Ghost Students

There was an article by Erica Green published in the Saturday, January 30 edition of the Sun, entitled “Baltimore schools lose hundreds of students, millions in funding.” The gist of this article is that it has been discovered that the city’s schools have been over counting the collective student body by roughly 1900 students. By setting the record straight, our public schools will now lose approximately $25 million in state subsidies and $4 million from the city.

The problem seems to be related to a lack of administrative controls in the context of a system that pressures school administrators and faculty to keep enrollment up. To quote from the article, “Each principal’s school budget is based on enrollment, and their success is gauged in part on graduation and dropout rates. Student attendance and performance also factor into teacher evaluations.”

These missing 1900 kids are called “ghost students.”Casper worries about "ghost students" in Baltimore.

It’s happened before. “Two years ago, officials discovered the school system over-reported enrollment by 978 students, and the school system was forced to pay back $2.9 million to city government.”

Senior school executives have reacted as senior people who have been caught flat-footed are prone to do, by saying, “Wow. That’s not good, but we’re going to study the problem and initiate corrective procedures. So this mess is actually good news given that we’ll soon be a better, more efficient system as a result of our having realized the problem, albeit after the fact.” That’s not exactly what anybody said, of course, but it’s an entirely fair characterization of their reaction.

Here’s the thing… What we want – in charge of our public schools and city government – is management that anticipates problems and doesn’t wait to react to them. Not to be overly dramatic, but knowing how many students the school system has enrolled is fundamental Management 101. It is unconscionable… There can be no clearer sign of mismanagement than that public school administrators don’t even know how many students they are teaching. Is it intentional or just incompetence, or both? Either way, it’s fixable – but by new management, not by the people who have allowed and perhaps even encouraged the problem.

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