Academia is filled with Doubting Thomases. Especially in education, skepticism prevails when you hear of innovative reforms taking place. Academic gains are scrutinized while sustainability is called into question. Slowly but surely, one district in particular is standing the test of time, Baltimore City Public Schools.
There is a strong desire to know more about a district that has accomplished the following: increased enrollment for three consecutive years after four decades of decline, cut their dropout rate in half, engaged parents and community leaders, increased student achievement, closed achievement gaps, settled a long lasting special education lawsuit, increased choice and types of schools, and created a new teachers contract that passed on a second vote by a 2:1 margin.
Last week over 1,600 concerned students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community activists gathered in Annapolis to protest education budget cuts. Intense torrential downpour could not dampen the spirits of this determined crowd.
Meanwhile, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I currently attend, professors and classmates alike ask, "Have you heard what's going on in Baltimore?"
As a matter of fact, I have.
As a former Baltimore City Public School teacher, I am proud to see my former students, parents, co-workers, and central office administration get credit for their hard work. It has been a tremendous honor to talk about my experience teaching in Baltimore and share how the reform looks like on the ground level.
In the past, focus has been on reforms happening in New York City and Washington D.C. But with the resignations of Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, Dr. Andres Alonso has had the national media take notice. With coverage from the New York Times and CNN, Baltimore is the district to follow. It is quickly becoming the blueprint for how to turnaround a struggling district.
As people learn more about Baltimore schools, they take away two key points: the students come "as is" and school leadership must engage their parents and community in order to create and sustain change.
Sadly, most Harvard students' only previous understanding of Baltimore is via The Wire. The paradox of what was displayed on television to what is actually happening today is shocking for most.
The inquisitive students want to know how this reform is possible and can it be replicated.
Baltimore has a lot to offer in teaching valuable lessons to Harvard professors and students alike. I can only imagine five years from now when case studies are used about what is happening today in Baltimore's schools.
We all know Baltimore City Public Schools still has a long way to go. But with 1,600 people willing to stand in the rain protesting cuts to education, I think they are on the right track.
In fact, I don't doubt it at all.