At a time when more than 45% of Maryland’s public school students are low-income, it’s imperative that we close the gaps in opportunity that act as barriers to success in school. While some remain distracted by the idea of weakening neighborhood public schools and privatizing education, educators are working hard to close the achievement gap so that every child has the chance to learn, no matter their zip code.
Poverty Is Holding Kids Back
The number of low-income public school students in Maryland has more than doubledin the last 25 years, and continues to grow. Breaking this cycle of poverty is the key to improving student success in our public schools, and deserves urgent and comprehensive action.
There are now nine counties in Maryland where the majority of public school students come from low-income families—including Baltimore City and Somerset, where more than 80% of kids have to overcome poverty to do well in school.
What does poverty mean for students? It means living in communities with higher rates of violent crime, leading to heightened anxiety and stress; less access to nutritious meals outside of school hours; and having a parent who doesn’t have time to help with homework because they have to work two or three jobs. These are all tremendous barriers to learning—and the only way to close the achievement gap is to address these disadvantages head-on.
Any conversations about closing the achievement gap that focus exclusively on school-based reforms are missing more than half of problem. Neighborhood schools that serve poor communities should be given the additional support they need to overcome challenges that schools in affluent areas don’t face.
The Educator Plan to Close Opportunity Gaps
1. Expand the Number of Community Schools: Community schools are designed to close opportunity gaps by making the school a hub for essential services that students in disadvantaged communities lack. These schools generally have the following four components:
- They serve a high concentration of students in poverty
- They employ a full-time coordinator to lead community school-related services
- They conduct a needs assessment of their student population to identify key obstacles to learning and the services needed to close opportunity gaps
- They work with community partners to bring those needed services into the school building or nearby locations to make them accessible to students and community members
You can read more here about how Maryland community schools are working to even the playing field for low-income students.
2. Guarantee Parental Leave for School-Based Activities: Parents in low-income families often have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, or don’t have the education or language skills to help their children succeed in school. They deserve a parental leave act that gives them the same time and opportunity to support their kids’ education as more affluent parents.
3. Establish a state Opportunity Dashboard: It’s too often unclear if school funding is being spent on what students really need. That’s why educators are working hard to make sure funding goes to directly addressing the unique needs of each individual student in every classroom. An Opportunity Dashboard will measure the all-important inputs that are proven to make great schools—things like class size, teacher experience, the student-to-counselor ratio, and access to after-school and summer programming.
2016 General Assembly Session
During the last state legislative session, educators helped secure modest investments in two strategic priorities to close opportunity gaps:
- Legislation passed to allocate $7.5 million a year for after-school programs and community school strategies in districts with majority low-income student populations (HB 1402/SB 1125).
- The General Assembly expanded public pre-K funding by $7 million by increasing the state investment needed to qualify for federal matching funds (HB 668/SB 584).