Reforming The Schools To Save the City, Part 1

About the Authors

Denis P. Doyle

Denis Philip Doyle, founder of Doyle Associates, is a nationally and internationally known education writer, analyst and consultant. Doyle has recently developed a comprehensive book and compact disc (CD) titled, Raising the Standard: An Eight-Step Action Guide for Schools and Communities, which will be available in October 1997.

After earning his bachelor of arts degree (1962) and his master of arts degree (1964) in political theory at the University of California, Berkeley, Doyle become a consultant to the California legislature – first as a program analyst and later as the architect of a series of education bills.

He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1972 to take up the position of assistant director at the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity. He later joined the National Institute of Education as assistant director, where he oversaw the nation’s two largest demonstration projects, the Education Voucher Project and the Experimental Schools Project.

During the presidential administration of George Bush, he was appointed by Secretary of Education A. Lamar Alexander, Jr. to serve on the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. He co-edited the commission’s final report, Prisoners of Time.

He has also been a federal executive fellow at the Brookings Institution, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he was the co-director of the Modern Red School House (a project of the New American Schools Development Corporation). He was a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation for 18 months, until December 1996.

He has written dozens of scholarly and popular articles for a wide variety of magazines, including Atlantic Monthly, The Public Interest, Change, Business Week, Education Week and the Phi Delta Kappan. He has also published over 150 op-ed pieces in such well known newspapers as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun.

His books include: Investing in Our Children: Business and the Public Schools; Winning the Brain Race: A Bold Plan to Make Our Schools Competitive (with David T. Kearns, then Xerox CEO); and Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools (with Louis M. Gerstner, IBM CEO). His most recent book is Where Connoisseurs Send Their Children to School, which examines the phenomenon of public school teachers’ disproportionately sending their own children to private schools.

He has been a member of the Phi Delta Kappan editorial advisory board, the RJR Nabisco Foundation advisory board and the U.S./Japan CULCON advisory board.

He is married to Gloria Revilla and is the father of two children, Alicia and Christopher. He lives and works in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

David A. DeShryver

Research assistant Dave DeShryver lives in Washington, D.C. and currently works at the Center for Education Reform, where he is in engaged in a project in charter schools. He was previously a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, where he worked with Doyle. Originally hailing from Rochester, New York, he attended Kenyon College, Ohio. He moved to Washington in 1996 after having played professional soccer in the United Kingdom for a year.

Douglas P. Munro

Doug Munro is the co-director /CEO of the Calvert Institute. For further details, see the biography page of volume II of this series.

Executive Summary

You have in front of you part I of a two-part examination into the potential for school choice to reverse urban decline. Denis Doyle’s thesis is that the various proffered remedies for urban decline – new police, new green space, new tax cuts – will never save the city unless the schools are saved. The lifeblood of any city is its middle and working classes. These ordinary people are what make the place tick. Unable to afford the private schools that make city living tolerable for those that can afford them, the middle and working classes must be given access to good schools at public expense. The simplest way to achieve this is to allow them to choose their own. If they are not given this access, they will leave. They do leave. Baltimore loses over 1,000 people a month, net.

Doyle notes that there is nothing preordained about urban shrinkage. Many cities in America are in fact mushrooming, especially in the Southwest. Even in the Northeast, the metropolitan areas around the old industrial cities are expanding. Metropolitan Philadelphia grew by 3.6 percent over the period 1990-1995; metropolitan Washington, by 2.3 percent; metropolitan Baltimore, by 0.8 percent. Americans will live in densely packed areas.

What, then, sets the city apart from its suburbs? Crime and schools. Our concern here is the latter. Doyle argues that the tepid reform strategies embraced by cities’ political and education elites – including Baltimore’s – will have no long-term impact. “Radical centralization,” the preferred route of most education unions, involves spending more on all schools simultaneously and in the same manner. Good money after bad. “Cosmetic decentralization,” as embraced by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke’s Task Force on Parental Choice, is a noble effort: School-based management and charter schools are fine as far as they go. But they are too little, too late. Then there is school choice. “Vouchers,” a curse word as far as the government schools are concerned, in the view of these reports’ authors represent the only possible way to anchor the middle and working classes to the city.

For anchored they must be. Baltimore’s population has plummeted, anywhere from 33,000 to 52,000 between 1990 and 1994, depending on the source. With this, the city’s own-source revenue stream has stalled. “Piggyback” income-tax revenue fell from $123.5 million to $118.9 million from 1991-1995. The Schmoke administration’s annual attempt to make up the shortfall by hiking taxes for the few middle-class residents that remain is misguided. Asking them to pay more for less will only hasten their departure.

What will keep them? Good schools. Can these be achieved within the existing paradigm? No. Doyle traces the history of the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS). In particular, he notes that black Baltimoreans have traditionally been poorly served by the BCPS. Excluded until 1867 from all forms of publicly financed education, African-Americans were subsequently placed in the inferior half of a divided system. Though legal segregation is now dead, ironically, the middle and working classes’ dread of poor schooling and their consequent flight to suburban pastures, has resulted in a system as segregated as ever for blacks. The crowning irony, however, is that the private schools that once served blacks, before their admission to public education, are now denied to many of them by deliberate policy decisions. Financially precluded from the education choices the rich take for granted, and denied the public subsidies that would make private-school enrollment possible, many African-Americans are condemned to the mediocrity – or worse – of the public schools. This locks good students in with bad students, meticulous students with louts. The schools, thus forced to abandon tracking, must level standards down – for they can never be leveled up. The middle and working classes – black and white – tire of this and leave. This is the cycle in which Baltimore finds itself.

Can the cycle be broken? Absolutely. There are immediately available some 2,000 extra seats in the Catholic school system in the city. Given the extent to which the poor are prepared to scrimp to get their children into reasonably priced religious schools (as evidenced by the two sidebar stories within this essay), there is every reason to suppose that these seats would immediately be snapped up if families could afford them. And there is another, entirely overlooked source of space for new, voucher-funded private institutions. Baltimore has too many public schools for its population. Utilization of existing facilities is currently only 72 percent. By 2005, it will be under two-thirds. These anonymous percentage figures mean seats, classrooms and buildings that could be used by education entrepreneurs if demand were subsidized by vouchers.

Is there no other way? There is not. We as a society must accept an unpleasant reality. Middle- and working-class families, black or white, will not send their children to schools where they face danger and dysfunctionality. This is a difficult admission, but it is a fact nonetheless. Society now gives the middle and working classes two options: (a) send your children to school in fear or (b) leave town. Every year, thousands settle for option (b). There is no fighting it. We must harness it. Give these hard-working people a third way. Let them pick their own schools while allowing them to remain in Baltimore. In a sense, this is an admission of defeat. In the long run, however, it is vital for the well-being of the city. Only the stabilization of middle-class, tax-paying neighborhoods, black and white, will provide for a tax base sufficiently recovered to make Baltimore viable. In the end, only that will improve the lot of the underclass.

Douglas P. Munro, Editor


I. Introduction

Cities are in crisis. How can the tide be stopped? Stabilizing cities calls for a two-pronged strategy. One prong, crime prevention, is beyond the purview of this essay. As recent evidence from New York City reveals, however, it is within reach. (NYC’s once legendary rate of violent crime has by now dropped to the fifth-lowest of any large city in the country, plunging by 14 percent from 1995 to 1996.)1 The second prong is the subject of this essay. It is the provision of high-quality schools, public and private. Urban schools must be safe, secure and academically sound. Urban schools must be within financial reach of working families. These deceptively simple attributes are essential for teachers and students. And they are essential for urban health and well being. To save the city, we must save the schools. For those readers concerned about the impact on the poor, we would point out that a city with no middle and working classes is no city at all. The connection is simple. If the middle and working classes are given the schools they want, they will stay in the city. This will stabilize the tax base, which in turn will improve the lot of the poor.

How can more good schools be called into existence? The demand for good schools is there. What would it take to create a supply response to this demand? This essay suggests that the answer lies in freeing market forces by means of school choice. That the residents of Baltimore would welcome such a strategy is demonstrated forcefully by the Calvert companion study to this one.2 School choice would produce a supply response, bringing to the fore the professionalism of teachers and administrators alike. For their part, what are now public schools would in effect become charter schools, substantially freed of bureaucratic machinations. Private schools would continue to function much as they do now, competing for students and their accompanying tuition payments on the basis of academic merit. All residents would ultimately benefit.


About one thing most Americans agree: Our cities and our schools are in trouble. It was not always so. In the midyears of the century, at least, our cities were vibrant and inviting places. So, too, were their schools. Although crowding, noise and pollution are the sine qua non of cities, these are tolerable when the civic culture of the city provides countervailing amenities. Parks that are clean and well lit, safe and orderly streets, comity among citizens and an absence of graffiti – all these prompt residents to turn a blind eye to the less inviting aspects of urban life.

Indeed, city dwellers are notoriously resilient and pride themselves on how much they can “take.” Baltimoreans, Bostonians, Chicagoans, New Yorkers are all proud of their capacity to deal with urban adversity. But even the most seasoned city dweller draws the line at crime. He will not tolerate unsafe streets. More pertinently to this essay, urban dwellers with children of school age will not tolerate failing schools, either. By failing schools they do not mean shabby buildings – they can accept that. They mean schools that are unsafe and undisciplined, institutions that do not emphasize learning.

The public has strongly held views on schooling. Citizens want schools that are safe, disciplined and harmonious institutions. The Public Agenda Foundation reports make this point repeatedly, as does the annual Gallup poll of the public’s attitudes toward education reported every fall in the Phi Delta Kappan. The Gallup poll reveals a powerful trend: Residents of small towns and villages give their schools good marks, while residents of big cities give their schools low marks. Not surprisingly, blacks in big cities give the lowest marks. The burden of inferior schooling falls most heavily on them.

So strong is urban residents’ antipathy to bad schools that they will leave the city, if need be, to escape them. Once characterized as white flight, it is now more accurately characterized as bright flight. As long as the working and middle classes are not content with their government schools, they will continue their exodus to the suburbs. No city can survive without these two groups. The thesis of this paper, then, is this: These hard working, tax-paying residents – these “regular folks” – must be given the schools they desire. Only then may they consider staying in the city. It follows that cities with good schools will be robust. Those without good schools will not.

Public safety, clearly important, is beyond the scope of this essay. But there is a dimension to it that has a bearing on schooling: Healthy or “normal” societies, like healthy schools, are self-policing. (Formal policing, the “thin blue line,” is for deviant, not normal behavior.)3 Good schools offer a vivid example of the self-policing phenomenon at work: They are disciplined and productive places. But safe and disciplined schools do more than reflect and reinforce civic culture. They are a necessity for working- and middle-class families. Good schools are at once the product of a healthy urban environment and its strongest source of support because they are a magnet to the working and middle classes, without whom the city cannot survive.

The good public schools that remain in urban areas reinforce the point. Baltimore Poly; Boston Latin; Boys and Girls Highs in Philadelphia; Lowell in San Francisco; Central in Omaha; Brooklyn Tech; Bronx Science, Aviation, Music and Art; Peter Stuyvesant in New York – all are distinguished institutions that help sustain vibrant working and middle classes.

Today, however, the list of “good” urban schools includes more private than public institutions. Each city in America boasts a list of distinguished private schools. The most well known in the late 1990s, no doubt, are the schools that enroll the first child and the son of the vice president, Sidwell Friends, and the vice president’s daughter, the National Cathedral School for Girls, in Washington, D.C.4 Other discerning consumers select private schools as well. That the issue is not restricted to the first family is demonstrated quite forcefully in a recent Heritage Foundation study about where members of Congress send their children to school. They, too, disproportionately choose private schools. Released in February 1994, the study was based on a survey of members which found that 50 percent of Senate Republicans and 39.5 percent of Senate Democrats used private schools, more than three times the national average. In keeping with its more egalitarian composition, fewer House members used private schools: 36 percent of House Republicans and 25.2 percent of House Democrats (“only” three and two times the national average, respectively). Two subsets of the data are especially interesting, namely, 29.6 percent of members of the Black Caucus utilized private schools, while no less than 70 percent of the Hispanic Caucus did.

It is hard to imagine a more serious indictment of the public schools than the loss of confidence displayed by the first family and other elected officials. That there is not a public school in the nation’s capital utilized by the children of the elected leaders of the world’s most robust democracy is extraordinary. But if Washington has few successful public schools, it is in this respect like just about every big city in America. Instead, each has its own list of elite private schools, and, even if they are not located within the city’s limits, they nonetheless serve the city’s power elite. Additionally, little noted though important nonetheless, is the extent to which exclusive suburban public schools look like elite private schools; that is, they accept tuition-paying students from the nearby city. Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, enrolls a number of students from Washington, D.C. (but not the inner-city poor, the reader may be certain).

In some respects, however, the elite private schools obscure more than they reveal. True, they serve a discerning clientele and most, if not all, offer generous scholarships to broaden their student base. But by and large they are few in number. For example, their membership organization – the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) – has fewer than 1,000 members. The vast majority of the nation’s 26,000 private schools are low-cost (or at least low-price) institutions that serve diverse student populations.5

If there appear a sufficient number of good private schools to serve the elite, first-rate public schools, by way of contrast, are the exception rather than the rule. This need not be the case, as the experience of other nations demonstrates. Good urban public schools remain the norm abroad. Bonn, Sydney, London, Paris, Tokyo, Prague, Amsterdam, Copenhagen – to name but a few – have excellent public schools. They have very good private schools, too. It is true that they also have vibrant downtowns with residential areas that are highly sought after. And they have safe streets and parks. But these are all of a piece. The good schools/safe streets/healthy downtowns package cannot be disaggregated. Robust cities, places that attract, rather than repel, are home not just to the very rich and the very poor, but to working- and middle-class families with children. These latter two are the backbone of a vigorous city. They are also the most sensitive to the issue of poor-quality public education.

Crime, disorder and failing schools are anathema precisely because they drive working- and middle-class families away. They produce urban meltdown. With only a few exceptions across the country, working-class and middle-class households are fleeing to the suburbs. Indeed, cities like Baltimore and Washington are losing about 1,000 people a month.6 Only those who cannot create islands of safety, or who are unable to leave, are not abandoning the city. As we see in table 1, the numbers are quite striking. Of the large cities listed here, Baltimore is second in terms of population loss, with a net decline over the period 1990-1994 of 4.49 percent.

Note that some cities are growing, and fast, too. But these are all found in the low-tax, high-growth “sun belt” of the Southwest. Immigration from Mexico, legal and illegal, probably accounts for much of the growth. Port-of-entry cities grow because they are economic magnets (and offer ethnic associations that are particularly important to immigrants), and because of their relatively low-cost housing markets (due to seriously deteriorated housing stock). But successful immigrants quickly move on to the suburbs. In the old industrial cities, only the poor, the well-to-do and young professionals remain: the poor, because they have no choice; the well-to-do, because they can insulate themselves from the vicissitudes of urban decay; and young professionals, because they are daring or carefree.

Connoisseurs Know

As we have suggested, good schools already exist in most cities but, more often than not, they are private schools. And private-school enrollments are limited to those families that can afford to pay tuition (or who are lucky enough to have a scholarship). In Baltimore, 18.1 percent of students of school age attend private school.7 These private-school enrollment patterns reflect the ability to pay. But there is growing evidence that more and more parents would send their children to private school if they could afford it. A recent poll in USA Today reports that, among respondents with school-aged children, 47 percent would use private schools “if they had the resources.”8 Similarly, the Calvert Institute’s companion study to this one reveals that 66 percent of respondents in a survey of the families that left Baltimore City for the surrounding counties in the latter part of 1996 favored school choice.9

Interest in private schools has a racial component as well. African-Americans are much more likely to express a preference for private schools than whites (not surprisingly, African-Americans report much lower levels of satisfaction with their children’s public schools than whites.)10 10 According to a 1997 national survey of black social attitudes produced by the left-leaning Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., only 34.3 percent of blacks rate their local public school “excellent/good” while 56.9 percent of the overall population does. On the other hand, 23.3 percent of blacks give their schools a “poor” rating, while 13.3 percent of the general population does. And while 48.1 percent of all parents support vouchers, 57.3 percent of African-American parents do.11 The situation in Baltimore is even more pronounced. Among the black Baltimoreans with children who left for the suburbs in 1996, the Calvert Institute’s research reveals that an astounding 92 percent favored school choice.12 Larry Patrick, former president of the Detroit, Michigan school board says, “I don’t think African-American parents are any different than other parents. All they want in quality education for their children. Wealthy parents, like the president, can make this choice; poor ones cannot….”13

The ability to attend private school, of course, is largely a function of family income for, as the eminent sociologist James S. Coleman has pointed out, private schools face a significant “tariff barrier.” Not only must they charge tuition to generate income, their “competitors” – the public schools – are so heavily subsidized that they are “free” to consumers.14 No small matter, that.

What is surprising to some is what public school teachers do. Where Connoisseurs Send Their Children to School, an analysis of the most recent census data (1990) from the nation’s 100 largest cities, reveals, among other things, that public school teachers in our central cities are more likely to use private schools than the public at large.15 More specifically, public school teachers whose income is twice the national median – i.e., with family income above $70,000 per year – in central cities are nearly four times more likely to use private schools than the regular public. For example, 48 percent of public school teachers in Baltimore and Philadelphia with household income above $70,000 a year enroll their own children in private school. They decline to use the institutions where they themselves work. (It is also noteworthy that public school teachers are almost twice as likely as the overall public to enjoy family incomes above $70,000 a year, 25.1 percent as compared to 13.1 percent.)16

At the same time, almost without exception, public policy strictly forbids the use of public funds to attend private elementary and secondary school.17 If private schools are good enough for the discerning and the well-off, why are they not good enough for the poor and dispossessed? Make no mistake: The poor do not have access to private schools because deliberate policy decisions deny them access. It is not an accident. (It is interesting to note that Maryland law does not insist that public education monies be spent at public institutions,18 though funds are not made available for the regular education of the poor at non-government institutions.) In medicine and other areas of public service, the issue is now closed. The poor house, the workhouse, the charity hospital and the alms house have all virtually disappeared because of our widely shared belief that human dignity is enhanced by choice. Not so with education.

Yet, there is no constituency for bad schools. There is no organized interest group lobbying to make good schools inferior, inferior schools bad and bad schools worse. To the contrary, every actor in the process – every teacher, parent and student – prefers good schools to bad. Schools are bad in spite of good intentions. Rather, school failure is functional and organizational. Indeed, in terms of modern sensibilities, huge school systems are “designed to fail.” They are bureaucratic where they should be professional, anonymous where they should be intimate.(See exhibit 1 below.) They should hold teachers and students to high standards but expect little of either. They are top-down institutions with little clear sense of accountability. Buffeted by political forces, they face endless compromise. Trying to serve many masters, they serve few well. Most are demoralized institutions just as most are moribund. As they begin to deteriorate, a downward spiral begins. The discerning and ambitious parent moves his child to another school, if private, or to another jurisdiction, if public. So too does the discerning teacher. And fewer newcomers arrive – except those who have no choice.

II. Reform Strategies

What reform strategies are available to the nation’s mayors and city councils, to the nation’s school boards and school superintendents? How can the supply of good schools be increased? In particular, how can taxpayers of modest means be given greater access to effective schools? Conventional wisdom recognizes three broad strategies, none of which has yet seriously disturbed the status quo.

Radical Centralization

Radical centralization is the strategy of the past 100 years. While we argue that it is an undisputed failure in America, it continues to be the dominant reform paradigm, even if it is not described in these terms.19 It is top-down management, hierarchical in nature. Indeed, big-city school systems look like Russia’s soviets of old: autocratiCosmetic Decentralizationc and bureaucratic. Improve all the schools at the same time – this is the reform mantra of the centralizer. While such attempts may be well intentioned, they are doomed to failure. Circumstances in individual schools are too different to allow for the success of such one-size-fits-all strategies. Our cities’ highly centralized school systems have had their chance.

Cosmetic Decentralization

Cosmetic decentralization is the strategy au courant, including such things as magnet schools, charter schools and decentralized management and budgeting. With the notable exception of charter schools, decentralization alone is a slender reed upon which to lean. Magnet schools and school-site management and budgeting are as likely as not to be honored in the breech. And charter schools, still in their infancy, are vulnerable.

This said, the charter-school record, small though it is, is a good one. As Chester Finn notes in a recent Washington Post article, charter schools represent a modest but important reform effort. Of the 35 charter schools he and his colleagues have reviewed, Finn reports that “63 percent of pupils were non-white, 55 percent were poor, nearly one-fifth had limited English proficiency and about the same proportion had disabilities of various sorts.”20 In the same section of the Washington Post as Finn’s article appears, in his weekly paid advertisement, Robert F. Chase, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), writes, in supportive terms, that “charter schools, many of them founded and run by teachers, are proliferating rapidly.” Not because of NEA support, one might add. Nevertheless, even late and grudging support is welcome. It remains to be seen what the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) actually do to support or oppose charter schools. Today, more than five years into the charter school “movement,” there are fewer than 500 charter schools across the nation. By comparison, nationally there are more than 110,000 public and private schools.

Conceptually, the charter-school idea is powerful, but it faces formidable obstacles. Indeed, in proportion as charter schools are successful, the obstacles will increase as public-sector anxiety increases. Much will be made of the occasional bad press received by some charter schools, such as the recent Marcus Garvey Charter School fiasco in Washington, D.C. A white Washington Times reporter alleged she was set upon by officials at the Afrocentric school – to her chagrin but not, apparently, to the school’s embarrassment.21 The movement as a whole, while not jeopardized by the event, would nevertheless have been better off without it.


Privatization has already come and gone in Baltimore, a great tempest in a teapot. Well intentioned though the attempt was, its failure was preordained. Baltimore’s contract with Education Alternatives, Inc. (EAI) invited the response it received and, despite the best of intentions, EAI was finally forced out. (A “thought experiment” about what would have happened to EAI had there been vouchers is instructive. It is almost certainly the case that EAI would still be a serious player in Baltimore.)

Nationally, the picture is a bit brighter. There are now eight Edison Project schools and a few other private vendors actively engaged in providing education services to K-12 students in the public sector. Scheduled to open a further 13 schools this fall, the Edison Project is the brainchild of entrepreneur Chris Whittle. Originally conceived of as a national network of for-profit schools operating independently, it quickly became clear to Whittle and his associates that the fee-paying (and fee-charging) private-school market was saturated. As a consequence, the Edison Project strategy changed to selling services to school systems and achieving charter-school status, if possible. While some of the Edison offerings are truly impressive – take, for example, the Boston Renaissance School – their numbers are few. But they represent a significant threat to the status quo. The establishment is not likely to tolerate them. Expect opposition.


Vouchers, a fourth strategy for reform, represent the one education reform strategy likely to disturb the status quo seriously. Vouchers are the “third rail” of the education debate. Politicians dare not discuss the matter, lest teachers’ union campaign funds dry up.22 Liberals, ordinarily sympathetic toward the plight of the poor, keep mum, lest they be tarred with the “religious right” brush. Therefore, while they have been tried cautiously in Milwaukee and Cleveland, vouchers remain marginal at best. The reasons for their marginality are not hard to fathom. The education interest groups are passionately opposed to vouchers – even more than to other forms of privatization. In the face of such vigorous opposition, one would expect supporters to have advanced compelling arguments on vouchers’ behalf. They have not: Neither of the two most common arguments garners enough public support for widespread enactment.

The first and better known of the supporters’ arguments is economic efficiency.23 The less well known, but no less important, argument for vouchers is moral. Vouchers are the right and proper thing to do. Whatever its intellectual and philosophical merits, neither argument has been sufficiently weighty to move the political process. Large political contributions by teachers’ unions have helped in this respect. The education unions are notably partisan, at the national level giving some 99 percent of contributions to the Democrats. In Maryland, the figure is about 90 percent.24

No doubt the current Milwaukee and Cleveland experiences will have a beneficial effect if they survive judicial scrutiny, though whether or not they will is still in question.25 In early January 1997, Judge Paul B. Higginbotham of Dane County Circuit Court in Madison, Wisconsin ruled that the inclusion of religious schools in the Milwaukee choice experiment violated the state constitution’s provisions against taxpayer support of sectarian institutions. The judge said the state constitution provided for stronger limitations on government aid to religion than the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on government establishment of religion. The decision struck down the 1995 expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program and ruled against including religious schools in the seven-year-old school-choice project. This ruling rejected the argument that the state vouchers provided to low-income parents, vouchers that might then be signed over to the religious or other private schools, represented aid to the parents and not the institutions.

Meanwhile in Cleveland, Ohio, voucher opponents, including teachers in this city’s troubled public school system, are waging a high-stakes legal battle against the state-backed scholarship program. They fear that the Cleveland experiment may open the door for more vouchers in Ohio and across the nation. Vouchers are bad public policy, opponents say, and any program that includes religious schools violates federal and state constitutional prohibitions against government aid to religion. Initially, the court disagreed. Franklin County Judge Lisa Sadler’s July 31, 1996 opinion in Sue Gatton et al. v. John M. Goff read: “This court is persuaded that the non-public sectarian schools participating in the scholarship program are benefitted only indirectly, and purely as the result of the genuinely independent and private choices of aid recipients” (No. 96 CVH-01-193). This lower-court ruling has just been overturned.

On May 1, 1997, Ohio’s Tenth Appellate Court stated, “…the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas is reversed,” Simmons-Harris v. Goff (No. 96APE08-982). The three-judge appellate panel ruled that the state-established program primarily benefitted religious schools as most of the 1,927 participating students used their vouchers to attend such institutions. The program also violated another state constitutional provision, inasmuch as it targeted a single school district. State officials now say they will appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, and that they will ask the high court to delay the effect of the Tenth Appellate Court ruling to allow the children’s education to continue this fall. For choice proponents, the silver lining is that the appellate court held that the U.S. constitutional and the state religion provisions were coextensive, meaning that, if the Ohio Supreme Court affirms the appellate court’s decision, a further appeal could well travel to the U.S. Supreme Court.26

While religion and violations of church/state separation are a common avenue of attack upon school-choice plans, there is a third, related argument on behalf of vouchers that is rarely advanced in this country. But it is the basis for voucher-like systems in almost all advanced democracies. Ironically, it is religious freedom. That has been the rallying cry in countries as diverse as Australia, Denmark, Holland, Poland and France. Indeed, abroad, the idea of vouchers is almost completely bound up with religion. And it is as often a “liberal” idea as a conservative one. In Australia, for instance, the national system of public support for private schools was spearheaded by a “people’s padre,” Father James Carroll, who later became a cardinal.27

However, the principle aim of this essay is to advance a fourth, novel argument on behalf of vouchers: Vouchers for existing private schools can save our cities. Such schools are a resource that already exists. Unlike charter schools or EAI schools or Edison schools, they do not need to be invented anew. True, new schools are a welcome addition to the current mix, but as existing private schools already demonstrate, there is significant demand for them as they are. They satisfy a substantial and important constituency. And as public opinion polls repeatedly show, a majority of Americans would use private schools if they had the resources.28

Baltimore already has at least 2,000 empty private school seats and there is every reason to believe that vouchers would stimulate a strong supply response29 , resulting in further private institutions. Simply put, these 2,000 slots would be snapped up if families could afford them – and more seats would then materialize. All this would of course create new employment opportunities, too. (As an aside, the education debate is unique inasmuch as it is probably the only area of policy dialogue where the left argues that less employment is good thing.)

Only the high stakes of plunging population counts will make vouchers politically viable. Only when panic at the thought of a virtually zero tax base sets in among the city’s political elite will the siren song of teachers’ union political contributions be drowned out – drowned out by the march of the middle and working classes toward the exit. Vouchers are an affordable strategy to keep working- and middle-class families in the city. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more powerful or straightforward strategy to reinvigorate our cites. When one mayor – and then many mayors – recognize this, American education will be transformed.


III. Urban Decay

As this essay points out, there are two major reasons for urban flight, both the product of old-fashioned common sense: (a) the fear of crime and (b) the refusal to submit to bad schools. The other costs the city imposes – ugliness, high prices, rudeness, congestion, irritability – can be borne with relative equanimity if the streets are safe and the schools good. The latter test, of course, applies only to those families with children or those about to have them. This accounts for the population distribution in our cities – childless young people (married or cohabiting), the well-to-do and the abjectly poor. The working class and the middle class can no longer afford to live in the city – the “cost” they are asked to bear is not one of taxation alone. Rather, the cost includes a radical, even dangerous, decline in the quality of life. The price of living in the city is to put yourself and your children in harm’s way. As a consequence, our cities are static or shrinking. It need not be this way – and it is not so abroad.

As table 2 reveals, throughout the world, urban agglomerations – distinct from the political definition of city boundaries – are continuing to grow. “Urban agglomeration” is a useful, descriptive term. America has experienced major middle-class movement to the suburbs and significant core urban decay, while most of the world’s major cities have retained the middle class downtown – Paris, Buenos Aires and London, for example. Elsewhere, poverty is suburbanized, not urbanized as it is here. Edinburgh, U.K. serves as an excellent case study: The elite live in the very center of the city, while the municipal housing projects are all to be found on the outer perimeter. It is for this reason that international comparisons are best focussed on metropolitan areas, rather than on cities as defined by the political boundaries.

Two American metropolises are included among the world’s fastest growing urban areas, suggesting that Americans are not averse to living in densely packed areas. Across the world, more and more people are moving to urban areas, whether as residents or squatters. From the population boom in the developing world to its moderate growth in the advanced industrial nations, the world’s urban agglomerations continue to expand. According to the United Nations, from 1990-1995, growth in the top ten most populated urban areas ranged from an impressive 2.74 percent annual rate in Beijing, China to 0.34 percent in the New York City area. Locally, metropolitan Philadelphia grew 3.6 percent during this period; metro Washington, 2.31 percent; and even metro Baltimore, 0.80 percent. These numbers, however, do little to provide an accurate analysis of core city health in this country. While urban agglomerations grow as the world’s population swells, many cities – properly defined by their boundaries – face demographic contraction. Especially in the U.S., as metropolises grow, the cities within them shrink. With a disconcerting bit of symbolism, Washington, D.C., the political capital of the free world, leads the way with a -1.3 percent annual growth rate from 1990-1994. Baltimore, Washington’s sister city, follows with -0.89 percent annual growth, closely pursued by Philadelphia (-0.7 percent), Detroit (-0.7 percent), Chicago (-0.4 percent) and Los Angeles (-0.2 percent), all participating in a precarious slide from financial stability and civic security.

The relationship between these figures and Baltimore’s withering economy speaks volumes. As the middle class flees, the economy suffers. Since the turn of the decade, Baltimore has experienced year after year of declining payrolls. As table 3 reveals, since 1989, nearly 66,000 jobs have been lost. Meanwhile, during the same period, the surrounding counties grew by 51,70030 “The varying employment circumstances in the city and surrounding suburbs are apparent in the change in the share of metropolitan area jobs located in each,” notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “In 1985, over 44 percent of all metropolitan jobs were in the city; by 1995 only 36 percent were located there.”31

Some observers draw comfort from the net increase of Hispanic and Asian immigrants (two groups with a strong attachment to high quality schools). To be sure, as Josef Nathanson, research director for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, reports, Hispanics and Asians are becoming a significant presence in the Baltimore area. Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties all showed increases of 30 percent or more in those minority populations from 1990-1994.32 Note, however, that this rapid population growth is occurring in the metropolitan counties, not in Baltimore itself. New immigrants tend to leapfrog to the suburbs. In terms of human capital, the center city is again the loser. All said, from 1990-1994, Baltimore City has lost anywhere from 33,000 to 52,000 residents, depending upon the source. Either way, federal demographers’ projections dovetail with the impressions of declining city neighborhoods. “Many city neighborhoods – including once stable black middle-class areas – are emptying out,” notes an October 18, 1996 Baltimore Sun editorial. “This trend is evidenced by a multitude of ‘For Sale’ signs and migration of such neighborhood anchors as houses of worship and retail businesses to the counties. None of this bodes well for Baltimore and its long-term financial stability.”33

The trend proves to be a grave test of the city’s financial and social institutions. As the working and middle classes shrink, the population becomes polarized between those in poverty and those with very high incomes, with fewer and fewer residents in between. Meanwhile, the city’s revenues become further strained as the number of public dependents increases. Baltimore has a disproportionate number of the region’s poor residents, leading state statistics in both the proportion of people living below the poverty level and the proportion of children below the poverty level. However, if we accept that one primary cause of urban decline – and, by extension, urban poverty – is the flight of middle-class residents and employers out of the city, then placing further tax burdens on the remaining middle and working classes is hardly likely to alleviate the situation. Better to give these people what they want – their own choice of schools.

Accounting for some 43 percent of the city’s annual operating budget, education is the single greatest component of Baltimore’s expenditure.34 (The same goes for most, it not all, local governments.) Yet, this is an education system that manifestly does not satisfy or meet the needs of residents. Thus, asking the relatively small remaining middle and working classes to pay more for a bad education system is clearly not the answer. They are likely to be further outraged at the demands made of them, hastening their departure. Instead, the middle and working classes must be encouraged to stay, not driven out by asking them to give more in return for less. Stabilized middle and working classes would stabilize neighborhoods and, likewise, property values (in turn improving Baltimore’s revenue situation). It would not be a moment too soon.

Considering the city’s current property-tax revenues, Baltimore’s second-largest source of finance (23.0 percent in fiscal 1996), the outlook now is dismal. (It is a rather sad commentary that Baltimore’s largest source of finance is transfer funds from the state, 24.3 percent in fiscal 1996. The third-largest source of funds is the federal government, 12.2 percent in fiscal 1996. All other sources of revenue, own-source or not, are in the single digits as a percentage of the total.)35 table 4 shows Baltimore’s total revenue balance for 1995 registered at an unfavorable $5,022,000 with local tax revenues $5,163,000 below budgetary recommendations, down 7.6 percent from 1994. A closer examination of the lost local tax revenue reveals further troubling signs in property- and income-tax revenues that continue to suffer from lost middle-class sources. Revenues from real- and personal-property taxes decreased in fiscal year (FY) 1995 by 1.1 percent or $5,347,000. Income-tax revenue for FY 1995 was down $2,913,000 from 1994 and $4,515,000 from 1991. Other revenues also decreased by 2.1 percent from fiscal year 1994, clearly reflecting the middle-class exodus. As table 5 demonstrates, property-levy collection and income-tax revenues continue to mirror Baltimore’s lack of growth.

The trends in the assessed value of taxable property from 1986 through 1995 reflect changing demographics. From 1986 to 1990, the nominal assessed value of real property grew 36.6 percent; the value of personal property also grew by 36.6 percent. But the period 1991 -1995 was quite different. In that period, figure 1 reveals, the assessed value of real property nudged up a mere 5.1 percent and assessed personal property increased 16.2 percent. However, most of this growth occurred from 1991 to 1992 with a 3.1 percent increase in the assessed value of real property and an expansion of 17.3 percent in assessed personal property value. Real property contracted by 0.45 percent and personal property shrank by 1.0 percent from 1992-1995 (all figures in nominal dollars).36

Inevitably and defensively, the question is posed: Which came first, the middle-class flight or the urban decay? Without doubt, urban decay is a sensitive issue. Consider a telling Baltimore Sun opinion piece of June 4, 1995:

Which came first, the urban decay or the white exodus? Even to ask that question in the wrong surroundings is to precipitate a theological dispute of Vesuvian proportions. Anti-Semitism! Racism! Corporate Greed! Government Incompetence! Soon the verbal hand grenades fly back and forth across the lines, and it’s pretty hard to tell who, if anybody, still holds the high ground. Obviously, there ought to be a moral dimension to public affairs. But when assertions of morality are used as weapons in political disputes, they lose their legitimacy…. Baltimore’s plight ought not to be made a moral issue.37

There is, of course, no correct answer to the proverbial question about which came first – the chicken or the egg? – because it is the wrong question. The right question is, what shall we do to remedy the problem?

Urban Nostalgia

F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed dryly that “nostalgia is being sentimental about something that never was.” Do urban schools fall into this category? They do and they do not. On the one hand, it is clearly the case that urban schools in many cities were “light houses,” examples of best practice that exerted a strong pull on families in the city in both the 19th and 20th centuries. They were an anchor for the white working and middle classes. Furthermore, as bad as segregated education was, it was not without important examples of quality schools. For example, in Washington, D.C., Dunbar High School, though a part of the segregated system of its day, is still remembered by its cadre of devoted and distinguished alumni (among whose numbers a subsequent D.C. superintendent, Floretta McKenzie, is found.)

It is also the case that it is easy to romanticize an earlier time and recall a past that never existed. Urban schools until the 1960s were often autocratic and rigid institutions that served a very limited number of students. Dropouts (and push-outs) were numerous in an economy that still could use large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled workers. And with only a few rare exceptions, African-Americans received the short end of the stick in urban schools as they did in other areas of public life.

The popular press and many conservative commentators like nothing better than to compare (unfavorably) today’s public schools with yesterday’s. However, it is difficult, perhaps even futile, to compare institutions that are very different and that serve very different student populations. The methodological problems are formidable and, if that is not bad enough, attempts to quantify school changes over time are met with bitter ideological debate. This said, two points should constantly be borne in mind: First, the public has come to believe that urban schools are much worse than they once were; and, second, no matter how good or bad they once were, they are clearly not good enough for the next century.

In particular, there is one area that elicits widespread agreement. Historically, urban schools have not served the poor and racial minorities well. When the population in question is both poor and minority, the record is worse yet. Today’s schools are no exception to this general observation. Put most simply, those that most need good schools are the very least likely to get them in the existing set of institutional arrangements. Denying the poor the opportunity to attend private schools makes a very bad situation even worse. We shall return to this theme in section IV. Suffice it here to say that the same revamped school system that might halt bright flight would also serve to elevate the dispossessed.

America Stands Alone

All the other developed nations – and many developing countries – take pride in the quality of life afforded in their great cities. Crime is low (nearly non-existent in Tokyo, one of the world’s largest cities). More important to the middle class, schools are good. In London, Rome, Paris, Sydney, Stockholm, Amsterdam and even Moscow, good public schools are readily available. Only in America have urban schools become synonymous with failure. It was not always so. It need not always be so.

Unhappily, many American educators expect too little of the low-income residents of our central cities, assuming that the poor – particularly children of color – cannot learn to the same levels as their more fortunate brethren. As one can never level up, only down, this has the effect of lowering standards for all students, including the children of middle- and working-class families. The latter tire of this and leave. Accordingly, the education of the middle and working classes, the education of the poor and the health of the city are unalterably entwined.

In sharp contrast to American cities, in Paris and Marseilles, for example, poor, minority students do almost as well as their more advantaged French-born colleagues.38 The reason, as E.D. Hirsch observes in his thoughtful new book, The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, is “content.”39 Students abroad do well because much is expected of them and what is expected is clearly stated and fairly measured. And they start early and keep up the pace. In what other ways do foreign cities differ? The ostensible differences are many, but two stand out. First, with only a few exceptions, in most countries public policies reflect cities’ special position as centers of commerce, high culture and the arts.40 As a consequence, they enjoy special subsidies and dispensations (not all of which are unknown in America.) But there is another, second particularity that sets them apart from American cities. Private schools – religious schools in particular – receive public funds for the education of the public.41 The middle class is virtually guaranteed a good education. This also improves the lot of the poor. There is no “either/or” at work: The poor are not being sacrificed for the middle class; neither is the middle class sacrificed for the poor. A rising tide floats all boats.

Indeed, in other countries it is not clear that our rigid distinctions between public and private pertain. What is at issue is the education – at public expense – of the population. In more enlightened societies, the question is not who owns and operates the schools, but whom they serve. Put this way, it is much like the question of “public accommodations” or “public transportation” in America. A hotel’s “public” character derives from its clientele, not its ownership, just as a commercial airliner’s does. So should a school’s.

An Un-American Trend

It is not too much to observe that diminution – in size, energy, scope and reach – is profoundly un-American, not in a political sense but in an historical sense. It is beyond the ken of most Americans. From the time of the ancient land bridge between Siberia and Alaska that connected the eastern hemisphere to the western more than 15,000 years ago (permitting the first great wave of migration), the population of the land mass that is today the United States has been growing. More people, more wealth, more cities, more people in cities – growth has been the American way. Growth and abundance have characterized the American experience. But today we face shrinkage. Many of our cities – led by Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia – are diminishing at an alarming rate. But shrinking cities not only test our historical experience, they test our institutions – socially and fiscally.

The people leaving the city are those the city needs most to retain its vitality, namely, working- and middle-class families with children. They not only give the city its character and energy, they are its present and its future. Without them, the city becomes simultaneously a museum and a warehouse – a museum for the well-to-do and the tourist, a warehouse for the poor and the dispossessed.

Courting Disaster

Baltimore is a case in point. Cities that lose families with children are in trouble. As table 6 shows, the lion’s share of Baltimore’s “leavers” are those aged 5-19 with an astonishing decline of nearly 50 percent between 1970 and 1995 (45.73 percent). The age group 45-64 is not far behind, with a 36.03 percent decline. And the number of very young, those from birth to age four, has shrunk precipitously as well (30.14 percent). The group from 20-44 has grown slightly, by 0.76 percent, which may at first glance seem surprising. Is this not the group with young children about to start school? In fact, the stasis of this cohort reflects the extraordinary “churning” that takes place in cities. In this age group, young parents with children move out and are replaced by childless adults. The Baltimore City establishment should not be lulled into thinking that its 20-something population base is secure. Baltimore is a college town. Thousands of students and young professionals descend on the city annually. That this age bracket has remained more or less constant simply means that such people are leaving as fast as they are arriving. (In fact, as the simultaneously released companion volume of this study demonstrates, young families are leaving Baltimore among the fastest of all. Of the families that left for the surrounding counties in the latter part of 1996, the Calvert Institute’s survey reveals that a 38 percent plurality of respondents were aged 30-39 and that a 46 percent plurality had at least one school-aged child at the time of the move.)42

IV. Lessons of History

The historical record presents a dismal picture of education opportunity – or more precisely, the lack thereof – for Baltimore’s black citizens, be they of middle-class or low-income status. (Our case here is that only by allowing the former residents, along with their white counterparts, to select their own schools will the condition of the latter be improved.) Not only have the Baltimore public schools never served black Baltimoreans well, they were originally designed not to serve them at all, deliberately to exclude them. Indeed, until well into the 19th century, it was up to the private sector to provide education for black students. How extraordinarily ironic that this, in effect, is now denied to them. Today, while the formal picture has changed, the reality is not much better. The Baltimore public schools continue to give black students short shrift

When asked for a definition of “equal” by Justice Felix Frankfurter, Baltimorean Thurgood Marshall replied, “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time and in the same place.” Marshall’s determination to eliminate segregation culminated in perhaps the most important U.S. Supreme Court decision of the 20th century, the 1954 case, Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (347 U.S. 483).

In 1967, Marshall became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. While his accomplishments were unique, Marshall’s understanding of education’s virtues were rooted in his native Baltimore. As Marshall knew, second-rate education not only violates the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, it forecloses the possibility of economic prosperity. In particular, blue-collar African-American families – in a city divided by race – are denied economic opportunity without good schools. In this respect, Baltimore today is similar to other older cities across the nation. And Baltimore today is similar to the Baltimore of 100 years ago.

Until the mid-1970s, Baltimore’s labor market continued to draw many rural African-Americans to the urban center. The manufacturing boom of the post-World War II years created a healthy demand for labor. But the increasing concentration of unskilled labor, at the expense of a better trained work force, meant the city was hard hit come the “deindustrialization” of the American economy. The city’s industrial work began to disappear. Moreover, while the market demands of the war effort had previously offered labor opportunity and flexibility, times of peace revealed a “caste structure of factories … [that] hardened up like concrete,”43 further reducing labor opportunities for minorities.

Distinctions and sometimes disorder between ethnic neighborhoods, blue-collar black and white neighborhoods and the city from the suburbs also formed Baltimore’s character. Segregation developed “in a fine-grained pattern enforced by legal power, greenback power and violence,” notes historian Sherry Olson. “The nineteenth-century street-and-alley segregation gave way about 1900 to sizable hemmed in ghettoes in East Baltimore, West Baltimore and South Baltimore. As the Jim Crow laws were eroding, a Jim Crow space was coalescing, growing larger and more formidable.”44

In 1948, Baltimore’s suburbs secured a constitutional amendment preventing the city from annexing any part of its surrounding counties without the approval of impacted residents. (The city’s last jurisdictional expansion had been in 1918.) In effect, this locked Baltimore’s African-American community in. The amendment cast them into today’s zero-sum game, with the success of the suburbs pitted against the poverty of the city.

“What the genteel Baltimorean of 1822 called ‘pauperism,’ what the prominent Baltimoreans of 1915 called the ‘Negro problem,’ the establishment of the 1960 called the ‘urban problem.'”45 A profile of two cities – one black, one white – emerged. “In the 1950s and ’60s ‘good’ neighborhoods and ‘good’ schools were often seen as neighborhoods and schools without any blacks. After the civil-rights revolution, neighborhoods and schools without poor blacks met the ‘good’ test,” observes former Albuquerque mayor, urban researcher and writer David Rusk46 . More than ever, the troubles associated with lower-income employment and the inner city – crime, drugs, illness, immorality – became associated with black skin. Meanwhile, the rise of the service sector in post-industrial society magnified the disparities between the “two cities.”

Since 1950, the number of manufacturing jobs in Baltimore has declined over 65 percent.47 While blue-collar occupations declined in importance, the white-collar service sector flourished. Most of the new service jobs in the suburbs were out of the reach of inner-city residents, and the better jobs in the city went to suburban commuters. America’s deindustrialization and labor-force adjustments of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s exacerbated tensions between Baltimore’s two predominant races.48 The schools are not exempt from the troubles of a divided city.

The tension between word and deed in the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) system reflects the city’s dilemma. Founded in 1828, the BCPS pledged a philosophy of individualism, egalitarianism and religious neutrality. An 1843 Baltimore Sun editorial described the ideology intended for the school system:

In the first place they are purely democratic institutions. It is the glory of the constitution that we recognize no privileged ranks or classes, or State religion. Not withstanding these public provisions however, society is much disturbed by the contest of political parties, the rancor of religious strife, and distrust and jealousy between the rich and the poor. These sever the bonds of a common brotherhood, and segregate society into divisions that become hostile in proportion to their isolation. It is the necessary tendency of a system of public instruction to heal these divisions.49

The public schools were established in a time of rapid demographic change, rigid segregation and divergent ethnic and religious identities. Although their early impact was minimal (relatively few children attended public school during these early days of public education),50 BCPS nevertheless did not meet the egalitarian tones of the Sun editorial. (This contradiction of policy and practice remains to the day).51 The principal beneficiaries of public education in Baltimore were white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, middle-class children. In fact, Baltimore City schools explicitly barred African-Americans, although free blacks were obligated to pay school taxes. (Maryland was still a slave state at this point.) Blacks’ schools were private and Catholic “free schools” that managed without state funds.52 The public schools reinforced institutional structures of social class and racial isolation, not egalitarian principles.

By the end of the Civil War, it was clear that the black private schools could not continue to be financially independent. Forced to do something, the state constitutional convention of 1867 ordered the founding of statewide “colored schools.” As historian Sherry Olson notes:

The “colored schools” were to be entirely separate – buildings, budgets, wage levels and regulations…. The idea, designed to sound fair on the surface, was that the school taxes paid by the whites should be allocated to the white schools and the school taxes paid by the blacks to the colored schools. This ensured that the low incomes and the lack of property among a people who were themselves yesterday property would be perpetuated by impoverished education…. This same attitude was apparent in other institutions, both private and public53

The early and mid-20th century further demonstrated polices of segregation in the Baltimore City schools. As the city’s urban center became more densely inhabited by African-American residents, not a single new colored school was built. All “new” schools for blacks were hand-me-downs from the white system, with largely inadequate facilities.54 Indeed, crowding and the condition of the schools posed acute problems, as demonstrated by the 1921 Strayer School Survey, which exposed the grim facilities in a frank and blunt fashion. Among its conclusions, the report recommended 58 schools for demolition. All 13 of the hand-me-down buildings were recommended by the report for immediate razing.55 Thirty years later, 35 of the 58 would still be in use as colored schools. Conditions of dangerous overcrowding and inadequate investment in Baltimore’s colored schools would continue throughout the 1940s and ’50s. The disparities in school investment and developing perceptions of “good” and “bad” schools came to a head with the desegregation efforts of the 1950s that, ironically, resulted in resegregation.

While Baltimore superficially complied with the 1954 Brown desegregation order, resistance was subtle but profound. The Baltimore City school board promptly rejected deliberate integration and continued to open schools with all African-American teaching staff, and nothing was done to compensate for the unequal investment in buildings. Moreover, the school board operated a “freedom of choice” plan whereby “no child shall be required to attend any particular school.”56 It gave principals the authority to permit or refuse transfers between schools, and it continued to locate new high schools on the outer fringes of the city. Families that could afford to move did. From 1945 to 1970, white children withdrew from the city schools at the rate of 10,000 a year to enter schools in the suburban counties.57 The tax base represented by middle-class, white children vanished as white Baltimore sought “good” schools. By 1958, half the children in city schools were African-American, two-thirds by 1978. Over the same period, the city council reduced school budgets, teacher salaries fell relative to the suburbs, and, as a result, de facto segregation emerged anew at an unprecedented scale. Baltimore became the symbol of large-city, urban-education woe: public demand for academic accountability, poorly paid teachers, under-maintained buildings, understaffed schools and an underfinanced system facing a shrinking property-tax base and ever more children with urgent needs.

In the last 20 years, the BCPS has certainly made efforts to improve the school system (though, we argue, less than effective efforts). The 1980s experienced greater community involvement, development of school/business partnerships and public-relations campaigns to improve the system’s image within the community. The late 1980s brought downsizing trends and school-based management that continue to this day. In 1992, the same school system bravely experimented with privatization, contracting with EAI to service nine schools for a period of five years. But privatization proved too turbulent. In 1995, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke (D), under enormous pressure from public-sector education interests, terminated the contract. In 1992, the district hired Sylvan Learning Systems, Inc. to open tutoring centers. These continue to do well today. In 1993, then-Superintendent Walter G. Amprey continued reform efforts by creating 24 “Enterprise Schools” and introducing a multicultural curriculum. Yet, in spite of all the good intentions, the troubles continue without sign of relief.

The Baltimore Sun last year kept its staff busy with stories of the state takeover of city public schools due to dilapidated facilities and woeful academic performance. According to the 1996 Maryland School Performance Report, Baltimore City public schools are still in bad condition. In 1995, the public schools experienced a 14.23 percent dropout rate (compared to a 4.65 percent Maryland average). Only 30.3 percent of 1995 students that made it to the 12th grade were deemed qualified to graduate as measured by the University of Maryland System Requirements. And the results of the 1996 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) for reading, writing and math for city 8th-graders revealed that only 7.9 percent (reading), 17.3 percent (writing), and 8.6 percent (math) of the students were receiving satisfactory scores.58

Today, black Baltimoreans face many of the same education-opportunity issues that Marshall faced. Education still holds the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and limited economic opportunities. Yet, education is still denied to many African-Americans in the city by the deliberate policy of forcing the poor to attend inferior public schools, when the provision of modest scholarships or vouchers would allow many the opportunity to attend private schools. Inasmuch as this would improve education across the board, the rate of bright flight would slow and the city’s tax base would in part be stabilized. The only real question is, can Baltimore afford not to implement school choice?

V. Education Results

The education level of Baltimore City in the last census provides a snapshot of the consequences of “bright flight.” Baltimore leads the state in both “the proportion of persons 16 to 19 not enrolled in school and not a high school graduate” and trails in “the proportion of persons 25 years and older with some college or associate degree.” Indeed, in every category surveyed by the Census Bureau, Baltimore registers behind the Maryland average.(See table 7.) But there is an exception to these dismal statistics: the city’s Catholic and other religious schools. They succeed where others fail. This situation is hardly unique.

In 1980, the late James Coleman completed a comprehensive study of academic performance in secondary schools,59 funded by the U.S. Department of Education. To the surprise of many, Coleman zeroed in on the effectiveness of public versus private schools and delivered some compelling and controversial results. The achievement test data indicated that students in Catholic schools learned more than students in public schools. Furthermore, Catholic schools were more likely to improve their scores in math, reading, writing and vocabulary than their public school counterparts.

Seventeen years later and after tracking the progress of more than 10,000 students since 1979, Derek Neal, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, this past spring sustained Coleman’s conclusions in an essay published in The Public Interest journal.60 Professor Neal found that, while 62 percent of minority students at urban public schools graduate, the graduation rate for similar students of corresponding background in Catholic schools is 88 percent. Among urban minority students who graduate from public high schools, 11 percent go on to complete college. On the other hand, 27 percent of those who attend Catholic schools then graduate from college. (A similar 10 percent college completion rate increase exists for urban, public-school whites.)61

Neal’s findings are reflected in the comparison of the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic secondary schools and the public high schools. A comparison of the annual archdiocese Catholic School Report with the Maryland School Performance Report section on Baltimore City reveals a sharp contrast, as shown in table 8 . The limitations of this comparison should be disclosed: The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s boundaries extend well beyond Baltimore’s city limits, including: all of Baltimore City, Allegany County, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Frederick County, Harford County, Howard County and Washington County. Technically, the far western Garrett County is covered, too, though there are not currently any Catholic schools operating there.

Nonetheless, there can be small doubt that the Catholic schools run a tight ship. While the Catholic schools report a 98 percent graduation rate for school year (SY) 1996-97, the city public schools’ combined percentage of students meeting University of Maryland system requirements and approved occupational program requirements (or both) was 60.9 percent (SY 1995-96). The Catholic schools report a withdrawal rate of 1.01 percent (whether for disciplinary or financial reasons), while the public schools describe a drop-out rate of 13.78 for SY 1995-96. Likewise, while 93 percent of the archdiocese’s students went on to college in SY 1995-96, only 53.5 percent of public school students did (including those going to community colleges).62

It is certainly true that the archdiocese’s schools do not serve an identical population. While the city public schools are about 75 percent black in terms of the makeup of the student body, the archdiocese’s schools are 81.3 percent white63 , implying a wealthier client base among parents. The 1990 population of the political subdivisions covered by the archdiocese was 2,005,090 people, of whom 629,016 were black (31.37 percent).64 So blacks, clearly, are under-represented within the archdiocese’s schools. However, as much as anything else, this may simply reflect the inability to meet tuition-payment requirements on the part of many black parents in the area.(See exhibit 2 below.) All-black religious schools can flourish and extract extraordinary performance from students. Witness what Marion H. Spann has achieved at Gwynn Lake College Preparatory School.)

Notwithstanding these details, Professor Neal’s study has important implications. In his words,

My study demonstrates that the existing stock of Catholic schools manage to succeed in precisely the communities where public schools often fail…. Can the Catholic schools of Chicago, New York or other cities increase their enrollment ten-fold and still maintain quality without spending more per student than public schools currently spend? I am inclined to believe the answer is yes.65

For at issue is not rebuilding or redesigning or restructuring the public schools. That is a worthy objective and should be continued. Charter schools are beginning to appear in many of the nation’s cities.66 For-profit schools are even making a tentative appearance. .67 But these are marginal activities that will take time to unfold. True, they may flourish and grow, but the existing, entrenched bureaucracy is not likely to tolerate interlopers making them look bad. And the power of the few parents, teachers and students in charter schools is severely limited. There is, however, a ready resource, one that is already available. It requires no invention, involves no terra incognita. Existing private schools, largely religious in character, can initially fill the breach. In Baltimore, there are reported to be 2,000 extra Catholic school seats available, ready and waiting.

That is what has happened in every other advanced nation. The argument about choice abroad has never been cast in terms of novelty, innovation, increased productivity or competitiveness. It has always been cast in terms of elementary fairness and equity. We do not mean the financial equity that has consumed American scholars and lawyers, but a more fundamental equity – the right of a child to attend a school that is consistent with his or her family’s values. This may mean religious values.68 While politicians may shy away from issues pertaining to school choice, in large part due to the vast sums of money poured into campaign coffers by the public school teachers’ associations, there can be small doubt that large segments of the population would warmly embrace school choice.69

The Center for Education Reform (CER) in 1996 commissioned International Communications Research to ask a scientific cross sampling of Americans their opinions on school reform. “The questions were clear and unambiguous,” says CER President Jeanne Allen. “No negative buzz words, no skewed phrasing, no leading inferences, just straight up questions that brought straight up answers.”70 According to CER, 86 percent of those polled supported school choice as an option and 70 percent were in favor of publicly funded school choice. Moreover, 79 percent did not believe that children, particularly in the inner city, were receiving the education they needed. According to Allen:

When 80 percent of the public doesn’t believe America’s children are getting the education they need, and 43 percent of parents believe their schools could be improved a great deal, you have to recognize that something is very, very wrong. The numbers also define the true nature of the drive toward education reform. These people aren’t radicals who are out to destroy public education. They’re average citizens and average parents who see a critical need for change and who are willing to take the steps necessary to ensure that all of America’s children get the education they need and deserve.71

The Calvert Institute’s poll of families that left Baltimore in 1996 reveals very similar opinions.72

Where there is smoke there is usually fire. Even the mere suggestion of our children’s and nation’s future being aflame requires thoughtful consideration. A consistent and concerned level of pro-choice poll reading obligates energetic deliberation and brave action.

The Resources Are There

School resources are of two kinds, physical and intellectual. While physical resources are the less important of the two, it is still the case that children need classrooms and buildings. As it happens, in our declining central cities there is an abundance of extra school seats and, where there is not, enough new seats are easily found. They are easily found, however, only if current regulatory burdens and limits are eased. Falling enrollments mean empty seats, though the precise number of empty seats is not readily available. Some schools are half empty; some schools that were crowded no longer overflow at the seams; some dilapidated schools are badly in need of repair but could be renovated. But no matter how many or how few seats are available, some finite number is. As systems shrink, excess physical resources can be turned to other, constructive uses. The best use for old schools is to refit them as refurbished new ones.

A close examination of BCPS utilization figures reveals the enrollment consequences of middle-class flight. As the city’s demographic situation goes, so goes the city’s public school enrollment. According to the BCPS Department of Planning, from 1995 to the projection for 2005, the city may expect a 19.69 percent decrease in students – diving from 104,996 in SY 1995-96 to a projected 84,322 students in 2005.73 (This is partially illustrated in table 9.) This, of course, will translate into under-utilization of existing school facilities. In 1995, Baltimore’s senior high school utilization average registered 72.1 percent, ranging from 42 percent utilization at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute to 99 percent utilization at the School of Arts. Likewise, the city’s middle schools averaged 72 percent utilization in 1995.74 Baltimore’s schools have the capacity to serve 130,000 students. So even in SY 1995-96, utilization was only 80.77 percent. With just over 84,000 students expected in 2005, utilization will by then only be 64.86 percent.75

In short, Baltimore has many empty public school seats. These are seats that could be used by the non-public sector if there were entrepreneurs ready and able to create new schools on these sites. Just as there are unused public school facilities in Baltimore, there are many empty private-school seats – 2,000 in the Catholic school system, as previously noted.76 This too is a pattern across the nation. Milwaukee is said to have 6,200 empty private school seats and a similar number have been identified in Kansas City.77 These are seats that could be filled if parents had the wherewithal to pay tuition.

What Is In It for Teachers?

On the demand side, given the resources, public school teachers in big cities are more likely than the public at large to use private schools for their own children.78 There are two dimensions to extending this opportunity to other children. We have already touched on the first: give children (or their families) vouchers (or voucher-like mechanisms), permitting them to attend non-government schools. But in any economic equation there will be both supply and demand. Vouchers satisfy only half the test, the demand side. Parents and their children must attend school in an environment in which there is supply as well. As opponents of school choice never tire of pointing out, there are not enough private schools for all the children currently in the public schools. Thus, new schools would relatively soon be needed to meet increased demand. Who is better suited to meet that demand than teachers?

Indeed, the issue of education choice raises the old issue of monopoly with special force and poignancy. No matter if a monopoly is in the private or public sector, it produces two groups of “losers,” workers and customers. School monopolies are no different. The losers are teachers and students.79 If a substantial part of the solution is to make available public funds for poor, working-class and middle-class parents to attend existing private schools, they will also be free to attend new schools. And if demand is subsidized with vouchers, a strong supply response cannot be far behind. As we have suggested, concerns about the number of private providers would be resolved in an environment in which the consumer – not the bureaucrat – was sovereign. If large numbers of parents had vouchers for their children and demanded private education, the private provider would soon respond with an adequate supply. The private provider would also respond with superior quality; he would have to, to meet the test of the market place.

So too would the city’s public schools. Not to do so would put them at a substantial disadvantage. Carrying the same baggage they have always carried, they would be of marginal interest to discerning parents and teachers. Free to choose other schools, parents and teachers would exercise their right. Faltering schools would lose both students and faculty. In anticipation of such a situation, the public schools should be given the freedom private schools enjoy. They should be tubs on their own bottoms, free from the ministrations of district headquarters. Indeed, headquarters should serve them, not vice-versa. Under this scenario, school-site budgeting and management would be given real impact. In effect, it would be hard to distinguish public schools from charter schools – with all the freedom for individual teachers that this would entail. Public school teachers should give this matter some thought. It is no secret that the relationship between the BCPS administration and the Baltimore Teachers’ Union (BTU) has at times been difficult. A late 1980s attempt to create a modicum of school-based management was repeatedly obstructed by then-Superintendent Richard C. Hunter80 . In a voucher system that included public and private schools, public schools would not only “earn” their income, they would be free to spend it as their school communities thought best. In such a setting, wise and experienced teachers would assume their rightful places. They would become true professionals.

Saying it is not enough, however. To make it come to pass, the school system should go to some lengths to see that its teachers are encouraged to take on the responsibility of creating schools from scratch. There is no reason why whole buildings should not be turned over to teacher groups to design and run from day one. We expect no less of doctors and lawyers. Why not of teachers?

“In the city of Baltimore … the [public] schools continue their dizzying scramble for ways to stop the systematic bleeding, which includes disastrous test scores and truancy and dropouts, and the unceasing fear for children’s safety,” writes the Baltimore Sun’s Michael Olesker. He continues:

In the face of all this, the private and parochial schools build and build. Not for expanding their numbers of students, some officials delicately explain – though, by their own figures, they increased their enrollment 45 percent from 1990 to 1994. But these institutions don’t wish to seem as if they’re cashing in on the public school parent’s anxieties. So this construction boom is mainly to ‘update’ their schools, to ready them for the 21st century81

Such private school growth contributes to Baltimore’s pool of 74 private and parochial schools. The private school infrastructure exists and will continue to strengthen. The public sector should respond in kind.

As time passes, and opportunities present themselves, entrepreneurship will develop in both the public and private sectors. The city is the natural home for the entrepreneur, the mold breaker, the innovator. As George Says (the French economist who coined the term) knew, the entrepreneur needs fertile ground. No matter how abundant good ideas, without a receptive audience they are for naught.

VI. A New Common School

In thinking about the new common school, it is instructive to look at the great American education success story: higher education. American higher education is the envy of the world, just as American lower education trails behind the competition. Comparing the two reveals why one’s estate is so high, the other’s so low. In the United States, higher education, both public and private, is market driven.82 Abroad, almost without exception, lower education is market driven. In the U.S., it is not. Indeed, the poor and the disadvantaged are systematically excluded from the market by public policies that deny them the opportunity to attend non-government schools. To complete the picture, private higher education and fee-charging, state higher education are almost unknown overseas. In a nutshell, our trading partners have a market in lower education and a monopoly in higher while we have just the reverse. Likewise, the reputations of the respective systems are reversed.

It is also instructive that American institutions of higher education are viewed as national resources without reference as to who “owns” them. Both private and public institutions serve the public and the public interest. It is widely agreed that private institutions are a pearl beyond price. Their presence is a sign of vitality and strength, improving education across the board. Colleges, universities, graduate schools, trade, technical and vocational schools – particularly community colleges – must meet market tests. At issue is not bloodthirsty competition. Rare is the higher-education institution that is organized on a for-profit basis. Rather, institutions of higher learning compete principally on matters of diversity of specialization83 . Indeed, higher education institutions compete in much the way doctors, lawyers and clerics do – discretely but vigorously. They must seek and secure enrollment to open and stay in business. American higher education, in all its breadth and depth, is both democratic (with a small D) and meritocratic.84 It is open to all qualified applicants and is virtually free of invidious discrimination.

For our purposes, the most interesting segment of American higher education may be the community college, grades 13 and 14. Not long ago, they were typically part of a K-12 school district, though today most are independent (often with independent taxing authority). Classes form and disband in response to student demand; faculty are hired and let go of in response to class formation. Community colleges are in many ways similar to public high schools, though they are entrepreneurial and competitive in the manner that high schools are not. Public schools would do well to take a page from this book.

How can a new common school be created and nurtured? By expanding access for the poor, the working class and the middle class to the kinds of schools they prefer. What is called for is a multi-part strategy. Add private schools to the mix. It is that simple. As we have seen from polling data, many more parents would chose private schools if they had the resources. Nearly half of Baltimore’s public school teachers “with the resources” – that is, with family incomes over $70,000 a year – already do exactly that. We have also seen that the prevailing reform strategies across the nation call for the “invention” of new schools (charter schools, magnet schools, contract schools) or the transformation of existing public schools (systemic reform). These strategies should not be dismissed. In fact, they should be applauded and strongly encouraged. We should let a thousand school-reform flowers bloom.

But we should add one more flower to the bouquet. We should do what our major trading partners do: provide public funds for children to attend non-public, as well as public, schools. We should do at the elementary and secondary level what we do routinely at the college level: use public dollars to support the student, not the institution. Institutional support should be “earned” by attracting willing students. We should do in schooling what we do in other areas of social policy: allow choice. Welfare recipients are not required to spend their meager allotments at public commissaries; neither are social security recipients restricted as to how and where their spend their monthly checks. So it should be with K-12 education. As Governor Pedro J. Rosselló (NPP)85 of Puerto Rico said before the National Governors’ Association Human Resources Committee on February 4, 1996: “Vouchers no more subsidize schools than food stamps subsidize supermarkets.”86 Brave man.

No less important a figure than nationally syndicated columnist William Raspberry has become a “reluctant convert” to this point of view. He concludes an article, “Let’s at Least Experiment with School Choice,” with a ringing quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

The country needs, and unless I sadly mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.87

Raspberry is not alone. Former White House domestic policy advisor William Galston (now at the University of Maryland) has joined Diane Ravitch (of the Brookings Institution and New York University) in support of voucher experiments.

Even so, Americans remain uncertain about how to proceed. It is essential to be attentive to their unease. How can legitimate issues of concern to a broad public be honored? The answer is, carefully and in good faith. What are the major issues? There are four:

It is essential that these issues be dealt with fairly and honestly, both because they are intrinsically important and because education vouchers and choice schemes in the United States have a checkered history. Like the existing public school system – which is often severely stratified by race and social class – in some cases publicly supported choice programs have been used to exclude rather than include. But there is no intrinsic reason for choice to have negative consequences. Indeed, choice and vouchers are purely instrumental; they serve larger social policies.

Eligibility Criteria

Two eligibility questions arise: (a) which students should be eligible and (b) which schools should be? The answers are as follows: All students of school age should be eligible. Only the amount of the voucher should vary (as discussed in the following section on financial equity). The school question is more problematic, since it is the point most frequently offered by critics as a reason to oppose vouchers. They assert that anti-social and undemocratic schools would proliferate, Ku Klux Klan or Communist Party schools. However, such schools have not appeared so far – and there are today more than 26,000 private schools across the country – so there is no reason to think that they would appear under a voucher system, or that publicly funded scholarships would or should be negotiable at them on the off chance that they did appear. The same approach that works at the post-secondary level can work at the elementary and secondary level. Any school that is accredited, and that satisfies the state compulsory attendance statute, should be eligible. Existing private school accreditation processes would not permit lunatic-fringe schools to earn accreditation.

Church/State Separation

We offer no brief for an improper blurring of the lines of separation between church and state. Separation is not only constitutionally required, it makes each sector healthier for it. We do not have a state church; nor should we. At issue here is neutrality, treating all religions – including irreligion – equally, preferring none to the other. That is what our trading partners do and that is what we do at the college and university level. As matters currently stand in America, irreligion is accorded especially favored government treatment – endless subsidies. While the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule in favor of aid schemes that include children attending religious elementary and secondary schools, there is every reason to suppose that it may do so in the near future.88


Equal treatment of all people is the principle that underlies all equity discussions. The issue is equal tax burdens and equal benefits based on defensible categories of taxpayers and beneficiaries. What are the implications of these principles for a school voucher system? The answer is, the same as they are in American higher education. A means-tested, sliding-scale system is the most balanced and appropriate. Give the poorest of the poor the most generous vouchers; give the better-off less. In Australia, for example, with a fully developed system of public support for private-school students, the poorest children enrolled in the poorest schools receive substantial dollar amounts (equal to 90 percent of the school’s operating costs); wealthy students who attend prosperous private schools receive a congratulatory note.

Racial and Social Justice

As we have seen, much of what goes on in our major cities today is traceable to past patterns of discrimination: White flight preceded and ushered in bright flight. Racial isolation was made manifest in housing patterns and it is no surprise that, as a consequence, neighborhood schools were themselves racially isolated. Yet involuntary school busing did little to remedy the roots of the problem. Counting by race, and assigning students by race, only accelerated white and bright flight (at least among those who could afford to move). The one public school strategy with an impressive track record in terms of alleviating racial imbalance has been magnet schools, but these represent a small fraction of the total number of schools in the country. And while public schools have become more racially homogeneous, private schools have become more fully integrated, particularly in the central city. Indeed, as James Coleman’s research found, a child in a private school is more likely to attend school with a child of a different race than a child in a public school. Even at Baltimore’s tony, non-sectarian, independent private schools, minority enrollment has increased markedly in recent years, now accounting for 17 percent of the total number of pupils.89

VII. Conclusion

We close as we began. In this paper, we have asked, if private schools are good enough for the rich and discerning, why, as a matter of public policy, are they not good enough for the poor and oppressed? Surely they need them as much, if not more, than the Clintons.

Arguments about economic efficiency have not carried the day. Neither have arguments about religious liberty or simple morality. What remains is an argument not yet widely made. Good schools are the lifeblood of our cities. Save the schools and we save our cities. Lose the schools and we lose our cities. The proof is in. It is the Calvert Institute’s companion to this report, which reveals that 51 percent of the families with children that left Baltimore for the suburbs in the latter part of 1996 might have considered staying in the city if they had had voucher-style school choice.

Why is the city important – in this case in the abstract sense, not just Baltimore – and why is it worth saving? The city is the “liberal” enclave par excellence. The city is the home of liberty. In the city, one escapes the tyranny of his neighbor. The city is home to commerce: economic, artistic, intellectual. Cities grew in size and importance in both ancient and modern times as places of trade and culture, but also as places of escape. They reflected both the accumulation of wealth and the concentration of talent necessary to effect it. Cities provide the “critical mass” of wit, wisdom and energy needed to create and sustain high culture (and low culture). Even if the artist retreats to a “high place, far from the madding crowd,” as Nietzsche has it, he “sells” in the city.

The city is also a mixed enterprise, performing different functions that superficially, at least, appear to be contradictory. While the healthy city reinforces and supports the prevailing culture, paradoxically, one of its most important functions is to provide anonymity and escape from prevailing norms. It is no accident that artists flock to our great cities and that our greatest cities are home to the arts. At the same time, the city is home to the eccentric, the iconoclast, the innovator – and the troublemaker, one must add. In the city, both the creative person

  • and the malcontent escape the oppression of the majority. The city induces flight only when life in the city becomes intolerable. When the city, by its failure to provide amenities (in particular, good schools), invites the working and middle classes to leave, it also ushers in its own self-destruction. That is a threshold test of urban viability.

    A large part of the success of the 19th century city in this country was due to the emergence of the “common school.” As its name suggests, this served the heterogeneous population that was flocking to America’s cities, both from across the seas and within the nation. As countless thousands of men, women and children moved from farm to factory, schools were viewed as an essential element of socialization and preparation for the emerging industrial economy. These institutions – particularly those in New England created by diverse early 19th century reformers like the New York businessman and later governor, DeWitt Clinton,90 and the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, Horace Mann91 – served their purposes admirably.

    Industrializing America’s common school was deliberately designed on a factory model. So complete was the analogy that schools were “teacher proofed,” the work so routinized that no teacher could disturb its rhythms.92 The common school of that day was consistent with the needs, realities and opportunities of its time. So, too, must the common school of the present. Once, it may have made sense for government to own and operate large, bureaucratic school systems. No longer. The public interest can be more readily served by capitalizing on the energy, interest and enthusiasms of varied publics, such as:

    • Teacher groups that want to start their own schools;
    • For-profit providers who would enter the market if they could;
    • Inventive and resourceful principals who would like to do it their own way;
    • Community, philanthropic and benevolent associations that are prepared to start schools; and, last but certainly not least,
    • Existing private schools.

    All these and more should be part of a rich mix of schools serving the public. As the 21st century approaches, it no longer makes sense – if it ever did – to deny the public, particularly the poor, access to what is universally recognized as an invaluable resource: existing private schools. The “public” nature of an institution is derived not from ownership but service. The government should be sure that all citizens have access to high quality, affordable schooling. Who owns and operates those schools should be a matter for parents and students to decide.

    While there are no panaceas in this life, there are sensible solutions to problems. There is no greater source of vitality and energy than the working and middle classes. Keep them and the city will remain vital; lose them and lose the city with them. A new common school is the key.

    Foot Notes

    [Top] 1. “Violence Takes a Beating,” U.S. News & World Report, June 9, 1997, p. 41.

    [Top] 2. Douglas P. Munro, “Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Part II: Survey Shows School Choice Would Prevent Middle-Class Flight from Baltimore,” Calvert Issue Brief, Vol. I, No. 2, August 1997.

    [Top] 3. See Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Defining Deviance Down,” American Scholar, Vol. 61, No. 1, Winter 1993.

    [Top] 4. For the full report, see Allyson M. Tucker and William F. Lauber, “How Members of Congress Exercise School Choice,” Heritage Foundation F.Y.I., No. 9, February 1, 1994.

    .[Top] 5. See U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 96-143), The Private School Universe Survey, 1993-94 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, May 15, 1996). This is the source of much useful private school data. For example, in school year (SY) 1993-94 there were 4,836,442 students enrolled in private schools, of whom 2,488,101 were in Catholic schools (51.4 percent of the total). This reflects a massive decline in Catholic school enrollments since their high point in the 1950s, when they enrolled 5.4 million students. But the overall percentage of students in private schools has actually increased since then. Today 33.7 percent of students are enrolled in other, non-Catholic religious schools (the report lists 23 denominations including 349 Episcopal schools, 29 Greek Orthodox, 71 Islamic and 647 Jewish). Non-sectarian schools enroll 14.9 percent.

    [Top] 6. From data provided by State of Maryland, Office of Planning.

    [Top] 7. Denis P. Doyle, Where Connoisseurs Send Their Children to School: An Analysis of 1990 Census Data to Determine where School Teachers Send Their Children to School (Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Reform, May 1995), pp. 21-23, table 19, at 21.

    [Top] 8. “Survey on the Quality of Public Education in the Schools,” USA Today, May 13, 1996. The complete results are available through the Gordon S. Black Corporation, Rochester, New York.

    [Top] 9. Munro, “Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Part II.”

    [Top] 10. See Rochelle L. Stanfield, “A New Survey Fuels Voucher Debate,” National Journal, April 27, 1996.

    [Top] 11. All figures taken from David A. Bositis, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies 1997 National Opinion Poll (Washington, D.C.: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, June 1997). Copies of the poll are available from the center at (202) 789-3500.

    [Top] 12. Munro, “Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Part II.”

    [Top] 13. Quoted in Nina H. Shokraii, “Free at Last: Black America Signs Up for School Choice,” Heritage Foundation Policy Review, December 1996.

    [Top] 14. See James S. Coleman, “Public Schools, Private Schools and the Public Interest,” The Public Interest, No. 64, Summer 1981, pp. 19-30. His principal finding is not surprising – controlling for income and other background characteristics, students in Catholic schools do better than comparable students in comparable public schools. If it were otherwise, it would be truly astonishing. As to the tariff argument, Coleman is, as usual, on point: “Protective tariffs harm the interests of the least well-off, for an increase in prices relative to incomes (which is what protective tariffs bring about) hurts most those with the fewest dollars.”

    [Top] 15. Doyle, Connoisseurs, p. 56, table 43. The study was published and distributed by the Center for Education Reform, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 290, Washington, D.C. 20036. The center may be reached at (202) 822-9000. The complete data run is available on flexible data diskettes that may be ordered directly from the U.S. Bureau of the Census for a copying fee. The diskettes contain data for all 50 states and the nation’s 100 largest cities: (a) by teacher status, public and private, as well as (b) by all families by race (white, black, other) and ethnicity (non-Hispanic and Hispanic), and (c) by three income breakdowns (the national family median, twice the median and the range between the median and twice the median [i.e., less than $35,000 a year, $35,000 to $70,000 a year and more than $70,000 a year]). Ask for Special Tabulation Package STP-181 and specify diskette size. The contact point is Ms. Nancy Sweet, statistician, Population Division, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C. 20233. She may be telephoned at (301) 457-2429 or faxed to at (301) 457-2643.

    [Top] 16. Doyle, Connoisseurs, p. 13. See also p. 47, tables 37 and 38.

    [Top] 17.The few exceptions are noteworthy. In Vermont, for example, about one-third of the school districts do not own and operate their own schools. Students are “tuitioned” out to other schools, public an private. Once a widespread practice throughout New England, it has no ideological content. It is an example of Yankee ingenuity, plain and simple. And it works. A number of states, most notably Wisconsin and Ohio are experimenting with small-scale projects which provide for public funding of students who attend private school. And Minnesota has a tax deduction program in place, serving both public and private school students, that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. See the 1983 Supreme Court case, Mueller v. Allen (463 U.S. 388).

    [Top] 18.Annotated Code of Maryland, § 5-101; also State of Maryland, Cabinet Council on Criminal Justice, Making Communities Safe: Effective Juvenile Justice in Maryland ([Baltimore, Md.: Department of Juvenile Justice], January 1997), p. 50.

    [Top] 19.The story of centralization is best told in David Tyack’s elegant book, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974). The numbers speak for themselves: In 1930, with a U.S. population of about 130 million, about half today’s, there were about 130,000 school districts – or one for every thousand population. Now there are 15,025 school districts – about one for every 16,600 Americans. The largest 500 districts enroll more that 14,000 students each; the other 14,500 are smaller by far.

    [Top] 20. See Chester E. Finn, Jr., “Accountable Education: Despite the D.C. Fiasco, Charter Schools Work,” Washington Post Outlook, December 15, 1996.

    [Top] 21. Jim Keary and John Mercurio, “Principal’s Attack on Reporter to Be Taken before Grand Jury,” Washington Times, December 5, 1996, p. A1.

    [Top] 22. For further discussion of teachers’ union political contributions in Maryland, see Douglas P. Munro, John E. Berthoud and Carol L. Hirschburg, “Choice, Polls and the American Way,” Calvert News, Vol. II, No. 2, Spring 1997, pp. 8-9, 17-19, at 18-19.

    [Top] 23.The most well known proponent of education vouchers in the modern era is Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman, who, writing with his wife Rose in the early 1950s, advanced the idea because of its efficient use of resources. See Milton and Rose D. Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1962). Friedman is not alone. In 1776, Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (New York, N.Y.: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1934), advanced the same argument, as did John Stewart Mill in the 19th century. The argument has fallen on deaf ears.

    [Top] 24. See Munro, Berthoud and Hirschburg, “Choice, Polls and the American Way.”

    [Top] 25. See Mark Walsh, “Ohio Court Clears Cleveland’s Voucher Pilot,” Education Week, August 7, 1996; Walsh, “Battle Waged Over Vouchers in Cleveland,” Education Week, February 19, 1997; also Walsh, “Judge Overturns Expanded Wisconsin Voucher Program,” Education Week, January 22, 1997.

    [Top] 26. Mark Walsh, “Voucher Plan in Cleveland Is Overturned,” Education Week, May 7, 1997.

    [Top] 27. In a strikingly different political climate, the Reverend James Carroll championed vouchers from the left. A member of the Australian Labor Party (slightly left of the American Democratic Party), Father Carroll and his supporters saw vouchers as both liberal and progressive. They were astonished that it was a “conservative” issue in the United States. For a more complete discussion of some of these issues, see Thomas Vitullo-Martin and Bruce S. Cooper, Separation of Church and Child: The Constitution and Federal Aid to Religious Schools (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Press, 1988).

    [Top] 28. According to the report, “A National Survey of Americans’ Attitudes Towards Education and School Reform,” commissioned by the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C. and conducted by International Communications Research, 86 percent of those polled support school choice as an option and 70 percent are in favor of publicly funded school choice. Moreover, 79 percent do not believe that children, particularly in the inner city, are receiving the education they need. See Center for Education Reform, “A National Survey of American’s Attitudes Towards Education and School Reform,” 1996.

    [Top] 29. Task Force on School Choice, “Draft Report and Recommendations, November 1996,” unpublished document released through the Office of Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell, Jr., Baltimore City Council, p. 17.

    [Top] 30.The estimates represent the first time the bureau has issued breakdowns by race and Hispanic origin between the national head counts taken every 10 years. See Maureen Greene (comp.), Baltimore Area Job Count up by 15,000 in 1995 While City Posts 6th Consecutive Loss (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 1996), p. 26.

    [Top] 31. Greene, Baltimore Area Job Count, p. 28.

    .[Top] 32. James Bock, “Outflow of Whites from City Rivals the ’70s,” (Baltimore) Sun, September 7, 1996, p. 1A.

    [Top] 33. Editorial, “Flight Isn’t Just White,” (Baltimore) Sun, October 18, 1996, p. 26A.

    [Top] 34.City of Baltimore, Fiscal 1996: Summary of Adopted Budget (Baltimore, Md.: Department of Finance, Bureau of Management and Research, July 1, 1995), p. 29.

    [Top] 35. City of Baltimore, Fiscal 1996: Summary of Adopted Budget, p. 28.

    [Top] 36. City of Baltimore, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Year Ended June 30, 1995 (Baltimore, Md.: Department of Finance, Bureau of Management and Research, July 1995).

    [Top] 37. Peter Jay, “Krongard’s Soul,” (Baltimore) Sun, June 4, 1995, p. 3F.

    [Top] 38. See E.D. Hirsch, Jr., The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them (New York, N.Y: Doubleday, 1966), p. 80, in which he distinguishes between crèches and ecoles. The crèches offer day care; the ecoles teach a rich content. Students in the ecoles – of all backgrounds – learn. The lesson for America is clear: content, content, content.

    .[Top] 39. Hirsch’s book, The Schools We Need, is a tour de force that all education reformers should read. Hirsch goes to great pains to base his arguments on fact rather than ideology, rising above politics as he must to gain a large audience. His analysis is compelling, as are his remedies. While there is something for everyone to disagree with in his book, there is much more with which to agree.

    [Top] 40. Canberra, Australia; Brasilia, Brazil; and Madrid, Spain – these are “created” cities, created to be national capitals. In the rest of the world, the capital is usually the principal city: London, Tokyo, Rome and Paris are examples.

    [Top] 41. This in itself is a lengthy subject that needs little elaboration here. The reader with a more specialized interest in this subject may turn to Denis P. Doyle, “Family Choice in Education: The Case of Denmark, Holland, and Australia” in William Lowe Boyd and James G. Cibulka (eds.), Private Schools and Public Policy: International Perspectives (London, U.K.: Falmer Press, 1990).

    [Top] 42. Munro, “Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Part II.”

    [Top] 43.Sherry Olson, Baltimore: The Building of an American City (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 364.

    [Top] 44.Olson, Baltimore, p. 372.

    [Top] 45.Olson, Baltimore, p. 372.

    [Top] 46.David Rusk, Baltimore Unbound: Creating a Greater Baltimore Region for the Twenty-First Century (Baltimore, Md.: Abell Foundation, 1996), p. 13.

    [Top] 47. Marion Orr, “Urban Politics and School Reform: The Case of Baltimore,” Urban Affairs Review, January 1996, Volume 31, No. 3, p. 318.

    [Top] 48. Olson, Baltimore, p. 365.

    [Top] 49. Editorial, (Baltimore) Sun, January 5, 1843.

    [Top] 50.Gary Lawson Browne, Baltimore in the Nation, 1789-1861 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), p. 194. Fewer than three percent of school-aged white children attended school in 1830, fewer than seven percent in 1840, fewer than 16 percent in 1850, and only 23 percent in 1860.

    [Top] 51. See Denis P. Doyle, “Why Vouchers Are Needed for Poor Children: Special Report to the House Appropriations Committee,” Heritage Foundation Committee Brief, No. 26, May 10, 1996.

    [Top] 52.Browne, Baltimore in the Nation, p. 97.

    [Top] 53.Olson, Baltimore, p. 187.

    [Top] 54.Olson, Baltimore, p. 277.

    [Top] 55.Olson, Baltimore, p. 326.

    [Top] 56. Olson, Baltimore, p. 368.

    [Top] 57. Olson, Baltimore, p. 370.

    [Top] 58. State of Maryland, Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Maryland School Performance Report, 1996: State and School Systems (Baltimore, Md.: MSDE, December 1996), pp. 8-9, 14-15.

    [Top] 59.For readers in a hurry, the most readable synopsis of Coleman’s work is one written by Coleman himself, “Public Schools, Private Schools and the Public Interest.”

    [Top] 60. Derek Neal, “Measuring Catholic School Performance,” The Public Interest, No. 127, Spring 1997.

    [Top] 61. Neal, “Measuring Catholic School Performance,” p. 84.

    [Top] 62.Data taken from MSDE, Maryland School Performance Report, 1996, pp. 14-15 and from information provided by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland.

    [Top] 63. From information provided by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland.

    [Top] 64. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, County and City Data Book, 1994: A Statistical Abstract Supplement (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, August 1994), p. 256, table B.

    [Top] 65. Neal, “Measuring Catholic School Performance,” p. 86.

    [Top] 66. Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno and Louann Bierlein, Charter Schools in Action: What Have We Learned? (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hudson Institute, 1996). See also the recent article by Sarah Kass, “Boston’s City on a Hill,” The Public Interest, No. 125, Fall 1996, p. 27. Kass’ description of the founding and early operation of her City on a Hill school in Boston is inspirational and refreshing. One important inference to be drawn is how limiting the bureaucracy of existing public education is; it stands as an impenetrable barrier to idealism and the sense of vocation that characterizes most good schools. The modern bureaucracy actively discourages idealistic behavior. Not so charter and private schools; they encourage it.

    [Top] 67.Boston has both, in one incarnation. The Renaissance School is a charter school run by Chris Whittle’s Edison Project. Housed in a 10-story building that used to house University of Massachusetts classrooms, it is already a welcome addition to Boston’s schools. For recent descriptions of it (and the Edison Project in general), visit Edison’s Internet site (

    [Top] 68. For a more complete discussion of this see, Vitullo-Martin and Cooper, Separation of Church and Child.

    [Top] 69. Munro, Berthoud and Hirschburg, “Choice, Polls and the American Way.”

    [Top] 70. See CER, “Poll Results Challenge Previous Findings; Public Is Frustrated by Education Quality, Does Support School Choice,” news alert dated September 11, 1996.

    [Top] 71.CER, “Poll Results Challenge Previous Findings.”

    [Top] 72. Munro, “Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Part II.”

    [Top] 73. Baltimore City Public Schools, Department of Planning, “Baltimore City Public Schools Enrollment Projections: September 30, 1996 through September 2005,” unpublished document dated May 6, 1996.

    .[Top] 74.BCPS, Department of Planning, “Baltimore City Public Schools Enrollment Projections Through School Year 2005,” unpublished document dated May 7, 1996.

    [Top] 75. Eric Siegel, “Schools May Have too Many Buildings,” (Baltimore) Sun, January 5, 1997, p. 1B.

    [Top] 76. Task Force on School Choice, “Draft Report and Recommendations, November 1996,” p. 17.

    [Top] 77.Paul E. Peterson et al., “School Choice in Milwaukee,” The Public Interest, No. 125, Fall 1996, pp. 38-56.

    [Top] 78. Doyle, Connoisseurs, passim.

    [Top] 79.Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy (CFEE), Teacher Choice: Does It Have a Future? (Washington, D.C.: CFEE, March 1986).

    [Top] 80. Veronica Donahue DiConti, Interest Groups and Education Reform: The Latest Crusade to Restructure the Schools (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1996), pp. 144-152.

    [Top] 81.Michael Olesker, “As Private Schools Build, Public Foundation Shakes,” (Baltimore) Sun, June 11, 1996, p. 1B.

    [Top] 82.This is hardly a novel observation. See Derek Bok’s Higher Learning. See Derek Bok, Higher Learning (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987). See also John Brademas, Washington, D.C. to Washington Square (New York, N.Y.: Weidenfeld Nicolson, 1987). Finally, see Denis P. Doyle, “Report Card on Higher Education,” Washington Post Book World, December 12, 1986.

    [Top] 83.Price competition is not altogether foreign to non-profit higher education (neither are allegations of price collusion). So, too, for-profit higher education is beginning to make inroads. Phoenix University, for example, enrolls thousands of students, as do other for-profit schools. While they may be the wave of the future, their market share is still small. Suffice it to say that the jury is still out.

    [Top] 84. America is home to 3,500 higher education institutions (higher than what? one may reasonably wonder), about one-third the world’s supply. Of those, perhaps 100 are selective in any meaningful way, and of those only a handful are highly selective. This means that anyone who is motivated, energetic and minimally prepared can find a place to attend a school of reasonably good quality. For better or worse, there is nothing else even remotely like it anywhere else on the globe.

    [Top] 85. I.e., New Progressive Party. Governor Rosselló is usually considered to be a Democrat. At National Governors’ Association meetings, he caucuses with the Democratic governors.

    [Top] 86. As quoted in [Douglas P. Munro], “Back Page Notables,” Calvert News, Vol. I, No. 1, Winter 1996, p. 12.

    [Top] 87. William Raspberry, “Let’s at Least Experiment with School Choice,” Washington Post, June 10, 1997.

    [Top] 88. For more on this subject, see Denis P. Doyle, “Vouchers for Religious Schools,” The Public Interest, No. 127, Spring 1997; also Doyle “Family Choice in Education.”

    [Top] 89. Marilyn McCraven and Mary Maushard, “Diversity at Private Schools in Expanding,” (Baltimore) Sun, December 2, 1996, p. 1B.

    [Top] 90. DeWitt Clinton was the Federalists’ candidate for president in 1812, losing to James Madison. He is primarily remembered for, as New York governor, his boosterism on behalf of the Erie Canal, built between 1817 and 1825. See Maldwyn A. Jones, The Limits of Liberty: American History, 1607-1980 (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press), p. 114.

    [Top] 91.Horace Mann became secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education upon its creation in 1837. He presided over the reformation of Massachusetts curricula, the establishment of a minimum length for the school year (six months, increased pay for teachers and the establishment of the country’s first teacher training college at Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839. See Jones, Limits of Liberty, p. 165.

    [Top] 92. See Tyack, One Best System.


    Exhibit 1

    Holy Spirit Roman Catholic School

    Lynette Guastaferro until recently taught at Holy Spirit School in Baltimore City. This Catholic K-8 school is located at 932 Gorsuch Avenue, between Greenmount and the old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street – not a salubrious neighborhood.

    The school is not a large one, 200 pupils or thereabouts, says Guastaferro, a 27-year-old New Yorker. While the overall student body of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools is not particularly reflective of Baltimore’s racial make up, Holy Spirit’s student body certainly is. The archdiocese’s schools combined are over 80 percent white, though it should be pointed out that its boundaries cover about a third of Maryland (see page 21). By contrast, Holy Spirit is about 85 percent black, some eight percent white, five percent Asian and two percent Hispanic, according to Guastaferro. Only about 10 percent of the pupils are Catholics. Guastaferro estimates that about half the students live in single-parent households. This is especially the case from 5th grade up. At the beginning of the 5th grade, the school annually takes in an influx of children from the city schools.

    Annual tuition is $2,500 per year, which reflects actual costs as the school is not subsidized by the archdiocese. Though $2,500 is a pittance compared to the $5,900 a year expended on Baltimore’s public school students, it nonetheless represents a hardship for a number of Holy Spirit parents, drawn as they are from one of Baltimore’s poorer neighborhoods. The archdiocese only made tuition assistance available at Holy Spirit last year. Until then, many parents simply were unable to pay. Sister Trinita Giacomo, principal for some 30 years, copes anyway. Many parents work two jobs just to make tuition payments – just to keep their children out of the public schools.

    How does the school fare academically? Guastaferro says that the school tests only reasonably well compared to many other archdiocese schools. But scores are very good compared to those that one would find in the public schools. Direct comparisons cannot be made because the public and Catholic systems do not utilize the same tests. However, a useful rule of thumb, says Guastaferro, is that students transferring in from the public schools are usually two grades behind the existing Holy Spirit pupils. They are usually held back a grade and struggle for their initial few years. But they usually show great progress in the end. A severe problem, she continues, is the fact that they have for the most part never previously been subjected to any sort of discipline whatsoever, be it in the home or the public schools. Their home education is lacking, too.

    So, how does Holy Spirit pull it off? Costwise, one answer is easy. Teachers at Holy Spirit are not paid much. The starting salary is under $17,000 a year, which results in high turnover. (Though they rarely admit it, this is one of the reasons public school teachers’ unions are so ferociously opposed to school choice, believing that such a policy would put downward pressure on public school salaries, which average $34,153 across the U.S.) Of course, there are other reasons for low costs, too, and these feed from the fact that the school is a disciplined place to start with. Holy Spirit does not need to fritter away precious funds on the security systems and personnel so common in America’s urban schools today, none of which comes cheap.

    Following from this, another factor in Holy Spirit’s success is that it is known to be very strict. Many parents find this attractive. Even as low as the 2nd grade, a minimum of 45 minutes homework is required. At the more senior levels, this can range from one hour to well over two.

    Additionally, the school routinely holds poorly performing children back a grade. “We hold kids back like that,” says Guastaferro with a snap of the fingers. Students may be held back for behavior-related reasons as well as scholastic reasons. (They are said to be “not mature enough” for promotion to the next grade.) Sister Trinita will not budge once the decision has been made to have a child repeat. A few parents have been known to withdraw their children in protest.

    As for methods, teaching is largely by phonetics and rote memorization. Pupils brought up on these methods from the start do well. Guastaferro says that even a cursory glance at test scores shows which students are Holy Spirit “regulars” and which are city transfers. The latter, previously taught by newer methods if taught at all, invariably have initially far lower grades.

    Asked what the public schools could do to improve themselves, Guastaferro immediately cites discipline and hold-back as crucial ingredients in successful education. The public schools should utilize the latter frequently and with little parental choice in the matter. At Holy Spirit, hold-back benefits the slower students inasmuch as they are given a second chance at mastering the subject matter. And it allows the other students to progress at a reasonable pace. Hold-back “totally changes their learning environment,” says Guastaferro. So common is hold-back at Holy Spirit that there is not even much stigma attached to it. In contrast, hold-back in public schools is rare.

    Anti-choice lobbyists often use the “creaming” argument to attack private schools, claiming that private school scores are naturally superior because such establishments “cream off” the best students, leaving the remainder to the public schools. Guastaferro acknowledges that the “public schools are brought down by their 10 to 20 percent worst students.” Expulsion is not really an option for the public schools, which it is for private schools. Nonetheless, Guastaferro notes that expulsion from Holy Spirit is not very common and that would-be Holy Spirit students are never rejected on academic grounds.

    Guastaferro also suggests breaking down the behemoth public schools into smaller institutions. Small schools, she says, are even more important than small classes. It is vital for the principal to know all the staff and students. This will never be achieved in a vast school, however tiny the individual classes may be. Classes at Holy Spirit range from a quite small 15 or so at the elementary level to a large 30 in the middle school. But the overall school is small, 200 students, allowing Sister Trinita to be familiar with every one of her charges. “That’s the make or break,” Guastaferro asserts. “It’s a huge issue.”

    As for other improvements, Guastaferro is diplomatic. “The current tenure system protects some very inadequate teachers and administrators. I want to see a system that rewards the incredible teachers and removes the bad ones.” There is no tenure at Holy Spirit.

    In closing, Guastaferro says that she used to oppose school choice. After teaching in Baltimore, she now favors it. “There are enough great kids in the public school system that are just getting drowned.” They should be given a way out. “You’ve got to meet the needs of average kids first.”

    Exhibit 2

    Gwynn Lake College Preparatory School

    New Destiny Pentecostal Church is on the move. Having originated in Maryland, the church now operates in the District of Columbia and eight other states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas). It has also recently gotten into the education business. A now closed school was started on Harford Road, Baltimore, five years ago. The church’s newest education project, Gwynn Lake Prep is about to go into its third year, the brainchild of pastor David H. Brown, 40.

    Gwynn Lake Prep is located at 2120 Gwynn Oak Avenue, just outside Baltimore’s city limits, on the west side. The school nonetheless serves a predominantly urban student body. Expansion has been the order of the day. In its first year, 1995-96, Gwynn Lake served 65 students from the 6th through 12th grades. Fourth and 5th grades were added the next year, bringing the numbers up to 77. This upcoming year, the school expects to enroll 125 students from K-12. Fewer than five percent are members of New Destiny Church. According to staff, 75 percent of the students come from the city, 98 percent from low-income families, 80 percent from single-parent families. And 98 percent of the pupils are African-American. This is quite quintessentially an urban school. It also has a 100 percent college admission rate.

    Marion H. Spann is tough. He is the principal of Gwynn Lake Prep. He is proud of what his students are achieving. He also knows the public schools. For years, Spann taught at Suitland High School and then Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County, the poorer of Washington’s two Maryland suburban counties. He has no time for the public schools’ excuses for lame performance.

    With tuition set at $3,000 a year, payments are difficult for many Gwynn Lake parents to meet, given that most come from poor backgrounds, sometimes abjectly so. Actual costs per student are $4,000 per annum, but the church subsidizes a quarter of the cost. There is also a 20 percent discount for subsequent children attending. Limited financial assistance is available. Why do parents put themselves through the fiscal strain of sending a child to Gwynn Lake? “They’re looking for an alternative,” says Spann, 50. The school does not advertise. It is known only by word of mouth. Almost exclusively, the pupils come from the Baltimore public schools. “These are rough, city kids,” according to Spann.

    Like Catholic-school teacher Lynette Guastaferro (page 6), Spann finds the incoming public school students’ discipline to be a problem. “It’s horrendous,” he states flatly. How does Gwynn Lake turn them around? All activities begin and end with a prayer. This is necessary to “set an atmosphere,” Spann says. Perhaps more important, the school sets high standards and expects commensurate achievement. Most notable is the fact that college admission is necessary for graduation. If you have not got a college admission letter in hand at the end of the school year, you do not graduate – period. It need not be Yale. A community college will suffice. But the student must be committed to further learning before Gwynn Lake will let him or her go. So far, Gwynn Lake has sent 12 young people to college who in all likelihood would not have gone had they remained in the public schools.

    Despite a no-nonsense persona, Spann is sensitive to the needs of his students. He knows many have had difficult lives. They are the product of their environment, he is aware. But “we must not throw these children away, must not discard them.” The solution, however, is not lax standards for the sake of “self-esteem,” something the public schools are frequently guilty of. Instead, rigor – for parents and students alike.

    “Our biggest problem is not the child,” Spann claims. “It’s the parent.” The poor disciplinary standards they exert upon their children are what Gwynn Lake must constantly battle. For this reason, new Gwynn Lake parents must sign a statement pledging themselves to “support for the administration and teaching staff,” “attendance at school events” and “my child’s participation in every required event, program and field trip.” The school has a program to help parents with their parenting skills.

    Meanwhile, for the students, middle-schoolers can expect 6-7 hours homework per week. The high school students get 7-8 hours. There are no “social promotions” at Gwynn Lake. (This refers to the common public-school practice of allowing a failing student to advance to the next grade for the ostensible sake of his self-esteem and the undoubted sake of a quiet life for school administrators.) At Gwynn Lake, students take tests over and over until they pass them. Spann says that mastering skills is more important than progressing according to a predetermined schedule. There is a program for improving pupils’ scores on the SAT (which now stands for Scholastic Assessment Test, rather than the previous, more “judgmental” Scholastic Aptitude Test).

    This year, Gwynn Lake will start administering the California Test of Basic Skills, so comparisons will be possible with many other area private schools, though not with the public schools. The state’s Maryland School Performance Assessment Test (MSPAP) is unique to itself, meaning that Maryland’s public schools cannot be compared to any other schools in the country, public or private. Critics of the MSPAP test consider it a useful way to shield the state’s schools from national scrutiny.

    Spann scoffs at the union lobbyists’ arguments about how private schools “cream” the best students, leaving the worst to the public system. As at Guastaferro’s Holy Spirit School, Gwynn Lake does not reject would-be transfers on academic grounds. There is an entrance exam, but it is utilized solely to determine which grade to place a student in, not to decide whether or not the child should be admitted, says Spann. The school finds it more important to place a student with his intellectual cohort than with his chronological cohort. Spann has never rejected an applicant. As for the expulsion question, he notes that Gwynn Lake has only ever expelled one student. That was not for academic reasons, but for a criminal act – repeated breaking and entering on school property. That child then became part of the juvenile-justice system. No Gwynn Lake student has ever been sent back to the public schools.

    Spann agrees that a small school has inherent advantages over a large one. “Kids can’t get away with anything here,” he says, pleased. The total size of the staff at Gwynn Lake is just 21. As noted, there will be 125 pupils this year. The individual class sizes are a reasonably small, 18-20 students.

    As for remedies for public education, “I would say they should turn it all over to the private sector. That’s where it should be.”

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