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Baltimore schools and the danger of the status quo

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the school system is facing a $129 million deficit in next fiscal year's budget, the largest gap in recent years. (Baltimore Sun video)

I am responding to Helen Atkinson's April 14 commentary, "Public schools anchor communities." In doing this, I am also responding to the many who claim that the only alternatives to an unacceptable status quo are unacceptable privatization schemes, faith in incremental improvement which we've spent a half-century disproving, or levels of spending beyond affordability or reason.

Ms. Atkinson casts a variety of people — the president, members of the state school board and charter advocates — into the same mold, asserting that "bypassing all government constraints" is their goal. Not only do I take issue with such a broad statement, but we must also recognize the inability of anyone to accomplish such goals.

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If we accept her argument, then we fail to recognize other possibilities and ultimately end up endorsing some version of the status quo at the same time we acknowledge its failure. Should we look forward to another 50 years of failure?

Let me address the practical aspects of her arguments as well. Baltimore is clearly underfunded compared to its needs, but it is also true that many comparable school districts in the country do a better job of educating their children for less money.

Twenty-five years ago, as a member of an advisory group for CEO Walter Amprey, I pointed out that children entered Kindergarten scoring above national averages but lost ground year after year in Baltimore's schools. I understand that has not changed a quarter century later.

Fiscal disruption is not as far out of district control as many suggest. Expenses, half of the fiscal equation, are largely within district control. And revenue, while taking difficult and unwarranted hits, is not so far out of district control that one day it wakes up to a $130 million deficit.

To say that charters pick off the most easy-to-teach children is simply wrong. The most recent study of charter school performance is the 2015 Stanford CREDO study which concludes that autonomous charter schools in urban districts make dramatic learning gains with poor and minority children, children from low income families, and children with disabilities relative to gains for children in district schools.

To also suggest that charters educate the "lucky few" does a disservice to the improvements in education made by Baltimore's charter schools. Charters now educate one-sixth of Baltimore's children, hardly a lucky "few." With thousands more on waiting lists, they are doing something right.

Let me suggest that we stop exactly this kind of divisive conversation, recognize that both the district and its charters play a critical role in educating Baltimore's children and help them both get on with it ("The hard lessons of Henderson-Hopkins," March 22).

Ed Rutkowski, Baltimore

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