University of Maryland

Concentrated Poverty and Educational Achievement:
Politics and Possibility in the Baltimore Region


Draft Chapter on Baltimore's Education Politics

by
Marion Orr, Clarence N. Stone, and Circe Stumbo

Education in the Baltimore region turns largely on the distribution of poverty, and that distribution presents Baltimore City with a special challenge. In many ways, Baltimore City Public Schools are like schools in other American urban centers in the 1990s-resources are scarce for classroom needs such as student materials, teacher salaries, and technology; the school physical plant is in disrepair; management problems haunt the system; and student performance is alarmingly low. The key factor behind this picture of education is that, like other urban school systems, the Baltimore City Public Schools serve large concentrations of students in poverty. We have long known that poverty has detrimental impacts on individual students in poverty, but it is only recently that it has been demonstrated that high levels of poverty schoolwide create additional educational challenges for the systems and the students they serve. In Baltimore, the magnitude of the challenge is dramatic. In fully 5/6 of the Baltimore City public schools, at least 50 percent of students are eligible for federally-assisted Free and Reduced-price Meals (a standard measure of poverty in the area of education) (statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education Food and Nutrition Branch, 1999). This analysis suggests that advocates for Baltimore City should reckon with not just education improvements (such as improving teachers' skills or ensuring an adequate supply of books), but also with the causes and consequences of concentrated poverty. This would be no small feat, of course, since most education reformers view education in isolation from broader societal forces.

A further difficulty advocates face-and a feature that makes Baltimore City exceptional among American urban school systems--is that statewide poverty is concentrated in Baltimore. Maryland is one of only eight states that have 70 percent or more of their poor concentrated in one city (Maryland State Education That Is Multicultural Advisory Council, 1998). Because of economic and social shifts throughout the latter half of the 1900s, no other school system in Maryland experiences the kinds of concentration effects that Baltimore City faces. Even within the Baltimore metropolitan region, Baltimore City is isolated in facing such high levels of poverty in its schools, having only 30 percent of the region's population, but 70 percent of its poor children (Rusk, 1996).1 Only 19 percent of the students in the five surrounding suburban counties are eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Meals, whereas 67 percent of the city students are eligible2 (statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education Food and Nutrition Branch, 1999). In addition, the migration of Baltimore City's population to the suburbs has left what was once the state's electoral giant now a minor force in statewide politics. These demographics provide Baltimore with precious few allies for programs addressing concentrated poverty.

Given the dual challenges of (1) redefining the education problem to include attention to concentrated poverty and (2) finding allies within a state where the problems of concentrated poverty are for the most part unique to the city, the city-state debate has been one of funding formulas vs. management improvements, with the broader questions of education reform and concentrated poverty left behind. The good news, however, is that a fresh approach to poverty alleviation has emerged across the nation, centered on "community building" or "community development." Because Baltimore has pockets of community organizing and significant neighborhood initiatives already underway, it may be possible to move the education debate beyond issues of school management and funding formulas toward a program of community-building-as-education-reform.

Concentrated Poverty and its Impact on Education

At least as far back as the Coleman report (1966), we have known that an individual's poverty level has an effect on academic achievement. As socioeconomic status goes down, so do test scores and other indicators of student performance. Less widely known is the finding that the level of poverty schoolwide also has an effect on an individual student's achievement--whether or not that student is in poverty. Research shows that test scores of all students, both poor and non-poor, decline as they are in schools with increasing numbers of fellow students in poverty. The U.S. Department of Education's Prospects report (Puma, Jones, Rock & Fernandez, 1993) finds that even though non-poor students perform consistently better than their low-income classmates, the performance of non-poor students nevertheless declines as the proportion of their classmates below the poverty line increases (see Figure 1). Overall, the report finds that "students in low-poverty schools score from 50 to 75 percent higher in reading and math than students in high-poverty schools" (Puma et al., 1993, page xxx). Further, the report finds a "tipping point" of sorts, where school poverty begins to seriously effect student performance. "School poverty depresses scores of all students in schools where at least half the children are eligible for subsidized lunch and seriously depresses the scores when more than 75 percent of students live in low income households" (Puma et al., 1993, emphasis added). For example, note how, in the sample depicted in Figure 1, non-poor students in schools with 50 percent or more of their students in poverty scored at approximately the same level as did poor students in schools with less than 20 percent of their students in poverty. While individual students in poverty pose an educational challenge to a school system, high levels of schoolwide poverty pose an even greater challenge.

These national findings are mirrored in Maryland, as shown in Tables 1 and 2. In 1993, the Governor's Commission on School Funding (known as the Hutchinson Commission) looked at statewide testing data and documented the connection between concentrated poverty and student achievement in Maryland. The national pattern of low performance in high poverty schools was evident in Maryland throughout the 1990s. In 1999, Baltimore City had nearly three times as many students in poverty as did the next closest county in the region and student performance in the Baltimore City Public Schools was far below par. Not every school in Baltimore had such low levels of performance, however. Table 2 shows that the Baltimore City schools with fewer students in poverty performed at dramatically higher levels than did those with more than half their students in poverty. (See also Maryland State Education That Is Multicultural Advisory Council, 1998, for further documentation of the close tie between the level of school poverty and scores on Maryland's statewide performance tests.)

The forces that have contributed to the overwhelming concentration of poverty within the city have been at work for decades. Baltimore's manufacturing economy started to decline during the 1950s. In 1951, Baltimore had 1,811 manufacturing establishments. By 1959, the number had fallen by 12 percent. The decline intensified between 1970 and 1980, and in 1990 the central city had only 844 manufacturing plants. Concomitantly, the number of manufacturing workers dropped, declining severely since the 1950s. From the early 1950s to 1990, the number of Baltimoreans employed in manufacturing dropped from 127,000 to only 42,000, and in 1995 only 33,000 manufacturing jobs remained. Employment fell considerably in primary metal plants, shipbuilding and repair, and transportation equipment manufacturing. These were the blue-collar jobs from which Baltimore's industrial workers had built middle-class living standards throughout the twentieth century. Economic forecasters predict that by 2005 only 29,000 manufacturing jobs will be located in Baltimore (Maryland Office of Planning, 1998).

As with many older industrial cities, the decline in the manufacturing economy coincided with a large in-migration of African Americans. Thus, economic and demographic change were intertwined. Between 1950 and 1990, the racial composition of Baltimore's population changed dramatically, from only 24 percent African American to nearly 60 percent. Baltimore's black population nearly doubled, from 225,099 to 430,935. By 1997, the black population in the city was 65 percent and the white population 33 percent. The growth of the African American population in Baltimore coincided with the massive exodus and suburbanization of the city's white population. Between 1950 and 1990, the number of whites living in the city declined by over 430,000, a decrease of 60 percent. White flight accelerated during the 1970s, with some 135,000 residents leaving the city during the decade. By 1995 only 247,000 whites lived in the central city, compared to 479,837 in 1970. Overall, Baltimore's population dropped precipitously after 1950, while the population of its suburbs surged. In 1950, Baltimore's five suburban counties had a total population of approximately 455,000 residents. In 1990, the same five counties had become home to 1.3 million residents, 86 percent of whom were white.

The age structure of Baltimore's emerging black majority magnifies the racial shifts. Before 1950, the percentage of white school age children out-numbered African Americans significantly; in 1940, 79 percent of the school children were white, and only 21 percent were black. After 1950, when race assumed increased salience leading up to and following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, the school-age population began to change dramatically. Between 1950 and 1990, the number of white school-age children dropped from 140,061 to 41,294, a decrease of 70 percent. During the same period, the number of black children rose from 52,337 to 101,399, an increase of 94 percent. In 1955, the unified Baltimore school system was 60 percent white in student population. Five years later, black students outnumbered whites 51 percent to 49 percent. The trend continued through the 1970s and 1980s. By 1998, the Baltimore City Public Schools student enrollment was 85 percent African American (Maryland State Education That Is Multicultural Advisory Council, 1998). Meanwhile, overall enrollment in city schools continues to decline in the face of a rise in statewide enrollment.

The loss of its residential base further exacerbates Baltimore's economic transformation. As population has moved to the suburbs, so has retail activity. As shown in Table 3, whereas 80 percent of the region's retail sales took place inside the city in 1948, before postwar suburbanization had proceeded very far, by 1992 that figure had plummeted to 18 percent. In 1948, the city had a larger proportion of retail sales than it had of the region's population. Today, the city's portion of retail sales is significantly smaller than its proportion of the region's population. Suburban office space is another decentralizing trend, tilting jobs and the regional tax base even more heavily into outlying areas surrounding the city.

Economic transformation, complicated by racial concentration and a history of racial discrimination, is a painful and socially disruptive process. For black Baltimoreans as a whole, labor market exclusion has spawned staggering increases in poverty, welfare dependency, and other symptoms of community distress. Median income in the city of Baltimore is well below the state average, and is less than half the amount of the state's wealthiest counties. While the Free and Reduced Price lunches data are powerful indicators of wealth disparity, equally as dramatic are the poverty figures for higher levels of need. More than one in six families in Baltimore fall below the poverty level as determined by federal poverty guidelines.3 This figure is three times the average number of families in poverty statewide. While the regional poverty rate dropped from 11 percent in 1970 to 10 percent in 1990, the poverty rate in Baltimore increased from 18 percent to 22 percent. Further, Baltimore's suburbs have successfully resisted most efforts to disperse the poor more evenly over the metropolitan region (Rusk, 1996). Baltimore is, as David Rusk bluntly put it, the "region's poorhouse" (1996, page xv).

In part, the demographic shift in the Baltimore City Public Schools simply reflects the changes in overall city population. But it also reflects the historical reluctance of financially secure families, particularly white families, living in the city to send their children to public schools, opting instead to send them to private schools. "The white middle class in Baltimore," asserted a 1967 study, "is rapidly separating the educational fortunes and destiny of its children from those of the other children--the Negro children, the children of poverty, the majority of the children" (National Education Association, 1967, p.32). Thus, the dynamics of demographic change in Baltimore between 1950 and 1990 were such that matters of race and poverty would be disproportionately felt in the public school system. As one close observer wrote: "the flight of the white middle class (and later of the black middle class) to the suburbs contributed as much as anything to the severe problems experienced by city schools in the 60's, 70's, and 80's" (Bowler, 1991, page 6). As David Rusk put it, "The heart of Baltimore City's slow decline is that it is cast in a highly specialized role within the metropolitan community: Baltimore City must house, educate, and serve the social needs of far too many poor black residents" (1996, page xxiv).

It is not difficult to see how Baltimore's specialized role puts its school system at a distinct disadvantage. In 84 percent of the Baltimore City public schools, at least 50 percent of students are eligible for Free and Reduced-price Meals--the concentration level noted above as a tipping point at which test scores of all students in the school are depressed. For the Baltimore suburbs, the percentage of schools with that level of school-wide poverty ranges from a low of zero schools in Carroll County to a high of 21 percent of the schools in Baltimore County. Combined, only 11 percent of the five suburban counties' schools have 50 percent or more of their students in poverty (See Table 4). At higher levels of concentration, the differences between Baltimore City and the surrounding suburbs are even more stark. Well over half of the city's schools (60 percent, or 109 schools) have an uncommonly high concentration of 75 percent or more of their students in poverty-the tipping point where school poverty seriously depresses student achievement. By contrast, three counties have no schools with such a high concentration, only a single Anne Arundel County school has 75 percent or more of its students in poverty, and Baltimore County has only four schools with such a high concentration level (statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education Food and Nutrition Branch, 1999; see Table 5). Given the extra educational challenge schools with high concentrations of poverty face, it is not surprising that 83 of the 97 schools in Maryland currently eligible for state reconstitution because of weak performance are located in the city. The reconstitution-eligible schools in Baltimore City have an average of 78 percent of their students in the federal lunch program (statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education Food and Nutrition Branch, 1999). Among the five suburban counties in the Baltimore region, only one school is on the state list. In that lone suburban school, 84 percent of its students are in poverty.

Research continues on why concentrated poverty depresses school achievement so dramatically, but it is clear that there are both tangible and intangible sources for poverty's depressing power. In tangible terms, schools in areas of concentrated poverty simply do not have the resources available to schools in more affluent areas. In Maryland, wealth per pupil delineates the problem. Baltimore City has the lowest figure in the state, at $126,024 per pupil4. The state's electoral giant, Montgomery County, is third highest at $385,088--more than three times greater than Baltimore City. The five suburban counties in the Baltimore region also have greater per pupil wealth than the city. Three counties have more than double the wealth per pupil base than the city has, and the other two, Carroll and Harford, have 58 percent and 53 percent, respectively, greater wealth than the city (statistics compiled from Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) 1997-1998 Fact Book, pages 26-27; see Table 6 ).

With a relatively weak tax base, Baltimore is severely strained to meet the many obligations that fall on an aging city. Consequently, the property tax rate for the city, as shown in Table 7, is more than double that of any of its suburban neighbors. Despite its high level of taxation, Baltimore City is only able to raise 27 percent of its public school revenue from local sources, compared to the suburbs, which are able to raise an average of 58 percent of their total revenues from local sources (and Montgomery County, which raises 69% of its high revenues from local sources) (statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Planning, Results, and Information Management, 1998; see Table 8). Baltimore's economic base has shrunk to the point that even with a high tax rate and a significant infusion of state and federal funds, per pupil expenditure lags behind most suburbs. Per pupil expenditure in Baltimore City is well below Montgomery County and also lower than three of the five suburban counties in the Baltimore region (see Table 9 ).

A closer look uncovers an even more dismal picture of the city's education situation, as comparison based simply on per pupil expenditure understates the city's plight. Spending in relation to need finds Baltimore City trailing the rest of the state. For example, figures on per pupil expenditures make no allowance for extraordinary costs of special education. Compared to its suburban neighbors, Baltimore has a significantly higher proportion of its students in special education, and an even wider disparity in the proportion of students in the higher levels of special need. This is a common occurrence in areas with concentrations of poverty. In Baltimore City, the result is dramatic. In 1997, about one-third of the unrestricted educational funds in Baltimore City was spent on the 17.6 percent of students who are in special education. When these figures are considered, the city ranked last in Maryland in spending per pupil for regular education and first in spending per student for special education (Price, Bowie, and Henderson, 1998).

Thus, Baltimore City winds up with considerably less money for ordinary instruction than its suburban neighbors have. Teacher salaries reflect that fact. At all levels, from beginning salaries on up, Baltimore City trails surrounding suburbs (Maryland State Department of Education, 1998a, page 20; see Table 10). In both recruiting teachers and retaining them, Baltimore City operates at a significant disadvantage. It is not surprising, therefore, that Baltimore City also has a higher proportion of its teachers who have a provisional certificate--17 percent compared to an average of 2 percent in the suburbs (Maryland State Department of Education Division of Certification and Accreditation, 1999).5 Recent discussions of school reform have focused on teacher quality as a crucial factor in school performance; Baltimore City, however, is in a weak position to compete for and retain the most qualified teachers.

While these tangible considerations are compelling, the intangible consequences of concentrated poverty may be more important. Once poor students become a majority, urban schools turn into different institutions.6 Middle class students typically come to school backed by an extensive set of mainstream social supports based in their families and communities. The education level of parents, their relatively greater ease with schools and other large organizations, the money that affluent families can spend on summer camps and special tutorials, a home environment supplied with computers and related forms of advanced technology, the business and professional contacts and successes of parents, and much more provide middle class students with a level of investment in their human capital that schools can easily build on. Students in poverty lack that elaborate system of private investment in their human capital, and the task of their schools is immensely more difficult for that reason.

Baltimore City students also experience what sociologist William J. Wilson calls social isolation--isolation from mainstream experiences and opportunities (Wilson, 1996). While for most middle and upper income students, college is understood to be a pre-requisite for a lucrative career, in lower income communities, school may offer no highly credible path to a good-paying job in the mainstream economy. For many, school has been a frustrating experience. In the face of limited life chances, lower-income students and their families tend not to expect schools to lead them to a brighter future. Many also operate at a significant disadvantage in their relations with schools due to their prior negative experiences, lower levels of cultural capital, and experiences of exclusion from mainstream institutions (see, for example, Matute-Bianchi, 1986; Ogbu; Dimaggio, 1982; and Halpern, 1995). Parent monitoring of school performance tends to weaken as middle class presence subsides, and almost inevitably, student and community expectations are dimmed by a scarcity of success stories around them.

Yet, expectations are widely regarded as critical to student success in school. Once expectations slip, school performance is certain to fall. Reform-minded educators have little doubt about the connection. Baltimore's Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Elizabeth Morgan, spoke to this point when she said that, whereas the mantra in the real estate industry is "location, location, location," the education mantra is "expectations, expectations, expectations" (Baltimore Education Network public meeting, January 21, 1999).

This is not to say that parents and community members in poor areas do not care about their children. Rather, it is to suggest that the connection between caring about one's child and caring about one's school is tenuous, at best. It is quite a leap of faith to expect that an institution which has not well-served the community will somehow serve its children. Unfortunately, this can become a self-perpetuating cycle. When expectations are low, the motivation to achieve academically diminishes accordingly, and teachers are inclined to become increasingly concerned with issues of classroom control. Student social problems may also become more visible. In Baltimore, educators cited "student life style, home conditions, discipline, learning skills, and student preparedness" as impediments to improved school performance (MGT of America, 1995, pages 3-34). As student background becomes less conducive to high expectations about academic achievement, teachers and principals may feel that they face overwhelming obstacles. Even if they see those obstacles as embedded in underlying conditions, they may feel helpless to alter those conditions. Consequently, educators may see lower-class students as offering weak prospects of professionally rewarding experiences. If so, the rewards of pay and job security may start to assume a larger role--thus potentially making the academic achievement of students an even less central concern. Reformer James Comer talks about "the hand of hopelessness" and how it can grip schools (Comer, 1993, page viii). Cynicism and deep-seated doubts about the ability of anyone to turn school performance around take hold, and each unsustained move to reform simply reinforces skepticism (Public Agenda Foundation, 1992).

In Baltimore, this downward process filtered throughout the entire system. Not only were individual classrooms and schools having trouble raising their own expectations and performance, but management of the city's schools appeared slack and ineffective. In the early 1990s, two management studies of Baltimore City schools document how a system entangled with concentrated poverty can also become enmeshed in a plethora of management problems. The 1992 study found that goal of academic achievement had ceased to guide the system, and in its stead was a "culture of complacency" (Associated Black Charities, 1992, III-42). Analysts described a system that "has not placed a premium on effective management," one that did not place "a high value on strongly managing employee performance" (Associated Black Charities, III-24). In calling for fundamental reform, this early report educed that: "Of all the barriers to change. . ., the most difficult is that of entrenched employee attitudes" (Associated Black Charities, III-42). The 1995 report reaffirmed these earlier findings (MGT of America, 1995).

Neither report, however, sought to explain how enormous difficulties in the educational task can give rise to defeatism, which, in turn, creates apathy. To some observers, the conjunction of high poverty and poor management may seem nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence, a happenstance that, in the face of great need, top administrators failed to measure up. Overlooked may be the question of what it may take to measure up. A discerning observer might note that ineffective school management is not a phenomenon peculiar to Baltimore, but a characteristic of many big city systems. Baltimore's neighbor, Washington, DC, is also struggling to turn around weak performance, as are such varied cities as Atlanta, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. In the 1980s, pre-reform Chicago was cited by then Secretary of Education William Bennet as the worst-run school district in the nation (Vander Weele, 1994), and earlier an in-depth study labeled the New York City system a "pathological bureaucracy" (Rogers, 1968). A few decades back, Boston schools were found to be a poorly run satrapy of that city's Irish (Schrag, 1967). Examples could be multiplied, covering all regions of the country and a considerable stretch of time. Thus, indications are abundant that ineffective management in education is a widespread phenomenon in big city schools, and has been for some time.

But, why? There was once an era in which large urban schools were the star performers in American education, so bigness itself is not the source of the problem. Neither can such a prevalent pattern be attributed to happenstance. Rather, it appears that concentrated poverty has management consequences in addition to classroom consequences. Management efforts that might be adequate for middle class schools are easily overwhelmed in urban schools serving large enrollments of lower class students. To illustrate, recruiting and retaining able faculty to teach in areas of certified competence are more difficult. Maintaining high morale is a particular challenge. Moreover, special antipoverty programs often come with detailed regulations about eligibility and reporting. The gap in social status between school staff and parents may complicate school-community relations and parent involvement. The student population is often highly mobile. Frequently, school buildings are older and pose more serious problems of maintenance and upkeep. The short of the matter is that school systems with a high level of student poverty generally face more problems with fewer resources, and slimmer prospects for professionally recognized achievement. It is not surprising, then, that once management problems cross a certain threshold, they seem to feed on one another and become embedded.

The educational challenge of concentrated poverty was recognized by Maryland's 1993 Governor's Commission on School Funding (the Hutchinson Commission). In Baltimore, the educational challenge of concentrated poverty and the accompanying management problems in the schools resulted in a full-fledged crisis. This crisis set the stage for a political clash between the city and the state, with the city on one side of the education battle, using the courts to seek greater funding from the state, and the state on the other side, looking for improved management of the city's school system. Unfortunately, the ensuing debate lacked a coherent theory of educational improvement in the face of concentrated poverty. The debate did not address how more money would turn the situation around. Neither did it address the adequacy of tighter internal management as a response to the system's crisis.

And neither did it acknowledge concentrated poverty as a serious problem. Yet it is not as if state leaders were unaware of the research pointing out the concentration effect. Based on a review of student performance in the state, among other available research and data, the Commission, known as the Hutchinson Commission, made recommendations to address the effects of concentrated poverty in Maryland. These recommendations included minimum school funding levels, targeted funding for children living in or near poverty, integrated services for families and children beginning at birth and extending through secondary school, and additional funding for services as ways to mitigate those challenges (Governor's Commission on School Funding, 1994). The report was not adopted, and instead the struggle focused more on the flexing of political muscle than on policy responses to the educational challenge of concentrated poverty.

The Political Issue of Management vs. Funding

With its anemic tax base, Baltimore City has long sought greater state funding, both legislatively and through the courts. In 1922, Maryland enacted an "equalization" formula to reduce (but not eliminate) the impact of wealth disparities across the state. The formula has been revised over time, with the current revision having been in place since 1974.7 However, the state's record on equalization still is extraordinarily weak. By one study, Maryland ranks last in the nation in equalization effort (Center for the Future of Children, 1997), and a GAO report finds a similar pattern (General Accounting Office, 1998).

Because of the unequal spending on education across the state, in 1979, Baltimore City and three rural Maryland counties sued the state of Maryland for not living up to its constitutional requirement to provide a "thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools" (Maryland Constitution). Though the plaintiffs lost the case-the court determined that the Maryland Constitution does not require equality of per pupil funding and expenditure-the court noted that the plaintiffs simply did not offer evidence that an adequate education was not being provided as "measured by contemporary educational standards" (Court documents, in Cipollone, 1997). The opinion implied that had they made such a claim, perhaps the court would have ruled differently. As it stands, the court's acknowledgment of a right to an adequate education stands as an available basis for future litigation.

Meanwhile, in the late 1980s, Maryland's state-level education officials launched an ambitious and aggressive campaign to institutionalize reform at the state level, including the development of standards for student performance, a statewide testing program administered annually to students at grades three, five, and eight, and an accountability system to assess and report how schools and school systems were progressing toward meeting the new standards.8 The reforms also gave the state the power to intervene in and reconstitute schools that were failing to meet the state standards. Since 1990, the accountability reports demonstrated that the Baltimore City Public Schools continually failed to meet the state standards. Using the finding of the courts following the 1979 lawsuit, coupled with evidence that the city schools were not improving their standings relative to state standards, the ACLU of Maryland filed a lawsuit on behalf of at-risk students in the Baltimore City Public Schools in December of 1994. The suit charged that the state was not providing Baltimore City students with an adequate education because it did not assure the schools had sufficient funding. Nine months later, Baltimore City sued the state on similar terms, asking the court to order the state to redesign its finance system. State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick quickly counter-sued, claiming that the Baltimore City Public Schools had mismanaged the school system. These events led to a bitter struggle over issues of funding and accountability (Cipollone, 1997).

The lawsuits launched a flurry of activity in both the state house and city hall. The main sticking points between city and state officials were funding, reform, and accountability. Both sides hoped that the issues could be settled out of court. In a series of meetings held shortly after the lawsuits were filed, the mayor and the state superintendent of education discussed plans to alter management of the Baltimore City Public Schools and to settle the lawsuits. These talks, reportedly held for several weeks, resulted in the two officials agreeing to a "partnership" that would significantly increase the state's role in the management of the Baltimore City Public Schools in exchange for additional state education aid for the system. The partnership would abolish the city school board and the superintendency, replacing them with a school commission appointed jointly by the governor and the mayor, and with a CEO appointed by the new commission. The city would also have to agree to a series of management reforms, including overhauling the school system's personnel procedures and renegotiating union contracts.

By spring 1996, the major players--including Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Governor Parris Glendening, State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, Delegate Pete Rawlings of Baltimore, chair of the House of Delegates' Appropriations Committee and a particularly vocal backer of management reforms, and Senator Barbara Hoffman, also of Baltimore and chair of the Senate's Budget committee--appeared to have reached an agreement allowing increased state oversight of the Baltimore City Public Schools in exchange for an infusion of additional state dollars. As word spread of the pending partnership agreement, however, Mayor Schmoke wavered. In a series of uncharacteristically biting and sharply worded letters to Governor Glendening, Schmoke contended that he had not committed to entering into a partnership agreement, implying that the Baltimore City Public Schools' problems were caused solely by a lack of financial resources, not by mismanagement. Schmoke charged that state leaders' persistent call for restructuring the Baltimore City Public School's management was at best offensive and at worst racist. "The idea that management is the primary problem [in the Baltimore City Public Schools] is insulting and paternalistic, and to my mind gains currency, in certain circles, because it is politically expedient and appeals to popular stereotypes," Schmoke wrote (letter from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to the Honorable Parris Glendening, June 20, 1996 [in author's file]). Those who negotiated the partnership agreement were dismayed by Schmoke's assertion that he had not agreed to the management changes. The mayor's chief lobbyist in Annapolis, Henry W. Bogdan, had sat in on the negotiations and recalled, "There was agreement that a city-state partnership tied to future state funding increases was the only practical solution" (Henry W. Bogdan, "Letter to the Editor," The Sun, May 23, 1996).

Perhaps two factors figured into Schmoke's apparent reversal. First, he was uncomfortable with key specifics of the proposal. Second, he faced pressure from powerful community leaders to resist relinquishing local autonomy to the state. As part of the city-state agreement, state officials proposed giving Baltimore $150 million in additional state education aid over a five year period if the city agreed to substantial restructuring of Baltimore City Public Schools. Mayor Schmoke argued that these additional state funds were significantly less than the $500 million recommended previously by the Hutchinson Commission.

Further, he opposed the provision stripping away his power in personnel and procurement decisions in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Under the existing structure, the city's Board of Estimates, controlled by the mayor, approved all contracts and appointments of all non-educational personnel. Under the proposed partnership, the new school commission would have complete control of all Baltimore City Public Schools personnel and procurement. In a critical editorial, the Sun observed that Schmoke wanted to retain this mayoral "money pot" (Schools: The Mayor's Money Pot, 1996).

Schmoke was also influenced by local politics. The most vocal opposition to the city-state partnership was from members of Baltimore's powerful African American clergy, especially members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD). These black ministers jealously guarded black administrative control of the Baltimore City Public Schools. The church community considered the proposal an "outrageous" state "takeover," threatening the long tradition of black-control of the Baltimore City Public Schools (Maybank, 1996). According to the Reverend Roger Gench, co-chair of BUILD, "racial prejudice and stereotypes [were] behind" the agreement (Shen and Babington, 1996).9

Mayor Schmoke's forceful letters (which were widely circulated by his public relations office) to Glendening could have been an attempt to appear recalcitrant, to leave the impression among politically powerful school interests that he was fighting the good fight and would not relinquish local control easily. Otherwise, it was a duel Schmoke had already lost. Governor Glendening and other state leaders took a firm position with city officials, designating a deadline for Schmoke to agree to the partnership. The city's lawsuit was scheduled to go to court in early November 1996. Not knowing what to expect from a court ruling, or how long it would take to reach a final court judgment (an appeal of the case was expected), everyone involved preferred a negotiated solution instead of a judicial one.

After a couple of weeks of intense negotiations, Glendening increased the amount of additional state aid to $254 million over five years -- $30 million in fiscal year 1998, $50 million each in fiscal years 1999 and 2000, at least $50 million each in fiscal years 2001 and 2002, and an additional $24 million increase for capital improvements. With time running out, Schmoke was ready to sign on. On November 27, 1996, Schmoke and Glendening announced that the parties had reached a settlement. At a news conference, reportedly near tears and voice cracking with emotion, Schmoke announced that he had entered a partnership with the state. "When I came into office, I said it was my goal to make this the city that reads. It became clearer and clearer to me that our community could not achieve that goal without a partnership with the state" (Thompson and Siegel, 1996).

The agreement was incorporated into a Consent Decree designed to settle the education funding lawsuits. The major components of the Decree included: (1) establishing a new Board of School Commissioners (the nine-members would be jointly appointed by the governor and the mayor from a list of "qualified" applicants submitted by the Maryland State Board of Education); (2) giving the restructured school commission "complete control of all personnel and procurement" including the negotiation of union contracts; (3) restructuring the top management of the Baltimore City Public Schools, including replacing the superintendent with a chief executive officer who would be responsible for its overall administration; (4) requiring the new school commission to develop and implement (with the approval of state officials) a "master plan" to increase student achievement; and (5) establishing an evaluation system that would report the progress of reform in the Baltimore City Public Schools to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City and state officials. The final step in adopting the partnership and settling the lawsuits was the approval of the spending plan by the legislature. However, the profile of Maryland's electoral landscape, the state's racial history, and limited state resources made full funding of the agreement less than certain. Montgomery County officials opposed the agreement, having failed earlier in their effort to become a party in the litigation. They had argued that their officials should have been part of the process because the county's school budget would be affected by any increase in state aid to Baltimore. The court denied their request.

Despite the Court's ruling, Montgomery County officials joined leaders in Prince George's County to use their growing numbers in the legislature to force Glendening substantially to increase educational aid to the rest of the state (Hyslop, 1997). Their counter-proposal requested an additional $44 million in school aid in fiscal year 1998, and $108 million each year for four years, with Montgomery and Prince George's Counties getting the biggest share. Moreover, suburban representatives challenged the idea that more money would solve the problems afflicting Baltimore's troubled school district. "It's like putting millions of dollars into a one-wing airplane. One-wing airplanes don't fly. It's just good money after bad," declared a Montgomery County legislator (Waldron and Zorzi, 1997).

The assertive opposition of suburban leaders caused considerable dissension. The president of the senate chastised Montgomery and Prince George's officials for being parochial: "They are acting like hogs feeding at the trough" (Baltimore Aid Critics Called "Hogs," 1997). The debate in the legislature turned especially bitter after the chair of the senate budget committee, Barbara Hoffman, raised the issue of race as she discussed Montgomery County's opposition to the proposal. Hoffman, who is white, told reporters that the county legislators' opposition "comes across as racist" (Neal and Perez-Rivas, 1997). Hoffman later apologized, though those critical of her statement focused on the word "racist," not on the words "comes across as." In a less charged atmosphere, Hoffman's critics might have seen her point--that, from officials representing predominantly white and affluent constituents, opposition to increased spending for a school system populated overwhelmingly by children who are African American and poor could come across as racist, particularly to city-dwelling African Americans.

Leaders of the growing suburban counties were not the only opponents of the "city-state" partnership. The Baltimore Teachers' Union (BTU) and other city unions came to Annapolis to lobby against the measure. The BTU opposed the provisions allowing the new school commission to reopen contract talks and to reach new work agreements with unions. Moreover, BTU leaders objected to the requirement that certain central administration supervisors reapply to the new school commission for their old positions (Kurtz, 1997).

Black community leaders, parent groups, and black ministers from Baltimore were perhaps the loudest critics of the proposal, arguing that the African-American community was giving up its rights to influence school operations. Many of these community leaders opposed sharing power with white state officials10. The Reverend Arnold Howard, president of the IMA, noted that the ministers opposed the partnership because they believed that the additional funds were "not enough" to warrant state oversight of the city's largest municipal department (Thompson, 1997). The Reverend Frank Reid, pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church (and Mayor Schmoke's stepbrother), also spoke out against the agreement. Paraphrasing a verse from Scripture, Reid asked: "What does it profit a city to gain $254 million and lose its soul?" (Two Ministers Join Effort To Defeat City Schools Deals, 1997). In an open letter to state legislators, the ministers and community leaders denounced the school-aid package as "anti-democratic" and "racial paternalism":

We will not accept Baltimore becoming a colony of the state, with its citizens having no say in the education of their children. African-Americans, in particular, have fought a long, hard battle for equality. Over the years, too many paid the ultimate price for community empowerment. We will not stand and allow the gains those people sacrificed and died for to be given away. We have earned the dream of quality education for our children, and local autonomy in decision-making. (Open letter, 1997)

None of the opposition, however, was able to stop the momentum toward institutionalizing state-level reform in the Baltimore City Public Schools, though it was successful in increasing state funds to the suburbs. In early April 1997, following days of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, the House of Delegates voted 78 to 61 to approve the city-state partnership. Legislative leaders incorporated a provision to add $33 million in education aid for other school systems around the state (including $6 million for Montgomery County and $8 million for Prince George's counties). Only three of Montgomery County's 20 delegates supported the measure, and no one from Prince George's County voted in favor of the partnership. Three Baltimore legislators voted against it. Two days later, the Maryland Senate easily passed the agreement, 33 to 13. On April 10, 1997, Governor Glendening signed the legislation into law.

The Clash Between State and City

Efforts to implement the city-state partnership were undertaken immediately. Fall-out from the settlement, however, was not far behind. In 1998, suburban representatives once again used the state settlement with Baltimore City as leverage for pursuing greater funding for their school systems. A minority report to the Hutchinson Commission's 1994 report (which had identified concentrated poverty as a special educational challenge) foreshadowed the more public debate to come in 1998. Written by members from Montgomery County, the minority report stated objections to the use of concentrated poverty as a basis for policy and funding decisions. Rather, according to the minority report, the focus ought to be on individual students in poverty. This procedure would limit Baltimore City's claim on state funds while maximizing the suburban claim. Indeed, in the 1998 state school funding debates, Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan insisted that policy be based simply on totaling the number of students below the poverty line. Duncan claimed that their school system deserved consideration equivalent to Baltimore when allocating state funds for at-risk students-thus ignoring the concentration effect on school performance whilestaking a claim on state funds. Suburban efforts were ultimately successful-an economic boom increased state revenue, which was then parceled out to school districts with poor students, without weight given to a concentration effect.

The settlement, it seems, had provoked a suburban reaction that revealed the weakened position of Baltimore City and the strengthened position of the suburbs in state politics. Not only has the city's manufacturing economy weakened and family incomes declined in relation to the state average, but Baltimore also finds itself increasingly diminished as an electoral force. In 1920, half of the state's population lived inside the city limits of Baltimore. By 1990, the figure was one-seventh. In the post-World War II period, the place of Baltimore City in statewide elections has dwindled at a steady pace. In 1946, voters in Baltimore cast 42 percent of the ballots in the gubernatorial election, twice as many as in the five surrounding suburban counties combined. Montgomery County, the current electoral giant, cast only 6 percent of the state's ballots in 1948. By 1998, the picture had changed dramatically. Baltimore City cast only 10 percent of the ballots in the 1998 gubernatorial election, as compared to Montgomery County's 18 percent. The Baltimore suburban jurisdictions had a combined electoral clout of 39 percent of the state's total, nearly four times the city's share (data compiled from Radoff, 1948-49 and 1951-52; Scammon, 1956-73, and 1975; Scammon and McGillivray, 1997-98; and Maryland State Administrative Board of Elections, 1998; see Figure 2).11

Further, with legislative seats based on population since the reapportionment decision of the 1960s, Baltimore's presence in the General Assembly of Maryland has declined due to the out-migration of city residents. Though legislators from Baltimore chair the appropriations committees in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, the actions of those committees are closely guarded by other legislators. A preeminent concern among legislators is to maximize the dollars that come to their home jurisdictions in any funding formulas or state appropriations. Representation by geographic units is so deeply embedded in the American system of legislative representation that we tend to take it as given and ask few questions about its consequences. However, action in Maryland around education funding shows how the territorial imperative of seeking maximum funding for the area represented tends to carry the day over problem-focused funding. Suburban representatives locked to the territorial imperative are not swayed by arguments that concentrated poverty is a deep and intractable problem for the city, culminating from a long series of trends to which the state has contributed. Put another way, so long as a problem is seen as particular to the city, a legislature dominated by representatives from suburban areas have little inclination to address it. Even when a high visibility commission proposes solutions to the problem, the Maryland General Assembly is little inclined to treat the substance of the issue in any manner that would deviate very far from the territorial imperative. As the body that controls the purse strings, the legislature also puts limits on how far state agencies, such as the Department of Education, can deviate from the territorial imperative.

The implications of this tendency for education are profound. In 1998, the suburban jurisdictions in Maryland were successful in focusing the terms of the debate in the legislature away from the added educational challenge of concentrated poverty and toward the issue of funding allocation among local jurisdictions. Some observers believe that Montgomery County was in the forefront of the attack on special funding for Baltimore City as payback for the city's acquiescence in an earlier loss of a state subsidy to cover the Social Security contribution for local school personnel, a subsidy of special benefit to Montgomery County with its exceptionally high pay scale.12 Whatever part such particular instances played, they should not obscure the underlying structure of the situation and what it reveals about shifts in electoral power and how the special needs attached to concentrated poverty sank from sight in the process.

Policy Options for the Future: Beyond a Specialized Response

Any attempt to address Baltimore City's education crisis must take into consideration the magnitude of poverty in Baltimore City, the powerful negative effect of concentrated poverty on school achievement, and Baltimore City's isolation within the state of Maryland. The politics of the territorial imperative and the weak position of Baltimore in statewide politics leave education in a quandry. How does one improve the education and life chances of children in deep poverty in the absence of widespread political will to invest in a school system that is seen as bankrupt? Certainly, there are changes that can be made to the educational program that will affect student achievement. Yet, recent studies of high performing high poverty schools suggest that the specific educational innovation is not what is most important. Rather, what is important is that some kind--perhaps any kind--of coherent, schoolwide change is attempted and that parents and community members are engaged in the process of raising expectations for student achievement and school improvement (Charles A. Dana Center, 1999; c.f. U.S. Department of Education, 1998). The norm, however, is to add piecemeal education programs to respond to the social problems and difficulties in the personal lives of many of today's students. As a strategy for education improvement in Baltimore, this approach is limited. Not only are Marylanders less and less likely to believe that an education solution is viable in Baltimore, but, perhaps more importantly, such an approach fails to get at the heart of the matter. Rather, this sort of "specialization" approach (Janowitz, 1991; cf. Hentschke, 1996) deals with education as an autonomous sphere of activity, subject to treatments developed and applied by education specialists. Education research, it is believed, can demonstrate which techniques are sound, and reform consists of implementing a set of proven initiatives internal to the school and then monitoring their impact. Schools operating in this kind of reform environment tend to rush to try the latest or the most varied set of touted education initiatives, leading to what a Chicago study describes as "Christmas tree schools." In these schools, "programs range widely in content, purpose, and method, and they may include a variety of curricular, instructional, social, and technological approaches" (Bryk and others, 1998, p.123). As observed in Chicago:

["Christmas tree" schools follow] a seemingly endless cycle of soliciting funds, starting new initiatives, and then being distracted by the need to solicit more funds for even newer programs, because the first funding, and the programs it supports, are due to disappear. It is not surprising then that so few of these programs receive the necessary time, attention and commitment to be well implemented. Consequently, few survive beyond their initial funding (Bryk, 1998, p.124).

Fredrick Hess has observed that such an ever-expanding search for new initiatives can lead to "policy churn"-"an endless stream of new initiatives, with the schools and teachers never having time to become comfortable with any given change" (1999, p. 52). Researchers David Tyack and Larry Cuban suggest that adding to an ongoing and evolving list of reforms internal to schools is more appealing than tackling societal inequities. The trouble is, it falls prety to the national tendency of "blaming the schools for not solving problems beyond their reach" (Tyack and Cuban; 1995). In Baltimore, the tendency to specialize and to ignore the social context of education has led to disappointment. Hearings or conversations with parents (and teaching staff) reveal a great deal of frustration. New initiatives are unevenly implemented, and their net impact seems marginal. Oversight of city schools by the State Department of Education seems ineffective (Advocates for Children and Youth, 1999). Top down approaches often prove disappointing. What is needed is a holistic strategy that addresses the social environment and brings about "the fusion of academic and socialization goals" (Janowitz, 1991, p.290).

This is generally true for all school systems. It is especially true for systems such as Baltimore City's, because concentrated poverty represents more than a classroom challenge. It is also a manifestation of under-development of and under-investment in a community and its institutions. Scholar Gary Orfield reminds us, "schools tend to reflect and transmit much more than to transform the social structure of the families and communities they serve" (1999, p. 371). Thus, if the conditions attached to concentrated poverty are a major barrier to school improvement, then it makes policy sense to address that barrier and seek to change the community environment. Schooling should be viewed in its proper context--as a part of a broader set of social, economic, and political forces. A report of the Public Agenda Foundation offers a useful guideline: "To be successful, school solutions must be integrated into community solutions" (1999, p.15).

However, though the high level of poverty in the school system sets off education in Baltimore City from education in the surrounding suburbs, much of the discussion of school reform in Baltimore City occurs with little attention to poverty and what it means for school performance. A recent study of state oversight of low-performing schools in Maryland gave extensive attention to such matters as quarterly assessments, instructional strategies, staff qualifications and experience, plan specificity, and state monitoring procedures (Advocates for Children and Youth, 1999). It said little about the communities in which low-performing schools operate, though invariably they are low-income neighborhoods. While concerns about the specifics of the education program in a school are not insignificant, even more important are broader issues that deal with the causes and consequences of concentrated poverty.

In Maryland, this means we must move beyond the better-management versus greater-state-funding debate. Of course, the city's schools need both good management and more resources. However, the short tenure of Robert Booker, CEO of the newly restructured school system for Baltimore City, suggests that tighter management is no silver bullet. Selected in a national search and credited with straightening out the system's finances during his eighteen months in office, Booker bowed out after being faulted for a failure to turn around the system's academic performance (Bowie and Daemmrich, 2000).

Similarly, the funding battles of 1997 and 1998 show that funding formulas alone are another blind alley. Not only does the territorial imperative weigh heavily against equalization efforts, but there is also an implicit belief among many suburban representatives that money is not the key to turning around the Baltimore City schools. Examples of schools such as Zavala Elementary School in Austin, Texas, appear to support this position. Zavala is one of sixteen schools in Austin that received extra funding as part of a political compromise to end busing in the city. Of the sixteen, however, only two schools (Zavala and Ortega Elementary) saw dramatic gains in student achievement after the influx of money. Clearly, critics argue, if money were the driving force behind improvements, more than just two of the sixteen schools should have enjoyed improvements. Instead, their arguments suggest, it is changing the way schools are run--not money--that turns systems around.

While it is difficult to dispute that money alone will not cure an ailing system, it is also difficult to argue that money, therefore, does not matter. Zavala Elementary School leaders readily admit that their success in improving student achievement among low income students is directly related to education reforms and community involvement (Lindsay, 1997). They are quick to add, however, that the successes they experienced would not have been possible without the influx of added resources that allowed them to institute changes. If Baltimore City were to attempt the kinds of educational reforms that turned around schools such as Zavala, it would need to marshal resources to assure that classroom materials and technology are adequate,13 to recruit and retrain more qualified teachers, to lower class sizes in strategic areas, to intensify professional development, to see that special education needs are met, to put in place community-based learning centers and other after-school and summer programs, and to provide family resource centers and other support activities, as well as to make needed maintenance and improvement of the physical plant. Though material resources alone will not produce a new educational experience, without adequate resources students and teachers in inner city schools face reinforcing reminders that society regards them as marginal (Cf. Halpern, 1995).

Without a doubt, Zavala, and other similar schools, relied both on extra funding and management improvements. However, the critical component of Zavala's change process went beyond the school walls and into the community. Education leaders at Zavala, supported by organizers of the Industrial Areas Foundation's Alliance Schools, adopted a community organizing strategy that focused on empowering parents and community members (Shirley, 1997). The efforts at Zavala Elementary School typify a process called "community building." At its best, community building is an attempt to shift the focus of poverty programs away from services and material benefits to individuals in poverty toward capacity building within an entire community, as defined and directed by that community (Kingsley, McNeely & Gibson, 1998). Rather than to promote programs that tend to treat clients as dependent, helpless, and deficient, community building programs are developed in such ways as to build on and promote the collective and individual assets available to community residents. In this way, their sense of efficacy, their attachment to the community, and their hope for the future can be strengthened. In the case of school reform, spurred by the belief that families care deeply about their children, community building efforts seek to directly overcome feelings of alienation and to encourage community residents to see schools as important institutions in their children's lives. They further seek to actively engage parents and community members in the improvement of student achievement.

A community building approach means rejecting the notion that school reform alone can bring about social transformation. Looking at the experiences of the Alliance Schools in Texas, educationist Dennis Shirley says we need to reject "the atomistic fallacy that fixing education means fixing schools." Instead, we need to "coordinate education within the school with development within the community" (1997, p.2). Shirley cautions that in trying to change schools educators too often "ignore the larger deterioration of young people's lives in civil society" (1997, p.3; see also Halpern, 1995). Such a caution does not suggest that because community environments of high poverty schools are the consequence of a set of society-wide conditions, change can only take place at the macro level. Rather, the point is that deliberate measures of local intervention can alter the neighborhood environment, particularly if extra-local resources are made available (Ferguson and Dickens, 1999).

And there are numerous such sources of funding and other resources available. Community-building is fully consistent with federal and other programs to establish neighborhood learning centers and provide family-resource activities. It has the further advantage in Maryland of not being solely dependent on state legislation. It can begin with actions taken at the neighborhood level, and it can build on existing initiatives. As illustrated in experiences in other cities such as the Dudley Street neighborhood in Boston, MA (Medoff and Sklar, 1995) and the Ensley section of Birmingham, AL (Nored, 1999), community development can draw upon the faith community and the nonprofit sector more generally as a source of support and facilitating resources as well as upon city and state government. Foundations and federal grants can also contribute to activities that further the process. Thus, community building is not a substitute for outside money and services for poor communities, but rather it is a way to reorient how resources are used. Such a strategy makes the community a source of supports and resources to which educators can turn (Janowitz, 1991; see also Metz, 1995; and Anyon, 1997). The idea is to treat a neighborhood as a site for investment (with returns), and not as an object of charity. Successes in communities such as the Texas IAF communities, Dudley Street and Ensley demonstrate that neighborhoods previously viewed as too poor or too unorganized actually do have many of their own resources for change.

It is important to note that a community building or community development approach does not mean turning teachers and principals into community organizers. That activity typically occurs outside the school system and is based in the neighborhood itself, but it means establishing a suitable bridge. The receptiveness of school staff, especially principals, to encouraging and working with community organizations makes a difference, both in the likelihood that community organization will grow and, if it occurs, in the extent to which it will be engaged in the task of improved education (Shirley, 1997; Stone, 1999).

It is also important to note that parent and community involvement is more than increased volunteerism in schools or more contacts generated by a school's parent liaison staff. It means expanding the resources and opportunities available for youngsters, but also enhancing the skills and assets the community can bring to bear on the education of its children. It also involves more than addressing particular issues. The aim is to transform poor neighborhoods, changing them from places of neglect, isolation, and despair into places of activity and expectations. Schools would not only be beneficiaries of such a process, they can also be vital contributors to it. They can be the locus around which resources are mobilized, both within the immediate neighborhood and within the larger community (Stone, Doherty, Jones, & Ross, 1999). As activity heightens and resources are mobilized, expectations rise and a neighborhood and its youth are able to see themselves in a new light (Shirley 1997, p.67). As youth and their parents experience new expectations, schools benefit from the new climate and should be better able to attract and retrain capable staff. Such a change involves more than "happy talk." It rests on a sense that opportunities have become more available and that people at the neighborhood level have the capacity to bring in and make use of resources. Mobilized appropriately, a community can establish a more favorable environment for academic achievement.

Community Building in BaltimoreThough community-building-as-education-reform is not at this stage a city-wide priority in Baltimore, the seeds of such an approach are evident. School improvement was one of the aims of the Sandtown-Winchester areas Community Building in Partnership. Baltimore's Industrial Areas Foundation affiliate, BUILD, was an early proponent of reform (Orr 1992; Orr 1999). More recently BUILD has created the Child First Authority. Organized in 1996, Child First was authorized by city and state legislation at the urging of BUILD leaders. Presently operating in 10 schools, Child First focuses on the after-school times from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Child First "uses the schools as hubs of activity in which parents, staff, administrators, church members, students, and other community members get together" (Fashola, 1999, p.v). While presented as an after-school program designed to improve school performance, Child First is also an effort to "empower parents by making them agents of change in their communities" (Fashola, 1999, p.25, emphasis added). Borrowing from the organizing techniques used by IAF in several Texas school districts, BUILD leaders use Child First to train parents to understand how they can become a source of power in their communities. BUILD's goal is to expand Child First into other schools and invite organized parents to become constituent members of the BUILD organization. As one researcher noted, "the ultimate success for the Child First Authority is when parents understand...power and use it to effect change in their schools and in their communities" (Fashola, 1999, p.25).

Other community organizing efforts focused on improving schools are underway in a number of Baltimore communities. In the Southeast region of the city, the Southeast Education Task Force recently launched organizing efforts, with the long-range goal of developing viable parent and community organizations at each school in the region. With financial support from a number of funding sources, the Task Force hired three full-time organizers. They currently work in six schools, attempting to build church-school partnerships, establish after-school tutoring programs, improve the schools' physical plants, and increase parental involvement. The Greater Homewood Neighborhood Community Corporation, in the area near The Johns Hopkins University, the Northwest School Community Partnership, in the city's northwest region, and Operation Reach Out, in the southwest section of Baltimore, all have worked to improve the connection between schools and communities. These efforts are embryonic and encompass only a small number of schools. However, they suggest a growing awareness among community leaders in Baltimore that a major component of school improvement includes engaging parents and the larger community. Sustaining and expanding these efforts and connecting them to the broader issue of transforming poor neighborhoods would require more time, significant resources, and skilled political leadership. Nevertheless, these seeds are promising signs that community building and development could take off in Baltimore.

Another promising element in Baltimore is the presence of a key philanthropy that promotes education reform and community development. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy devoted solely to the well-being of vulnerable children and youth, is headquartered in Baltimore and has made significant grants both to the Alliance Schools in Texas and to Baltimore's community building efforts. Their leadership could prove instrumental in prompting a citywide strategy for educational change.

Community building as a strategy for poverty alleviation is also popular in governance circles. Numerous states, such as Iowa and Kentucky, have been at the forefront of the move to a more holistic approach to the provision of government services (see, for example, Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence, 1999). Innovative forms of community building are also taking place at the local level, including smaller cities such as Hampton, VA, and Fort Wayne, IN. Through professional associations, conferences, networks such as the National Community Building Network, publications, and the mass media, the word is getting around to legislators and government bureaucrats that community building is a promising and viable response to the challenges of concentrated poverty. The signs are hopeful that, if taken on as a strategy for educational improvement, community building might take hold in Maryland, especially in Baltimore City (though it would be timely and useful in other areas as well).

While it is possible that the present embryonic efforts will naturally evolve into full-scale initiatives, it seems more likely that a deliberate and concerted effort will be needed to bring about that kind of transformational change. What we see as an essential step is a coming together in a summit format of major players in the Baltimore region, and especially in the city. These include, from the public sector, city hall, the school commission, suburban officials, the state department of education, and other elements of state government such as the legislature's Joint Committee on Children, Youth, and Families and the sub-cabinet concerned with this issue area. Potentially important advising bodies such as the Parent and Community Advisory Board to the school commission should also have a place at the civic table. The business community should be represented by at least the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland Business Roundtable. In addition to the community-based organizations working in the field, Baltimore also contains quite a number of advocacy and community-oriented organizations. Examples include the ACLU of Maryland, Advocates for Children and Youth, and the Baltimore Education Network and its constituent members (the Baltimore Urban League, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the Fund for Educational Excellence, the New Maryland Education Coalition, and the Baltimore City Council of PTAs). This sector needs to be widely represented in civic mobilization, as does the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and other members of the faith community, with their strong grassroots ties. In addition to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Baltimore is also home to important local foundations, with long standing interests in education and related issues of children, youth, and community building; principally the Abell Foundation, the Morris Goldseker Foundation, and the Woodbourne Foundation. They, too, are vital to any process of civic mobilization. Higher education should also be included, ranging from the Community College of Baltimore to the area's research universities. Public sector unions and the news media are significant players as well, and perhaps they need to be part of a civic mobilization to develop an enlarged understanding of the role they could play. Also important in any civic mobilization in Baltimore are such groups as the local affiliates of national sororities and fraternities in the African American community. In addition, Baltimore has a unique resource in the national office of the NAACP, with locally rooted Kweisi Mfume as Executive Director.

The sketching of significant players in Baltimore's civic arena is itself an indication of the scope and depth of resources and energies that could be mobilized. What is needed is someone or some group to take the initiative to bring together these various elements of the community to formulate an agenda that joins school reform with community building. The agenda, of course, will mean nothing unless it is backed by resources and overseen by a widely representative steering committee and staff, and unless it is rooted in a commitment to promote community building and community development from the street level up.

Some observers might question the need to hold a summit gathering of such a wide-ranging set of players in the city's civic life. In our view, only an extraordinary event that is broadly representative can provide legitimacy to a major new initiative. A summit meeting could signal that confronting the city's poverty problem by a combined effort to promote community development and school reform means that a new priority and a new order of business are in operation.

In the eyes of some, a call for civic mobilization around a broad agenda might be unrealistic. One might argue that reforming the internal processes of the school system is a formidable task in itself without taking on the even larger task of community development. Our response is that, without community development, school improvement will likely not be sustainable. For a given school, change might not outlast the tenure of a reform-minded principal. In the state of Maryland, citizens and their leaders might not be willing to invest in yet another education initiative in the Baltimore City Public Schools. Community development puts parents and other neighobrhood-based actors in a position to be an ongoing presence in schools and to be a continuing pillar of support for educational achievement, thus shifting the emphasis of the state-wide debate.

We have sketched, as a policy option, a holistic or community development approach because Baltimore City schools to date have pursued, with little or no success, the alternative of a "specialization" approach. By now, it should be evident that there is no magic combination of initiatives or internal procedures that can turn most low-performing schools into high-performing ones. Constructive changes can be made, but they almost always include community involvement. Oversight from the top seems less effective than what Dennis Shirley calls "mutual accountability" between schools and communities (1997, p.120). When organized effectively, neighborhoods can work constructively with school staff to see that programs are implemented and to pursue together needed resources. Though school-community tensions may surface from time to time, school staff and neighborhood residents are also natural allies on many matters.

Community development will not turn poor neighborhoods into affluent ones, nor will it provide an instant solution to low-performing schools. But it can expand the contacts between school staff and parents, thereby reducing isolation. Most importantly, community development builds neighborhood capacity to act on its own behalf in seeking both more resources and better-run schools. Without community development, it is unlikely that existing mechanisms such as state-mandated school improvement teams and heightened parent involvement will be launched evenly across the system. Furthermore, neighborhood-based oversight bypasses the racial tensions attached to state intervention and is closer to the daily operations of schools. Above all, community development addresses the social foundations of education instead of assuming that school improvement can occur in isolation from the neighborhood. If successful, community development changes the way in which students and parents see themselves, and thereby connects people to the education process in a different way and builds a wide range of competencies that might otherwise be untapped in areas of concentrated poverty.

Conclusion

Economic change has given Baltimore City a shrinking tax base, and demographic shifts have left the city with a diminishing electoral base. Jurisdictional boundaries enable Baltimore's surrounding suburbs to see themselves (thus far) as separate from the city. Recent education funding battles show that the city faces an uphill struggle in any contest over funding formulas. Moreover, Baltimore City's education problems are deeply rooted in the condition of concentrated poverty, and state policy planning has yet to confront fully what that means.

Overall, the education picture for Baltimore is sobering. Effective management continues to be a significant challenge, as are scarce resources. Special education in particular consumes an inordinate share of the system's budget. But, both resource scarcity and management problems are tied to the larger issue of concentrated poverty, which itself is the product of a continuing flight of the middle class from the city. With the middle class a diminished presence, some educators have become disheartened and even fatalistic, as have some lay observers. Yet, few participants in education policy probe the social and economic roots of school performance, nor do they acknowledge that class factors make education in city schools a different experience from suburban schooling.

It is important to remember that weak academic performance is not a distinctively Baltimore failing. Baltimore's performance is part of a national pattern, rooted in high levels of urban poverty. Without attention to the forces underlying Baltimore's education crisis, proposed remedies are likely to have limited impact. Unless state officials, working with the city and representatives from the inner suburbs, can develop a new understanding of how to address the problem of concentrated poverty, students in the core of the Baltimore region promise to be increasingly likely losers in their claim for attention from the state. More resources are needed, but adjusted funding formulas alone are not enough. Better management of the school system is in order, and is addressed in the Consent Decree, but management problems are often a symptom rather than a primary cause of educational failure. A wider array of programs, including after-school programs as a prominent component, is called for, but piecemeal responses can be overwhelmed by the depth of the problems of concentrated poverty. Indeed, a proliferation of programs may simply add to the management stress city schools are already under.

As an alternative to the specialization approach that Baltimore City has engaged in, we have suggested a holistic approach that integrates school improvement with community development. Though not widely pursued, this approach has had some significant successes. And it has the virtue of confronting rather than ignoring the problem of concentrated poverty.

Baltimore's experience suggests that education reformers are strongly tempted to concentrate on classroom instruction and on administrative accountability for that instruction, neglecting the school-community relationship. If narrow battles over funding and management accountability continue to monopolize attention, then community-building is likely to be a neglected cause, and the broader context of poverty and its consequences may keep education in the city (and perhaps increasingly its older suburbs) at risk. As an alternative, we focus on the great importance of community context for school performance, with concentrated poverty posing an especially strong challenge. Thus some observers now believe that improving schools can only occur in conjunction with strengthening communities. For poor neighborhoods, this involves a process of community development--organizing and training citizens, forming external alliances, and enhancing problem-solving capacities within the neighborhood. Schools can benefit from and contribute to this process, but it means taking a fresh look at the school-community relationship and engaging many sectors--from state government through philanthropic foundations to churches and other neighborhood-based institutions-in a collaborative process of community building.

REFERENCES

Anyon, Jean. (1997). Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform, (New York: Teachers College Press).

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ENDNOTES

  1. The Baltimore region includes Baltimore City and its suburban counties: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard Counties. In Maryland, school districts are county-wide, with the only exception being Baltimore City, which has a school district in and of itself.

  2. Not only is the overall level of poverty in the Baltimore City Public Schools higher as compared to suburban school systems, but the depth of poverty is also more severe. Of the children receiving Free and Reduced-price Meals in the suburbs, an average of 75 percent are eligible for free lunches, while nearly all (93%) of Baltimore City's poor children are so eligible. (Statistics compiled from data in Maryland State Department of Education Food and Nutrition Branch, 1999).

  3. The federal poverty guidelines set the poverty line at a level lower than the Child Nutrition Program (Free and Reduced-price Meals, or FARM). To be eligible for reduced-price meals, a student must be at 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, and for free meals a student must be at 130 percent.

  4. Local wealth includes adjusted real property assessment, public utility operating property and net taxable income.

  5. The Division of Certification and Accreditation explains that "the Provisional Certificate is issued for one year to an individual hired by a local school system but who does not meet full certificate requirements for a professional certificate." Maryland State Department of Education, Division of Certification and Accreditation, "Number of Teachers Who Have a Provisional Certificate as of 2/5/99."

  6. On the history of changes in inner city schools, see Anyon 1997, Mirel 1993, and Rury and Cassell 1993. On class differences in schools, see Goodlad 1984 and Metz 1990.

  7. A state task force is once again examining funding, but with a legislature increasingly dominated by the suburbs, no substantial shift toward Baltimore City can be expected. Though the state's reliance on county-wide (plus Baltimore City) school districts gives it smaller extremes in wealth than many states, Maryland's effort toward equalization is quite small compared to other states. It should also be noted that the current "equalization" formula does not itself address the issue of special needs for poverty-level students, much less the impact of a concentration effect.

  8. The state of Maryland is also developing high school exams to further gauge school and individual student performance. Exam pilots began in January 2000, and by the spring of 2005, students will be required to pass the series of twelve exams in order to graduate from high school. The exams will be rigorous-that is, they will measure a student's ability to "use information they have learned in real-world situations," as opposed to the current functional exams that are considered too basic. (Ron Peiffer, Maryland State Department of Education Press Release, January 11, 2000, Baltimore, MD)

  9. For a general discussion of this matter, see Henig, Hula, Orr & Pedescleaux, 1999.

  10. For interesting local commentary and analysis on this point see, Gregory Kane, "City Should Rethink Selling Control Of Schools Cheaply," The Sun (March 22, 1997); and William F. Zorzi, Jr., "Power And City Schools Bill," The Sun (April 8, 1997).

  11. The general pattern of the declining electoral influence of cities is discussed in Weir, 1996.

  12. The conflict between Montgomery County and Baltimore was fully evident in 1992, when the city became part of the suit over state funding. See Richard Tapscott, "Sparks Fly Over Schmoke's School Aid Fight," Washington Post, May 26, 1992.

  13. Baltimore City has the fewest computers per student in the state of Maryland. Further, when assessing "teacher knowledge and skills," Baltimore City is one of two districts with the fewest teachers able to use computers and the internet independently and to help students to use technology (Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, 2000). June Streckfus, executive director of the Maryland Business Roundtable, further recognizes that Maryland experiences a "digital divide"--not only do students in poorer schools have less access to computers in the school, but, by and large, they also do not have computers at home (Nakamura, 2000).

Tables 1 and 2
Table 1. The Composite Index (CI) Scores Stating the Percentage of Students with Satisfactory Performance According to MSPAP Test and the Percentage of Students receiving Free/Reduced Price Meals in 1999.
Counties
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
%Free/Reduc.
Price Meals
Anne Arundel
County
41.1%
44.5%
47.3%
46.7%
48.4%
46.6%
16.4%
Baltimore City
10.4%
11.7%
13.8%
13.5%
16.1%
17.0%
68.4%
Baltimore County
39.6%
44.5%
44.7%
47.9%
49.8%
49.0%
27.2%
Carroll County
48.1%
51.1%
55.3%
55.4%
56.4%
55.4%
9.2%
Harford County
42.2%
50.9%
52.2%
53.5%
58.3%
56.3%
16.8
Howard County
51.3%
56.0%
56.9%
57.6%
60.1%
59.3%
10.3%
Note:The Composite Index (CI) is a static developed to provide an indication of the average performance of students across all six content areas of MSPAP (reading, writing, mathematics, science, social studies, and language usage.)
Source: Maryland School Performance Report (1999).

Table 2. MSPAP Composite Index Scores for Baltimore City Elementary Schools in 1999
Percentage of Children Receiving Free/Reduced Price Meals
0-49%
50-74%
75-100%
MSPAP Composite Index Scores
35.8%
19.45%
16.32%
Note:The Number of cases for each category is as follows: 4 for the category 0-49%, 21 for the category 50-74%, and 76 for the category 75-100%. MSPAP scores were not available for 4 elementary schools.

Table 4
Table 4. Percentage of Schools with 50% or more of their students on Free and Reduced-Price Meals (1998-99)
Carroll County
0%
Howard County
2%
Anne Arundel
8%
Harford County
8%
Baltimore County
21%
Baltimore City
84%
Source:MSDE Food and Nutrition Divisions "Site Catalog", 1/29/99.

Table 5
Table 5. Percentage of Schools with 75% or more of their students on Free and Reduced-Price Meals (1998-99)
Carroll County
0%
Hartford County
0%
Howard County
0%
Anne Arundel County
1%
Baltimore County
3%
Baltimore City
60%
Source:MSDE Food and Nutrition Divisions "Site Catalog", 1/29/99.

table 6
Table 6. Wealth per Pupil (wpp) in Selected Maryland Jurisdictions (1997-98) and Percent more wwp than in Baltimore City
Baltimore City (lowest statewide)
$ 126,024
N/A
Harford County
$ 193,066
53.0%
Carroll County
$ 199,066
58.0%
Baltimore County
$ 269,054
113.0%
Anne Arundel County
$ 274,184
118.0%
Howard County
$ 288,069
129.0%
Montgomery County
$ 386,088
206%
Worcester (highest statewide)
$ 461,193
266.0%
Source:Maryland State Department of Education, "The Fact Book 1997-98".

Table 7
Table 7. 1990 Property Tax Rates
Baltimore City
5.95%
Anne Arundel County
2.51%
Baltimore County
2.90%
Carroll County
2.35%
Harford County
2.73%
Howard County
2.49%
Source:Rusk, 1996.

Table 8
Table 8. % of Total Revenue from Local Sources
Baltimore City
27%
Harford County
47%
Carroll County
53%
Anne Arundel County
59%
Baltimore County
61%
Howard County
61%
Suburban Counties Combined
58%

Table 9
Table 9. Cost Per Pupil, 1996-97
Carroll County
$ 5,874
Harford County
$ 5,946
Baltimore City
$ 6,408
Anne Arundel County
$6,463
Baltimore County
$6,601%
Howard County
$6,988
Montgomery County
$8,035
Source:MSDE Fact Book, and "Selected Financial Data; Maryland Public Schools, 1996-97; Part 3-Analysis of Costs

Table 10
Table 10. Salary Range for Ten-Month MD Public School Teachers (1997-98)
Beginning
Mid-level
Maximum
Baltimore City
$24,684
Baltimore City
$34,659
Baltimore City
$50,778
Anne Arundel County
$25,827
Harford County
$38,800
Harford County
$51,761
Carroll County
$26,815
Carroll County
$39,931
Baltimore County
$54,097
Howard County
$27,188
Baltimore County
$40,660
Anne Arundel County
$56,935
Harford County
$27,339
Howard County
$42,014
Carroll County
$57,000
Baltimore County
$28,000
Anne Arundell
$44,242
Howard County
$58,215
Source:Maryland State Department of Education, "The Fact Book, 1997-98".

Table 3
Table 3. Location of Retail Sales (1948-1992)
Year
City
Suburb
1948
80.2%
19.8%
1963
55.9%
44.0%
1977
30.4%
69.5%%
1987
20.4%
79.5%
1992
18.4%
81.5%

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