I attended a function in Roland Park yesterday. For those not familiar with Baltimore, Roland Park is an old neighborhood consisting of huge homes. Those that live there come from old money and are considered the highest of society. Needless to say, it's an all white neighborhood. It's beautiful. I could just walk and look at the houses there all day.
I decided to walk by Roland Park Elementary Middle School to take a closer look. I've noticed it before when driving down Roland Ave. but I never stopped to really look. It's a historic building with tasteful modern additions. There are stained glass windows portraying children reading or engaged in other learning activities over all the doors.
There's a banner showing that the school has an excellent Gifted and Talented program.
One showing that it has an award winning arts education program.
There are gardens devoted to people who worked or volunteered at the school.
There is an iron fence portraying fish and sea creatures and wonderful playgrounds. There are benches and structures with plaques on them indicating that they were gifted by different classes in the school. Roland Park Elem. Middle School is next to Gilman--an exclusive all boys K - 12 private school and across the street from Roland Park Day School--another exclusive school. Roland Park EM School has also been named a National Blue Ribbon School.
Did I mention that Roland Park is a Baltimore City Public School?
Now I've driven by numbers of Baltimore City public schools in West Baltimore, Fells Point, and other neighborhoods and not one of them had the street appeal of Roland Park. The ones in West Baltimore--otherwise known as the ghetto--look like dungeons. Why does this matter?
In the current school reform debate, we constantly hear about the dire condition of urban schools. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in a classroom knows that poverty is the driver behind the dismal results that so many urban schools see. I teach in a poor school. The stories I hear from students are gut wrenching. Education is not high on one's priority list when they are living in a car and trying to find food. Education is not high on one's priority list when they are dealing with drug addiction and abuse. I bet if those schools in West Baltimore looked like Roland Park, students would certainly be more motivated about checking out the inside.
School Reformers like to say that it is the teachers who are responsible for the poor achievement levels in the high poverty schools. Their answer to this is to strip teachers of any employment protections, not hire experienced teachers who have committed themselves to the profession and to go with a teaching force consisting of new college graduates with minimal training who only stay 2 years. To them this makes sense. I often wonder if they follow this philosophy when using other services. Do they choose the experienced surgeon who has performed a procedures thousands of times or the one just out of medical school who has never done it? I have no doubt that they go with the experienced professional. The same should apply to teachers.
If you think that poverty and wealth among the student population doesn't matter--talk to some teachers.
I have no doubt that the teachers at Roland Park have all they need in the way of resources to perform their jobs well. Need microscopes? Musical instruments? Books? Contact the PTA or parent group and they will raise the funds or make donations.
The teachers in West Baltimore aren't so fortunate. They are spending hundreds of dollars of their own money supplying basic school supplies and personal items --often including shoes, clothing and food-- to their students.
Students at Roland Park are expected to excel. Learning is a way of life for them. They will be expected to attend Ivy League colleges. These students will also enjoy a wealth of enrichment activities--authors/artists in residence, field trips and other hands on learning experiences.
Students in West Baltimore are expected to pass standardized tests to prove the worth of their teachers. They will spend months in practice testing and test prep. Some of the school funding used for basic needs depends on these test results. While these students are "expected" to graduate high school, college is only a dream for some. There are no funds for enrichment activities. They cut into test prep time anyway.
More than likely, teachers at Roland Park are considered to be highly effective.
More than likely, teachers in West Baltimore are struggling and often considered to need improvement.
If the current crop of school reformers really believe that it is the teachers who are responsible for student achievement, I'd like for once to see them embark on the grand experiment of switching them. Just switch the teachers in West Baltimore with the ones at Roland Park. Give them some time to adjust to the culture shock and see if test results are any different. It will be amazing to watch those ineffective former West Baltimore teachers turn overnight into effective ones. The fate of the Roland Park teachers won't be so positive though.
I wish more people would understand that adequate funding to educate other people's children is an investment that will ultimately help the entire community and benefit everyone.
We have a long way to go.