The children will be going back to school soon, trailed by the dust of fading summer and the depressing news about their inability to write a complete sentence or add a column of numbers.

The latest statewide English and math test scores – known as the Partnership for Assessments of Career and College Readiness – were released the other day. They offer the newest reasons to worry about Maryland’s public schools, particularly those schools in the Baltimore area.

In grades three through eight, only 41 percent of Maryland students passed the English test, and only one-third passed the math test. About half the state’s 10th graders passed the English test and just over one-third passed the algebra test.

But as dismaying as those numbers are, they’re worse around here. Only 15 percent of Baltimore City students passed the English test and 12 percent passed the math. In Baltimore County, 36 percent passed English and 30 percent passed math.

Some of this reflects an old story: white and Asian students score higher than African-Americans, and youngsters from wealthier areas performed better than those from lower income areas. In Howard County, for example, 56 percent of students passed the English exam and 48 percent passed the math.

But the test results offer some other familiar, and uncomfortable, lessons summed up in an email sent from state teachers’ union leader Betty Weller to The Sun:

“These scores are a reflection of the fact that our schools are underfunded. When you have class sizes of more than 30 kids to a teacher, when you have high teacher turnover rates because we underpay educators, and when you don’t address the nonacademic barriers to learning in our communities of high poverty, you see these achievement gaps persist. It’s not enough to talk about test scores – kids are never going to test their way out of poverty.”

In other words, it’s not the kids who are failing these tests. It’s the schools – and all governments that fail to properly fund them – that fail the kids.

So what do parents do in the face of this depressing news? Those with enough money opt for expensive private or religious schools, meaning the tax dollars they pay for public education are wasted. Or they move to a newer, far more expensive community.

Which means the public schools – and the governments we count on to support a decent public education – have failed entire families, now and into the foreseeable future.

Michael Olesker

A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

Top photo: Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters on North Avenue (photo courtesy Wikipedia)


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