On January 27, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee hosted State Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury to discuss the current status Maryland students as education continues in the context of COVID-19. Choudhury also discussed implications of poverty on student success.
During the January 27 briefing, State Superintendent Choudhury presented data showing the impact of pandemic learning on Maryland’s public education. Notably, according to data, Maryland’s students have dropped in proficiency in most subjects analyzed. Data show that prior to COVID-19, students were significantly more proficient in algebra, math, and science.
Notably, efficiency baselines have dropped across the board for all demographics. Choudhury said that we’re at a new baseline, have to accept it, and “get to work.” He emphasized that we have to decelerate our work to close the gaps developed under the pandemic and that “normal” work will not suffice.
Maryland’s “COVID gap” is not a unique problem; jurisdictions around the country are find themselves tackling under-performance resulting from the pandemic oddity of hybrid teaching and its multitude of challenges that’s hit students, school staff, and families.
Working Toward Equitable Public Education
He also noted that a lot of the work to do is built on pre-pandemic work that the State Department of Education was progressing toward, namely equity and opportunity work to close demographic gaps in performance. This work is needed even more now, said Choudhury. He pitched the committee one strategy of the Department to do so: Using Neighborhood Indicators of Poverty. He also illustrated how some counties experience large levels of high-concentration of poverty, while others experience more limited pockets of poverty.
To illustrate his argument that the State needs to further support students coming from high concentrations of poverty, Choudhury presented data on the depth of poverty in each school system. In the graphic below, Tier 5, or red colored portions, indicate the deepest concentration of poverty.
He then walked through his approach of using Census blocks to analyze concentration of poverty at the community-level, which he used to emphasize that “housing policy is education policy,” and that Maryland should consider a more community-centered approach to address student opportunity. He then pitched a model he enacted as State Superintendent of Texas, under which school jurisdictions serving disproportionately Tier 4 and 5 neighborhoods of high concentration poverty received significant additional State funding, with no localized financial obligation. This included financial incentives for teachers and career ladder staff working in these districts.
Implications for Maryland
Notably, Chair Pinsky noted that some of the Texas model discussed mirrors aspects of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Choudhury emphasized that “we need to think about how we’re looking at poverty and how we’re doling out resources.” He urged the legislators to think about more measures of poverty beyond FARMS data while implementing concentrations of poverty grants.
He also urged legislators to consider further financial incentives for educators and school staff working in jurisdictions with higher concentrations of poverty, beyond those offered in the Blueprint.
Chair Pinsky closed the briefing highlighting the $125 million in concentration of poverty grants missing from the Governor’s proposed budget, largely aimed at Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. The Administration is currently requesting an Attorney General’s position to determine whether or not that portion of the Blueprint’s funding mandate is legally binding. Superintendent Choudhury echoed concerns, but offered that federal funding might be able to close the gap in the meantime.