City Schools: Facing Problems

September 23, 1992

Over the years, lots of problems in lots of communities have been blamed on "outside troublemakers," but the Baltimore City schools have come up with a bizarre new addition to the list: High school dropouts from outside the city have been moving in, a school department spokesman suggests, giving Baltimore an inflated dropout rate in a Census Bureau study.

Hey, come on. You're telling us the city dropout rate is not really bad, it just seems bad because dropouts from the suburbs are streaming in?

Admittedly, the city schools must grapple with a dilemma in talking about problems. They need to make problems known so they can get help. Yet painting a picture that is too bleak can hurt, as parents and funding agencies become discouraged.

But parents and funding agencies can also become discouraged -- or cynical -- when obvious problems are denied. Of course, there are different ways to count dropouts. The Census Bureau counts all the 16-to-19-year-olds in the city and divides that into the number who have dropped out, producing a rate of 22.8 hTC percent, ninth in the country and 2.04 times the national rate. But wait, say school officials, look how the state counts dropouts: the total high school enrollment divided into the number who dropped out last year. Why that's only 10.3 percent.

Yet even that rate is abominable. It's 2.4 times the state average. In other words, counted the way the school department tells us to count it, the dropout rate looks just as bad as the way the Census Bureau counts it.

Ironically, the city and state have a success story they could have touted, a state-financed program called Futures in the city and Maryland's Tomorrow in the counties. This drop-prevention program, now in its fifth year, has shown good results.

No one should believe that there isn't a serious dropout problem. But when the school department is asked about it, the response shouldn't be, "The problem isn't nearly as serious as you think," but rather, "We recognize the problem, and we're doing something about it."

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