Can Maryland afford not to approve Kirwan funding?
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 08, 2020 | 3:35 PM
The Baltimore Sun has provided extensive coverage of the Kirwan Commission education recommendations over recent months. I write to add my thoughts. I am a professor of history emerita at Morgan State University where I taught for 34 years. I also taught at Towson University and at the Johns Hopkins University. My comments are based not only on my own teaching experience but on reports from colleagues at Towson, the University of Maryland and other institutions and make clear the need for the additional resources for our students recommended by the commission (“Is Maryland in for a schoolyard brawl over schools?” Jan. 3).
Morgan graduates many excellent students, including high numbers of students who have been awarded very prestigious Fulbright Scholarships for graduate study. Morgan, to its credit, has also been willing to give a chance to applicants who have not had sufficient preparation for college work but who are willing to work hard to gain the skills they need. For example, in a special program called Freshmen Studies, I taught students who had never written an essay. I had to begin by teaching these college students to write a five-sentence paragraph. Students often could not fill in a map of the United States with the names of states, nor could they locate most nations around the world. They, like many adults that I know, had no clear understanding of the levels and functions of government. Faculty members from other institutions of higher education report the same lack of preparation among significant numbers of their students.
The recommendations of the Kirwan Commission address many of the deficiencies in our children’s current educational experience. Expanding pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds and to 3-year-olds from poor families gives children more years to learn basic and then more advanced skills. Increasing salaries means attracting women and men with greater skills to teach our children. Better pay will result in experienced teachers staying on the job rather than leaving the profession to go elsewhere in order to make a decent livelihood. Providing more support for schools with concentrations of poor families and for special education students will give children who have different needs or who start behind their peers the opportunity for a productive future as workers and citizens.
In addition to college graduates, our state needs women and men with technical expertise. A world full of Ph.D.s would leave us all with broken toilets and leaking roofs. High schools should offer programs to train students for skilled jobs. Plumbers, electricians, solar energy technicians and other technical fields offer good pay and meet many of society’s needs. These programs also need to be staffed by expert teachers.
There is much discussion about the cost of these various programs. Really, the discussion should be how can we afford not to do this? Marylanders with good jobs will pay more taxes. Marylanders who can make a good income at a real job will be less likely to turn to criminal activities to get money. Marylanders who understand how our government works will be better citizens. Marylanders who grow up with a decent education and a decent job will themselves be better parents of the next generation, better stewards of our future. I urge all members of the General Assembly to support full funding for the Kirwan Commission recommendations.