Kirwan Commission Charts Path Forward

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting today in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, the Commission heard testimony on Maryland’s ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) Consolidated State Plan, discussed how Maryland’s education system compares to top performing systems, and discussed the Commission’s plan moving forward.

ESSA, a federal law passed in December 2015 that governs K-12 public education policy, was the first topic of discussion. According to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), the purpose of ESSA “is to provide all students the opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

Mary Gable and Dana Shaw, both from MSDE,  discussed recent adjustments to Maryland’s draft ESSA plan, including a summative rating system, the definition of chronic absenteeism, an expansion of “credit for completion of a well-rounded curriculum” at the high school level, the selection of indicators to identify Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) schools, the addition of talented students as a student group, and a commitment to the addition of early childhood growth to the accountability system.

Several Commissioners expressed concerns with the draft plan. MSDE assured the Commission that it has and will continue to engage stakeholders in the ESSA Consolidated State Plan development and implementation.

The Commission heard testimony from Marc Tucker, President and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Mr. Tucker presented a gap analysis of Maryland’s public education system and top performing systems throughout the world. According to Mr. Tucker, “unlike most top performers, neither Maryland nor other states have comprehensive long-range plans for their education systems, with measurable goals, clear strategies for achieving them laid out in explicit sequential steps, and milestones and measures for gauging progress.”

Mr. Tucker also pointed out that “accountability in the United States falls mostly on the teachers and principals in the schools, whereas in the top performers it falls at least as much on the students and the people who run the system.” Mr. Tucker recommends that the Commission consider whether Maryland should establish a government body with senior executive responsibility for education to coordinate with other state agencies, including those related to economic development.

Other recommendations from Mr. Tucker include simplifying the education accountability system in Maryland, redesigning the accountability system to provide strong incentives for teachers and school administrators who improve their performance, putting less emphasis on evaluation of school personnel for the purpose of removing poor performers, putting more emphasis on implementing systems in which strong school faculty hold weak school faculty accountable for their performance, and using inspection teams instead of algorithms to determine which schools are underperforming and deciding what should be done to improve their performance.

Mr. Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) joined the Commission from Paris via Skype to give a presentation on the PISA (Programme for International Student Development) Survey. The PISA Survey is a triennial international survey which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.

During his analysis of the most recent survey, Mr. Schleicher concluded that “money matters much less than you think. Incentive structures, accountability, and high expectations matter much more.” Additionally, Mr. Schleicher stressed the importance of resources being aligned with needs, and emphasized that the quality of educators is more important than the number of hours students spend in the classroom.

Prior to adjournment, Chairman Kirwan sought input from Commission members and staff on how to best move forward and complete their work by the end of December. Several Commissioners expressed concerns over whether the current schedule provides enough time to discuss the numerous funding and policy recommendations. Chairman Kirwan is working with Commission staff to iron out a schedule that will provide enough time for a comprehensive review of all testimony and proposals.

The Commission’s next meeting will focus on reviewing current funding formulas, discussing policy and fiscal recommendations, and developing funding strategies for any potential fiscal or policy recommendations.

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 Wednesday, September 14, 2017; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Click here to view today’s meeting materials.

For more information, contact Kevin Kinnally at MACo.