How Do They Choose?

The Monster started his second year of public schooling this year, very early in the morning when the bus arrived – 75 minutes before his first bell – to pick him up at our house.

“Together We Grow”, the program that the Monster is enrolled in through the Baltimore City Public Schools, is a special reverse-inclusion program for students, where five or six IEP students are joined by five or six non-IEP students to give them social role models.  Last year, the Monster was attending it at Garrett Heights Elementary-Middle School, and while he is returning there this year, he was offered an alternative placement in the same program at another school, Furman L. Templeton Elementary School.

The schools are about equidistant from our house – we kept the Monster at GHEMS because he’s familiar with the school and his teachers there, and that would improve his chances of catching up through the program.

Still, one of the biggest issues – an issue that was brought all the more into focus with the bus problem – was the fact that we live five minutes from what is considered one of the best elementary schools in the city.  So I started to ask two questions:

  • Why isn’t this program offered at a school closer to our home?
  • Why were the schools in question chosen?

Of course, all of this was based on my personal, uninformed opinion that the two schools in question aren’t among the better schools in the city.  The problem was that I had no way to tell what schools are “good” and which are “bad’ except based on my thoughts about the neighborhoods they’re located in.

Except that there is a decent way to measure two schools against each other, which I hadn’t heard of until I asked my wife about the school ratings thing in a Zillow ad on television – GreatSchools.org.  The survey is based on the test scores of the students there, and while it makes it impossible to compare across state lines (say, comparing my wife’s elementary school with mine), it does make it very possible to compare schools in the same state or, say, the same city.

So, interested in the answer, I pulled up the Monster’s supposed “home” school, and the one he’s at.  For reference, as a school district, GreatSchools rates Baltimore City Public Schools as a ‘3’.

The Mount Washington School rates as a 7.  That seems fairly good to me, and validates the ‘one of the better schools in the district’, as the rating means (according to their own FAQ) that on average, students at Mt. Washington scored higher than 70% of the students state-wide.

GHEMS, on the other hand, is a ‘2’, meaning on average, the students there scored in the bottom 20%.  The other school, Furman L. Templeton, is a ‘1’.

Now… that seemed troubling to me.  I then pulled up BCPS’s guide from last year for the Special Education programs for pre-K and kindergarten, and ran the schools listed under the ‘Autism’ programs through GreatSchools.org as well.  Aside from GHEMS, every single school that houses an Autism program – either separate classroom or Together We Grow – rates as a ‘1’.

The wife pointed out to me that Mt. Washington is overcrowded in their lower school, and the rationale might be available space.  I can understand that.  She also mentioned that the good schools might just be out where we are, in the ‘suburban’ part of Baltimore.

Except the “good” schools are scattered all over the city, if one starts pulling them up on a map.  There are two ‘7’ schools a short distance from GHEMS.  There are a bunch of very good schools within a ten-to-fifteen minute drive of our house.  I have trouble imagining that all of these schools have space issues… which brings me back to question #2 – why did they choose the schools where the programs are located?

I think we’d all love a good answer.

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