By: Nilo Exar, Staff Writer
Students and guest panelists gathered Monday, March 23 to discuss the potential closings of some Baltimore City Schools and the role of racial inequality in education.
A video, entitled “School’s Out,” was shown before the panel discussion. The video was co-produced by TU assistant professor Jessica Shiller and her “The Possibilities and Challenges of Reforming Urban Schools” honors college students. The video touched on issues like the lack of a community and city relationship when closing schools, as well as the general racial issues surrounding school closings and the greater racial injustice that the schools closings represented.
After the video, panelists including Johns Hopkins associate professor Lester Spence, Morgan State professor Lawrence Brown, Jamal Jones of the Baltimore Algebra Project and Ryan Good, a doctoral student at Rutgers, discussed both Baltimore and the country’s history of racial discrimination.
According to Spence, many of the cities where many schools are closed have high rates of segregation and removal of black population.
“117 of 188 schools [in Baltimore City] are 99 percent or more Black,” Brown said.
Spence also talked about racial zoning, which refers to the period when African-Americans were restricted from living in certain neighborhoods, as well as redlining, when banks refused to give mortgages to minorities. He said that this discrimination still occurs in the closing of schools.
“14 of the top 20 cities for school closings are in top cities for segregation,” Brown said.
Schools are closed down when they are under a 71 person in the utilization formula, according to Spence. This can mean that schools perform poorly on standardized tests and general academic performance. However, usually these schools are already being slighted in terms of funding. Jones, who went through Baltimore City Schools himself, attested to the existence of this.
Another reason city schools can’t succeed is the lack of permanent teachers and administrators at the schools.
“There’s a lot of leaving that happens,” Jones said. He said that many teachers are brought in through Teach for America, but leave at the end of their time because they are drained, which creates a revolving door for teachers and faculty.
The panelists also looked at outcomes of community-based schools being closed.
“Getting rid of schools perpetuates this other history of not knowing where you’re from,” Jones said.
He said that having deep and truthful conversations about the racial issues behind school closings is the first step to bettering the situation.
Students of Shiller’s seminar class were in attendance at the panel discussion. Junior exercise science major Daniel Andrades spoke to the value that educating about such issues plays in motivating people to help the cause.
“Before we came to class we had no idea what the policies were about the schools, we had no idea about Jim Crow and how it actually affected what’s happening today,” Andrades said.
“I think this program also really showed the inequalities that go into urban schools, and not just education itself but housing, neighborhoods, [and] the distribution of wealth,” junior psychology and sociology major Maia Williams said.