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Michael Swartz / July 21, 2021

Baltimore: The Canary in the Public Ed Coal Mine

A shocking new report indicts the nation’s teachers unions.

Certainly for this headline you could probably swap out any number of large (and even medium-sized) urban areas around the nation, but Baltimore already has a reputation as a failure of a school system. That was backed up recently by a story broken by a local television station.

WBFF-TV, Baltimore’s Fox affiliate, ran the latest news as part of a series dubbed “Project Baltimore.” Reporters learned that, in the first three quarters of the 2020-21 academic year, 41% of the high school students in the city had a grade point average of less than 1.0, or less than a D average. Even worse, according to their report: “In January, City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises first sounded the alarm, announcing the course failure rate for students nearly doubled during the Covid shutdown. A few months later, in May, [the school administration] announced students would not be held back for failing classes. This most recent GPA data could indicate why City Schools made that decision.”

By the way, “nearly doubled” is true. According to that same WBFF-TV report, 24% of students had a similarly low GPA in the 2019-20 academic year. And yes, that’s still shamefully high.

Local reaction to this news showed a significant divide between those who would excuse this lack of performance, blaming it on the pandemic, and those who demanded action.

“These numbers are disturbing, but it is not a surprise that COVID worsened student performance,” said Baltimore City Council member Robert Stokes, who chairs that body’s Education Committee. “Haphazard approaches haven’t solved anything. Our children live in poverty or are surrounded by it every day. Until we address poverty and the systems that allow it to thrive, our children will continue to fail.”

But a local leader with an outsider’s perspective believed heads should roll.

“I know it’s a challenging issue,” said Maryland state Delegate Nino Mangione. “But we should look at some of these leaders in the administration and think, let’s evaluate and let’s start firing people. Because this can’t go on. This cannot go on. People need to lose their jobs for this.” Mangione represents an area of nearby Baltimore County, which is separate from the city of Baltimore.

Baltimore may be an easy mark because of this news station’s reporting, but as stated above, the news is just as bad in smaller cities. For example, South Bend, Indiana, had course failures reportedly double and chronic absenteeism “skyrocket,” explained a report from the South Bend Tribune. The mid-sized city in Indiana may be familiar to readers for two things: The University of Notre Dame lies just outside its city limits, and its most recent previous mayor, Pete Buttigieg, ran for president in 2020 and is now the secretary of transportation under Joe Biden. But the city never had the reputation for academic failure that places such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago did.

Sadly, this lost academic year is doing more than holding students back.

The Daily Wire cites two other disturbing studies from academia and government: On the academic side, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School forecasts a 3.6% reduction in economic productivity as a result of these yearlong school closures, predicting these students will be a “drag on the future GDP of the United States for decades in the future.” Even more ominously, the CDC announced that emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls rose an alarming 51% during 2020, reflecting the depressing isolation that peer group endured during a time when schools were closed and in-person interaction was frowned upon.

Yet, rather than be concerned about these issues brought on by extended school closures, the major teachers unions strong-armed a compliant CDC regarding the return to face-to-face instruction.

However, the National Education Association has had time in its recent business meeting to throw its full-throated support behind Critical Race Theory and declare war on its opponents. “Its new militant stance on critical race theory provides much-needed clarity to the debate on this issue,” writes Christopher Rufo at City Journal. “The teachers’ union has nationalized critical race theory and committed to the full range of left-wing radicalism, including opposition to ‘capitalism’ and ‘anthropocentrism.’”

Don’t you think it would be better if the teachers union committed itself to the education of all students in the basic courses of reading, writing, math, and proper American history? Too many public schools have a failure rate like Baltimore’s, and that makes for a bad investment of our tax dollars. Perhaps that money should follow the child to whatever educational facility the parents deem to be best for their student?

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