The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion To improve education, Maryland should embrace the Kirwan Commission report

Fourth-graders Saba Getahun, left, and Keyli Catsro work together on a science assignment at William Tyler Page Elementary School in Silver Spring on Jan. 24, 2017.
Fourth-graders Saba Getahun, left, and Keyli Catsro work together on a science assignment at William Tyler Page Elementary School in Silver Spring on Jan. 24, 2017. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The March 10 editorial “Maryland can’t spend its way to better schooling” dismissed the Kirwan Commission report. But by what criteria have prior increases in education funding been “ineffective”? Perhaps they were not as effective as hoped, but we can’t really know.

As a long-serving school board member (nine years as chair of both the budget and labor negotiation committees) in a small Maine city where our budget each year had to receive voter approval, I came to understand the relationship between money and quality. There are four essential ingredients to a good school: resources, leadership by the principal and others in administration, teachers and supportive parental involvement.

Why assume that more money for education, including teacher salaries, necessarily takes away from other state services? Let the Maryland legislature and voters decide their priorities. Introducing the canard of “administrative bloat” fails to grasp that accountability costs money. The argument that children and parents should have choices suggested a covert argument for charter schools.

John Marshall, Washington

We have been active participants in Maryland’s Kirwan Commission for the past two years, as well as members of the State Board of Education. While we have some documented differences with the commission’s recent report, we believe its package of recommendations, taken as a whole, would deeply transform Maryland’s primary-secondary education and would go a long way toward turning it into a world-class system.

We would like the plan to include more school choice. We would like the state to have greater authority to intervene in persistently failing schools. And we believe the taxpayer’s interests could have been taken into account more forcefully.

Yet this is no “Thornton Commission.” No policy initiative is without risks, but if legislators support the report’s accountability measures, provide the resources and stay the course with the sweeping changes, there is reason to expect a sea change in Maryland’s educational practices and outcomes: more effective supports for flailing students; bona fide high school pathways pointing toward remediation-free college and life-sustaining careers; teachers whose preparation, compensation and career prospects will lead abler individuals to enter and remain in this honorable profession. And because of this, significantly higher academic outcomes for our students. 

We urge another look and hope The Post will encourage lawmakers to implement the Kirwan recommendations in full.

Chester E. Finn Jr., Washington

The writer is a distinguished senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

David Steiner, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.

The March 10 editorial “Maryland can’t spend its way to better schooling” misrepresented the history of school funding in Maryland and the state of education research. The evidence is clear that rebuilding Maryland’s investments in education would strengthen the state’s economy. The time has come for policymakers to act.

Maryland made significant progress in supporting education in the early 2000s. After a state commission recommended school funding standards based on the state’s achievement expectations, policymakers brought the number of districts at or near these standards from four in 2002 to 23 in 2008. State assessment scores rose during these years, especially in districts that primarily serve low-income students and students of color.

Unfortunately, the state responded to post-recession revenue shortfalls by chipping away at cost-adjusted school funding. By 2015, only six districts were close to state funding standards. The majority of black students attended a district that was underfunded by 15 percent or more. Little has changed since then.

The Kirwan Commission presents an opportunity to change course. Research designed to isolate the impact of funding increases shows that when schools have the resources they need, students have a better chance of succeeding in the classroom and later in life. Maryland should not pass up this opportunity.

Benjamin Orr, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy.