Preliminary Md. education report targets five areas for reform

The world of work that Maryland kindergartners will face as adults will be profoundly different from today’s workplace. The forces of automation and globalization, already churning and upturning the economic landscape, will continue to accelerate, and, if our education system does not respond, future generations of Marylanders will pay a steep economic, social and political price.

The harsh reality is that, based on standardized test scores, Maryland students presently perform in the middle of the pack nationally, matching the United States’ middling performance compared to other nations. Our racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps are unacceptable. This simply is not good enough. To secure a bright future for our state and future generations, we must build an education system that will produce greater opportunity, equity and higher levels of achievement for all of our young people.

In 2016, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was charged by Gov. Larry Hogan and the General Assembly with developing policy recommendations that would enable Maryland schools to perform at the level of the best-performing school systems in the world. Since then, 25 committee members appointed by the governor and the legislature — state, county and local officials; education stakeholders and members of the business community — have been listening to parents, educators and advocates and carefully studying the best education systems in the world. Today, the commission will release its preliminary recommendations. Its final report, with new funding formulas to support its final recommendations, will be delivered later this year.

To support a state education system committed to equity and among the best in quality, the commission has reached a strong consensus on five broad areas of policy recommendations. First, we must devote more resources for at-risk students by updating the school funding formulas, with a particular focus on schools with high concentrations of students living in poverty and for special education students.

Next, the state must provide strong support for children — and their families — before they arrive at their first day of kindergarten. Among other things, high-quality early childhood education programs should be expanded so that all 4-year-olds (and 3-year-olds from low-income households) are able to enroll in a full-day program at no or lower costs depending on family income and begin kindergarten on track and ready to learn.

Third, we must raise the status of educators in the state and in so doing assure an abundant supply of highly qualified, diverse teachers and school leaders. The quality of teacher preparation programs must be elevated, teacher certification requirements raised and compensation levels increased and made comparable to high-status professions requiring similar levels of education.

But improved pay, recruitment and preparation are not enough. We must redesign schools to be places where teachers are treated as professionals with more time to work in teams to improve instruction and provide additional individual attention to students who need it. We must build a true career ladder for teachers and principals — a system of supports and incentives that builds and rewards teacher expertise — and create a leadership development system that strengthens leadership at all levels to manage these progressively organized schools and districts.

Fourth, we must make a high school diploma much more than a glorified attendance certificate. We must modify the state’s College and Career Readiness policy to ensure that most students are college- and career- ready by the end of the 10th grade. And we must implement an early warning system along with targeted courses that enable teachers to identify and support students who may need extra help or time, so that all Maryland high school students are ready for college and careers upon graduation.

Our students must have access to multiple pathways delivering the skills and qualifications that the growing knowledge economy demands: Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses preparing them for selective colleges and universities; programs enabling students to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree at no cost; and rigorous technical education programs that lead to industry-certified credentials for 21st century careers.

The commission’s recommendations are expansive because the scale of the challenge we face requires nothing short of a systemic approach. To ensure that this happens, fifth and finally, we must strengthen our system of governance and accountability, align funding with the commission’s recommendations and give citizens confidence that the spending is producing results.

This is a moment of great opportunity for the state. Some of the groundwork for a world-class education system has already been laid in Maryland. But the rest of the world is advancing quickly. We can and must catch up. The future of our state and its citizens depends on doing so.

William E. “Brit” Kirwan is chair of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education and Chancellor Emeritus of the University System of Maryland. His email is bkirwan@usmd.edu.

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