A couple months ago, a story about Baltimore City Public Schools went viral when the public learned that 23 schools in the District had zero students scoring at a proficient level in math. A mother asked if there was anyone anywhere who would be willing to change this sad state of affairs. This news only strengthened the lawsuit against the District for failing to provide a good education for the city’s students. The District is failing to provide even an adequate education even though it spends over $20,000 per student.
Even though I have not spent time analyzing that District’s operations and challenges, I suspect the District suffers from the usual problems all urban districts experience to varying degrees. If we were to spend a few days there, we would probably find some principals who are not instructional leaders and who are not coaching teachers and who are only perfunctorily evaluating teachers. They will say they are doing all they can to improve teaching and instruction, but are constrained by the union contract. We would probably find a culture of low expectations in many schools with teachers not expected to teach at grade level because “the students can’t do grade level work” and are “so traumatized by poverty that they are broken and can’t learn like other students.” Meanwhile, we would find some teachers who simply cannot teach, but are protected by the union and can’t be fired.
We would probably find a leadership team at the school and district level who avoid accountability and do not hold anyone accountable for clear achievement and performance metrics. Instead, they buy programs and consultants to do what principals and other leaders should do, adding another layer that removes them from accountability. They throw money and people at the problem instead of fixing the underlying systemic problems.
We would probably find Board members meddling in the operations of the District and some of them not putting students first, but putting vendors and other adults first. Board meeting are not focused on student outcomes, but on grievances and political agendas.
Maybe I’m wrong – I wish I were. I’m right about this though: all students can learn and it is our responsibility to educate them well. I also know that the education system is broken and that we need systemic transformation. That sort of change can only come with people in charge accepting accountability and holding all levels accountable for student performance outcomes. At the district level, we need people who are leaders and visionaries, and who have the courage to make the tough decisions few others are prepared to make. (And no, I am not volunteering to go to Baltimore.)