Experiment at Walbrook Senior High

May 1988 / Abell Reports / Education

Is it a part of the answer for Baltimore?

It is unusual for Governor Schaefer, all 47 state senators and 141 state delegates, Mayor Schmoke, all 19 members of the Baltimore City Council, all 1,021 members of the Greater Baltimore Committee, State Superintendent of Schools Hornbeck, Superintendent of the Baltimore City Schools Pinderhughes, President of the City School Board Hollis, all nine members of the City School Board, and (it is safe to say), every one of the 220,000 property taxpayers of Baltimore City — it is unusual for all of them to come to agreement on any one issue, but they have on this one: the need to improve the quality of public education in Baltimore City.

What is not clear are the specific actions needed to effect that improvement. And, because of limited resources, there is a consensus that the actions taken be well thought­ out and thoroughly evaluated, and that new approaches be disseminated widely in the community before being adopted system-wide so that all interested parties are given the opportunity to comment.

The comprehensive high schools are a major challenge to any urban school system. These schools educate the students who are left in an area of the city after many of the higher achieving children have left it for city-wide schools — City, Poly, Western, School for the Arts, Dun­bar — and the vocationally oriented have gone to vocational schools. Of all the high schools, the lowest attendance, worst scores and the highest dropout rates are found in the comprehensive schools. Most of the problems experienced by these children are caused by factors that impacted upon them long before they arrived at the high school. Those factors need to be dealt with as they bear on younger children, but whatever is done for them before they arrive at high school, the comprehensive high schools must be operated as effectively as possible in order to maximize the benefits for the children who are there.

In order to test a different model for operating these schools, to the end of developing a more effective comprehensive high school, the Baltimore system joined the Coali­tion of Essential Schools, choosing Walbrook Senior High for the ex­periment. The almost all-black, West Baltimore school began the new program in September, 1986, with one quarter of the entering freshman class. The Abell Foundation feels the program is a promising one, and that the more people who are aware of it, the more people there will be to make informed judgements about its merit.