The good news out of Baltimore this week is that this isn’t yet another story about their skyrocketing murder rate and intractable gang violence problems. The bad news is that this story definitely doesn’t qualify as “good news” either. In fact, it’s possibly even worse when looking at the big picture.
For the past three years, Maryland has been adhering to a new system of metrics where they measure the performance of their public schools based on a system of standardized tests. To put it charitably, the state is not doing well overall. (Baltimore Sun, emphasis added)
In grades three through eight, 41 percent of students passed the English test, while only a third passed the math assessment. The pass rate for English rose slightly, from 38.7 percent to 40.6 percent. The percentage of students passing math dropped slightly, by less than 1 percentage point, compared to a year ago. The test is called the Partnership for Assessments of Career and College Readiness, or PARCC.
41% passing English and barely a third passing math across the state is a fairly dismal number to begin with. But it looks like there are probably some school districts which are doing much better than that. How do we know? Because the City of Baltimore is dragging down the average like throwing an anchor to a drowning man.
Baltimore City and Baltimore County students scored below the state average. In the city, only 15 percent of students passed the English test and 11.9 percent passed the math. The pass rate in Baltimore County went down in elementary and middle school math by 1.6 percentage points, with 30.3 percent of students passing. In English, passing rates improved by 1.4 percentage points to 36.5 percent.
You’re putting kids through a public school system where 15% of them can pass an English test and only one out of ten can do basic math. A problem like this doesn’t just happen overnight and the solution (if we can ever get there) is going to involve multiple facets. First of all, the schools are never entirely to blame, though a fresh look at how they are being operated is obviously in order. The city government has to control the funding and they actually cut the school budget this year while dealing with many other problems. (Of course, they also slashed the police budget in the middle of a years long murder spree, so what can you do?) The community and the families have to shoulder some of this burden as well. Parents are, in the end, the only ones who can enforce the discipline to make sure the kids make it to school every day, do their homework and understand the material.
This school situation in Baltimore ties into the rest of the city’s problems with murder and gang violence. Growing up in poor neighborhoods plagued by drugs and violence isn’t conducive to success to begin with. And if you can’t read or do basic math when you finish high school, how on Earth would we expect you to be able to escape that trap and go make something of yourself? It’s tragic, but not hard to imagine how joining a gang may be the only viable option in some of these students’ minds.
Can Baltimore be fixed? Maybe. But the city’s leadership has failed the citizens there for decades on end. They might want to try voting for some new people with different ideas for a change. At this point, what do you really have to lose?