Recent reforms in Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) appear to be gaining traction and producing welcome improvements in student achievement and success. Enrollment has increased by several thousand students in the past two years, ending many decades of pupil loss. Educators are replacing unsuccessful programs with innovative ones, and bringing new resources and organizational partnerships into the system. Test scores are on the rise, and for the school year 2008-09, 1,000 fewer students dropped out compared to two years ago. These gains coincide with increased operating funds under the state’s Bridge to Excellence commitment, demonstrating that investment in education brings real returns.
Clearly, there is still work to be done to continue instructional reforms and academic gains for children in Baltimore City Public Schools, and to contribute to the health and well-being of Baltimore City itself. Studies show that the quality of local schools is a significant factor in families’ decisions about where to live, and businesses’ decisions about where to locate. Better schools offer Baltimore the opportunity to share the nationwide influx of new residents and families seeking a more exciting—and urban—living experience and proximity to their jobs. Many young professionals continue to move into Baltimore City, and the degree to which they enroll their children in the city’s public schools, rather than private ones, will be a significant indicator of municipal prosperity and growth.
While instructional improvement, recruitment, and retention of talented teachers, and student performance will remain cornerstones of public school success, there is a fourth cornerstone worthy of additional consideration: modernized, supportive, and inspiring physical facilities in which learning takes place. Many of Baltimore City’s school facilities are inadequate to support the demands of a 21st century curriculum, which could significantly compromise the future academic progress of city students. The ACLU’s new report, “Buildings for Academic Excellence” (June 2010), provides a detailed look into the condition of City Schools’ facilities and urgently asks city, state, and federal officials, and the greater Baltimore community, to act now to improve the substandard physical condition of City Schools’ buildings.