Grasmick's heavy hand deserves applause

April 01, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

So once again I feel as though I've been beamed into an alternate universe.

Are Baltimore's political leaders living in the same city where other Baltimoreans live? Are they living in the state where other Marylanders live? You know, the one called Maryland?

This past Wednesday, the State Board of Education voted to take control of four failing Baltimore high schools. Failing as in large numbers of students unable to pass high school assessment tests in English, biology, government and algebra. If students don't pass these tests by 2009, they can kiss a high school diploma goodbye.

That's only three years from now. There should be some sense of urgency about getting the freshman classes at Douglass, Northwestern, Patterson and Southwestern No. 412 - the four high schools targeted for a state takeover - up to snuff so students can graduate. But what do our city leaders do?

Scream "politics." It's a blatant political ploy, they claim, the work of that evil Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his ally, state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. There's only one cogent response to this charge:

Look who's talking.

Isn't the effort by state Democrats to grant voting rights to felons immediately after they leave prison a blatant political ploy designed to boost the rolls of registered voters with even more Democrats who might vote for either Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley or Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan for governor? Are the Democrats whining about Republicans playing politics, or whining that Republicans are playing it better than they do?

Politics? It's not like anyone has claimed that Democrats - and Democrats alone - have ruled the roost in Baltimore while city schools have gone straight down the tubes. It's not like anyone has said Democrats are rudderless and leaderless. It's not as if anyone has pointed out the party will never see the likes of Harry S. Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and Robert F. Kennedy again. Certainly not in this state, anyway.

That would be politics. It would also be true.

But truth, like in military wars, is apparently the first casualty in political wars as well. In addition to the charges of politics, Dems are on a rampage about Grasmick's "heavy-handed" treatment of Baltimore. Heavy-handed? Why is that a bad thing?

Just how low do test scores at the four schools have to get before "heavy-handed" treatment is justified? Let's just take a look at some of those scores, shall we?

For the school year 2005, 15 percent of Douglass students passed the English 2 high school assessment test. A little over 1 percent passed the biology test, 11 percent passed the government test and 5 percent passed the algebra test. (These figures are from and rounded to the nearest whole number.)

The figures for Northwestern are about 18 percent for English, 11 percent for biology, 20 percent for government and 9 percent for algebra. Patterson had 16 percent for English, 16 percent for biology, 31 percent for government and 10 percent for algebra.

Southwestern has been divided into four schools in one of those brilliant moves the great minds at North Avenue assured us would result in higher test scores. The scores for Southwestern No. 412 were 8 percent passing English, 4 percent passing biology, 13 percent passing government and 4 percent passing algebra.

At the school known as Southwestern I (Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy) 20 percent passed English and 8 percent passed algebra.

At Southwestern II, (Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts) 20 percent passed English and 5 percent passed algebra. Neither school had data for government or biology.

There were no test results on the Web site for the fourth school, the Renaissance Academy.

So should Grasmick have waited until the passing percentages at Douglass and Southwestern for biology and algebra reached zero? What about these figures suggests a "heavy-handed" approach isn't warranted? If Grasmick should be criticized for anything, it should be for not putting enough Baltimore high schools on the list. Figures for Samuel L. Banks, Lake Clifton-Eastern, Forest Park, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. DuBois, Walbrook and the Walbrook Maritime Institute were just as bleak.

If this trend continues, that increase in the percentage of Baltimore high school students graduating will drop through the floor. Our leaders love talking about that increase, and the progress first- through fourth-graders have made in Baltimore.

That doesn't help students now in the four high schools and seven middle schools targeted for a state takeover who face not graduating in 2009 and after. If the state doesn't take over those schools, those students who don't graduate might look back and ask who was really playing politics in 2006.

But there's a solution for that. If 2009 rolls around and the percentage of students passing each test at each of these schools isn't at least 85 percent, all those screaming "politics" now should be forced to resign from public office, never to run for election again.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.