Archives for category: Maryland

Andy Smarick, a prominent figure in the conservative think-tank world, has been chosen by his colleagues as president of the Maryland State Board of Education. He was appointed to the board by Republican Governor Larry Hogan. Maryland, once a blue state, has been turning conservative since Hogan’s election.

Smarick is known for his belief that low-performing schools can’t be turned around and that they should be “relinquished” to private operators. In his book “The Urban School System of the Future,” he lays out his vision of a portfolio district, in which public schools disappear, replaced by a dazzling array of charters.

Smarick worked in the George W. Bush administration. He was also briefly deputy superintendent of education in New Jersey. He is a fellow at the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a member of the staff at Andrew Rotherham’s Bellwether Education Partners.

In 2010, when he was appointed in New Jersey, Jersey Jazzman summed up his resume, which is solidly in the anti-public school camp.

The Maryland State Board of Education voted to make PARCC the state’s high school graduation test. The passing score now will be a 3 on a scale of 1-5, but it will rise to a 4 in four years.

Meanwhile the State Commissioner of Education on Rhode Island, Ken Wagner, decided to drop PARCC as a graduation requirement because he knew the failure rate would be staggering. He said he didn’t want to penalize students for the system’s “failure to get them to high standards.”

Nobody mentioned that PARCC’s passing score is absurdly high and will never be reached by about half of all students.


The Maryland state board violated the first rule of educational testing: Tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. PARCC was not designed to be a high school graduation test. It was designed to test mastery of the Common Core. Its passing marks were set so high that most of the 24 states that adopted PARCC have now dropped it, and only six states and D.C. still use it.


What will Maryland do with the thousands of students who will never earn a high school diploma? Did anyone think about that? You can be certain that most of them will be students with disabilities, English language learners, and children who live in high poverty. There is one loophole: students can create a project that is approved by their teachers and administrators.


The only objection to the new Maryland plan came from the ACLU, which said that there was no evidence that the PARCC raises achievement. Read that again slowly. No test raises achievement. Tests measure how well students do on a standardized test. They don’t improve students’ ability to pass standardized test.


Down the rabbit-hole in Maryland, where the legislature recently voted to approve vouchers, assuring that students may go to religious schools that teach creationism, orthodox Judaism, Catholic doctrine, and Islam.



Liz Bowie writes in the Baltimore Sun:



The new standard means students will not be required to achieve what is considered the national passing score until the 2019-2020 school year.


Thousands of students across the state will struggle to meet even that lowered standard. In 2015, 42 percent of Maryland students who took the Algebra I exam and 39 percent of those who took the English 10 test scored less than a three.


If the standard had been in effect last year, more than half of Baltimore County’s students would not have passed the math test and 35 percent would not have passed the English test.


In Baltimore, 70 percent would not have passed the math exam and more than half would not have passed the English exam.
The Maryland State Education Association, which represents most of the state’s teachers, has not taken a position on the draft regulations. Cheryl Bost, the group’s vice president, said that while the union is “pleased there is a transition plan,” teachers are concerned about whether they will be able to give students the individual attention they need to pass the exams.


Thousands of students, education officials say, will be taking the tests multiple times to try to pass, and many will likely use a loophole that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge by doing a project that is approved by their teacher and other administrators.
With such a large percentage of students failing the exams, teachers will have many more students doing projects who they must work with individually.


Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance said he supports the phase-in approach.


But Bebe Verdery, the ACLU’s Maryland education director, objects to the high-stakes tests. Many states have repealed the tests, she said, because evidence does not show that they increase achievement.


“If the state board is going to persist in having high-stakes graduation exams, it is imperative they provide and guarantee high-quality instruction so that students have the opportunity to pass the test,” Verdery said.



Many of us read the Washington Post because of its excellent reporting and the blog written by Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet.


But its editorial pages are not a source of enlightenment about education. For the entire reign of the controversial Michelle Rhee as the D.C. schools chancellor, the editorial page of the Post defended her every move. It claimed success when there was none. In the eyes of the Post editorial board, Rhee could do no wrong. The fact that D.C. has the largest achievement gaps of any urban district in the nation seems to have eluded their gaze.


Now the Post has endorsed the recent legislation to start a voucher program in Maryland. It is a bizarre editorial. It suggests that “the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last April shone new light on the shortcomings of the public school system and the injustice that does.” Freddie Gray died in the back of a police van, where he was shackled and improperly restrained without a seat belt. Did his death say anything about “the shortcomings of the public school system”?  Would school vouchers have prevented his death or the unrest that followed? Freddie Gray’s death was caused by a broken neck; the broken neck was the result of negligence. If Maryland had offered school vouchers, would “the unrest” have not occurred? If Freddie Gray had gone to a parochial school, would the police have put a seat belt on him? I don’t understand the logic. Maybe someone could explain it. Certainly the Post doesn’t.


The editorial also errs in praising the D.C. voucher program. The final evaluation of the program found no academic gains; it found a higher graduation rate for students who persisted in the program, but also very high attrition rates. The students likeliest to see no academic gains were those attending SINI schools (Schools in Need of Improvement), for whom the program was created.


Voucher proponents have a hard time finding a model for future voucher programs. It is not Milwaukee or Cleveland or the District of Columbia. Vouchers have been promoted by the fringe right for more than half a century. They have the support of rightwing think tanks, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, ALEC, and red-state governors. The goal is to replace public education with a free market, and to rightwing ideologues, evidence is irrelevant. In North Carolina, for example, vouchers were recently adopted by the Tea Party legislature (the same one that just passed a law allowing discrimination against gay and transgender people). Voucher schools do not have to adopt state curriculum standards, are permitted to hire uncertified teachers, and do not have to administer state tests. They can use textbooks that teach creationism, and they are free to discriminate in selecting their students.


It is sad to see the Washington Post encouraging the diversion of public funds to religious schools for the nation’s neediest students.

The Democratic-controlled Maryland General Assembly approved a voucher program, despite the absence of evidence that vouchers produce better education and increase segregation.


A blogger called Education Alchemy wrote a post about some of the new board members in Maryland. Maryland used to be a reliably liberal state but it elected a Republican governor. He has moved swiftly to appoint conservatives to the State Board. The board will soon appoint a new state superintendent. The governor is pro-Common Core, pro-charter, pro-privatization.

Lillian Lowery stepped down as state superintendent in Maryland. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has now named six of the 11 members of the state board and will influence the choice of the next superintendent. His last two appointees were Andy Smarick and Chester Finn Jr., both conservatives and supporters of charter schools and the Common Core.

The article speculates that the Governor and state board might select Finn as state superintendent.

Josh Starr, as superintendent of Montgomery County, took a strong stand against high-stakes testing. He won national acclaim, including being named to the honor roll of this blog. Montgomery County has been a national model for its Peer Assistance and Review program for teacher evaluation, which does not include test scores. Despite all this, the Board did not renew his contract. Josh Starr recently became leader of Phi Delta Kappa International.

The school board has chosen Larry Bowers, the school system’s business manager, as its interim superintendent.

Meanwhile, Maryland–long a Democratic stronghold–elected a Republican governor, who recently appointed two people to the state board. They are, of course, supporters of charters and reformsters.

Peter Greene writes that Maryland’s new Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, wrote charter legislation to make more charters with minimal regulation, accountability or transparency.


His “bill would let charters hire and fire staff at will (Maryland’s charter teachers are actually employed by the local district). Teachers wouldn’t have to be certified. Charters would have more ability to pick and choose students. Charters would get more money per student and also get a shot at construction funding. Perhaps most importantly, charters would finally have a recourse if mean old local school boards turned them down; they would be able to appeal to the State Board of Education to override the decision of local elected officials.”


The Democratic-controlled legislature had qualms about unleashing free-market charters. It substantially watered down Hogan’s bill. The pro-privatization Center for Education Reform was very upset.


Even better, the legislature eliminated Hogan’s wish to authorize online charter schools in Maryland. This is a top priority for ALEC, as it allows for-profit corporations like K12 (which is active in ALEC) to make big money while producing poor results for students. Studies by CREDO in Pennsylvania (comparing public schools, charter schools, and virtual charter schools, of which the last was the worst) and by the National Education Policy Center, as well as investigations by the Bloomberg News, the New York Times and the Washington Post have found online charters to have terrible outcomes (low test scores, low graduation rates, high dropout rates). Yet every one of the privatization organizations quoted in this article bemoans the legislature’s failure to siphon money off to the for-profit, low-performing sector of virtual charters.


Score one for public education.