Commission debates accountability for schools policy, improvement -- in shadow of election

The Kirwan Commission on education policy and resources is back in the news, and questions of how to fund good policy equitably across Maryland’s diverse school systems and communities are coming to the fore – just in time to cast light on a do-nothing governor who is actually working to make things worse by draining resources for privatization.


 

Remember the Kirwan Commission? It’s a high-level group of stakeholders and activists in education policy who are updating the work of the Thornton Commission of 15 years ago – to insure equity and excellence in the state’s education system including funding equity for districts and schools hobbled by poorer resources. As Len Lazarick and Michael Jefferson recount below for Maryland Reporter, the tough part is now on the table – coming up with, and administering the distribution of, “billions” more dollars for the state’s education.

No mention of the upcoming gubernatorial election enters this discussion, but nobody reading this could avoid thinking how much of education policy hinges on its outcome.

In one corner we have a popular GOP governor who seeks to privatize and charterize the system, vetoed a bill to add educators to the state School Board and would have to be revived with smelling salts at the mention of new taxes. In the other corner, a progressive Democrat who won his primary handily on a program of broad public provision, featuring full support for under-resourced K-12 schools and a path to low-cost or free college. He is not afraid of the word “tax” and in fact knows well where those billions can come from – the wealthy whom Gov. Larry Hogan has kept shielded from supporting the state where they have become rich. Including its schools.

The potential struggle over education funding and policy, chair and former UMS chancellor Brit Kirwan said, needs “a credible accountability system” if misallocation of resources is not to continue. One common thread of the commission’s work, and its preliminary report, is the ease with which elites and already-powerful districts and their advocates have warped the equity provisions of the Thornton report in the year-by-year process of appropriations at the state and local level. Hogan’s advocacy of charters and private religious schools, though often held at bay, put more pressure on that system and necessitated the Kirwan effort to regain lost equity’

As the most recent debates indicate, the independence of decision-makers in education policy is critical to a really accountable outcome. Read on…


“Kirwan commission wrangles over who will oversee increased education funding, school reform” (Published Aug. 16, 2018)

/By Len Lazarick and Michael Jefferson <> For MarylandReporter.com/ As the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education moved closer to recommending billion-dollar increases in K-12 funding along with major structural changes, commission Chairman Brit Kirwan again stressed his repeated calls for accountability.

“This accountability has to be real and it has to have teeth,” said Kirwan, former chancellor of the university system. Kirwan said he has been advised by many people across the state that “without a credible accountability system,” the commission’s final recommendations are likely to fail.

The Commission’s Preliminary Report in January said that “meaningful portions of any new funding would be allocated to LEAs [local education agencies, the county school systems] based on solid evidence that the commission’s recommendations had been faithfully implemented and that they were producing demonstrable results.”

No consensus

The commissioners clearly showed there was no consensus on who or what would make sure their reforms were implemented to get the increased funds.

Kirwan suggested that a high level board like the newly created Education Development Collaborative or something similar oversee implementation.

The commissioners wrangled with the issue, but there was some agreement that that the current State Board of Education was not the body to do it.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, incoming chair of the Senate education committee, favored a body “not rooted in old relationships” with the county school systems. “I do think there should be a small body” but “I don’t want a whole new bureaucracy.”

Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice said he was not sure if the Education Development Collaborative or the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) would be better suited to oversee any new funding streams that the commission creates. He added that it would depend on the amount of funding and how much of the current funding formula changes under their recommendations.

Political control

David Steiner, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the state Board of Education, encouraged the commission to pursue a high level board that would be able to distribute funding without political oversight from legislators who might prioritize their own political goals over what the commission recommends as being in the best interests of the state.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said “you need a stronger state board” that is able to avoid being politicized in ways that current structures such as MSDE and the state school board currently are. Madaleno noted that the most successful international school systems the commission has studied “have a very strong central agency.”

Commission members such as Budget Secretary David Brinkley, a former state senator, wanted to keep the legislature out of the process. But David Helfman, executive director of Maryland State Education Association, a union representing over 70,000 educators, argued that the state legislature should determine what entity receives the authority to distribute funding and he wanted the governor to have no say over a new agency. Over the objections of Helfman’s union, Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed state board members who favor charter and private schools, and he vetoed a bill to add educators to the school board.

Joy Schaefer on the Frederick County board of education emphasized that the commission was recommending major changes in how teachers were recruited, trained and compensated, as well as social services for at-risk students, so any new oversight board needed to look beyond just the local school board. “If you want to change the system, you have to change the system,” not just tinker with the current set up. “The burden shouldn’t just be on the LEAs,” Schaefer said.  

After the long discussion with no clear consensus, Kirwan said, “We have a lot of work to do to get this right.”


Len Lazarick, editor/publisher of Maryland Reporter, has been a close follower of the Kirwan Commission’s work since it was created in 2016.