Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Can These Schools be Saved?

There is a scene in “The Wire” when one of the police chiefs is complaining about something and the police commissioner says, “It’s Baltimore, gentlemen.  The Gods will not save you!”  Perhaps the same thing could be said about Baltimore City public schools.

Recently the City Schools came to an understanding with their CEO  (e.g. superintendent) so that he would leave before the end of his contract in two years.  Don’t let it bother you that the president of the School Commissioners in February said that the CEO had received positive evaluations and that they were expecting him to fulfill his contract.  Within three months of that statement the Commissioners had negotiated the leave of this CEO and hired a new person to lead the system.  The new CEO will start on July 1, 2016.   There will be an interim until then.   The Baltimore City Council is whipped up about the process not being transparent enough.  Have they even noticed how BAD the outcomes are for Baltimore City Schools and why aren’t they having hearings about that?  That is an easy answer.  Attacking a process that was sort of questionable, but is now a done deal is ever so much easier than trying to solve real problems.

There are so many disasters going on in Baltimore City Schools that it is hard to enumerate them.  The City spends about $16,000 on each student each year.  The absentee rate is the highest in the State.   The high school graduation rate is the lowest in the State.  The teachers are among the highest paid in Maryland and there are no bonuses for combat duty.  Approximately 15% of the kids in City schools have disabilities and the City spends 15.4% of its budget on them.  High School Assessment scores are among the lowest and most students achieve well below grade level.

The State Legislature approved millions of dollars to improve the physical plants of City schools.  HVAC systems routinely breakdown, water is bad, rodents attend more frequently than kids.

Some people will tell you it is because of the high poverty level in the city. Certainly that is a contributing factor.  But in my view it is time to start holding these highly paid teachers to some standards themselves. And I don't mean test scores.  Lots of Baltimore City teachers make over 100K a year.   Paying a bad teacher more money does not make her a good teacher.  And paying a good teacher more money does not make her a better teacher. 
In other professions to make lots of money you need to keep having better outcomes.  The pressure stays with the job.  So if you are a great builder of houses and people know you build great houses, you sell lots of houses and make lots of money.  But if you start to let standards slide in your construction the word gets out and your profits decline.   The same is true for great attorneys, physicians and electricians.   Not so with teachers.  Once you hit a pay grade, it is only going up, never down.  You don’t have to keep getting better. 

The money spent on these super salaries needs to be spent in the lower grades so all kids are at grade level in math and reading by 5th grade.  That may mean groups of five or six per teacher for those subjects rather than 28.5.    Additionally, there needs to be academic academies for high school students, perhaps a 13th year where the kids could get the academic skills they need to have a fighting chance in college.  As it is they are starting post-secondary education with middle school or worse achievement scores.

The Gods will not save Baltimore City public schools.  Changing spending priorities might give the new CEO a fighting chance.

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