IT HAPPENS all the time. A writer in some far-off place assumes Baltimore City is part of Baltimore County, then looks at the county's school performance figures and thinks, "Wow! Here's a success story!"
So it was late last month that Forbes.com confused city and county, listing Baltimore County as fourth in a ranking of 10 districts providing "The Best Education in the Biggest Cities" as measured by educational resources, high school graduation rates and median home prices.
Before they discovered the mistake, the public relations people at Baltimore County's Greenwood headquarters issued a self-congratulatory news release.
Three days later came the correction: "Flawed Survey Drops BCPS From Ranking." The original news release is gone from the system's Web site, and Baltimore County is gone from the Forbes piece. (You can do that when you're online.)
But Baltimore County should have fought to retain that fourth-place finish. It is a city school district, has been for three decades. And it's doing quite well academically despite the influence of poverty and other social factors that weigh down urban education.
In fact, it can be argued that in educational terms, Baltimore County is Baltimore City, or at least it's a parallel city. Consider:
Thousands of county residents are recently arrived - from the city. Census figures show the county population increased by 262,000 in the four decades between 1960 and 2000, while the city's population declined by 288,000. The children of many of the folks who moved are enrolled in Baltimore County schools.
So are the children of hundreds of city teachers. If the city system, as we know all too painfully, doesn't seem to know how many people it employs, how could it be expected to know where they live? But many - perhaps a plurality - of the city's teachers, principals and other administrators commute from Baltimore County. (A prominent example is county school board President James R. Sasiadek, a longtime city school principal.)
About 120 of the county's 163 public schools have Baltimore postal addresses.
These two jurisdictions are joined at both hips. As city residents moved out, particularly along the northeast and northwest corridors, county schools took on the look of the city schools they left behind. Liberty Heights Avenue in the city becomes Liberty Road in the county, but there is little to distinguish the schools on either side of the city-county line demographically.
In the past 10 years, the number of elementary-age children in the county eligible for free lunches nearly doubled; more than a third get at least one free meal a day.
And yet 70 percent of the county's fifth-graders scored at the proficient or advanced level in last year's statewide reading test. County kids did just as well or better in other grades and in other subjects.
I wouldn't have returned the Forbes trophy.
`The Apprentice' gets fired for schools reality program
I'd love to have a bug on WBAL-TV's switchboard at 8 tonight.
That's when a one-hour town hall meeting on the city school system's budget crisis pre-empts The Apprentice, the popular NBC reality series in which star Donald Trump summons an apprentice tycoon to his lavish office at the end of each episode and announces, "You're fired!"
All of the major players in the school system's own reality series - the mayor, the governor, the city and state school chiefs and others - have been invited to participate tonight. A few of them no doubt will hear "You're fired" before all is said and done.
Give WBAL credit for turning over prime time to a topic of great civic importance. But a lot of viewers will be angry when they tune in, only to discover "The Martin" in place of "The Donald."
Many school breaks leave a county pupil wondering
A Baltimore County middle school pupil told me yesterday that she can't remember when she had a week of instruction uninterrupted by state testing, weather-related closings, holidays and closings for teachers' conventions and "professional development."
It might have been sometime around Halloween, she thought.
This week might have been a clear sail from Monday through Friday if Maryland had sensibly scheduled the primary for Saturday or Sunday (or both). Tuesday elections are an anachronism. But moving them to the weekend isn't about to happen. It makes too much sense.