Grant to Promote Social Cohesion in Baltimore Schools

A project to boost school performance for low-income children in Baltimore schools through social, class and racial integration in schools has been launched with a $50,000 grant from the university’s 21st Century Cities Initiative.

The project, called the Thurgood Marshall Alliance, is the idea of Karl Alexander, a joint professor in School of Education and Sociology department of the Krieger School of Arts and Science. He said the alliance will help strengthen social cohesion among students of different race and ethnic backgrounds and income levels.

Alexander said he drew inspiration from the work of James Coleman, a former Hopkins professor and prominent education researcher whose own studies a half century ago led him to conclude that “School integration is vital, because it is the most consistent mechanism for improving the quality of education of disadvantaged children. … So long as middle-class students remain a majority in a given school, they establish the achievement tone.”

He said that with the nation’s schools becoming increasingly segregated in recent decades, an effort to reverse course and mix children of different incomes and races is a daunting, but not impossible, challenge. In Baltimore City, for example, the enrollment system-wide in 2013 was 83 percent African American and 84 percent low-income.

“We are at moment when a reversal of course seems more promising than at any time in the last half century,” said Alexander, noting that young people today are more open to breaking down barriers that traditionally have divided communities. “There is also a new generation of young families who value urban life and have the potential of reversing the decades-long trend of middle-class flight.”

Alexander, who will be working closely with faculty in the School of Education and others throughout the city, said the project will begin slowly, with up to three partner schools initially. The alliance will help the schools implement best practices, with low-income students a particular priority.

The alliance will provide technical support, promotional support (outreach and communications to meet enrollment targets) and supplemental resources to schools that affiliate with it and subscribe to a set of core principles and practices. Those will include an enrollment goal that puts the middle class in the majority, with low-income representation between 25 percent and 40 percent. No single race or ethnicity will comprise more than 60 percent of the enrollment in each school.

The alliance is named after former Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. A graduate of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore City, Marshall applied to and was denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race. In Brown versus Board of Education, the 1954 desegregation ruling on the nation’s public schools, Marshall famously announced that “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”