There was sadness but not surprise in Baltimore last November when Maryland issued its school "report card," showing Baltimore City schools failing in all of the state's eight critical measures, from reading and math achievement to writing to dropout rates.
The counties surrounding Baltimore weren't perfect, either. Howard County failed to equal the state standard in one area, Harford and Baltimore County schools in four, Anne Arundel in six.
Even when the counties lagged, however, they weren't far off the state-set measures for "satisfactory" performance.
Baltimore City, by contrast, scored abysmally, far behind the state standard on almost every count. The report card seemed )) to substantiate what leaders already think of the city's schools.
Here are some of the comments about the city schools we heard in our interviews with leaders from Baltimore businesses and civic groups:
"This school system is dead, but no one has buried it. There's no spirit in the organization."
"Of the 108,000 kids in the system, only 30,000 or so get a decent education."
"For several generations, the Baltimore school system was a wonderful enabling institution. But it's lost its way. Maybe we should declare Chapter 11. Frame it as a civil rights issue for the kids. It would be easier to start over."
"There's a powerful school reform movement blowing through this country. But the educators are the last to realize it."
"The central administration here? It ought to be blown up. They're a bunch of dispirited people who come in late and make up for it by leaving early -- and for that we're lucky."
"The school board hasn't been much of a player. The mayor appoints them and tells them who to make superintendent. Of course it would be a step forward if you abolished it."
"The city schools are a disaster, but the county schools aren't so terrific either."
In contrast to all of that, one high official of the system offered a shred of hope -- tied to two critical "ifs."
"If we only had the money to run a decent system," he said, and "if we only had the guts to replace bad school people with good, then we could be damned close to being the best urban school system in the country."