Is Your Bus Fare Racist? Real Life Story Problems for Baltimore Students

posted in: Blog, Home, News and Issues | 0

Sometimes life gives us real story problems. When the Maryland Transportation Authority (MTA) started charging students for riding buses after 6 pm, students got a real life lesson in how political and economic decisions can affect their lives. Some had to quit participating in after school activities, others had to walk home or find a ride from friends or family. Non-profit groups which offered after school programs were suddenly having to seek funds to pay bus fare for their students.

This is a prime teaching moment where students can examine this problem using their skills in math, economics, history, politics, social science, and problem solving.

Teachers, here are some things that you can do with your students:
1) Define the scope of the problem.
How many students are affected by the reduced hours of free ridership?
What number/percent of students have had to quit programs?
What number/percent have had to pay and what number/percent have had to walk or get rides?
Have any students been placed in danger in by walking or riding with others?
How much money does MTA need to provide full time ridership for students?
What are the costs to students of missing after school programs?
What are the costs to families which have to pick up their students?

2)Why did the policy change?

3)What are the different perspectives on the cost of providing extended ridership?

Some city council members pointed out that there isn’t an additional cost in allowing students to ride
free on regular bus routes which are already running, especially after 6pm when ridership is lower than peak hours.

An MTA official stated that they are required to recover a third of the cost of rides and that in the past they were simply not counting additional rides by students. He stated that the MTA is facing a budget deficit and isn’t able to allow students to ride for free. Students are already billed at reduced fares.

A student pointed out that her participation in the Merit scholar program enabled her to capture college scholarships and admission offers. Should the cost of the bus ridership be weighed against the opportunities these programs offer to students and their families?

If the school district and the MTA are struggling with tough budgets, are there ways to find alternative funding or savings?

4)Can students provide examples of ways that buses and transportation have been important in racial justice history?

5)What are possible solutions to this problem?

6)Are there ways to express their views to public officials?
a) Call to MTA customer service number
b) Call or write Governor Hogan.
c) Call or write MTA
d) Send photos of their walk home to Governor Hogan and MTA.
e) Their families and friends could vote–research how many eligible voters cast votes in the last election.
f) Could a social funding drive provide funds?

I am posting a series of video clips for you and your students to use as you consider this topic.
Please let me know how this goes and whether you have any questions.

Why Build 21st Century Schools With 20th Century Thinking?

posted in: 21st Century School Buildings, Blog | 1


The 21st Century School building project is off to a  rocky start.

  • School closings and mergers have angered students, parents and communities.
  • Estimates of constructions costs have been higher than anticipated.
  • Moving students to temporary schools has been problematic.
  • The school design process has generally lacked the outreach, communication and collaboration it needs to be effective.
  • And almost every project is running behind schedule.

It has been a lot to ask of Baltimore City Schools to go from putting up a few buildings each decade to renew all of its schools in a decade, especially as the district is shedding staff each year in response to budget cuts.

But if we focus on making three improvements now, we can still build our schools, our learning and our communities as we promised at the beginning of this process.


1) We need to decide what kind of schools we are building. 

Are we simply building schools with new windows, air conditioning and design features?

Are we building new schools with space for after school programs run by community organizations?

Or are we building schools that also involve and promote our communities with services, education and opportunities?

This third type of school requires that we not only design our schools differently, but that we have to think differently about the role of our schools, the hours they are open, and how we welcome our parents, community members and organizations into the school.   

If we build it they will come is a great assumption for a community school .. unless you lock it or charge fees for using it..which is what we do now.


2) We need to  improve the outreach and collaboration of the school design process to include the concerns and wisdom of our teachers, students, parents, community members and experts.

I’ve spoken with school principals and teachers who had no idea of the status of the design or building process at their school and felt left out of the design decisions for their schools. 

If we are building these schools to encourage teachers to collaborate, why isn’t this design process the perfect learning collaboration for teachers, students and design experts? 

And why is the school design process run by City Schools running independently from the neighborhood design process run by Baltimore City?


3) We need to find better values in construction.

Independent building experts should be allowed to look over preliminary designs to find savings through design integration, better sourcing, bulk purchasing and long term savings.

We have a choice between checking some boxes on citizen involvement and building (clumsily) to the lowest allowed standard or blazing a trail for other school districts to follow.  It’s time to decide which way we want to go.