During her three years as state superintendent of schools, Lillian Lowery guided Maryland through a period of rapid and often tumultuous change with a steady hand and a clear-eyed appreciation of the challenges facing educators, parents and students. Ms. Lowery, who unexpectedly resigned her post last month to take a job leading an educational nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio, largely succeeded in her mission to maintain Maryland's preeminent place among the nation's best performing school systems — and to improve on it. She was a tireless worker with an easy and graceful manner that could mask the fierce dedication she brought to her task. For her many accomplishments in office — from revamping the school curriculum, standardized testing and teacher evaluations to overseeing the introduction of the controversial Common Core standards — she deserves thanks.
Ms. Lowery inherited a solid foundation on which to build from her predecessor, former state superintendent Nancy Grasmick, who was an early champion of the educational accountability movement during her two decades on the job. Yet Ms. Lowery recognized that despite the progress that had been made, more needed to be done to ensure that all children in Maryland received an education that allowed them to realize their full potential. She insisted the achievement gap between students in the state's highest- and lowest-performing school systems be narrowed, and she was an ardent advocate of the reforms instituted by former Baltimore City schools CEO Andrés Alonso to reduce suspension and expulsion rates among African-Americans, English language learners and special needs students.
Among the most daunting assignments Ms. Lowery took on was the introduction of the Common Core, a national set of standards adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia that define what K-12 students should know at the end of each grade. The standards stress the development of critical thinking skills and a more rigorous approach to traditional subjects like reading, math and science. But some teachers and parents criticized the tests used to evaluate students' performance, saying they were too difficult, caused children undue stress and took up so much classroom time to prepare for that they ended up crowding out courses like art and music. Ms. Lowery listened carefully to the complaints, looked at how they might be addressed, then worked collaboratively to resolve them in ways that allowed the state to continue moving forward. Consequently, Maryland experienced nothing like the Common Core backlash seen in other states.
Gov. Larry Hogan said during last year's campaign that the state should "hit the pause button" on Common Core. He won't directly appoint Ms. Lowery's successor — that job is up to the state school board, but he recently appointed five of the board's 12 members. We hope they will look carefully at Ms. Lowery's successes in implementing Common Core and the new standardized tests and will consider Maryland's decades-long legacy of leadership in the educational reform movement. If the concern with Common Core is that the transition to it was at times rocky, we fail to see how changing standards and curricula again would solve the problem. And if the worry is that Common Core is too demanding, so too will be the 21st century job market. Maryland needs a new superintendent who will build on Ms. Lowery's record, not try to reverse it.