The Baltimore Sun quoted former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan as saying, “more than 60 percent of Maryland’s graduating seniors can’t read at a 10th grade level or pass an Algebra I test.” Mr. Kirwan (and others) are proposing legislation that would increase education funding by more than $1 billion over the next two years (“In Annapolis, Kirwan commission head sounds alarm about need to increase Maryland public school funding,” March 5).
The same article detailed an $80 million request to expand full-day prekindergarten in the state for 4-year-olds. However, the Early Child Longitudinal Study (1998-2007) followed students from kindergarten through eighth grade. While not addressing the impact of full-day prekindergarten, researchers using the data have found that full-day kindergarten provided a boost in children’s academic achievement compared to students attending half-day kindergarten. However, the differences between the two groups disappeared by third or fifth grade.
With the beneficial effects of early childhood interventions dissipating well before a student enters high school, an $80 million expenditure for full-day prekindergarten may not be beneficial in accomplishing Mr. Kirwan’s goal of increasing the percentage of Maryland’s graduating seniors to read at a 10th grade level or pass an Algebra I test. Before passing legislation to increase education funding, the legislature should put in place an accountability system that tracks where and how the money was spent, together with a strong and independent evaluation system that will assess the effectiveness of these initiatives. A strong and independent evaluation system would provide some additional assurance to the governor, legislature and the taxpayers that these extra dollars to the overall education budget were well spent to accomplish Mr. Kirwan’s achievement goals for Maryland high school graduates.
But if the independent evaluation system found the initiatives were not able not able to achieve those goals, there needs to be sufficient flexibility in the legislation to divert funds to programs better able to achieve the goals of increasing the percentage of Maryland’s graduating seniors reading at a 10th grade level or passing an Algebra I test. If an independent evaluation system is not set up and the funds are not used wisely, we could hear a Kirwan II Commission in 2030 start out stating, “more than 60 percent of Maryland’s graduating seniors can’t read at a 10th grade level or pass an Algebra I test.”
Mark Fenster, Baltimore