competence; preparation of leaders for urban schools; literacy; social and emotional well-being; curriculum; and family and community engagement, all of which have been shown to be critical to student success. NCEED represents the scaling-up of Morgan’s existing commitment to Baltimore and, equally important, will be a springboard for national action.

We are inspired by the presence of our dynamic young city leaders, who have shown their ability and their will to elevate Baltimore’s children and families. We must now inspire all sectors of the public to forge effective partnerships to resolve the systemic deficiencies that result in long held, generational educational disparities. For far too long, we have placed an unfair burden upon our public schools, when many of the solutions lie outside of school systems. And with the new academic year just weeks away, the State Board of Education faces critical workforce shortages in nearly every job category. This, coupled with the other challenges mentioned above, make the data we are examining related to pandemic losses among K–12 students all the more alarming and demand that we reinvest in our children’s future now.

The large disparities, nationwide, in children’s school achievement by race and socioeconomic status, as measured by test scores, are cause for great concern and immediate action. The data are disconcerting:

  • Fourth grade reading scores of children in high-poverty schools were 34 points lower than the scores of children in low-poverty schools;
  • 4th grade math scores of children in high-poverty schools were 27 points lower than the scores of low-poverty schools;
  • High school graduation rates for Black students are 9% lower than for white students;
  • And average math scores for Black 13-year-olds were 25 points lower than for their white counterparts.

Most alarming is that for the 4th, 8th and 12th grade, reading scores declined from 2017 to 2019, the year of the latest NAEP assessment (NCES Data: Report on the Condition of Education, 2021). These disparities in educational outcomes are but a snippet of a bigger picture of the widening gaps that not only hurt underserved BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) children and families but threaten all sectors of our society. The establishment of NCEED reflects Morgan’s commitment to address the needs and challenges of the modern urban environment and, in doing so, to develop an equitable society in which no child’s potential is limited by their race or ZIP code.

NCEED’s goal is clear: We are intent on changing the deficit narrative concerning our city’s potential by making a foundational investment in its future, thereby ensuring that our children are truly college and career ready and that their families are equipped with the resources to support their aspirations.

Glenda Prime is dean of the School of Education and Urban Studies at Morgan State University, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her email address is glenda.prime@morgan.edu.


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