More than 50.7 million students will be enrolled in the United States public school system by 2022, according to federal predictions. Many of those students live in cities facing challenges of population loss, poverty, crime and corruption. With so much of our population relying on public schools, a quality education system could be the key to changing a city’s trajectory.
In our own investigations within the Baltimore public school systems, we’ve found schools inflating enrollment numbers, changing grades and graduating students who shouldn’t have graduated. Earlier this year, one mother came to us about her son who wouldn’t be graduating on time. She told us,
He’s stressed, and I am too. I told him I’m probably going to start crying. I don’t know what to do for him. Why would he do three more years in school? He didn’t fail, the school failed him. The school failed at their job.
This mother’s experience shows the disconnect between her and the school system. She didn’t know how far behind her son had fallen. Even though he passed just three classes, he was being promoted through course levels. He earned a 0.13 grade point average, but was ranked near the top half of his class of 120. This discrepancy is just one of many we saw in our investigations.
We found many stories like hers, which are crucial to understanding the reality of some of America’s public school systems. We learned at least one Baltimore high school was keeping upwards of 100 students on the roster, even though they were not attending. By inflating enrollment, the school could receive more funding, which is allocated on a per-pupil basis. The issues we exposed in Baltimore gained the attention of local and national media outlets, making community leaders and elected officials aware of what’s really happening in our classrooms.
Local news has the potential to bring more transparency to public schools across the country and improve education. But school districts must be willing to be transparent, which includes doing interviews and answering questions.
Oftentimes, people want accountability — someone to take responsibility and promise to do better. But instead of offering clarity to the community and facing problems head-on, the district leadership in Baltimore has repeatedly chosen the opposite. After nearly five years of reporting in Baltimore, we’ve witnessed how the school systems responded — by blaming the media, ignoring the problem, and accepting the status quo. Those are all easier options than taking responsibility.
As a result, the problems are never fixed and run generations deep. We’ve spoken with former Baltimore City students who made it to high school without ever learning to read. How can parents trust the schools to educate their children, when they too, were failed by the same system? Restoring public trust in our education systems, whether in rural America or large cities, is critical. Parents need to have faith in their local districts, students need quality education and transparency is vital. Local media can be the bridge between parents and schools, providing them with the knowledge they need to make impactful changes.