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The latest test results from the Maryland State Department of Education for 2022 were released, and the report requires an “all hands on deck” response. My first reaction was one of total disbelief. Then came a sense of sadness, knowing the devastating consequences of what I had just read. It confirmed my previous understanding that Baltimore City Schools were in trouble, but the report highlights the depth of a situation that appears to be out of control.

Baltimore City’s math scores were the lowest in the state. Only 7% of third through eighth graders tested proficient in math, meaning 93% could not do math at grade level. In 23 of the 150 Baltimore schools, zero students tested proficient in math. The list of 23 schools included 10 high schools, eight elementary schools, three middle/high schools, and two elementary/middle schools. It is not just an inconvenient problem; it has become a major crisis affecting the future of Black communities.

It should be noted that another 20 Baltimore City schools had just one or two students test proficient in math. Unfortunately, this is not a crisis isolated to Baltimore. The city of Chicago had similar results.

Based on data from the Illinois State Board of Education, no student can do math at grade level in 53 Illinois schools. Of the 53 Illinois schools, 33 schools are in Chicago. The same data identifies 30 schools where not a single student can read at grade level; 22 are Chicago schools. Sadly, there is one Chicago high school where not even one student is proficient in math or reading. The school is in the Little Village section of Chicago, which is plagued by gang violence.

The failure of educational systems is a nationwide crisis. The numbers do not lie, and they tell a very complex story. While we may become shocked by the discouraging numbers and statistics, each represents children whose lives and futures are seriously jeopardized. The crisis of poor student achievement involves separate school districts nationwide having similar challenges. Since everyone plays a part in a child’s education, it comes from multiple sources when breakdowns occur.

In some cases, it is the student, parent, teacher, school board member, school administrator, or teachers union representative. In other cases, it may be a lack of school funding, bad policy decisions, or government bureaucracy. While school districts debate the pros and cons surrounding “social promotion,” kids are given passing grades and promoted to the next grade level despite having limited or no ability to perform academically. How do these students ever academically catch up? Do they ever?

Often, social promotion becomes a school district policy rather than a teacher’s decision. There are so many dedicated and passionate teachers and administrators in our schools, but they can eventually become frustrated, overwhelmed, and burnt out. We can easily place blame on the two-year impact COVID-19 had on school systems, but student achievement failures were pre-COVID issues. The pandemic worsened the crisis, but it didn’t create the problem. The students and teachers are the ones who are on the front line when it comes to education, but are they receiving the necessary support from outside of the classroom? Are students getting the needed support at home?

Marietta English, a former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, says poverty presents students with so many challenges that it can be difficult for them to keep up in school. She says without a support system, students will never make it.

“If you look at everyone who has succeeded [and has] come from poverty, there was someone there to support them and help them through this process,” said English.

According to a Maryland Department of Agriculture Poverty Profiles report from 2018, the child poverty rate in Baltimore City was 33%. Rev. Jesse Jackson often reminded us to “keep hope alive.” How do we, as a community, keep hope alive amid what appears to be a hopeless crisis? The support system English is referencing must come from outside the classroom. Teachers are often mandated to teach grade-level material to students who are years behind. Overall, students cannot catch up.

In many cases, it must be accomplished outside the school despite not having parental support at home. The community must fill the void by providing more math and reading tutors. With the help of tutors, students can learn and catch up at their own pace, apart from the pressures of the classroom setting, giving a child some hope where there currently is none. The Maryland and Illinois reports are separate SOS distress calls to alert those in our Black and brown communities. Our Black churches, HBCUs, fraternities and sororities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses need to form partnerships with struggling schools by providing tutors in a crisis that will only worsen.

Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.”

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