The Shame of Baltimore's Schools

How the Democrats destroyed public education in Charm City.

Editors' note: It was a typical weekend in American politics. President Trump told the truth about a failed congressional Democrat who for 23 years has represented the constituents of one of America's most inhospitable cities, and the Democrats responded by doing the only thing they really know how to do: smearing Trump as a racist. “Congressman Elijah Cummings has done a very poor job for his district and the City of Baltimore,” said Trump, calling it a city that “ranks last in almost every major category.” In a report about this latest dustup, NBC News said: “It was not clear what set of statistics Trump was referencing.”

The uncertainty of the Democrat mouthpieces at NBC is somewhat understandable, since there is in fact a host of statistics that show why, as Trump also said, “no human being would want to live” in Baltimore. Perhaps the president was referencing the fact that Baltimore has the fifth highest murder rate of any city in the United States. Or maybe he had in mind the city’s astounding 22 percent poverty rate. Or perhaps he was thinking of Baltimore’s violent crime rate, which is more than 5 times higher than the national average.

Or maybe President Trump was reflecting on the multitudinous failings of the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) system, which are laid bare in Shame of the Schools, John Perazzo's pamphlet for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

As Perazzo points out, BCPS currently spends an astronomical $16,000 per year in taxpayer funds on each K-12 student in its jurisdiction, a figure that is more than a third higher than the national average. And what do Baltimore's children and their taxpaying parents get in return for those expenditures? A student population where a paltry 11 to 13 percent of all youngsters from fourth grade through high school are able to read or do mathematics with proficiency. As Perazzo notes in Shame of the Schools, 13 of the city's 39 public high schools had no students at all—zero! —who scored as “proficient” on a math exam administered by the state of Maryland in one recent school year. Still more amazingly, six Baltimore schools did not have even a single student who tested as “proficient” in either math or English.

One area where the Baltimore school system ranks quite high, however, is in the number of personnel who earn six-figure incomes. Indeed, there are thousands of individuals affiliated with BCPS—mostly consultants, contractors, and administrators—who are paid in excess of $100,000 per year.

Shame of the Schools demonstrates that President Trump’s remarks about Baltimore were right on target. And that is why the Democrats are so angry.

Below is the chapter about the Baltimore public school system, from Shame of the Schools. [To order the pamphlet: CLICK HERE.]

* * *

In the post-Civil War era, Baltimore, which had been founded in 1729, became an industrial giant. By the 1880s, it was the world’s largest supplier of oysters, America’s leader in canned fruits and vegetables, and the nation's top importer of guano, a key ingredient in the fertilizer that became vital to the productivity of the farms along the Chesapeake Bay during that era. As of 1880, Baltimore was home to 27 factories that together produced some 280,000 tons of fertilizer each year. From 1850-1900, the city's population tripled, from 169,000 to 509,000. And between 1881 and 1895, the number of corporations based in Baltimore grew from 39 to more than 200.[1]

By the turn of the 20th century, Baltimore's economic and business environment was thriving as never before. BaltimoreCity.gov describes what life in the city was like at that time: “Hundreds of passenger trains were funneled through its five railroad stations; 13 trust companies controlled large areas of Baltimore manufacturing; 21 national banks and 9 local banks controlled Baltimore’s financial interests; 13 steamship companies were engaged in coastal trading; and 6 steamship companies connected Baltimore to foreign ports.” Moreover, the city was one of the world's leading manufacturers of chrome, copper, and steel products. It also became the world’s largest producer of umbrellas, and a major center of garment manufacturing.[2]

As word of the abundant employment opportunities in Baltimore spread far-and-wide, large numbers of jobless rural southerners migrated there to find work. In large part because of this, the city's population grew from 558,500 to nearly 734,000 between 1910-20. This trend continued through the World War II era, when various types of Baltimore factories were refitted to produce whatever items the war effort required—e.g., tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and superfortress bombers.[3]

In the 1950s, Baltimore was home to a host of thriving industries—particularly manufacturing and shipping—which created some three-fourths of all the jobs held by people in its metropolitan region.[4] The city's residents had a median income that was 7% higher than the national median; the percentage of Baltimore families earning middle-class wages was about one-fifth higher than in the U.S. as a whole; and the proportion of Baltimoreans living in poverty was roughly one-fifth lower than the corresponding national figure.[5]

Throughout these decades of prosperity, Baltimore's political leadership shifted back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans. Of the 16 men who served as mayor between 1895 and 1967, nine were Democrats and seven were Republicans.

But in 1967, control of Baltimore's government was taken over by Thomas D'Alesandro, the first of a series of eight Democratic mayors who have continually held power, without interruption, ever since. In those more than five decades, Baltimore’s industry and productivity have disappeared, while poverty and crime have become its growth industries. The city’s residents today have a median household income that is roughly 40% below Maryland's state average, and a 21.9% poverty rate that is 1.7 times the national average.[6] Meanwhile, the violent crime rate in Baltimore is currently 4.6 times higher than the national average—a figure that includes astronomical rates of murder (10 times the national average) and robbery (8 times the national average).[7]

During this Democrat-dominated epoch, Baltimore has also developed one of the worst public school systems in American history, as reflected by the fact that students throughout the city consistently register National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores that rank among the nation's lowest. In 2015, for example, NAEP results showed that only 11% of Baltimore's fourth-graders and 13% of its eighth-graders were able to read with proficiency, whereas the corresponding national figures were 35% and 32%, respectively.[8] In math, the proficiency rate for Baltimore's fourth- and eighth-graders alike was 12%, while the national rates were 39% for fourth graders and 32% for eight graders.[9]

The situation is no better at the high-school level. According to a 2017 report by investigative journalist Chris Papst of Project Baltimore, a long-term study of public education in Maryland, the reading proficiency rate among Baltimore High School graduates is about 11%, while their math proficiency is near 12%.[10] The same study found that in 2016, fully 13 of the city's 39 public high schools had no students at all—zero—who were “proficient” in math, while another 6 schools had student bodies where only 1% of all pupils tested as “proficient” in math. To state the foregoing facts in raw numbers, a mere 14 of the 3,804 students who were tested in these 19 schools displayed mathematical proficiency. Moreover, six Baltimore schools had zero students who tested as “proficient” in either the math or English exam administered by the state.[11]

Notwithstanding these abysmal competency scores, the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) system churns out high-school graduates at a fairly brisk pace. Roughly 70% of its students earn a diploma, although they are largely illiterate and unable to perform even basic mathematical tasks. For instance, at Frederick Douglass High School, which boasted an 87% graduation rate, only 1 of the 185 students who in 2016 were tested in math, registered a score high enough to qualify as “proficient” in that subject. Critics have pointed out the obvious: that Baltimore schools distribute worthless diplomas to deflect from the fact that teachers don’t teach and students don’t learn.[12]

One of the major underlying causes of this unpleasant reality was made evident in a May 2017 Fox News report exploring the reasons why the high-school graduation rate for BCPS students had increased dramatically, from 61% to nearly 71%, between 2010 and 2017. “In Maryland,” Fox explained, “there are two ways to graduate. The traditional way of earning credits and passing tests, or the Bridge Plan. Bridge started in 2007, and according to the Department of Education, it was intended for students with disabilities, test anxiety and English Language Learners. It’s not a test, but rather a project that students complete to get a diploma.”[13]

Whereas in 2009, about 20% of Baltimore City High School graduates earned their diplomas via the Bridge Plan, by 2015 that figure had risen to 37%⸺nearly 4 times higher than the statewide average. One Baltimore school, the Renaissance Academy, currently graduates 73% of its students through Bridge, a figure that has grown more than fourfold since 2014. Former Baltimore City Council member Carl Stokes, who now serves as CEO of the Banneker Blake Charter School (in Baltimore), says that the Bridge program was originally “intended for a limited number of students” but has now become essentially a way “to inflate the graduation rates.” “What the school system is telling us,” Stokes adds, “is that they [the schools] are doing a very, very poor job of educating students, academically. And [the students] are not prepared to get their diploma the standard way.”[14]

In a September 2017 op-ed piece, black intellectual Armstrong Williams writes:

“Individuals and firms that service the Baltimore school system are making off with literally billions of taxpayer dollars with nothing to show for it. In any for-profit corporation, dismal results such as these would have caused it to go bankrupt long ago, pushed out of the market by companies that could better serve the consumer.... But in the tortured logic of Baltimore’s political bureaucracy, failure is incentivized. It is at best a massive fraud committed against students who are cheated out of a future, and taxpayers whose hard-earned money is being wasted. At worst, Baltimore’s performance is a genocidal crime against generations of children who are then turned out into the streets to face a world of crime, drugs, prison and death that has resulted in a murder rate of over 300 per year. The buck has to stop somewhere. Cutting off the flow of unaccounted tax dollars to an underperforming, bloated school system that is cynically betraying children should be seriously considered.”[15]

No intellectually honest assessment of BCPS's pitiful track record could attribute that poor record to a lack of funding. The city's public school system currently spends, on average, about $16,000 per year in taxpayer funds on each K-12 student in its jurisdiction.[16] This figure is about 34% higher than the $11,984 average for elementary and secondary public school systems across the United States.[17]

Much of BCPS's spending goes toward the salaries and benefits of far greater numbers of bureaucrats than a school system of that size actually requires. Though Baltimore's population has declined from 939,000 in 1960 to 621,000 today,[18] and its public school enrollment figures have dwindled at a similar pace, there are still thousands of BCPS-affiliated individuals—mostly consultants, contractors, and administrators—who are paid in excess of $100,000 per year.[19] For instance, interim superintendent Verletta White, who was installed by the Baltimore County Board of Education in May 2017, not only rakes in $265,000 in salary each year, but is also given an additional budget for travel costs and a vehicle, as well as a $450 monthly stipend for “communication and technology” expenses.[20] In the words of Armstrong Williams, “The [Baltimore] school system, it seems, has become a platform for political patronage, and rewarding allies of the city’s political class. How else could the school system’s budget be so saddled with bureaucracy and blight?”[21]

Notes:

[1] http://www.baltimorecity.gov/sites/default/files/5_History.pdf

[2] Ibid.

<div id="ftn3">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref3" name="_ftn3" title="">[3]</a> Ibid.</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn4">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref4" name="_ftn4" title="">[4]</a> http://www.nathanielturner.com/robertmooreand1199union3.htm</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn5">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref5" name="_ftn5" title="">[5]</a> https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903480904576510794280560566; https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/blame-taxes-baltimores-rot</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn6">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref6" name="_ftn6" title="">[6]</a> http://www.city-data.com/city/Baltimore-Maryland.html</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn7">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref7" name="_ftn7" title="">[7]</a> http://www.city-data.com/crime/crime-Baltimore-Maryland.html</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn8">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref8" name="_ftn8" title="">[8]</a> https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2016048xm4.pdf; https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2016048xm8.pdf</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn9">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref9" name="_ftn9" title="">[9]</a> https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2016049xm4.pdf; https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/dst2015/pdf/2016049xm8.pdf</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn10">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref10" name="_ftn10" title="">[10]</a> http://thehill.com/opinion/education/350315-baltimores-failing-schools-are-a-tragedy-of-criminal-proportions; http://weartv.com/news/local/project-baltimore-investigation-into-school-system</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn11">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref11" name="_ftn11" title="">[11]</a> https://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/11/09/alarming-number-of-baltimore-high-schools-had-zero-students-proficient-in-math-study-shows; http://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/13-baltimore-city-high-schools-zero-students-proficient-in-math; http://weartv.com/news/local/project-baltimore-investigating-public-schools</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn12">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref12" name="_ftn12" title="">[12]</a> http://thehill.com/opinion/education/350315-baltimores-failing-schools-are-a-tragedy-of-criminal-proportions; https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2017/05/29/yikes-these-five-baltimore-schools-dont-have-a-single-student-proficient-in-math-and-english-n2332719</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn13">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref13" name="_ftn13" title="">[13]</a> http://foxbaltimore.com/news/project-baltimore/graduation-rates-for-baltimore-city-schools-a-look-behind-the-numbers</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn14">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref14" name="_ftn14" title="">[14]</a> Ibid.</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn15">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref15" name="_ftn15" title="">[15]</a> http://thehill.com/opinion/education/350315-baltimores-failing-schools-are-a-tragedy-of-criminal-proportions</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn16">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref16" name="_ftn16" title="">[16]</a> Ibid.</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn17">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref17" name="_ftn17" title="">[17]</a> http://www.nea.org/2017-rankings-and-estimates</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn18">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref18" name="_ftn18" title="">[18]</a> http://population.us/county/md/baltimore-city/</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn19">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref19" name="_ftn19" title="">[19]</a> http://thehill.com/opinion/education/350315-baltimores-failing-schools-are-a-tragedy-of-criminal-proportions</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn20">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref20" name="_ftn20" title="">[20]</a> https://ballotpedia.org/Baltimore_County_Public_Schools,_Maryland</p>
</div>

<div id="ftn21">
    <p>
        <a href="#_ftnref21" name="_ftn21" title="">[21]</a> http://thehill.com/opinion/education/350315-baltimores-failing-schools-are-a-tragedy-of-criminal-proportions</p>
</div>

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