Inside City Hall: Armed guards at city pools nixed for now – Baltimore Brew
April drought threatens ‘May flowers’ – Baltimore Sun
Six city schools locked down for police activity – Baltimore Sun
Dick Clark, 1929-2012: Dick Clark, TV Host and Icon of New Year’s Eve, Is Dead at 82 – New York Times
Pulitzer’s no decision on fiction prize exposes flaw in process – Washington Post
Tag: baltimore city public schools
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the many problems faced by Baltimore City’s public schools. Rather than feeling hopeless, anxious, or otherwise stymied, here’s one way that some Baltimoreans are taking direct action to make things a little bit better for our city’s students:
It sounds like the sort of thing you say to threaten a kid whose grades are slipping: If you don’t start focusing in class, you’ll have to go to school on Saturday! But for some middle school students in the Baltimore City school system, Saturday School is about to become a reality — and not as a punishment, but as a time for extra support and (allegedly) “fun.”
City schools CEO Andres Alonso has long been a proponent of Saturday school, which is thought to improve academic performance. (Even a little bit of extra schooling may help — a University of Maryland study showed that even a few snow days make end-of-year math scores go down.) When 2011 math scores declined (61 percent of third through eighth graders passed, compared to 66 percent in 2010), he jumped at the chance to try out this new program. Some schools are starting this week with programs that will be similar to the summer school program the city already runs, in that it’ll focus on hands-on learning, projects, and curriculum support.
The Saturday School initiative will run for 10 weeks, and will give students an extra 20 to 30 hours of math instruction leading up to the annual tests in March. If the program works and scores go up, students may be looking at a lot of busy Saturdays in the future.
Seventy percent of Baltimore schools are in poor condition, and fixing them up is a $2.8 billion project. The city doesn’t have $2.8 billion. So what’s to be done?
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a plan this week to increase the city’s bottle tax from two to five cents; that would provide a projected $155 million in bonds. Add in funds from the yet-to-materialize slots casino, and the city is still far from the amount necessary… but, hey, it’s better than nothing.
It’s not likely to happen without a fight. When the mayor proposed an initial two-cent tax last year, grocery store owners and beverage lobbyists put up a fierce fight because they didn’t want business to b pushed into the county. More than doubling that initial tax is sure to raise hackles even more.
But city schools are undeniably in bad shape, and the undecided City Council members are sure to feel pressure from the mayor to support her cause. As it stands now, six of the fifteen councilmembers support the plan; the others are either undecided or in opposition. Our bet is that we can all look forward to a protracted battle over the issue.
Two movements are promising to rock the foundations of public education in Baltimore. One is the Transform Baltimore campaign, which is drumming up the political will to finance $2.8 billion for renovation and construction of Baltimore City Public Schools buildings. The other is BCPS CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso’s plan to shutter at least a dozen schools by 2014 — because their buildings are crumbling.
The two movements don’t appear to be operating in concert. Transform Baltimore’s $2.8 billion figure is taken from a report put out in June 2010 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s Education Reform Project. Authored by Frank Patinella and Bebe Verdery and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Buildings for Academic Excellence: A Vision and Options to Address Deficient School Facilities in Baltimore City” thanks CEO Dr. Andrés Alonso for answering questions. But the collaboration seems to have ended there.
According to Erica L. Green’s reporting in The Baltimore Sun, BCPS will release the first draft of its own assessment — a $135,000 independent study — this month. That objective report will ground the CEO’s decisions about which schools are beyond repair. (The schools to be closed for failing by other measures — such as test scores — are not included in the dozen or more figures cited above.)
Edweek just published an article on the effects of school closures on district budgets and academic performance. (To sum up: They don’t help budgets much, nor do they hurt student performance as much as you’d think.) The article also touches on the pitfalls districts should avoid — namely, political fallout due to a breach of public trust. (Adrian Fenty’s fate as mayor of Washington, D.C. — the mayor who appointed schools chancellor Michelle Rhee — is a case in point.)
It seems hugely important, at least to me, that thinking about improving schools and thinking about improving neighborhoods happen together. Some community organizations are already doing that. But these efforts are doomed to fail if Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore City Planning Office, and Baltimore’s many nonprofit organizations, however consolidated, operate as self-contained silos.
Dr. Alonso has an opportunity to model systems thinking for a generation of Baltimore City Public School students. He can be the CEO who worked with local nonprofit organizations, community groups, and city planners to set an urban public school system on a better course. Or he can be the superintendent who closed a bunch of schools because an independent study gave him permission.
Should Baltimore City Public Schools’ efforts to address failing infrastructure operate in tandem with Transform Baltimore’s efforts? Why? Why not?
Might BCPS challenge itself to think in interdisciplinary ways about how to “right-size the district”? For example, rather than rely on one report by an independent assessment team, could BCPS enlist geography, urban planning, and urban studies teams from Baltimore-based colleges and universities to work on solving systemic issues of poor attendance, high attrition, and low enrollment alongside BCPS?
In the same interdisciplinary vein: Has Transform Baltimore — the nonprofit consortium spearheaded by the ACLU-MD — considered joining up with TransForm Baltimore – The Zoning Code Rewrite – which is a project of the Baltimore City Planning Office (and currently accepting public comments on its first draft)?
Additional source + recommended reading here.