We are excited to share our latest report, Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools, looking at school choice in Baltimore City Public Schools.
Calculated Choices is an outgrowth of our 2015 report, Building A Bright Future, which explored how our high school students prepare for college, and the disparities in experience students have depending on which high school they attend. With school choice now an established part of our local education landscape, we wanted to better understand how students and their parents make decisions about to which schools they apply. Along the way, the critical role that middle school plays in this process came into sharp focus as both the options available and the choices families make in 5th grade influence students’ secondary education.
As in our prior reports, this study merges analysis of local and national data with insights from 418 students and parents across 41 communities about how they experience the school choice process. What we learned is that our choice system in its current form has yet to correct the existing inequities.
The inequity is seen in the different pathways that are generally available to families in higher-income vs. lower-income neighborhoods. It starts in middle school where students in higher-income areas have greater access to specialized academic programming. The academic boost they get from such programming helps them earn higher composite scores, increasing their chances of admission to our city’s selective ‘entrance criteria’ high schools over those of their lower-income peers.
However, Calculated Choices also shows that parents and students across all income levels share the same goals and want the same things from our schools with six main themes emerging from our conversations. Participants want strong academics across all schools and geographic areas combined with supportive, safe school cultures led by teachers and staff. When navigating the school choice process, students and parents need information on admission criteria, school offerings and the application steps, as well as consistent school-based support before and during the choice process.
These insights offer our community a roadmap for how to improve school choice going forward. We hope you will take some time to review Calculated Choices, and check out our Baltimore Sun Op Ed. Please reach out to us via email or social media to keep the conversation going.