Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s running mate, Kristen Cox, has maintained a low profile on the campaign trail. But when Cox appeared Monday on Maryland Public Television's Direct Connection show, a comment about city schools made her a high-profile target of city teacher unions and parent groups.
Cox, secretary of Maryland's disabilities department, said, "State test scores across the state have increased in every jurisdiction but for Baltimore City."
That is not true. Though the city has some of the lowest scores in the state, they have been rising. Public education advocates in the city fired off a letter to Cox on Tuesday demanding an immediate retraction and apology.
"We understand that you are new to public life," said the Aug. 22 letter. "You cannot lead this state by misleading its people and perpetuating stereotypes. Therefore, we call on you to immediately retract your comments and apologize to the parents, teachers and students of the Baltimore City Public School System."
The letter was signed by Marietta English and Loretta Johnson, leaders of the Baltimore Teachers Union, and by Michael Hamilton and Michael Carter, leaders with parent groups associated with city schools.
Cox could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Shareese N. DeLeaver, Ehrlich's campaign spokeswoman, said Cox was trying to explain that the progress in Baltimore schools is minimal, compared with the rest of the state.
"While the Ehrlich-Cox campaign will not be issuing a retraction on behalf of Secretary Cox, we will promise action when elected this November," DeLeaver said. "No retraction, but action."
The letter claimed that Cox's comment was made as part of a broader effort orchestrated by Ehrlich to portray city schools as making no progress.
The letter said the Republican governor's focus on city schools in campaign television commercials has been "far out of proportion with the attention paid by your Administration to our students in the prior four years."
The "deceptive barrage ... only serves to divide our state by race and class and place," the letter said.
A spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor said Cox's comments were not a surprise considering that Ehrlich has made similar statements. In a letter to supporters June 20, Ehrlich wrote, "We are seeing test scores rise in every single jurisdiction in the state except Baltimore city."
"If they're going to demand an apology from Secretary Cox, they should also demand one from Bob Ehrlich, who has been more than willing to intentionally mislead the public about the record of progress in Baltimore City schools for his own political gain," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.
The union/parents letter made the point that Baltimore schools were outpacing the rest of the state in test gains.
"Since the introduction of the Maryland State Assessment and Maryland High School Assessment, Baltimore's student test scores are up in every grade and every subject - and improving faster than the state average in almost every instance," the letter said. "It is unfortunate that among your very first public comments, you have chosen to make false statements about our schools."