All In: The Kirwan Commission’s Invaluable Impact on Education
I am passionate in my belief that public education is one of the pillars of democracy. It is essential that ALL children have access to rigorous learning opportunities beginning at a young age. In addition, we must ensure that we remove any barriers to learning that exist so that each child graduates from high school college- and career-ready. This has been the focus of my professional work for decades.
While Maryland has many excellent schools, many citizens, including myself, believe that our schools and school systems can and must do better. In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly established the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (also known as the Kirwan Commission) to develop policies and practices so that Maryland schools perform at levels commensurate with the world’s best systems. In addition, this 25-member commission was charged with developing cost estimates and updating the state funding formula to support its recommendations. The Commission produced its interim report in January 2019 and is currently developing the cost estimates.
The groundbreaking work of this Commission was based on data, and its importance to education in Maryland cannot be overstated. I am convinced that the recommendations have the potential to make a significant positive difference in student learning outcomes for all children in Maryland over the next decade.
While the five policy recommendations have significant depth, in summary, they are:
- Invest in early childhood education
- Transform teaching and school leadership into high-quality and high-status merit based professions
- Implement rigorous curricula, benchmarked to international standards and leading to college-ready and industry-certified workforce credentials
- Ensure all students are successful by providing significantly more support for schools that need it most, including students attending schools with high concentrations of poverty and struggling learners
- Establish a governance and accountability structure with meaningful consequences for under performance
The 2019 Maryland General Assembly embraced this policy framework in legislation called The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The Commission was asked to make recommendations by December 2019 on the division of costs between state and local jurisdictions; funding formulas to support the five recommendations; and an implementation schedule of the policy and funding recommendations.
While the potential from this work is immense, there are many threats to making these recommendations a reality. First, the five recommendations are pieces in a complex puzzle. It takes all five—implemented with fidelity—to make the picture a whole. No one recommendation is more important than the others as all five work together, in tandem. Each one forces improvements that are necessary to improve learning for all students. Take one away and success is diminished; the work of the Commission will likely be for naught. The teacher, support staff and administrator associations; superintendents; school board members; business partners; state and local parent advocacy groups; equity advocates and advocates for children must all make the case for full implementation with a unified message.
Second, I believe the most profound threat to the vision and work of the Commission will be to pass legislation that increases the financial burden to local communities that results in little or no positive change in student learning. The legislation must work for all school systems, large and small; and for all students, including English Language Learners, students with special learning needs, and students who live in poverty. It must be focused on student learning, not on the needs of adults. We will need a clear accountability framework that ensures excellence and equity. We need to ensure that learning gaps are closing and that progress is being made. To do this, it will take a broad-based and knowledgeable group of individuals who are deeply committed to the task of setting benchmarks and metrics to measure progress (or lack thereof) toward intended outcomes.
This is exciting work, but it is not yet done. We must push toward full implementation of the policy recommendations, as well as for clear outcomes we aim to achieve with this critical work. As always, the devil is in the details.
In the meantime, we in Montgomery County Public Schools continue to focus on our work to improve learning for all students in our schools. I am proud of the work we are doing with our Equity and Accountability Framework, which provides the purpose, path and plan to ensure success for all students. The work is urgent, and I am grateful to be part of a strong team committed to student success.