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Md. education commission to 'go big or go home'

For over a year, the Kirwan Commission (formally, the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education) has been meeting to review the state of the state’s education system and to recommend policy changes for Maryland to recapture its No. 1 ranking and to position its students to compete globally. Among many others, I was invited to address this commission and was able to share recommendations to inform its work.

I have always been extremely proud of Maryland’s legislative leaders and their collective resolve to act in the best interest of our youth. I applaud the commission for its resolve to, as the millennials say, “go big or go home.” I urge the commission to resist any attempt to weaken its recommendations by merely tweaking the system or reshuffling what exists. Now is the time for bold vision, integrity and courage.

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We urge the Kirwan Commission to do whatever additional work is needed to provide policy recommendations that are informed by race. Only then can we truly hope for change in outcomes for all students.

Vision is moving beyond the familiar to the intersection where knowledge meets imagination. I would ask our leaders to imagine a world-class education system and then to create an independent entity designed to fund research and development innovation capable of taking us there and to hold schools and school systems accountable for progress. Recommendations should include innovations in early childhood education, a new high school model based on the LYNX School in Frederick County, expanded apprenticeship models and the redesign of our teacher preparation programs to include state-of-the-art research including the neuroscience of learning.

It has been my privilege over the past 50 years to serve beside legislative and school leaders who were true “public servants” and who placed a high value on ethics. Integrity is not some old-fashioned concept. Integrity matters. Maryland citizens have the right to know that educational decisions are based solely on what is in the best interest of students. I am calling on the teaching profession to require an ethics course as part of teacher preparation and for each of us to hold ourselves and our colleagues to the highest standards of professional ethics.

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That brings me to courage. Courage is being willing to voice a position that you know will face opposition. While I am a strong believer in consensus building, there are times when you have to be willing to stand alone when it is in the best interest of students.

The irony of the intense focus on Md. children from pre-K to 12th grade is that learning and teaching will be more difficult and more expensive if Maryland students start from behind because we don’t do what is necessary to support their growth and development during the earliest years.

We must have the courage to admit that far too many of our students are graduating high school and college unprepared to compete in the global marketplace or to enter the local job market on a path toward a living wage. Preparation for new teachers includes many of the same courses that have been taught for years, even though the classroom today is a much different place than it was even one decade ago. Our students deserve teachers who can deliver cutting-edge content using new technologies and innovations in delivery methods.

We give lip-service to the importance of providing skills training and workforce development opportunities for our students, but we fail to acknowledge that the majority of our schools lack the necessary facilities and equipment to provide state-of-the-art career preparations. Only when we forge true, active partnerships with businesses capable of providing real-time training environments will our students be truly career-ready.

While it pulls at everyone’s heart strings to see any student bundled in coats, gloves and hats during a school day, these images are the consequence of something much larger than broken boilers. These conditions in Baltimore City are the result of institutionalized racism and injustices.

We must also have the courage to evaluate whether we are investing wisely. Financial investment in education overall must come with accountability. It is not enough to merely implement a program well, the program must make a significant, measurable improvement. We need to move beyond “one-off” programs — those that are successful for a small number of students or in a single classroom or school. I want Maryland to fund bold, systemic, sustainable innovations that can be evaluated and scaled across the state and the nation and institutionalized.

This new legislative year, I challenge myself and my colleagues to read the commission’s preliminary report, travel to Annapolis, testify before committees and play a central and vocal role in shaping an educational program that will make a lasting difference in the lives of our students.

Nancy S. Grasmick is a presidential scholar at Towson University, a faculty member of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and a former Maryland superintendent of schools. Her email is ngrasmick@towson.edu.

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