City schools ignore needs of shining star

November 20, 1998|By Amy L. Bernstein

BY ALMOST any measure, Mount Washington Elementary School, in northwest Baltimore, is one of two or three city elementary schools that can truly be called excellent. Its students outscore most other city schools on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests and other diagnostic exams. Attendance figures are stellar -- consistently above 95 percent.

Naturally, Mount Washington does not excel in a vacuum. Parents are deeply involved in school affairs. The teachers are among the best in the state. Also, corporate partners underwrite such programs as Junior Achievement.

Regrettably, there's one key partner missing from the mix: the city school system.

That was underscored recently by the city school administrators' decision to transfer a third-grade teacher to another school because Mount Washington's enrollment was 10 percent less than projected. This has happened to 22 city schools this fall.

Not walking the walk

Any city school official will tell you that excellence in education is a top priority. We constantly hear about the necessity to improve MSPAP scores and increase parental involvement through parent action teams and other such programs.

But the reality is different. The system is battling overwhelming problems associated with a transient student population, poverty, the lack of readiness for learning and violence. Money woes continue unabated, despite the recent infusion of state funds.

Such problems overwhelm the system as a whole. In this climate, school bureaucrats are not focusing on the need to meet -- let alone exceed -- the achievement bar set by the State Board of Education and endorsed by the city's school board.

As a result, the few city schools like Mount Washington that are not plagued by serious problems, and that do meet or exceed current academic standards, are statistical oddities. By succeeding, we fail to fit the profile of a typical city school. Thus, we are underserved.

For example, only a portion of Mount Washington students who would benefit from academic enrichment courses have access to them. Few classes have computers. And while Baltimore County fifth-graders have microscopes, Mount Washington students have none. We are not asking for the world -- just the resources necessary to pursue academic excellence.

To those who scoff at the notion that a high-achieving school deserves extra attention from an overburdened school system, I say this: Penalizing excellent public schools by ignoring their needs is a dangerously shortsighted strategy.

In the end, the system will lose its ablest students, bring the educational mean down further, and alienate the middle class that is just begging for one more reason to leave the city.

Amy L. Bernstein is a member of the Mount Washington Elementary's School Improvement Team and its Parent-Teacher Organization's executive board.

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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