Could a New Governance Board Guide MD School Reforms?

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education held its most recent meeting yesterday in Annapolis. Known as the Kirwan Commission because it is chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan, much of yesterday’s meeting focused on creating a system of governance and accountability to coordinate, monitor, and evaluate the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission was originally set to complete its work in time for the 2018 session of the General Assembly, but last October asked for an extension when it became clear the deadline was not realistic. Prior to breaking for the 2018 legislative session, the Commission released a preliminary report detailing its preliminary recommendations.

While the preliminary report did call for a strong system of governance and accountability to oversee the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations, it did not provide specific recommendations on the structure, role, and authority of such a system.

The discussion was centered around a set of design assumptions – an outline of potential recommendations based on previous discussions – focused on three elements:

  • The creation of an Independent oversight body to coordinate, monitor, and evaluate the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations via a strategic plan, with the body ceasing to function at the end of the implementation period.
  • Formula funding designed so that some meaningful portion of the funding will be subject to the approval of specific plans to implement the recommendations and subject to demonstrated progress toward greater student success.
  • Inspection teams to visit struggling schools and pair high performing school leaders with struggling ones to provide support and mentorship, and a complementary system designed to provide the State with a profile for every school.

The Commission grappled with how to structure the oversight body within State government, as well as the role and authority of the oversight body relative to existing State agencies, such as the State Board of Education and local school boards. Perhaps the most controversial question is whether or not the oversight body should have authority to withhold new funding from jurisdictions that fail to implement the Commission’s recommendations in a timely manner. That authority currently rests with the State Board of Education.

Although it’s clear the Commission is nowhere near reaching a consensus on how to best hold the State and local jurisdictions accountable for following through on its recommendations, Dr. Kirwan is confident the group will be able to work out their differences over the next several meetings.

In other news, each of the Commission’s four working groups met to continue their work on developing a consensus on the design, implementation plan, and cost for each of the preliminary recommendations. Once the working groups have completed their work, they will present their recommendations and cost estimates to the full Commission. The chair will work with staff and consultants to develop a draft cost estimate based on the recommendations of the working groups (as considered by the full Commission) for the full Commission’s consideration.

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 Councilmember 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 Thursday, June 28, 2018; 9:30 am-5:30 pm, at 120 House Office Building (House Appropriations Committee Room), 6 Bladen Street, Annapolis, Maryland.

Materials from today’s meeting are available on the General Assembly website, and the meetings viewable online by searching the House Appropriations Committee room on the dates of each meeting.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

2017 Preliminary Report

Previous Conduit Street Coverage