Somehow we just can't bring ourselves to join in the enthusiasm of the Baltimore Teachers Union and the school department over a new survey that purports to show things are getting better in city schools.
The informal poll was conducted by the BTU, which sent out about 5,000 questionnaires to its members asking about class sizes, availability of textbooks, classroom and first-aid supplies. Only 300 teachers even bothered to reply, which should tell you something right there. And most of those who did listed such familiar complaints that it's a wonder anyone could take the report as evidence of progress.
Ah, but then you'd be underestimating our entrenched education bureaucracy. "This shows us to be in much better shape than we have been in quite some time," chirped school department spokesman Douglas L. Nielson. "It seems like the school system is doing a fairly good job providing the basics," chimed in teacher's union spokeswoman Linda D. Prudente.
Baloney. First, this wasn't even a real survey, but a mere collection of anecdotes of the sort the school system routinely substitutes for hard data -- such as drop-out rates or test scores -- either because it can't get itself together to collect real numbers or because the real numbers show things are getting worse, not better. Second, what's to crow about even in the obviously misleading statistics the BTU did manage to throw together?
Is it progress that the average size of a first-grade class in the city is only 29 students -- which is only four students above the school system's own guideline of 25 pupils per class, which is only about 10 more than the nationally recognized optimum of 16 per class? Give us a break.
Here's a another gem: Textbook supplies are more stable than in previous years the BTU reports. What this means is that there are usually enough books so each student in every class can hold a book in his or her hand for a few minutes between the beginning and end of the class period. Then they have to give their books back because there are not enough texts for each student to take one home and read them. Can you imagine trying to learn Algebra II or chemistry from a book you can't even take home and study?
The encomiums heaped upon this survey by the union and the school department obviously are self-serving attempts to give the appearance of improvement when in fact very little has changed. The pity of it is that the bureaucrats actually seem to believe their own propaganda.