In an astonishing outcome, an investigation of six Baltimore schools found not a single student passed the state’s proficiency test in the subjects of math and English.
Five high schools and one middle school were surveyed in a probe by Baltimore’s Fox TV affiliate, which spotlighted one school in which 89 percent of the students had the lowest score on a scale of 5.
Scores of 4 or 5 indicate proficiency with the subject, but at Frederick Douglass High School, only one student got as high as a 3 on his state exam.
WBFF-TV profiled one student at the high school who was among the 50 percent of his class that graduated. At the age of 3 months, Navon Warren’s father was shot to death, and before his 18th birthday, two uncles and a classmate were gunned down on the streets of his city.
His mother, Janel Nelson, reacted to the finding that not a single student at the school passed the proficiency exam.
“That’s absurd to me. That’s absurd to me,” she told the station. “That’s your teachers’ report card.”
Warren apparently agreed, telling WBFF he thinks every student failed because the state tests are more advanced than what the students are learning in class.
WBFF listed five other schools – with words such as “achievement,” “excel” and “new hope” in their names – where zero students passed: Booker T. Washington Middle School, Achievement Academy at Harbor City, New Era Academy, Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High and New Hope Academy.
The station said it spoke with the executive director of teaching and learning for Baltimore City Schools, Janise Lane, about the data.
She said some of the students might be considered proficient, even though they did not score a 4 or 5 on the state tests. But Baltimore City Schools later said that statement was not correct.
In a follow-up story, WBFF quote Lane saying she didn’t think the school district was “at fault.”
“I’m not saying we have no responsibility in that. I think it’s a lot of things coming together at the same time,” she said.
Lane said the six schools are on the district’s radar, receiving extra resources, increased teacher and principal training, and sharper focus on student need.
She insisted that approach can improve test scores.
“It is not satisfying for any of us in city schools to see the data and the numbers that look like that,” Lane said. “It’s an ongoing work effort to improve student achievement because that is our ultimate goal.”
But former City Council member Carl Stokes, now CEO of Banneker Blake Charter School, told WBFF he believes failing schools should be shut down and the students should be sent to “schools that are working.”
“It’s stunning. It really is. But it’s not surprising, unfortunately,” Stokes said of the investigation’s findings. “The kids aren’t learning.”
Challenging the education establishment
In April, President Trump ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose nomination was opposed by teachers unions, to review the U.S. government’s role in school policy as a first step toward creating more local control in education.
DeVos has been given 300 days “to review and, if necessary, modify and repeal regulations and guidance issued by the Department of Education with a clear mandate to identify places where D.C. has overstepped its legal authority,” said Rob Goad, a Department of Education official, according to a transcript of a White House call with reporters, Reuters reported.
In February, columnist Thomas Sowell, noting “most public schools in most low-income, inner-city neighborhoods produce educational outcomes that are far below the outcomes in other neighborhoods,” observed that many teachers who use unorthodox methods to reverse that trend encounter opposition from the education establishment.
He said that in his 40 years of observing successful minority schools, he was struck “by how varied are the ways that success has been achieved.”
Sowell said one New York City principal who “did not follow the rigid dogmas imposed by the educational establishment” and instead used “whatever ways of teaching produced good results” faced attempts to get him fired.
In California, he said, a high-school teacher Jaime Escalante “taught calculus so successfully in a predominantly Latino school that, at one time, something like one-fourth of all Latino students who passed the AP calculus test – in the entire country – came from the school where he taught.”
“Like other highly successful educators, especially in places where failure is the norm, Escalante was controversial within the education establishment. The teachers’ union demanded that his large math class be reduced in size. He ended up leaving that high school to go teach elsewhere.”
Against that background, he said, it was hardly surprising that DeVos – who had been nominated for the secretary of education post but not yet confirmed at the time – had “come under heavy fire from the educational establishment.”
Her confirmation, Sowell said, jeopardized “the stranglehold of the teachers’ unions and the educational bureaucracy on the education of millions of students.”
Rejecting her nomination, he wrote, would mean “millions of children from low-income, inner-city families will lose a chance to escape a painfully failing system.”