The Real News hosts an extended discussion on Sinclair Broadcasting’s “Project Baltimore,” an investigative project that looks for flaws in the public school system–without addressing the root causes–and pushes for privatization
JAISAL NOOR: In March, Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest owner of local television stations around the country, launched Project Baltimore, a special investigative team to focus solely on the Baltimore City schools. According to Sinclair, Project Baltimore’s task is to save a struggling school system.
FOX NEWS ANCHOR 1: How to fix Baltimore City’s struggling school system has been a divisive issue in our state for years.
FOX NEWS ANCHOR 2: To Project Baltimore’s recent investigations into allegations of grade changing-
JAISAL NOOR: Sinclair is known for its deep ties to far right-wing causes and organizations. John Oliver produced a scathing video on the company’s right-wing agenda.
JOHN OLIVER: But Sinclair can sometimes dictate the content of your local newscast as well. And in contrast to Fox News, a clearly conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair they were injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors.
ANCHOR 3: Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russia investigation of President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn?
ANCHOR 4: Did the FBI have a-
ANCHOR 5: … personal vendetta-
ANCHOR 6: … in pursuing the Russia investigation-
ANCHOR 7: … of President’s Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn?
JAISAL NOOR: On Thursday, the FCC recommended a 13 million dollar fine for Sinclair for failing to disclose it was airing paid programming, the largest such fine the Commission has ever recommended. This comes just weeks after the FCC changed local media ownership rules, paving the way for Sinclair Broadcasting to buy Tribune Media for 3.9 billion dollars. Sinclair will be broadcast to nearly three fourths of households nationwide.
Even members of the Baltimore City Council have concerns about Project Baltimore.
K. BURNETT: They have a clear agenda, which is a negative one, to paint our school system in a bad light. To paint our young people in a bad light.
JAISAL NOOR: This prompted us to take a closer look at Project Baltimore in light of Sinclair’s political agenda. Project Baltimore declined to comment for this story, but Sinclair’s Vice President of News, Scott Livingston, denied that Sinclair has influence over Project Baltimore, saying that their stories “come from their viewers,” adding that, “We have the responsibility to discover the truth and empower students and parents,” Livingston said.
Since we too are a media organization that reports on city schools, we approached this question carefully. Our goal was to not simply critique their work, but to explore how their stories portray the complex topic of education. And are these stories serving a public that looks to the media for insight and understanding?
After we recorded the following panel discussion, Project Baltimore filed suit against the Baltimore City School System for denying a request for information about an investigation into an alleged grade-changing at a northeast Baltimore charter school. The school system vowed to fight the request in court, saying the release would violate employee privacy rights and would not serve the public interest. They also made their first public statement about Project Baltimore saying “[they claim] to champion accountability but instead pursued sensationalism.”
Diamonte Brown is a Baltimore public school teacher and activist. Kris Burnett is a Baltimore City Councilperson from the 8th District. Shahem Mclaurin is a youth advocate and Executive Director of Baltimore Star Project. Lawrence Grandpre is Director of Research at Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.
Let’s just start with this simple question. You’ve all taken a look at some of Project Baltimore’s stories. Project Baltimore says they want to save the public schools.
Diamonte, you’re a public school teacher. You work in the schools every day. You’ve seen these stories. You’ve seen Project Baltimore. Let’s start with you. What do you make of what they’re doing?
D. BROWN: Well, we spoke about this earlier, Jaisal. At first, I was on the bandwagon. At first, I was like, “Oh yeah. We need to expose these issues that are going on.” And then I had a moment of reflection and then I realized, I said, “Wait. They’re building a case to privatize schools.” Because I started to notice that there was a pattern that they would expose any negative information but there was never a follow-up to solutions. What was the root cause of the problem or anything like that.
So, I definitely think that … I don’t think they have the best intentions. I wonder if they understand what the unintended consequences will be of their actions.
JAISAL NOOR: So, Shahem, I want to turn to you. You graduated from the Baltimore school system not too long ago. Now you’re a college graduate. You run your own nonprofit. You work to elevate Baltimore youth. Talk about what your own experience was. The experience of your friends and your family in Baltimore schools. Do they need a radical change and what kind of change should that look like?
S. MCLAURIN: So, oddly enough, my middle school that I went to, William C. March Middle School, was shut down, too. That was kind of private. The March Funeral Home paid for that, the name of the school. And then my high school, Friendship Academy, which was a charter school, a public charter, was shut down as well. My experiences in these schools pretty much just proved that, everything that I learned after reading a few of these stories, that there’s not too much of a difference between charter schools, privatized schools, and the public school system.
I felt let down a lot. My family felt let down a lot. I’ve seen a lot of fellow students around me succumb to a lot of issues because of the dreams that they sold us in these schools that were not necessarily true.
JAISAL NOOR: What do you mean by that?
S. MCLAURIN: So, my school was a science and technology school, yet I barely ever saw a science or technology class in my school. We just did the same thing that a lot of other people did but the name was just tacked on to it. I don’t think I was prepared for life after graduating school. When I went to college, I was very far behind my peers and it took me a long time to catch up. Going to a school like that, they would pretty much say that they would prepare you for life like that, but they didn’t.
JAISAL NOOR: I wanna get your thoughts, Lawrence.
L. GRANDPRE: So, I think it’s an interesting conundrum where, as your viewers probably know, Sinclair Broadcasting is owned by a noted conservative. So, the stories and how they report about Baltimore can be seen as reflecting a conservative view. But I do think what’s happening here isn’t just a left/right political thing. It’s a larger societal thing about how we think about the capabilities of public school students and Black students from public schools.
So, they’re using a lot of very simplistic stats that feel true but, really, are totally out of context. If you look at Baltimore … They say it’s the fourth highest per people funding. And, as you point out, they are using certain metrics for large urban school districts. They’re all underfunded. So, it would be more accurate to say Baltimore is the fourth least underfunded large urban school district.
These fundamental systemic issues of white flight, and tax bases and, let’s not even talk about Baltimore’s being majority Black, the legacy of racism and white supremacy. It’s all glossed over. But I don’t think it’s just conservatives that this applies to. There’s a larger societal issue about how do we see what’s happening at public schools as a reflection of the inability for us to take a larger systemic view of how we got here? And, instead of saying, “We aren’t happy with where the schools are” I don’t think anyone is. So, I look at these stories and say kinda, “Duh.”
The big question, as Miss Brown points out, how are we going to move forward in the way that achieves what we all claim to want, which is a better education for our children? And by not providing a narrative that actually explains some of the progresses that African-centered education has produced, that Black homeschooled cooperatives have produced. That puts agency in the Black community so that the Black community can educate itself and save itself, you presuppose you need a white savior to come in. Or, Heaven forbid, you need Pitbull to come in-
PITBULL: I think Baltimore is one of the cities that need SLAM the most. It’s obvious you see that they’re going through a lot and have been through a lot in Baltimore.
L. GRANDPRE: … and save Black kids in Baltimore. And these are some of the subtle, tacit assumptions we make about Black school kids that aren’t just conservative or liberal. But there’s a larger societal issue at play here.
JAISAL NOOR: And that brings up a good point. I recently interviewed the associate dean of education at Loyola University. To put this all in context, until 70 years ago, Baltimore had one Black high school. After white flight, the Black schools were completely defunded. It took years of lawsuits to actually get funding for the school system and they were still forgotten.
But, now that Baltimore city is now — people want to move back here now, now people are asking this question, “How do we save these schools?” So, that context is really important.
Kristerfer Burnett, our council person, we heard you earlier talking about your thoughts on Project Baltimore. Feeding off Lawrence, what actual solutions are you hearing from the community and what their reactions are to Project Baltimore?
K. BURNETT: So, it’s been very different because people in my district are … they consume the media, not really knowing that it’s slanted or not really … I think we have a natural inclination that we trust the media. We think that any statistic they will put out will be vetted and be true. They know from the reality, right? They send their children to public schools. Or they attended public schools themselves in Baltimore City. And so, we do know the realities of our school system and we have a lot of challenges. Our kids are not graduating and ready to compete in the global society, if graduating at all. We know the statistics pretty well.
But I think that the problem is, is that there’s a lot of really good stuff happening in city schools that we do not focus on at all. We talked earlier a little offline about kids doing very well in debate, robotics, the sciences. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the schools in my district. Edmondson High School, there was a story about a graduate who’s now opened her third hair salon coming through the cosmetology program. So, those are the things that do not get focused on, which is problematic in that, one, our news should be unbiased. It should not have a political slant, whether it’s conservative or progressive or Democrat or Republican. It should be about reporting the facts. And so I think we gotta re-control the narrative.
But also, hopefully, I guess if there’s something that could come out of this is that we mobilize our parents and advocates around these issues. Because, underfunding is a challenge. Now it’s about changing the messaging, right? Because the focus on funding is always around what are they doing at North Avenue? What is the school headquarters doing? The teachers are being paid too much money and not producing the results. We need to cut teachers’ salaries. We need to close buildings. And this how you kinda create that fertile ground for privatization is by pretty much trying to destabilize the environment.
So, I think part of it is motivating people around the real issues. That our schools are actually underfunded. That our teachers do not have everything that they need to prepare our children to be successful. We do not have enough technology. Some of our buildings do not have running water. There are real issues in the city school system. We need to mobilize people to change the funding formula. To account for things like concentrated poverty. There are students who do not speak English as their first language or may have learning disabilities.
The calls I get are always around, “We’re spending too much money on school system.” And my pushback is, “We’re not spending enough.” Right? The money that we invest in our schools will produce the results that we need and if we are underfunded by the tune of over a million dollars over a 10-year period, then we’re gonna continue to struggle.
JAISAL NOOR: I wanted to play a recent story that Project Baltimore did about this question over school funding. Here’s that clip.
CHRIS PAPST: … now favors a new funding formula, spearheaded by the Kirwan Commission, tasked to recommend changes in how Maryland funds public education. The idea? To inject more tax dollars into poorer districts like Baltimore City. In part, by adjusting for those developer tax breaks. But some say, more money will not matter.
Project Baltimore compared state funding to test scores in Baltimore City schools. Here’s what we found. From 2007 to 2014, the state under the Thornton Funding Plan increased funding to Baltimore City schools by $170 million. That is an increase of 22% Now, in that same time period, between elementary and middle school students, English test scores rose by just 9 percent. But math scores for the same students tanked by 13 percent.
CHRIS SUMMERS: Did the Thornton Plan work? The answer is emphatically no. It did not work.
CHRIS PAPST: Will Kirwan work?
CHRIS SUMMERS: Regardless of how much money we throw at the system, it’s not moving the needle with regards to test scores.
JAISAL NOOR: There’s a few points raised there. The first thing that the point was made that from a right-wing think tank … that more money is not gonna have more results. Now, everything we’ve talked about, you’ve experienced, is that the schools don’t have enough resources. And that’s what the state has found, that the schools are underfunded by 20 percent.
How do you respond to someone at a D.C. think tank or a Maryland think tank saying that more money is not gonna make educational outcomes better in Baltimore?
D. BROWN: Well, I would respond first by saying that their idea of what success is, is skewed in the first place. Because test scores can’t be the main determinate for success. The reason being is that, one, Baltimore City Public School students, at least my students, they don’t take the test seriously. Because, they know it’s not a good measurement of their academic achievement. They rebel against the test. So, what they do is they just skip through questions. Or they dip out. Dip out means they leave. Or, they don’t come to school that day.
If we’re gonna use tests as the main determinate for success, there has to be a culture shift where we teach our kids how to play the game. And I had these conversations in my classroom, “Look, I know the tests don’t mean anything to you guys, but, these people on the outside, they’re judging you based on this test score. So, let’s play the game.” But those conversations aren’t being had. There’s two conversations being had. One is tell the kids, “You don’t have to worry about that test ’cause that’s not how the state should be measuring our intelligence anyway.” The other is, “You gotta do the test, so do it.” Right? But there’s not that middle ground that’s saying, “Guys, we know this isn’t a good tool; however, this is how we get money. This is how blah blah blah. This is how these things happen.”
And so, I bring it all the way back to say … So, if you’re saying the money is just to increase test scores, then no. It’s not gonna work. ‘Cause our kids already got that game. They already know the game. They don’t wanna play it.
So, we have to re-evaluate. We don’t need to re-evaluate, ’cause I think that my people … I know how to determine our success. But the issue is that other people are putting their perspective on what success means, and what academic achievement is. I think that’s where the issue begins.
JAISAL NOOR: And by the state’s own calculation, your school is underfunded by more than $3,000 per student.
D. BROWN: Yes.
JAISAL NOOR: What could your school do with that money?
D. BROWN: Well, I could have full sets of books. I teach for Upward Bound, as well, most Saturdays. And I teach students that actually come on Saturdays with books that they have from their school. So, for example, my kids are reading Between the World and Me and A Beautiful Struggle, and I don’t have enough books. I have enough books for them to read in the classroom but I can’t send them home. Because if I send them home and one doesn’t come back, now I don’t have enough for the classroom. So, where other kids have the opportunity to reflect on what we read in class, to go further, to do all of these things, my kids don’t. Because we don’t have something as simple as enough books for an entire class of students.
JAISAL NOOR: Lawrence, I want to get your response to that. The clip you just heard talking about test scores as the ultimate factor. The ultimate reflection of how a student’s doing. And the idea that the schools are getting funding enough and they don’t need more funding.
L. GRANDPRE: I’ve already kinda talked about why I feel that the argument around funding is basically specious at best. They’re using statistical tricks around how they were talking about test scores. So, they said in one clip from Sinclair Media that there were all these high schools with zero students were proficient.
Speaker 13: Baltimore City’s 39 high schools, 13 had zero students proficient in math.
L. GRANDPRE: So, the question is, what’s the test and how do you measure “proficient”? If proficient is the median, the national median, all you’ve really said is that poor Black kids in Baltimore City don’t score as well as middle-class white kids, to which I say, “Duh.” Right? But it sounds terrible. It sounds like we’ve failed these kids tremendously.
Then you have to ask the question, as was previously brought up, how are we using test scores to define success? I’ve never been in a professional environment where they say, “Well, we want you to code for us. But, can you line this sonnet first?” Or, “We want you to help us write social media, but we need you to give us the quadratic equation real quick.” It’s simply not relevant to a global economy that, while focused on information, it’s not focused on the types of information, the type of skills that produce good test-takers.
So, we have an entire culture of seeing a good student as essentially a good test-taker. By even the goal that we lay out, which is preparing kids for future life, it’s not test-taking skills necessarily that lead one to be a good employee. It’s critical thinking. It’s being able to take from different schools of thought and mix and match. We’re increasingly a mix and match world. Test-taking is actually the wrong way of thinking from any of the growing jobs of the future.
So, my think tank … it’s not a left or right think tank. We’re a community-based think tank. We are looking at the types of things that folks could do with that money that would actually improve kids’ performance. While I would like to think that every teacher in Baltimore would buy more copies of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I do think we need to have a conversation that says that if we define test-taking as the metric, putting more money into the schools so that we can try even harder to make these kids better test-takers, that’s a failed mission.
We’ve actually done the kids a disservice if we don’t have the accountability and reflexivity to say, “Yes, you need more money.” But also, no, the goal of that money is not just to make them better test-takers. It is to give them the critical thinking skills and the agency they need to be able to live in the world effectively.
JAISAL NOOR: Yeah, and it was the No Child Left Behind Act, which was supported by Democrats and Republicans, that really started this age of high-stakes testing and accountability. A growing number of experts, even former supporters of these policies, have reached the conclusion that you have.
Shahem, I want to get your thoughts on this. Do test scores help you prepare for your life after school? Talk about that.
S. MCLAURIN: Absolutely not. Honestly, my test scores, speaking from my own personal experience, were horrible. I got the best in my school, but they were still horrible compared to the national average. I would like to think that I am a bright person. I still was able to go to school and outperform people in classes where it called for things that I was passionate about. Things that I cared about. Like my community. Like history. Like everything else. I don’t think test scores even mean much of anything to a student’s predictability of whether or not they’ll have a good future. Whether or not they can be productive. Whether or not they could exceed at any challenge that you throw their way. I just think that a test score is a test score.
I agree with what you said, that it’s a game. Honestly, the whole entire education system is reinforced by racist ideals that have been in this country for a very, very long time and it does nothing but perpetuate cycles that hold certain demographics of people in this country down. And I do believe that focusing on test scores when it comes to this money is pretty ridiculous and pointless.
But I do believe that there needs to be a huge investment in our schools. Like my schools? We didn’t even have proper technology. There are people who I met later on in life that had laptop carts with iPads and stuff like that in their school. We didn’t even have updated text books and that’s a huge problem. To expect us to know things without teaching us even from updated material is just absolutely ridiculous. A lot of students are set up for failure before they even get to start.
JAISAL NOOR: It’s interesting because if you compare schools in Baltimore City and schools Baltimore County, they have similar levels of funding. Baltimore City gets a little more. But they have iPads in middle schools. They have access to technology. The reason for that is because Baltimore County doesn’t have the concentration of poverty that exists in Baltimore. Often, which is not said in these discussions is that, that is a result of deliberate public policy to create poverty. To redline communities. To prevent the creation of wealth in Baltimore City when it was encouraged and subsidized in the counties, like Baltimore County and other counties.
Shahem and Kris, you were both at this recent march for youth funding. LBS was there, too. Do schools have enough money in the city?
K. BURNETT: To jump in a little bit on that. So, even in the county … the county, because of their population, is able to contribute more to their individual school systems. So, while we may have similar funding levels from the state, what that actual jurisdiction is able to contribute to its own school system is completely different.
And, when you talk about what parents of those students in wealthy parts of the county are able to provide for their kids, whether it’s afterschool tutoring, their own home technology, iPads, and other just access to technology to reinforce what they’re learning, it does move the needle a little bit more. Dramatically more than what a lot of our parents are able to contribute or to participate in our kids’ lives.
I think, it even goes into other issues that kind of spill into this. The debate around the minimum wage here in Baltimore, one of the points that I was pushing for was that, we can say that people should go back to school and make more money and make better of themselves. But, if I’m working two low-wage jobs, then how can I come to the PTA meeting? How am I gonna show up at 8:00 in the morning to meet my child’s teacher or work with them after school, if I’m working? If I’m literally unable to be around my child for the vast majority of the day because I’m trying to keep the lights on.
But, even if you dig into the county, when you look at how an important bill around … which actually failed through the county council … around source of income discrimination and where they accept vouchers. So, if you look at-
JAISAL NOOR: HOME Act.
K. BURNETT: Yeah, yep. And so, if you look at the east and west sides of the county, it actually almost mimics the east and west sides of Baltimore City. In that, those schools are not performing at the same levels that they are in Dulaney or in Towson. It’s much different than what you see in Middle River or Randallstown.
But to your original question about funding, most of the tests are computer-based. We know for a fact that internet access in Baltimore City, most people use their phones. So, if my first time interacting with a laptop or a desktop computer is to take this test and, literally, how to use this device, we’re at a disadvantage.
When we talk about just where the world is moving, that access to technology is critical. When you have teachers that are having to spend their own money to buy books, it’s problematic. So, yeah, we do need more money because to compete with the surrounding jurisdictions, to compete with the global society that we’re in right now, our kids need more. But also, they have less.
This debate around money always gets diverted to, how are we spending? We need audits. We do need accountability. I don’t wanna take the school system off the hook for how we’ve historically invested in the schools, or not. Or how we’ve spent money, or haven’t. Those are real questions and real discussions that we need to have. And real transparency and accountability that needs to be improved.
But, at the end of the day, to say that more money isn’t solving the problem, I have to completely disagree with that. If our school system had more money, I’m sure you would have another teacher assistant to help manage a classroom of 30 to 40 kids. Right? That makes a difference in the learning environment. Having access to laptops and iPads in the classroom makes a difference in a child’s ability to learn coding, or stay after school. Right? Kids are always on their phone. We’re moving into a society that is completely based in technology and yet our school system does not have that.
So, yeah, we do need more money. We need to spend it wisely. We need to be accountable in how we spend it. But the debate is often really shifted and it moved people in the wrong direction. ‘Cause every time one of these stories comes out, I get an inundation of calls from folks saying, “Look, I’m coming down on the school board. We need audits. We need … ” And yeah, we do need all of those things; however, our kids are fighting with one arm tied behind their back. So, I think, how it’s portrayed is very problematic.
JAISAL NOOR: Finally, we know that we’ve been focusing on Project Baltimore, but I wanna get some solutions out there. We’ve already started this conversation about what real change could look like. What effective change would look like within a school system, within the classroom itself. I want to continue this and end on this conversation.
Let’s start with you and talk about some more of the things you would like to see in your classroom and other classrooms around the city. Things that’ll help uplift and encourage the students that you work with and other students around the city.
D. BROWN: The biggest thing I would like to see is an African-centered curriculum and also the arts. A lot of times, arts are seen as an extracurricular activity.
JAISAL NOOR: It’s cut all over the city.
D. BROWN: Yeah. We have none at my school. We have an art teacher and that’s about it. But, we don’t have anything else. The reason is because apparently we don’t have enough students to be able to get those types of programs, which is … I don’t even wanna talk about that ’cause that just makes me really sad and depressed. But, what I do notice is when I can bring those things into my classroom, my students flourish. And they want it. And they ask for it.
I think that leads to the second thing, which is the African-centered curriculum, which, when it’s brought up and especially when it’s brought up by a Black person, there’s a pin drop. There’s this sense of uncomfortability because it would be literally overhauling the entire school curriculum. Because right now it’s a European-based curriculum. And I know that, because when I talk to my kids about themselves, they say, “Oh, here Miss Brown goes with that Black talk. Miss Brown, you’re always talking about Black stuff all the time.” And I say, “‘Cause you’re Black! That’s what we’re supposed to talk about.” But they’re so used to being immersed in a European society that it’s uncomfortable for them, now, to talk about themselves. When you have a low self-image, education is not your priority. You have to love yourself first for you to wanna learn more. That’s not being talked about. We talk about the whole child, but we don’t wanna talk about the Black child. It’s like cancerous to just say it.
And thirdly, I would say we need to work from the bottom up. If we continue to have top-heavy decisions being made — decisions being made by people that aren’t from Baltimore, haven’t attended Baltimore City Public Schools, don’t have kids to go to Baltimore City Public Schools — we’ll continue to have decisions that don’t work in the best interests of the directly impacted.
JAISAL NOOR: It’s interesting because your school is on McCulloh Street. It was one of the original racial dividing lines of Baltimore. And so, your students are really kind of living that history still to this day.
D. BROWN: Yes, literally, if not worse.
JAISAL NOOR: Councilman Burnett?
K. BURNETT: So, I think as a policy maker, I think that what my solution would be pushing for .. whether it’s Kirwan commission to be implemented quicker, pushing our state representatives to pass a funding formula sooner than the recommendations, or at least a stopgap that adequately funds Baltimore City schools. We’re coming up on the legislative sessions so I would say really pushing people to, if they can, make it to Annapolis. If not, submitting testimony and really calling their legislators on the city delegation and other delegations, as well. To really push the needle that we need adequate funding in Baltimore City schools. We need it right now.
I’d say the other piece is to the point around just that engagement. Right? This is what we were talking about a little earlier, how do we create an environment that allows for that bottom-up perspective to be reflected in the policy decisions that are being made at school headquarters? And more engagement. We were talking a little bit offline on some things, as a council member, yeah, I’m working directly with the school’s CEO. So, there’s things that I’m hearing that are obviously not being filtered down. But, also, from that perspective, obviously these things are coming from the top and not really reflective of what the real needs are or what the vision is from parents and teachers who are really on the frontline, who are educating our kids every day. And really pushing from the bottom up. How do we create that environment? It’s something that I’m still trying think through. How do I create these spaces? Both in my district, obviously, I spend a lot of time … all my time when I’m not in City Hall. But trying to just work with our schools, right?
I think there was a point raised earlier that I think is really crucial, in that what schools have art programs and out of school time programs … they vary school to school. If you have a principal that is very open to partnerships or can advocate for themselves and reach out and say, “Look, I need laptops in my school,” you know, I get those kinds of calls. But, then I have some other schools where I may never hear anything from the principals at all. And those kids suffer. Or they don’t have those programs because the administration of that individual school isn’t really trying to create that environment that is really holistic in the things our kids need.
So, I think really pushing our school board to do better, pushing our individual schools to do better, trying to create those avenues and thinking through, you know, if we’re having a school choice meeting. Or if we’re having anything that’s related to the school, when are parents able to come? Is it 8:00 in the morning? Is it 3:00 in the afternoon? Why not both? Right? Trying to create this environment so that these schools are spaces that are community-focused, that are community-centered, open to parents to be able to come in and really just focus on having that … Because we talked about — and this is a whole different thing around school closures — but the culture of the school should be reflective of the neighborhood that it’s in. The decision-making process should be made by parents, by community members who are part of that school environment.
So, I think that it’s something that we, as policy makers, we as teachers and principals, and advocates need to really focus on is how do we take it school by school and really push to make sure that, while we have these larger issues around funding, and statewide funding, and federal funding, and curriculum … How can we make an impact on our neighborhood school? In our community schools?
I think that’s where I would like to see some of the focus.
JAISAL NOOR: Shahem?
S. MCLAURIN: So, I personally think that this issue is really, really grand. Like much bigger than just pushing for school funding. I think it’s a multifaceted issue that needs to be attacked from a lot of different angles. Which is why a policy like the Youth Fund is really important because it allows the community to have a stake in the kids of the city. It allows people to actually invest in and do the things like grassroots organizing around kids. Because honestly, leaving it to the school system and the administration at these schools is just absolutely ridiculous. Because it’s gonna fail. Not to say that they don’t do their jobs or anything, but it’s a really big problem here in Baltimore. Poverty is a huge issue. Like it was mentioned, it’s impossible for a parent to be invested in their student’s education if they have to work two jobs just to keep their lights on.
To address the issue of education in Baltimore City, we have to address a lot of other issues at the same time. One of the most important issues that we need to address is having multiple people invested in our youth at the same time because we can’t just leave it to the school system.
I think pushing for more funding is really important, too. But, it’s important to address other issues at the same time, especially poverty. Because, that’s one of the biggest setbacks in the education system.
JAISAL NOOR: Your socioeconomic background is the greatest predictor of your standardized test scores. You won’t hear that on Project Baltimore or Fox News, but that is a well-established fact. Until you deal with your social background, until you address the poverty, which was created by policy — you won’t hear that on Fox or Project Baltimore either — you’re not gonna get anywhere, like you said. So thank you for that.
L. GRANDPRE: So, I’ll try to be brief but, again, it’s a comprehensive issue. In terms of the way I see the dynamic functioning, I’m extremely concerned because I feel that the conversation is extremely limited and problematic, from my point of view. So, what you’ll get is the advocates, and they’ll put a parade of usually young, Black, poor faces. They’ll have mantras. The mantras will be things like, “We need A.C. We need clean water in our schools. And we need iPads.” It’s almost exploitative, in my opinion. Because you have people who are suffering acutely, pushing for, really, it’s like a modicum of just basic human rights. A.C, water, and iPads is not school reform. It’s basic human rights. Which is good but it’s not gonna get us to the point where we need to get.
So, I wanna preface my presentation of recommendations by saying a few things you may not know. For example, I come from the world of competitive policy debate. For the first 30 years of the competitive college policy debate, there was one Black national champion. Over the past 10 years, there have been 10 Black national champions, and six of them are from Baltimore, all public schools graduates.
We had, last summer, the National Poetry Slam champions were from Baltimore. I believe, almost all of the Baltimore City Public School graduates.
And we have things like the Baltimore Algebra Project, which is youth who get paid to not just teach other youths math … they have an incredible success rate … but they are also leading some of the peaceful protests around the Baltimore Uprising. Why don’t we talk about that? Why don’t people know that?
It’s not just Sinclair, that’s my argument. It’s also unfortunately, I believe, that the people who have the power in the teacher’s union and particularly powerful nonprofits didn’t produce those people. So, they understand that those people were produced by the Black community. And the expertise of the folks in the Black community who weren’t doing it for a grant. Weren’t doing it in school. But, were doing it because they had an expertise about how to train young Black people to be excellent. Baltimore just had a huge problem. It does not even conceptualize that working-class Black folks can be experts in terms of how to teach Black folks.
So, when I say recommendations, I’m saying look at things like African-centered curriculum as we’ve already talked about. I’m just providing some more context for it. Look at things like homeschooling collaboratives that have been proven to have incredible success here. What we can’t do … what we can’t do is allow that continuous march to happen. A.C., water, iPads. Because if you’re getting taught that Christopher Columbus is a hero, I don’t care if it’s on an old piece of paper or an iPad, that’s a problem.
We need to push the discourse to include a more complex and actually new understanding of what has to happen in this city, where the public schools are high 80s-low 90s percent Black. We need a solution to actually fix the people that are experiencing these conditions.
JAISAL NOOR: All right. I want to thank you all for joining us on this episode of The Real Baltimore. We’re gonna definitely continue this conversation. Thank you all for joining us.
L. GRANDPRE: Thank you.
K. BURNETT: Thank you.
S. MCLAURIN: Thank you.
D. BROWN: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real Baltimore.