Archive for March, 2012

March 21, 2012

Two Year Olds Shooed Off Baltimore City Public School Playground Due to State Tests

When I picked up my son – age 2.5 – after work today, his babysitter told me that she, along with him and his 2-year-old playmate, had been kicked off the playground behind her house. 

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s the MSAs,” she said. 

“Oh,” I said.  

March 18, 2012

If You Give a Kid a Cupcake, or Is Baltimore the New Brooklyn?

Yes, moms and dads, I was thinking of this book when I wrote this post!

The New York Times reported on March 16 on the cupcake wars at a Brooklyn public school. There’s some class conflict stirring up in the gentrifying neighborhood of Sunset Park, where the median income has gone from the mid-$30Ks to around $60K in the last decade. Other neighborhood schools in Brooklyn have similar stories, with some P.T.A.s running auctions that bring in thousands of dollars. Inequality is no good for community relations, even inside public schools. (The idea that P.T.A.s have to raise that kind of money at all is another issue.)

A few months ago on this blog I mentioned a book that changed my thinking about starting a charter school – sociologist Judith de Sena’s Gentrification and Inequality in Brooklyn. In it she reveals some bitterness about the new middle class’ rejection of neighborhood public schools in Greenpoint in favor of charters. What she seems not to appreciate is the resistance of longtime immigrant and working class communities to gentrifiers. The reasons to resist are many, not least of which is the rising costs of living that the gentry bring in their wake. An important site of resistance is the neighborhood public school, over which the old guard may not be eager to relinquish its hold.

The same dynamics are at work in Hampden, the Baltimore neighborhood where I live. The divide between old Hampden and new Hampden is so clear that it pretty much goes unmentioned. Old timers drink at Zissimo’s. Newcomers drink at Golden West, or Holy Frijoles, or 13.5% Wine Bar. Old timers buy coffee at Royal Farms or 7-11. Newcomers buy it at Common Ground or Spro. (There is no Starbucks here. The newcomers value local over corporate enterprise.) Old timers send their children to the local public school or the Catholic school a few blocks away. Newcomers? Historically, they move or pony up for private school. These days, they attempt to start charter schools or enter the charter school lottery. Now a growing group is doing what my husband and I are doing – work to make the neighborhood public school a top choice for every family zoned for it.

About a year ago I sat down on my couch and drew up a mission for an organization that was already beginning to take shape on its own. I called it Wham!, an abbreviated mash-up of Wyman Park and Hampden, two neighborhoods with lots of newcomer parents of infants and toddlers. Our first event was a playground clean-up with the principal. We’ve become regular contributors to our community organizations’ respective newsletters on the school’s behalf. We’ve connected with current parents at the school and catalyzed a move to get every conceivable volunteer opportunity at Hampden Elementary/Middle School #55 loaded up on the Baltimore City Public Schools website. We raised some cash by running a booth at Hampdenfest. We’re putting it toward painting a gigantic U.S. map on the school playground in May. The principal has dubbed us the Pre-P.T.O.

I get lots of “good for yous” and “more power to you” when I talk to people about Wham! It’s encouraging. But we all know that what’s going on in Brooklyn right now presages the kind of friction that could be stirred up here.

We know you can’t make a cupcake without breaking some eggs. If we do this right, though, we might just get some sprinkles to go with it.

March 7, 2012

Today in Annapolis: Last Stand for Baltimore City Schools Renovations

This is an email from Frank Patinella, tireless leader of the Transform Baltimore movement. Get on the bus. And if you can’t get on the bus, spread it:
Transform Baltimore
Build Schools. Build Neighborhoods.
Last hearing to support the renovation of city school buildings – We need a big turnout!  Join us!

Goal: Pass Senate Bill 533 (House Bill 304)

This bill would lay the foundation to fund more than $1 billion in school construction and renovation needs for Baltimore City, and the upcoming hearing in Annapolis is our highest priority!

We had a great presence in the House Appropriations committee on Tuesday afternoon.  The room was packed!  Mayor Rawlings-Blake and Dr. Alonso sat together and gave testimony in support of the bill.  We also heard powerful statements from over a dozen students, school staff, community advocates, religious leaders, building contractors, architects, and other experts.  We need that same energy for the Senate hearing this coming Wednesday if this bill is going to move forward!

Can you join us?  
We’re providing bus transportation!  RSVP required (leaving from Barclay Elementary at 11:30am, see below)

Wednesday, March 7 at 1:00pm
Senate Budget and Taxation Committee
Miller Senate Office Building
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401

Bus will leave at 11:00am from Barclay (2900 Barclay Street) and return ~4pm.  RSVP as soon as possible to or call 410.889.8550 x 123 or 119 to let us know if you plan on attending.  If you will be driving to the hearing, let us know as well!

Ben Kaufman and Frank Patinella for the Transform Baltimore team


Frank Patinella | Education Reform Project
American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland
410.889.8550 x 123 |
March 5, 2012

Washington Post Opinion: French Parents are “Superior” Because of Government Support

Remember three weeks ago when I theorized that social supports for the middle class might help explain American parents’ so-called “inferiority”? Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post staff writer and a New America Foundation fellow, gives the theory some substance, here. (Thanks to my friend Giuliana for tipping me off.)

…if French parents are calmer and more confident, it’s not just because their parenting standards aren’t as intense. Another reason is on the corner: In France, that’s where you find the crèche, a government-subsidized child-care center where virtually everyone, after a four- to five-month, state-subsidized, paid parental leave, sends their children — working and at-home mothers alike.

In contrast, the United States is one of only three countries in the world, along with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, that have no federal paid parental leave policy. After President Richard Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Childcare Act of 1971, which promised to ensure quality, affordable child care, American parents were left to fend for themselves. In a country that pays its child-care workers less than its janitors, that is a time-consuming, expensive and often fraught search. Child-care costs, which consumed 2 percent of the average family budget in the 1960s, now take up 17 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, second only to a mortgage or rent.


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