O'Malley Lays Out Plan to Improve Public Schools

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 2009; 12:55 PM

BALTIMORE, Feb. 24 -- Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley asked the State Board of Education on Tuesday to adapt its teaching focus and methods of tracking students' results to keep up with the global competition, saying the top-ranked state could not afford to rest on its laurels.

In his first visit to the school board since becoming governor in 2007, O'Malley (D) outlined a seven-point plan that included a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math courses; more emphasis on teacher and principal recruitment and retention; and a new program for tracking student performance from pre-kindergarten through the end of college.

The governor also urged the school board to extend career and technical education, increase readiness for college and tap into federal grants for new programs -- part of a broader goal of "leaving a legacy" by keeping students competitive in a global economy.

O'Malley congratulated education leaders on a January study in the Education Week trade journal that ranked the state's schools No. 1 in the country, but he said the state could not stop there.

"We should be striving, for the sake of our kids' future, to become the best public school system in the world," O'Malley said. "The rest of the world has been rapidly gaining and in many, many cases surpassing the United States of America in terms of the resources and skills that they provide to their people."

In a 2008 study of education by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes many of the world's largest economies, the United States ranked below average on a variety of indicators.

O'Malley's plans would be largely funded by the state and federal government, notwithstanding a severe national recession. State spending on local education has increased by nearly $2 billion annually -- 76 percent -- since the passage of the Bridge to Excellence Act in 2002. This year, the federal government has poured money into the economy to soften the recession's effect.

The result has been a budgetary roller coaster. In Prince George's County, for example, a late-breaking proposal to furlough employees for a week or more was dropped only three days because of the sudden influx of federal stimulus money.

O'Malley said leaders needed to perform a "hurry-up offense" to ensure the money is well spent: "The spending of the money, it needs to be on mission, it needs to be transformational, it needs to be leaving a legacy," he said.

Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, and the board's members said they were receptive to O'Malley's vision.

"I think the governor's message gives momentum to the efforts that we're making," Grasmick said.

Rosa M. Garcia, a board member, said educators should also focus on closing the gap between the performance of minority students and their white peers.

"As our state becomes more diverse, I think we should have a meaningful and honest discussion about how it is that we close the achievement gap," Garcia said. "I do think that with these record investments there needs to be accountability for how these subgroups are doing."

Dunbar Brooks, another board member, said he supported the idea of tracking an individual student's education from pre-kindergarten onward.

"I think it's sorely needed," he said. "There's a great disparity among the 24 school districts. . . . I may get into trouble for saying this, but we need to bring the 24 districts kicking and screaming into the 21st century."

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