Fox News Figures Blame Baltimore's “Awful,” “Worst Schools On Earth” For Riots

Three Fox News figures touted “school choice” as an appropriate response to the recent riots in Baltimore, faulting the city's “awful” and “worst schools on earth” for the violence. But their allegations ignore evidence that Baltimore public school students have made significant achievement gains over the past several years.

Protests broke out in Baltimore over the weekend following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died on April 19 from a spinal cord injury he sustained while in police custody a week earlier. Peaceful protests that devolved into violence led Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to impose a weeklong, citywide 10 p.m. curfew, and both the Baltimore Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating Gray's death.

On Fox News, contributor Charles Krauthammer, frequent guest Rudy Giuliani, and host Gretchen Carlson touted “school choice” in separate discussions of the riots, insinuating that Baltimore public schools are to blame for the violence. On the April 28 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Krauthammer cited “the worst schools on Earth” as one of “two issues in the inner cities,” concluding, “If you want to do something, let them choose their school.”

On Fox & Friends on April 29, Rudy Giuliani echoed what he called Krauthammer's “brilliant” point and added that “the schools in Baltimore, like in most major cities, are awful.” He went on to say that a mother who had been on the network “should have a choice of what school her son goes to.”

Gretchen Carlson devoted her “My Take” segment on the April 29 edition of The Real Story to a push for school choice, citing an editorial by conservative journalist Terence Jeffrey that claimed Baltimore students have scored below the national average on math and reading tests. Carlson said the low scores are, “probably not for lack of spending” by the city and asked, “What might happen to these inner city kids if they actually had better schools and maybe even school choice?”

But these allegations ignore hard evidence that Baltimore schools are improving. According to the Baltimore City Schools website, over the past several years students have made significant gains in subjects like math and reading and graduation rates have improved. Some of the district's “student achievement” highlights include:

  •  “83 percent of children who entered kindergarten from City Schools pre-k were fully ready to learn.”
  •  “In the past decade, City Schools students have made solid gains in performance as shown on the Maryland School Assessments (MSAs). In 2004, 48.8 percent of students performed at proficient or advanced levels in reading; in 2013, 67.9 percent did so. In math, the percentage of students performing at proficient or advanced levels rose from 33.5 in 2004 to 58.9 in 2013.”
  •  “The graduation rate for students who started high school in 2008-09 and graduated within five years (by June 2013) was 71.7 percent, up 5 percentage points from two years earlier.”

In addition, the U.S. Department of Education found significant increases in student achievement in Baltimore City Public Schools from 2006 to 2010, and has recognized the city's 2010 “Award for Urban School Board Excellence from the Council of Urban Boards of Education.” This Department of Education graph shows a leap of more than 20 percent in math scores and more than 10 percent in reading achievement:

The spurious claims about Baltimore schools by Fox News figures seeking to promote school choice come as little surprise given conservative media's pattern of demonizing various aspects of public education, including the declaration by a Fox host earlier this year that “there really shouldn't be public schools.” Such false narratives are unfortunately to be expected when the media so rarely turns to actual experts when covering education.