Public School Stats and A Mother’s Intuition
I am not the authority on public school education and statistical data, but I am an active mom in a Baltimore City Public school. And, sometimes, a Mom’s intuition and observations deserves a voice at the table along with the statistical data, experts and politicians.
Yesterday, I stood in line with my student vying for a seat through a competitive placement exam in a respected Baltimore City Public High School. There are more students than available seats for the program. Yet, all students do not have many options for a safe and meaningful public education. The pickings are slim. Every student and parent in that line only wants the best academic opportunity. Yet, educators, parents, politicians and students know that the system is broken.
It was inspiring to see many motivated students hoping to earn a seat for their middle school and high school career. It’s also sad that all of the qualified students won’t have the same educational opportunities due to space limitations and funding inequities. Imagine if Trump held the budget hostage for educational funding instead of his Wall.
Joining The Public School Journey & Being Involved Opened My Eyes and My Heart to the Academic Injustices
After making a difficult financial decision to move our four children out of private school, one of which I am still very involved, we have been engaged in the public school classrooms, and on local and state levels with funding issues and policy. Our children are also engaged with policy issues in their school and within the school system.
In Baltimore City Public Middle schools, students take classes based on “tracks”. The tracks I am most familiar with are: General Education, Advanced Academics, and Ingenuity which favors a heavy math and science curriculum.
In Baltimore City Public High Schools, due to poorly performing schools, students are ranked and based upon their composite scores, they hope to secure a seat into one of the few and very coveted public high schools. This process is known as the School Choice program.
One benefit of the School Choice program is that students are able to leave their failing neighborhood schools. Students traveling outside of their neighborhood schools creates opportunities for students and their families to meet people from different social, racial and economic backgrounds. Conversations change when engaging with people from different experiences and perspectives. A downside to School Choice is that children with lower academic success often remain in under-served schools lacking basic resources, reliable technology, and don’t have enough advocates helping them to level the playing field. School Choice segregates educational opportunities.
When my family unexpectedly began our Public School journey, I noticed that in Middle School, white children were the majority of Advanced Academics and Ingenuity track students. And, black children comprised the majority of the General Education track. I also noticed that the majority of disciplinary problems appeared in the General Education track, or disproportionately with the black students. These were red flags to me. These inequities pull at my heart strings. The tracks and discipline are now widely discussed, challenged and being reworked. Change takes time. We are in a segregated academic environment in an integrated urban community. In our particular school, we have very talented, caring and devoted teachers and administrators. They go way above and beyond their job descriptions and Union contracts.
My family has also entered the high school choice process. Students in the Advanced Academics program and Ingenuity program have heavier weights in the formula applied to their composite scores which is most helpful to earning and securing a seat in a better high school. And, our students have had opportunities for extra credit along the way “if you donate school supplies, you will get 10% added to a grade” or “yes, you can redo a project” etc. Along with better grades comes better funding for the individual schools, and better opportunities for specific kids. An academically motivated student with a parent able to kick in more money classroom, both helps an underpaid teacher not take money out of her pocket, and creates unfair advantages to student composite scores. This is another inequity in public education. Because the Choice program is so competitive, each additional percentage in the composite score does make a difference.
Supplementing Athletics and Arts, Not All Kids Can Easily Participate
My kids work very hard. Their academics are a value to them. We are so proud of them. Though because of all of the State mandated testing, students miss essential programming such as meaningful recess or consistent gym and art classes. With overcrowding and scheduling challenges there is never enough time for all students to engage in the arts and gym which has scientifically been proven to support and improve learning skills. Arts and athletics are important to learning.
My family spends a lot of time and money on extracurricular activities including arts and athletics. Most families require at least a dual income. With the rise of urban crime, kids don’t go outside and play like we used to. Everything is an organized paid to play activity, which causes more inequities along the way for those who can pay and those who can’t. I volunteer on a low level to help raise funds to offset baseball fees for families needing financial aid. I can’t imagine a family swinging all of the fees for all essential needs plus supplemental programs and planning ahead for college and retirement in this economy compounded with rising healthcare costs, increasing electricity bills and the the high costs of healthy eating. We should all to do our part and more.
Families Across The City Hope for a Better Educational Opportunity – And Spaces are Limited, but Desire is Not
Our financial futures begin with an education. Better educated people have more opportunities. Yesterday, on a Saturday, my son had a 7:30 AM start time to take a placement test for a public high school accelerated program. To earn a seat, a student needs high grades and takes a difficult placement test. Perhaps there are 400 seats for incoming freshmen, City wide. Maybe there were a thousand or more students from all across our City lining around the school waiting to be processed to take the exam for both middle school and high school accelerated math and science. This exam is for rising 6th graders and rising 9th graders, along with students in higher grades, bored in their academic track, hoping to secure a rare open seat in the program.
I asked my student if he wanted me to drop him off or come in. He asked me to come in, I know my blessings. I enjoyed visiting with other waiting parents I know and chit chatted with everyone around me. I asked strangers, “what part of the City are you from?” They named public schools I have never heard of, in neighborhoods that I only know by the landmarks such as “near Johns Hopkins Hospital” or “near Lexington Market”. I made my life in my neighborhood where my kids go to school, where we live, and where I work, all within 3 miles. I am civic minded and believe that it is our job to support ALL of our kids in the City, because if they succeed, we ALL succeed.
And, as I stood in this incredibly long line (think longer than a highly contested election day line), each family only wants the same thing: a safe and meaningful education for their child. All students should be afforded this basic right in any public school. This should not be a privilege. Though, in our public education system, it is a privilege for a few.
Public School Needs an Overhaul like the Civil Rights Movement, and it All Starts with Us. We need a Revolution.
Competition is great, but not when it comes to a challenging and safe education. It is long overdue to demand an overhaul to the Public School system much like that of the Civil Rights Movement.
Perhaps many of the school issues stem from issues not yet resolved within the Civil Rights work that we are still fighting for today. Nonetheless, every student should have the opportunity for a strong, challenging and safe education. Education is the future for ALL of us.
We all need to do our part and a little more. Acknowledge that the schools have become more than a place to read and write – schools are providing basic healthcare, food for the hungry, social services for the homeless, homework help for those needing support, childcare for parents running late from work and more. The schools are so overburdened. Teachers are underpaid and under appreciated. The broken system can be fixed.
Help. Join a committee. Write a legislator. Ask your Principal how you can help. Volunteer in a school. Be informed. Donate your time and talents. Give a little extra to your school. Demand that your kid knows that school is his or her job. Know your kid’s teachers. Show up to PTA meetings. Email your teachers gratitude. Question authority. Attend school events, meetings and performances. Use your voice. Ask questions. There are more of us that can do something to help. It all adds up. We all have a horse in this race. You can start by looking up your local public school, contacting them, and asking what you can do to help. The Brody Bunch supports Public School, we have celebrated more successes than not. Yet, ALL kids should have equal opportunities within the public school system.