In Baltimore City – Students Fail And Move On To The Next Level.

In March of 2021, we wrote a post concerning the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts which is a high school level school in West Baltimore.

A child who passed only 3 courses over four years was ranked within the top half of the student at the school. Out of 434 students, only two students could read and do math at their grade level. The school, the students, and the parents could hardly be considered a model of educational excellence, even though that is what the school was portrayed as being.

Fast forward through the pandemic, and once again we see the failure of the Baltimore City Schools to achieve and demand excellence from students.

Baltimore school leaders will not hold back tens of thousands of students failing classes this year, in favor of giving them additional time and customized instruction plans to make up gaps in their learning created by a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Chief Academic Officer Joan Dabrowski said every student will be tested in the fall to determine what skills they have missed and the schools will create a plan for each student designed to catch them up. Instead of punishing students for circumstances they could not control, she said, the school system wants to provide help.

The system also will adjust student grades. Elementary students who have an “unsatisfactory” grade in a course and middle school students with a failing grade will get a “not completed.” High school students with a failing grade will get a “no credit.”

The new policy affects more than half the students.

About 65% of secondary students and 50% of elementary students in the system are failing at least one class, according to the school system. To hold everyone back would go against current education research that indicates students have better long-term academic success when they are given support.

“The challenge of virtual learning cannot be understated,” Dabrowski said. “As a system this is why we have to approach post COVID in a very different frame.”

While we agree that there were challenges in education during the pandemic, the statement belies the fact that in 2001, the City of Baltimore held back 30,000 students for failing grades. The School system abandoned the policy of holding kids back a few years later.

In doing so, they created situations like that at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts where it does not matter if you pass or fail, you are going to be moving on no matter what.

The School system says that their decision to promote those who failed is a good thing:

The approach is likely to draw criticism from those who have said in the past that the city schools promote students without holding them to standards. But [executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and a former Maryland State School Board member David] Steiner said this is not social promotion.

“If you just socially promote and then remediate then you damage children,” he said. “Instead, this approach is intended to keep students learning at the next level. So for a sixth grader who failed a course, the message will be: ‘We are putting you in seventh grade and we refuse to accept that you can’t do seventh grade work and we will do everything we can to give you access to next week’s seventh grade lesson.’”

Steiner said the district needs to target skills that students need later on. So if there is a sixth grade math skill that is needed to be successful in algebra later, then teach that lesson, he said.

The approach, Steiner said, will require teachers to go deeper into the curriculum but move at a slower pace. So if they usually would teach six major units in the curriculum in a year in English, they may have to do only three but do them well, giving students time to master them and catch up.

Steiner says that research is saying that kids that are held back don’t do as well and don’t fit in with younger classmates or the curriculum is no longer “age appropriate” to them. Isn’t promoting kids because of age differences and the curriculum the definition of social promotion? The very “social promotion” that they say they aren’t doing?

While we can argue about the kids that are failing and being promoted, what message does that send to those kids who did the work and passed? What is the difference between their success and reward of being promoted and those who failed being promoted?

What is also left from this is “who is going to teach the kids that are below grade level?” Does the teacher hold up the progress of the rest of the kids? Prepare other lessons? Be required to spend time with the kids as unpaid tutors?

People will say that this is the problem of money and spending. The Baltimore Teachers’ Union is very strong and teachers are paid rather well. In fact, Baltimore is the third largest spender of money per student in the country. Money isn’t the problem. The schools, students and parents are the problem. Society is the problem because we accept failure in schools and then wonder why we have people in businesses that are failures there as well.

Shouldn’t taxpayers be getting more return on their investment than kids failing and the acceptance of failure by the Baltimore School system, the students and the parents (who have a large roll in the academic success of any child?)

One thing is certain: people are leaving Baltimore in droves. High taxes, high crime rates and corruption at the government level have people fleeing to greener pastures. What will be added to the list of reasons to leave or even reasons not to move to the City, is a failing school system – a system that accepts and even rewards failure.

Who wants their children to attend failing schools?

And so the decline of a once great, blue collar city continues.

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