MARYLAND GOV. Larry Hogan’s (R) refusal to endorse the state’s plan for a new system of school accountability could, critics say, jeopardize millions of dollars in federal education funding. No doubt there is such a risk. But don’t blame Mr. Hogan. The fault lies with Democratic lawmakers who rammed through legislation that gutted the state school board’s authority to set rigorous standards and spur school improvement. Mr. Hogan should be applauded for not going along with this sham. We hope Education Secretary Betsy DeVos follows suit and sends Maryland back to the drawing board.
Maryland is among more than 30 states set next week to turn in accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Submitting a plan is a condition for continuing to receive federal education aid. In a letter to Ms. DeVos, Mr. Hogan explained that the Maryland Board of Education could not craft an adequate plan under the “impossible circumstances” imposed by a state law enacted this year over Mr. Hogan’s veto and the objections of the school board. The Protect Our Schools Act was aptly named, as state school board member Chester E. Finn Jr. observed, because “it does nothing to protect needy, ill-educated children.” It diminishes focus on real academic achievement, bans the use of A-to-F letter grading systems for schools and prevents the state from taking certain actions to improve habitually low-performing schools.
Mr. Hogan’s signature is not required for state education officials to send the plan to the federal Education Department for review and approval, but its absence sends a powerful signal that, along with the refusal of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) to endorse his state’s plan, sets up something of a dilemma for Ms. DeVos. In replacing No Child Left Behind with Every Student Succeeds, Congress intentionally gave states increased flexibility. When federal education officials earlier this year raised objections to plans submitted by some states, there was pushback — including from Congress — that the department was undermining the law’s aim of letting the states call the shots. The result, as Education Week reported, was “fast and furious” approval for 13 states and the District, with only slight modifications in response to department feedback.
But now two governors — both Republicans — have taken high-profile positions on the inadequacy of their states’ plans in serving the educational interests of children. True, Congress put states in the driver’s seat in measuring performance and formulating remedies. But flexibility doesn’t have to stretch as far as undermining critical accountability systems with weakened and meaningless standards. Ms. DeVos has a chance to make that clear.