Five Years Later: A Look at the Impact of the Fund’s Reports

Over the past five years, the Fund has created reports that examine the Baltimore City Public School system, hearing from more than 1,600 students, parents, teachers and community members and incorporating their ideas into recommendations for systemic improvements. We have issued reports on school choice, college readiness, community priorities, and our most recent focus – career & technical education (CTE).

The Fund’s independent, experience-based perspective coupled with a commitment to elevate student and family voices in these discussions results in practical, actionable recommendations. As we’ve written about previously, community perspectives are required to truly understand whether reforms are having their intended impact.”

Our reports have spurred the creation of new programs in and expansion of existing programs and resources to school communities in underserved parts of the city, which in turn has improved equity of access to rigorous academic offerings. Our recommendations are driving improvements. Here’s how:

City Speaks: Community Voices on Baltimore Schools (2014) documented our city-wide listening campaign that engaged 859 participants in defining priorities for City Schools. The wide ranging ideas heard in conversations across Baltimore City illustrated what Baltimore residents most wanted for students, including skilled teachers, welcoming school environments, more course offerings and enhanced preparation for college and career.

Impact: Our findings in City Speaks informed our future reports and brought to light the need to incorporate community perspectives into the work of the Fund and City Schools. The experiences and perspectives of those closest to schools (e.g., students, parents, educators, and community members) have driven the issues we have prioritized for analysis ever since.

Building a Bright Future: Understanding College Readiness in Baltimore City Public Schools (2015) examined college readiness in City Schools through focus groups with 225 students, recent graduates, and parents. Results showed that being prepared for college requires rigorous academic preparation, as well as support in social/emotional development, college guidance, and financial literacy. One of our key findings and recommendations: students needed more information and guidance, earlier in the process.

Impact: Building a Bright Future resulted in new programs, resources, and a reinvigorated commitment from the district to supporting college readiness.

  • We partnered with students to develop the Bmore Ready website, which provides guidance on the application process and financial considerations, along with reflections on unanticipated challenges many first-generation students and students of color face when they go to college. More than 1,600 students and families have used the site over the last two years.
  • Before this report, Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings were concentrated in a handful of primarily entrance criteria high schools. Our recommendation to expand access has supported the district’s push to offer AP in at least 25 schools. Most high schools now offer at least one AP course, and many offer several to their students.
  • The report helped drive improvements in access to Algebra I in 8th grade that support college preparation. Passing Algebra I in 8th grade is a key indicator of college readiness; City Schools has substantially increased access to more students and more schools with a focus on expanded access to African-American students.

Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools (2016) featured focus groups with more than 400 students and parents about the school choice process. We asked them what was important to them about a school and how they go about finding what is important to them. Discussions revealed that school choice in City Schools often felt like a black box to parents – the process is managed by the central office, but the information parents receive is largely dependent on communications from their child’s current school. We found that school choice, as implemented here in Baltimore City, amplified inequities: the majority of Gifted and Advanced Learning (GAL) classes were available primarily in more affluent communities. Aside from the academic benefit, GAL courses give students an advantage in selecting and being accepted to Baltimore’s top high schools. This inequity makes access to top high schools (and courses) more difficult for students experiencing poverty.

Impact: Recommendations in Calculated Choices have driven expanded access to opportunity and additional guidance throughout the choice process.

  • After our recommendation to expand GAL sites to more communities, the district did just that. More students and more communities, regardless of wealth, now have access to advanced and specialized courses.
  • The Ingenuity Project, which provides an advanced math and science program to middle and high school students in several schools, opened a new site in West Baltimore as a direct result of this report.
  • The Fund has offered school choice workshops, co-created with a school counselor and a City Schools parent, for the past two years. More than 250 parents and students participated in these workshops during the Fall 2018 choice season.

Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools (2019), our most recent report, gives voice to more than 140 former CTE students who were promised “a leg up toward an in-demand, well-paid career.” Students’ experiences too often do not align with that promise. This report reveals an inflexible program lacking hands-on experiences and career advising, and makes practical recommendations for restructuring CTE to better support students.

Impact: As with all our reports, we have presented the findings to District and city leadership, and dozens of community partners, with more being scheduled. (You can schedule a briefing by contacting Sydneys@ffee.org). The district has been concurrently completing an internal audit of CTE during our production of this report. We look forward to opportunities to partner with them in developing solutions to the challenges identified in our report and the audit.

Interested in learning more? Contact us at info@ffee.org.