Will a new day dawn for secondary schools in Baltimore?
It's an ambitious proposal Andres Alonso is making for 24 new middle/high schools -- and a significant risk he's asking philanthropists to take. Foundations have heard big dreams for Baltimore's secondary schools before. Now, five years after they pledged $20.8 million for high school reform in the city, only $12 million of that money has been spent, and many aspects of the reform plan have stalled.
Alonso will have to persuade the funders that things will be different this time. He'll also need to sell them on two controversial ideas: 1) separating the college-track kids from the vocational kids from the struggling kids and 2) combining middle and high schools, which is not common around the country. He says the structure would meet a specific need in Baltimore, a huge population of overage kids. Some of these figures are in my story today, but they're so stunning that they bear repeating:
-- Nearly half of the 18,488 kids in the city's middle schools are overage.
-- About 1,300 of those kids have been held back at least twice, including more than 400 current eighth graders.
-- In elementary schools, 325 kids are at least two years overage, including 179 in fifth grade this year.
The Urban Institute's evaluation of Baltimore's previous high school reform effort comes at a good time for Alonso. The institute found promising practices at the city's six innovation high schools, which promote the same practices Alonso wants systemwide: autonomy in exchange for accountability and partnerships with outside organizations. The study is supposed to be posted here when it becomes public today (Sunday). It makes a strong case for public school choice.
There is lots of interesting information in the study, but here is one small point worth noting: The innovation high schools are attracting more girls than boys. Talking to some folks from those schools last week, I heard that boys may be sidestepping the improved academic opportunities at innovation schools because of their lack of sports programs. The Baltimore Messenger ran an article last week accusing the school system of failing to live up to promised athletic funding for innovation schools. (I've asked the system to respond to that allegation.) Providing adequate extracurricular opportunities for students is one of many factors the system will need to take into consideration as it strives to reinvent itself.
If Alonso gets all the money he's seeking, a key challenge will be finding good people to run the new schools and stick with them over time. He's banking on the appeal of an opportunity to start a school from the ground up, without central bureaucracy dictating how it must be run.
Educators, parents and students: Does this idea appeal to you? The city's secondary schools look different today than they did five years ago. What would you like to see them look like in another five years? And how do they get there?