Kirwan Commission Reconvenes, Focuses on Attracting and Retaining High Quality Teachers

After a brief hiatus in honor of the 2017 Maryland legislative session, the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education met today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission today focused on high-quality teaching and school leadership development.

Maryland schools are having difficulty retaining experienced teachers during their first few years in the profession. Maryland’s education system may suffer from early career departures of its teachers, depleting the system of needed professional expertise.

The Commission heard testimony from Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, who discussed teacher compensation in Maryland. Mr. Tucker noted that starting pay for teachers in top-performing countries is typically at the top of the civil service scale and higher than or equal to beginning engineers, accountants, and registered nurses. However, in Maryland, the difference between the average pay of teachers and engineers is 41%, between teachers and accountants is 21%, and between teachers and registered nurses is 10%.

The Commission acknowledged that recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers is crucial for providing a world-class  K-12 education in Maryland, and seemed amenable to the idea of closing the pay gap between teachers and other similar professions.

The CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises testified on teacher career pathways, a Baltimore City program aimed at rewarding and recognizing teachers and education professionals excelling in their field, both in terms of student outcomes and teacher practices. The program is centered around “Achievement Units (AUs),” which eliminates pay increases based on advanced degrees and instead looks at courses and other professional development activities that correlate to teacher practice and student achievement.

Educators in all content areas and grade levels can earn AUs through the following categories: evaluation, external learning, professional development activities, and professional activities. Dr. Santelises noted that for teachers, the program provides greater opportunities to strengthen their professional practice in order to increase student achievement, chart their own career paths, recognizes and rewards outstanding work, and helps to ensure that every student succeeds. For City Schools as a whole, the program provides the ability to attract and retain excellent educators, the ability to truly engage teachers in leading the transformation of the district, expansion of excellent instruction across the district’s programs and schools, excellent instruction that leads to excellent student achievement, and entrepreneurial opportunities to support unique student needs.

The Commission applauded Dr. Santelises and the teacher career pathways program, which could be part of the Commission’s recommendations for attracting and retaining high-quality teachers in Maryland.

The 2016 Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created by legislation introduced in the General Assembly. The Commission membership parallels that of the earlier Thornton Commission. MACo is entitled to two representatives on the Commission, under the legislation.

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair, and Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Vice Chair, represent MACo on the Commission.

The Commission’s next meeting will be held on Monday, June 1, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.