Understanding the issues
The issues impacting public schools are complex and inextricably linked to other systemic issues. There is a tendency for politicians and others to blame Baltimore and the district for all its challenges. The reality is that there has been a history of government-endorsed, racist and deliberate policy that has led to creating segregation, and then starving these same Black neighborhoods of resources such as jobs, public transportation, decent housing, and money for schools and their buildings. The following snapshots of the issues are designed to put current education issues into an historical perspective using a lens that avoids blame based on race and acknowledges how policies of the past have helped precipitate current problems.
Each issue represented here is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of available research. They are intended to give teachers, parents, and community members easy access to answers to common questions and concerns--answers that challenge the normal narrative around what is wrong with our schools.
There is plenty of research out there that tells us that it is a mistake to use a limited range of standardized tests as the basis for measuring learning/giving feedback, or for making high stakes decisions (such as staff evaluations, or school ratings). Not only does the volume and nature of our current testing regime do harm to children by encouraging teachers to teach to the test, it is also true that the results of the testing are being used to make flawed decisions from the classroom to the school and district levels. This misuse has been “sold” to the public as increased “accountability.” The argument is that parents have a right to know what they are getting for their tax dollars. It’s hard to argue against accountability. It’s how we keep our systems honest. No one wants a situation where important information is either not collected, not shared, or not used to further equity and democracy.
In Baltimore, a group of teacher activists have formed a social justice caucus within the Baltimore Teachers Union in an attempt to balance “bread and butter” issues with working to create equity and keep public schools in the hands of communities. This caucus is called BMORE (Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators) and is part of a national movement of social justice caucuses working to increase teacher participation in the union to fight for schools Baltimore students deserve by working with parents and communities.
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy or Social Justice Curriculum is not just about a set of content. It is about children and adults questioning what school is for in an unequal society with a history of racism. It means that what we know to be true in our lives and in our experience fits in some way with what we are learning, so we don’t have to doubt ourselves and our families in order to be “good” in school.
The most accurate predictor of a student's achievement in school is not income or social status, but the extent to which that student's family is able to create a home environment that encourages learning; express high and realistic expectations for their children's achievement and future careers; and become involved in their children's education at school and in the community. (Henderson and Berla, 1994. P. 160)
The overarching problem with the zero tolerance style of discipline is that over the past 40 years, more and more students have been exposed to a range of traumas, including: loss of family members to death and imprisonment; hunger; homelessness; fewer stable community based supports for families and children and other serious issues stemming from a disinvestment in Black cities and neighborhoods. If a child’s misbehavior stems from trauma, it often keeps getting expressed until the crisis is recognized and somehow addressed. Schools need more resources (social workers, parent liaisons, therapists, counsellors) to address these issues.
Research says that Black teachers are essential for modeling black success and that assigning a black male to a black teacher in the third, fourth, or fifth grades significantly reduces the probability that he drops out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males. Exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood that persistently low-income students of both sexes aspire to attend a four-year college. (The Long-Run Impacts of Same-Race Teachers http://ftp.iza.org/dp10630.pdf). Other studies do show that good instruction can override ethnicity in relation to academic outcomes but for more holistic outcomes, black teachers are vital.
This powerpoint created by Corey Gaber, a teacher in Baltimore City, provides ample evidence that the state’s contributions to City Schools has not kept pace with inflation, let alone with the needs faced by a school district that serves so many children from communities with concentrated poverty. The argument is made very clearly that it is both false and misleading to blame the current budget crisis on “mismanagement of funds” or any other derogatory label typically applied to Baltimore’s funding.
Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises believes schools in pockets of concentrated poverty will improve if she can provide them with better teachers, offer their students a richer curriculum and leverage the sometimes unrecognized strengths of people within their communities.
Santelisis spoke as part of a panel of educators at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Education Thursday afternoon. The school is holding a two-day celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Coleman Report, a 700-page landmark publication that shaped education research and school reform for decades.
A recent journal entry by Baltimore resident Alec MacGillis writing for the online journal Places provides an excellent introduction to the history of inequity and segregation in Baltimore through the lens of transportation. The article traces the developments in transportation and its relationship to accessible jobs, white flight, and housing segregation from the early days of street cars that gave rise to the, then, leafy suburban developments in Forest Park and Roland Park, to the recent cancellation of the East-West Red Line by our Republican governor, Hogan--a line that would have connected low income, Black residents from both East and West sides of the city to twin hubs of employment at Social Security and Johns Hopkins Bayview.