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EDITORIAL:

Politicians Get 60% Grade for their Handling of City Schools' Changed Passing Requirements

BY ALICE CHERBONNIER
Find us one Baltimore City high school graduate who cannot read his or her diploma, Mr. Complainer Governor. Bet you can't.
Sixty percent--is that passing or failing? Baltimore City's Board of School Commissioners recently decided to conform to key-subject passing-grade requirements in Maryland's counties, dropping their ambitious 70% to the normal 60% standard. While this doesn't "sound good" in this soundbyte world, in fact it's just a housekeeping detail.

You'd think the school board had committed a criminal act--that they capitulated to the reality that a lot of kids just can't achieve that 70% bar, so it has to be lowered to 60%.

Does this mean all of Maryland's counties are countenancing bare-minimum mediocrity as well? That question isn't even being touched upon amid all the hoopla about the city schools' "lowered standards."

The real issue here, of course, is "what does 70% mean?" (or 60%? or 80%?, etc.) Percentage grades for subjects other than simple math problems or true-and-false tests can be quite arbitrary. How can a history essay, for example, get a 92%, or an analysis of a chemistry experiment rate a 77%?

Meanwhile, we've got "Our Guv" Ehrlich mouthing off in his ads, in execrable Ann Coulter-style, that some city high school graduates can't read their diplomas. Oh yeah? Find us one Baltimore City high school graduate who cannot read his or her diploma, Mr. Complainer Governor. Bet you can't. But how many Marylanders who are exposed to his mendacious ads are all too willing to believe that Baltimore City is passing out "worthless diplomas"?

Where does responsibility lie for inadequacies in the shell-shocked city schools? Well, it should lie, first and foremost, at the feet of the Maryland State Department of Education.
Where does responsibility lie for inadequacies in the shell-shocked city schools? Well, it should lie, first and foremost, at the feet of the Maryland State Department of Education. For decades, this body of bureaucrats has (1) underfunded historically black colleges that produced ill-prepared teachers; (2) failed to remedy this problem by testing future teachers before certifying them, and/or providing remediation where needed; (3) countenanced Baltimore City's hiring, in the past, of unqualified superintendents; (4) failed to establish basic standards of accountability and certification for all the state's public schools (one assistant superintendent admitted that he supposed a Maryland public school was certified by virtue of its opening its doors--that's all it takes); (5) failed to influence the state legislature to fund adequately the Thornton Commission plan. This list could go on and on. But somehow there's little discussion of the state's responsibility to Baltimore City students; all the blame gets heaped on the city alone, even though the state has a heavy hand in the schools' governance, and has for many years.

If we were to grade our state politicians' performance regarding Maryland's public school system, we'd give them all a 60%, across the board--and that's just a courtesy. We'd give O'Malley a 70%--a gentleman's C--because he's been a good scrapper whose hands are tied by the state's involvement in the city schools, and by the state's inadequate funding and oversight of these schools.


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This story was published on August 16, 2006.