Crystal Ball? No, just hard facts.

Last week, we discussed how more highly educated people in the US often migrate away from bad school systems. Then we described a potential answer for encouraging people to stay put - more freedom in education. This week, we are discussing research from the 90’s that predicted the results of a migration pattern in one locality - migration out of the city of Baltimore.

In a 1997 Wall Street Journal op-ed article, “Why Liberals Should Love School Choice,” the author wrote:

Like most middle-class parents, my wife and I plan to exercise school choice when our kids are ready for kindergarten. That doesn't mean our local school district gives us much choice; we'd pretty much be stuck with the second-rate school it assigns us, whether we like it or not. But we'll exercise choice the way the rest of the middle class does. We'll move.

At the time, this notion was a common one, and the same year, Denis Doyle and Douglas Munro predicted that the mindset described by this piece would also be mindset of the rest of the middle class living in and around Baltimore. In Reforming the Schools to Save the City, Doyle and Munro wrote on the middle class’s expectations about school quality and their ability to move to the suburbs. The middle class would, according to their research, relocate to the suburbs causing a major population decline in the city.

Today, however, due to much media attention around the gentrification of cities, population decline is too rarely discussed. So, what actually happened between the 90s and now? Gentrification? No, the opposite! Baltimore experienced the exact fate predicted by the research. The Baltimore Sun recently reported the population drop in the city, a 100 year low, and the increasing population in counties nearby.

Population estimates as of July 1, 2016

Baltimore / -6,738 / 614,664

Anne Arundel County / +4,509 / 568,346

Baltimore County / +1,817 / 831,026

Carroll County / +5 / 167,656

Harford County / +894 / 251,032

Howard / +4,522 / 317,233

(Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division)

But in 1997, Doyle and Munro not only predicted there would be a problem, but they also suggested a solution. Describing Baltimore’s potential population decline, they argued:

Middle- and working-class families, black or white, will not send their children to schools where they face danger and dysfunctionality. This is a difficult admission, but it is a fact nonetheless. Society now gives the middle and working classes two options: (a) send your children to school in fear or (b) leave town. Every year, thousands settle for option (b). There is no fighting it. We must harness it.

Give these hard-working people a third way. Let them pick their own schools while allowing them to remain in Baltimore. In a sense, this is an admission of defeat. In the long run, however, it is vital for the well-being of the city. Only the stabilization of middle-class, tax-paying neighborhoods, black and white, will provide for a tax base sufficiently recovered to make Baltimore viable. In the end, only that will improve the lot of the underclass [emphasis mine].

Baltimore and similar cities should consider how accurately this research predicted their current predicament more than 20 years ago! For a long time, we have understood the problem, but we have been unwilling to face the only viable solution.

Note:  We want to thank Dr. John Merrifield for pointing us to this important, but long-ignored study.