Passing blame

August 17, 2006

Baltimore city school board members haven't done the best job of explaining their decision to lower the minimum passing grade for key subjects such as math and reading from 70 to 60. But campaign politics is really turning the issue on its head. When Mayor Martin O'Malley, who had nothing to do with the decision, defended it, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said that the governor was "stunned and disappointed" that city leaders could lower expectations for students so easily. But does Mr. Ehrlich feel the same way about students in Howard, Montgomery or Baltimore counties, where the grading systems are the same as the one Baltimore has now adopted? Why are they allowed to pass with a 65 but city kids shouldn't be?

When it comes to Baltimore's schools, Mr. Ehrlich blames his Democratic opponent, Mr. O'Malley, for any problems, even though the state continues to play a major role. It provides most of the schools' funding (although still not as much as it should), and the school board members are appointed jointly by the mayor and, yes, the governor.

Finally, consider this: School board members voted for the grading change because some city students were being penalized in college admissions. Yet, starting with this year's sophomores, high school students aren't likely even to be considered for college unless they can pass assessment tests in four subjects that are being imposed by the state.

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