Baltimore's Public School Choice Program: Unfulfilled Promises | WYPR

Baltimore's Public School Choice Program: Unfulfilled Promises

May 22, 2017

For BCPS 8th graders, school choice aims to open a path to college.

Today, guest host Aaron Henkin (producer of WYPR's Out of the Blocks series) spends the hour examining how well the Baltimore City Public School System's "school choice" program is working, twelve years after its launch.

The program was created to give all students (and their parents) a chance to participate in the selection of the middle schools and high schools they wish to attend. 

The annual high-school choice program starts each fall, it goes on through each spring, and it gives late middle-schoolers an opportunity to identify their top five preferred high schools.  Kids make these selections based on a range of criteria:  they look at student population, gender mix, sports programs and, special academic offerings like advanced placement courses and college-credit curricular tracks.

The chance to enroll in a high school that offers rigorous, college-level content can be a determining factor in whether a student goes on to a four-year college.  Acceptance at so-called "academic entrance criteria high schools" can depend heavily on whether a student scored well in advanced courses during his or her middle school years. 

One of the stated intentions of the City’s school choice program? To create better educational opportunities for the city’s lower-income students.     So, today on Midday, we ask, “How’s that been going?”

An independent report released last month has an answer to the question:  It concludes that the school choice program remains well short of its goals, and that high school enrollment in Baltimore City is still strongly tied to income.  It found that lower-income students’ attendance at college-track high schools is roughly half the rate of higher-income students.  The report is titled, “Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools.” It was commissioned by The Fund For Educational Excellence, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that’s supporting efforts to increase student achievement in the city’s public schools. 

The Fund’s President and CEO, Roger Schulman, joins Aaron in the studio this afternoon to discuss the report’s findings and their implications for academic equity in the city’s public school system. Mr. Schulman moved to Baltimore two decades ago as part of the first Teach For America corps to serve in Baltimore City Public Schools. He served as the Executive Director of Teach For America and most recently as a Senior Partner with The New Teacher Project. Roger Schulman, welcome…

Also joining Aaron in the studio is Taylor Stewart.  She is the Baltimore Regional Director at Leadership for Educational Equity.  That’s a nonprofit education policy and teacher-training group whose goal is ‘a quality, equitable education for every Maryland student.’  Ms. Stewart has spent the past 10 years working as a teacher and advocate for academic equity in schools across the city and state. 

And on the line from the Manhattan studio of the New York Times is Nikole Hanna-Jones.  She is a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, and she has reported powerfully on the issue of race and opportunity in America’s public schools. She won a 2015 Peabody Award for her series on school segregation for the public radio program, “This American Life.” And her story last year for the New York Times Magazine, Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, just won her the 2017 Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism.