Our New Report on Career & Tech Ed in Baltimore City Public Schools Calls for Significant Restructuring to Improve Student Outcomes

While Baltimore City Public Schools describes career and technical education (CTE) as giving students “a leg up toward an in-demand, well-paid career,” students report struggling to navigate an inflexible program lacking promised hands-on experiences and career advising. Many who successfully complete CTE programs earn poverty-level wages six years after graduating from high school.

Those are just some of the conclusions in the report we released today: Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools.

Reports produced by the Fund take an honest look at systems and issues with a significant impact on City School students’ access to an excellent education. Our goal is to shine a light on what works, what doesn’t and what is required to create the environment where all students can succeed. In the process, we bring student, family and community voices to policy discussions – enlisting their perspectives and sharing their ideas for progress.

Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools is the product of individual interviews with almost 140 former CTE students and current teachers. The “bottom line” recommendation is that the district should restructure CTE in order to provide students with experiences and training that will lead to meaningful careers and wages.

Report Findings

More than 9,500 Baltimore City public high school students – 44% of the high school population – are enrolled in CTE. According to the district, CTE provides students with “rigorous academic courses and….work-based learning opportunities, including job shadowing, mentoring with industry professionals or internships.”

Yet, 67% of the students interviewed reported an annual salary of less than $12,200. A 2016 Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) study we cite in Broken Pathways shows those who successfully complete a CTE program earn an annual median income of under $13,000 six years after high school graduation. 

Student and teacher voices in the report describe a program in need of an overhaul, with flawed implementation and structure.

Our interviews reveal that there is minimal career-related advising and little exposure to real-world work experiences. Often, students are illogically placed in CTE programs – sometimes ones in which they have no interest. Most students don’t earn the certifications required to obtain a related job – especially if their teacher leaves before the completion of the program. And students are often unable to transfer to different programs should they want to do so.

CTE teachers reported light course-loads (some only instruct 15-30 students a year), ineffective professional development, and uncertainty about the certification deadlines required to maintain teaching positions. Teachers also had challenges with funding allocations for materials, equipment, and out-of-school experiences.

The report provides a range of student stories that illustrate these concerns.

Report Recommendations

Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools lists wide-ranging and practical recommendations rooted in student and teacher experiences.

  • The majority of Baltimore City Public School CTE programming should be located at two or three easily accessible centers. Students would take CTE classes at these centers and core academic classes at their home schools. This structure would give students access to all programs regardless of home school and enhance teacher collaboration while reducing the redundant finances required in a system with dozens of sites housing CTE programs.
  • In order to ensure students have the reading and math proficiency required for entry-level jobs aligned to specific CTE programs, establish clearly-defined program specific academic           prerequisites.
  •  Students should be given more than a single 45- or 72-minute period each day to master their CTE course material.
  • Each CTE center should have a team of work-based learning coordinators to match students with internships, as well as at least one counselor for every 250 students.
  • Stakeholders in local industries should review CTE curricula, advise on how to align instruction with industry practices, and advocate for programs connected to their industry.
  • Year-round, paid internships should be arranged for all CTE students via district partnership with Youthworks.

These recommendations have the potential to improve post-graduate outcomes for many of the students currently enrolled in CTE programs. If we are truly committed to preparing them for 21st century careers and personal success, then we must create programming that matches that commitment.

The full report is available here. Interested in learning more? Contact sydneys@ffee.org to set up a briefing on our findings and recommendations.

Finding Books with Diverse Characters: It’s Harder than You Think. The problem, the need, and how you can help

By Angelique Jessup, Ph.D., Program Director, Baltimore Campaign for Grade Level Reading/
Fund for Educational Excellence

“Nearly impossible.” “Like finding a needle in a haystack.” “Frustrating.”

These are just some of the comments the Baltimore Campaign for Grade Level Reading (GLR) and the Fund for Educational Excellence recently heard from colleagues and partners discussing the availability of children’s books with diverse characters. While this conversation is not new to the field, a recent New York Times op ed, “Black Kids Don’t Want to Read About Harriet Tubman All the Time,” echoed both the difficulty and frustration we experienced in our own recent book search.

Research shows that seeing characters that represent ones reality sparks connectivity and deepens interests and curiosity. Children of color are no different. However, GLR—a program of the Fund for Educational Excellence that aims to make sure all Baltimore City Public Schools students are reading on grade level by third grade—has experienced firsthand the issues outlined in the op ed: finding children’s books that show racially and culturally diverse characters is incredibly difficult. This needs to change.

As part of a new project (in partnership with Improving Education and City Schools) with six elementary schools designed to improve family engagement, increase summer learning, and build home libraries, we set out to find appropriate books to give every first grade student to encourage reading at home.

The task seemed simple enough: find a fun and engaging book for first grade students that included diverse characters. After hours of searching with incredible partners at the Enoch Pratt Free Library and City Schools, a frustrating truth surfaced: books that meet these criteria are few and far between. Our dilemma deepened as we expanded our search for bilingual books where we found an even starker dearth of options representing diverse characters. Why is it so hard? According to a February, 2017 NPR Code Switch article, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin found that only 12% of children’s books published in 2016 had characters who were people of color.

The call for more diversity in children’s books is getting louder and stronger. We were certainly able to find books that delved into historical topics like Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and how people of color have consistently overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. But, there just aren’t many books featuring diverse characters that are simply having fun and engaging in day to day life. 

Don’t get me wrong, these historical stories are incredibly important and need to be told to children (and as an African American mother of two young children, I am deeply grateful for these books). However, children of color deserve an array of books that span all topics—from silly to serious—and see illustrations that look like them and their communities.

We are not alone in this thinking. Groups like We Need Diverse Books and many others are pushing for quality books that are diverse in characters, topics and reading levels. GLR and the Fund are proud to be adding our voice to this call for greater diversity as an important step in encouraging reading for our City Schools students.

The good news is that while there are not nearly enough, diverse books do exist. With the help of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, GLR recently curated a list of diverse books for our 37 Little Free Libraries located throughout the city. Please check it out, and send us the names of other books that we should add to the list.

While you’re there, consider donating one of the books to a Little Free Library and be part of a movement that has given away over 60,000 books in the last 18 months to children living in book deserts. Or just buy one for a child in your life to help show publishers that the demand for diverse books is as real as the need to make sure all children can find themselves in the pages of a book.

Interested in learning more about GLR, how you can get involved, or other projects supporting children’s education at the Fund for Educational Excellence? Visit the GLR website or contact me at angeliquej@ffee.org.

Kirwan Commission: Accounting for Poverty in Education Funding

Last school year, our City came together in a tremendous push to close a $130M funding gap for Baltimore City Public Schools. Because of the voices of our students, parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders, our elected officials at the State and City level provided enough funding to reduce the gap to $30M and avoid the worst of the anticipated instructional and facilities impacts. But a $30M gap still has an impact on teaching and learning and conditions in schools, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Baltimore City Public Schools students and families were once again forced to accept less.

The reality is that the funds restored this year — and committed for the next three years — to minimize the gap are simply a short-term reprieve. We still have to solve the much larger issue of equitable education funding in the State of Maryland, and the next move lies with the Kirwan Commission. The commission, so named for its chair, Dr. Brit Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System Chancellor, was established in 2016 by the General Assembly. It is charged with recommending changes to the State’s education funding formula and will release its proposals this December.

While the Kirwan recommendations have not yet been made they may be informed by a report from a national firm, APA Consulting, concluding that Maryland should invest an additional $2.6 billion in its public schools. Most notably, the report advises increasing the State’s base per-pupil funding amount from $6,900 to $10,800, while decreasing the additional funding amounts – or weights – allotted for students in need of additional supports.

This recommendation to decrease funding weights for the students who need the most support should alarm all of us working to improve educational outcomes for our most vulnerable students in districts across Maryland, and especially here in Baltimore City. Daily, our students confront food insecurity and housing instability, mental and physical health challenges and violence– the effects of the concentrated poverty in which many of them live.

Inadequately addressed, these effects all come to bear in our public schools. Our educators strive to meet our students where they are – too often, where they are is hungry, tired, stressed, and sometimes traumatized. That’s part of why it costs more to serve our students. Increasing the base per-pupil funding for each student without also increasing the weights for students in need of additional support fails to recognize the significant impact of poverty in a child’s development and will not be enough to provide a truly equitable education.

The failure to fully close last year’s budget gap sent a message to City Schools students, unquestionably the most at-risk, high-need population in the State. It’s time we stopped saying to those who need us the most that they should accept less. The Kirwan Commission will issue its recommendations in December. Let’s make the case for our students to receive the funding they need to receive the type of education every child deserves.

Supporting Baltimore City Public Schools Principals

ffee_3-30-17_0135On Monday, May 22nd, the Fund for Educational Excellence will host the second annual Heart of the School Awards celebrating the dedication and tireless efforts of our Baltimore City Public Schools principals. With the support of City Schools, as well as business, foundation and community partners, this special night will recognize ten exceptional leaders who have demonstrated exemplary innovation, execution, and leadership, building strong school cultures.

Since our successful inaugural event last year, I am often asked why the Fund decided to make this commitment to a principal recognition program. The answer is easy. We think school leadership is absolutely critical to the success of any school. Every research study on turn-around schools or high performing schools says the same thing: it can’t be done without a dynamic principal leading the way.

We see this time and time again in our work where a strong, committed principal is a pre-condition for success for implementing new programs. We hear it in the community discussions we conduct for our Analysis and Engagement studies. And it is re-iterated in the 587 nominations we received this year from teachers, parents, students and community members for 84 individual City Schools principals.

Principals have one of the toughest jobs you can imagine. The responsibility they have for students, teachers and educational outcomes is enormous, particularly in high-need, urban centers like Baltimore where they are constantly asked to do more. They deserve every bit of recognition and support that we can give them.

Please help us celebrate all our 181 City Schools principals by buying a ticket or making a donation today to the Heart of the School Awards on Monday, May 22nd at the historic Hippodrome Theatre. All proceeds go to our Principal Support Fund that awards up to $5,000 to principals for innovative projects or opportunities that benefit their students, teachers and schools. To-date, we’ve awarded 26 grants totaling over $100,000 for projects ranging from classroom technology to student field trips, professional development, and parent engagement.

Thank you for sharing our commitment to principals and we look forward to seeing you next Monday, May 22nd.

Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools

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.

city-college1Calculated 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.