I hope you’ve heard the good news about our Baltimore City Schools. It’s really something to celebrate.
According to the most recent release of high school performance data by the Maryland State Department of Education, Baltimore City public schools have again increased their graduation rates. But it is the dramatic gains of African American boys that is remarkable. In 2004, only 1,200 graduated from high school and—a greater number— over 1,700 dropped out. Today, just shy of 1,800 African American boys graduated and the dropout rate was reduced by almost two-thirds, to 600. Baltimore is actually leading the nation with these statistics.
Why is this happening? Our schools are getting better in many ways through a determined effort to increase their rigor, their relevance and their resources—all with a focus on increasing graduation rates. And, clearly one of the reasons we are seeing this steady improvement is because we are no longer issuing suspensions for every school infraction. We’re keeping students in the classroom, making sure they know what our expectations are, and keeping them engaged through exciting academic and after-school activities. Teachers are recognizing that instead of pushing kids out of the classroom into unsupervised territory, it’s more important—and actually a sign of success—to keep students in class and learning—including learning from their mistakes. With suspensions down, we at the Open Society Institute are now partnering with Baltimore City Schools to improve attendance as we know that there is also a correlation between attendance and graduation.
Being present. Showing up. It’s a basic idea but dramatically increases the chances that a kid will succeed. But the importance of attending school every single day is not necessarily a message that all of our children have heard. If we let negative critiques dominate our conversations and the media, kids feel that it’s quite alright not to show up every day. And if we don’t make our expectations clear, kids will establish their own standards.
As we see our City Schools getting stronger—and they are stronger by so many measures—everyone in our community can help to make “showing up, being present” a priority.
How can we do this?
We can stand outside on the sidewalk as children walk to school or to the bus stop, and make sure that children are safe and encourage them to have another good day at school. We can keep pressure on the MTA to make sure busses stop and pick up City School kids on time. If we see kids at the corner store during school hours, we can ask them why they aren’t in the classroom—and remind them that every day in school counts for their future! If we mentor kids or volunteer in a school, we can make a fuss over good attendance records. If a neighbor needs care or has a sick child, we can offer our help so a student does not become the caretaker and miss a day of school. We need to let us our kids know that the first step to success is to show up. It’s our priority and it should be theirs.
Too many Baltimore kids still miss too many days of school. To keep their high school graduation rates going up—and to improve their academic performance so they truly are ready for the adult world—our kids need to hear from all the adults they encounter one consistent message: “Attend school EVERY day.” School is the best road to success. And we have the graduation rate figures to prove it.
This post was originally aired as a commentary on WYPR 88.1 FM.