Baltimore City public schools are underperforming. The Baltimore City Data Collaborative showed that between 2006-2007, just over 44% of 8th graders were proficient in state reading assessments, and just 24.4% were proficient in math. We know that while high-school graduation rates have improved from over six years ago, still nearly 9.6% of our 9th-12th graders dropped out between 2006 and 2007, almost three times over the state’s average. The problem is complex, even daunting. We all know that properly tackling the issue will involve attacking the educational experience on multiple fronts. We must address the curriculum, the school environment, staffing, discipline, and the broader socio-economic profile of our community.
As troublesome as the issue of public education has become, the greater Baltimore area is equally blessed with an array of cultural resources and institutions of higher learning. There’s Morgan, MICA, Loyola, Goucher, Hopkins, Towson, UMBC, Coppin, etc., all within the orbit of our public schools. Of course, all of these colleges and universities have programs targeted at high-school and elementary students. But what if we expanded these programs exponentially? What if we made our colleges and universities responsible for shouldering some of the teaching taking place in our public schools?
What I’m envisioning is a sort of alternative day program—a university-taught curriculum set aside for elementary and high school students, resulting in a certificate that would accompany a high school diploma. Yes, university professors would be signed-up for the task, and rather than balking at the extra load, the pot would be quite sweet for them to participate voluntarily. Access to research and teaching assistants, supplemental research leaves, and course relief would be offered in return for lecturing in our Baltimore City Day University (BCDU)—for public schools. The program would not substitute for the regular school experience and curriculum, but would supplement it, in an integrated way. Buses would shuttle students from area public schools to local college campuses for a one day a week, immersion experience. The classes taught at BCDU would expose students to research being done by professors, while demystifying collegiate life and making the dream of higher education attainable. As a result, we might find greater numbers of Baltimore youth staying in school.
Of course, the experience would not be complete if we were to isolate our students from university undergraduates. An interesting article recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education indicted the structure of our current educational system for narrowing students’ peer groups. By having students move through life by grade-level, they correspondingly constrain their friendships and social networks to a small age group. So in addition to the day curriculum, what would happen if we exposed large swathes of our public school students to undergraduates and college life? Would they be motivated to stay in school and envision themselves in college? Ultimately, what would happen to their interactions, their conversations, their hopes, their future…their dreams?