Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Baltimore Showcases Problems of U.S. Education

A short, 45-minute drive from the District up Interstate 95 takes you to Baltimore, Md., a city that once devolved from an industrial powerhouse into a center of urban decay. Now, however, the city is experiencing a total renaissance.

The Inner Harbor is booming, condos and hotels are being built, rowhouses are being renovated and people are moving back into the city. The Baltimore public school system has been a leading example of the need for educational reform in both Maryland and the nation.

Maryland State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said a week ago that the state would assume control of four failing high schools in Baltimore. Independent operators are slated to assume management of seven public middle schools by the fall of 2007.

The Washington Post recently reported that although test scores for elementary school students have risen recently, middle and high school students’s scores “remain the lowest in aryland” and “thousands of Baltimore schoolchildren are in jeopardy of failing to meet new graduation requirements that kick in for the class of 2009.”

Grasmick has utilized a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act to allow the state to restructure the four schools in order to raise student achievement levels. Maryland is the first state to use the act to take over local schools.

Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. supports the decision, while the Democrat-controlled House and Senate of Maryland are much more divided. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the race for governor this year, says that the move is a political ploy to embarrass him and detract from the progress that has been made in Baltimore’s schools during the past few years.

The issue is bigger than O’Malley, however. If the schools are not up to par, how will students compete for college admission or survive in the global marketplace?

Ehrlich vetoed a House bill delaying the state’s takeover of the schools for restructuring last week, but the House overrode the governor’s veto. According to Jill Rosen of The Baltimore Sun, “City delegates [in the House] insisted that Baltimore educators, not the state, are best equipped to fix the system’s deeply rooted problems.”

Lost in all the political grandstanding, finger waving, shouting and eye rolling of some delegates is the fact that the biggest challenge facing many schools in the Baltimore system (and all across America) is students’ performance of basic skills. High school sophomores should not still be learning to read, and juniors should not be stuck on simple arithmetic.

Some Democrats have suggested Grasmick’s plan is a political ploy to weaken O’Malley, who has touted improvements in the school system under his watch. In response, O’Malley has said students are being used as “political pawns.”

Is a state takeover and restructuring the best thing? Probably not, but it would provide a needed shakeup to the school system.

The ideal way to fix the ailing schools would be to reduce class sizes, identify and address curricular weaknesses and demand more parental involvement. Many of Baltimore’s students live at or below the poverty line, but that fact alone doesn’t dictate success or failure.

There are numerous examples of poor children who, given real chances, can succeed and prosper as well as students attending elite prep schools. Students in Baltimore deserve the same stability and quality education experienced in wealthier school districts in order to succeed.

Knee-jerk partisan reactions do nothing to serve anyone better. The Democrats who blindly resist change are not doing their jobs.

Is the status quo acceptable? Absolutely not.

The state takeover needs to be further analyzed because it is not the only mechanism that could improve the situation at the 11 schools in question. Giving more power to the schools and removing them from the bureaucracy of Baltimore’s government could be a logical next step.

While construction crews in Baltimore are building new lofts and adding upscale retailers, students across town should not be destined to work minimum wage jobs for the rest of their lives. Due to the exam scores they are on pace to receive, however, some children may inevitably join those ranks. How will these students even be able to pay the rent or file their taxes if they have trouble reading or cannot do math?

John Dorman is a senior in the College and can be reached at The Inside Edge appears every other Tuesday.

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