Ask virtually anyone in the country to name the leading states in school reform, and Maryland will be on the short list. Many people can take credit for the remarkable progress the state has made in setting clear, albeit difficult, goals and in moving steadily toward them.
Even so, it is undeniable that without the tenacity and unwavering vision of state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick the reform effort would have stalled at several politically rocky points. By insisting day in and day out that the goal of education reform is to improve the lives of children -- not teachers, principals, parents or bureaucrats -- she has kept the state on a steady course.
If it stays that course, Maryland can look forward to reaping the benefits only a few years down the road. A more capable work force, schools that make wise use of taxpayers' money, children whose vocational horizons are not limited by the lack of basic academic skills -- all these are the benefits of effective school reform.
Comes now a governor who claims to include education as one of his top three priorities, but whose actions raise questions about his commitment to the state's reform efforts. First, he tosses Robert Embry off the state school board. Mr. Embry, a former chairman of both the state board and the Baltimore City Board of Education, is an outspoken critic of failing schools. True, he is a goad on recalcitrant parties -- in many cases the teacher unions. But he is also a stimulating source of ideas, some of which are eminently worthwhile, and no one questions his heartfelt commitment to improving Maryland's schools.
Next, Governor Glendening champions a misguided measure in the legislature -- against the strong opposition of both the State Board of Education and Dr. Grasmick's department. The bill would have handed responsibility for teacher certification to a body dominated by teachers' groups that have strongly resisted any reforms in Maryland's outdated certification and recertification process. The bill died, but since it made little sense administratively or in terms of the state's long-range education goals, the governor's support appeared to be a campaign pay-off to teacher unions at the potential expense of reform.
Then there are the persistent whispers that Governor Glendening is eager to see Dr. Grasmick vacate her post. He does not have the authority to fire her, but she has long made it plain that she would not continue in the job under a governor who didn't want her there.
If that is indeed how he feels, he would be wise to hide it. At this point in the school reform game, Dr. Grasmick has far more credibility than Governor Glendening. And his moves so far have not been reassuring to anyone -- in Maryland or elsewhere -- who holds great hope for continuing the progress that has been made so far.