Education reform measures from the Common Core standards to teacher evaluations have come under increasing criticism this year as the plans have started rolling out in classrooms.
Just how difficult the reforms have been was clear at Thursday night's debate on education policy at Towson University, where education leaders bluntly acknowledged some of the implementation issues, but also said they stand behind the Common Core standards. The panel discussion was held by the Maryland Public Policy Institute and included education experts representing both sides of the political spectrum.
Former Maryland State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick said the time table for instituting all the reforms has been too quick. "There has not been sufficient time...to be able to do this in an organized and thoughtful way," she said. "There are a lot of people to blame about that and I can raise my hand."
Grasmick was one of the proponents of the reforms when they were adopted by Maryland, and her department filed the Race to the Top application with the U.S. Department of Education to win more than $200 million in federal funds for the state's school districts. Accepting the funds committed the state to putting in place the new standards, new tests to align with the new standards and a new teacher evaluation system.
But Grasmick, who is now a Presidential Scholar for Innovation in Teacher and Leader Preparation at Towson University, said she believes that once the initial problems are overcome the criticism of the new reforms will dissipate.
Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance agreed that too much has been attempted at once.
"I think there was a botched implementation," he said, adding that his administration is providing more training and support that teachers have requested. He said most teachers he speaks with like the new standards. As he visits schools, Dance said, he sees students doing more writing and more speaking in class since the new curriculum was implemented.
While the debates over the Common Core standards have become sometimes heated, Thursday's panel discussion included no shouting, lectures or arrests.
Much of the discussion centered on Maryland's charter school law and whether it should be expanded to allow charter operators to have more autonomy.
Lindsey Burke, an education fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, both said they believe the law has stunted the growth of charters in Maryland.
Jason Botel, the former head of KIPP Baltimore, which operates two charter schools in the city, said his biggest concern about the current law is that it requires charter school employees to work for the school system. The employees, he said, should be able to be hired and fired by the school.
Botel, now MarylandCAN's executive director, believes that charters are particularly important in urban areas for low-income students. "We see high-quality public charters that have provided excellent eduation to students in underserved populations," Botel said.
But Sean Johnson from the Maryland State Education Association said the reason so many good charter schools exist in the state is because of the restrictrive law that mandates charter operators be approved by the school board in each district.