Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A painful ESSA setback in Maryland

Editor’s note: In addition to his roles at Fordham, the author is Vice President of the Maryland State Board of Education. The views expressed here, however, are his alone.  
Maryland prides itself on having high-performing public schools, but the truth is that its primary-secondary education system is failing to prepare far too many children for what follows. On the most recent (2015) National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, barely one third of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” or “advanced” in either math or reading. Among African-American youngsters, that key benchmark was reached by fewer than one in five.

Yet lawmakers are on the verge of undermining the best chance the state has had in ages to do something forceful about the schools that have allowed this sad situation to endure. They’re about to prevent the State Board of Education from installing a new school-accountability system that prioritizes pupil achievement and student success, as well as true transparency by which parents can easily tell whether their child’s school is succeeding or failing. Instead, House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871, now speeding toward enactment, sharply limit the extent to which learning counts, restrict the use of achievement data, forbid the state from “grading” its schools (or intervening in dreadful ones), and give top billing to measures of teacher satisfaction, class size, adult credentials, and other inputs that are dear to the hearts of teacher unions but have woefully little to do with classroom effectiveness. The General Assembly has already killed Governor Hogan’s proposed expansion of the state’s cramped charter school program and is threatening to shrink its tiny voucher program, thereby ensuring that kids stuck in district-run dropout factories won’t have any alternatives. Maryland districts are also famously allergic to public-school choice, save for the occasional magnet...

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