“Maryland Schools Are OK, But They Could Be Better”

Second public hearing draws educators, parents, students, administrators

Washington County educators attended the Western Maryland Kirwan Commission Public Hearing on September 29. Jim Rossi, third from left, and Neil Becker, center, made presentations to the Commission. Read excerpts below.

In opening the Western Maryland listening session — the second of four scheduled — Kirwan Commission chair Brit Kirwan, former chancellor of the University of Maryland, said, “Maryland schools are okay, but they could be better. The commission is looking not only at the funding formula but at ways Maryland schools can function at the same level as the best performing schools in the world. That is a very, very important part of what this commission is all about.” Those top rated schools are in Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Toronto; in the U.S., Massachusetts is the number one ranking system.

The Kirwan Commission Meets the Public
At a series of public hearings, the Kirwan Commission looks to the public as it prepares recommendations for a new…mseanewsfeed.com

It could easily be said that the one informs the other — last year, national school funding experts found Maryland schools to be underfunded by $2.9 billion (about $2 million per school in the state). In Western Maryland, school systems are grappling with challenging numbers — in Washington County, 52% of students receive FARMs and just one in three enter kindergarten ready to learn; in Frederick County, ESOL students have increased 225% since 2002, and FARMs students have doubled to 27%.

With adequate and equitable funding and resources, the concerns and needs of Maryland schools could be met — raising and meeting the expectations for educators, schools, students, families, and communities.

At the listening session, educators, parents, and students turned out to share their priorities with commissioners, including strong pleas for dedicated pre-k and kindergarten programs and flexible and broad programs of study to prepare every student for success.

Educators found support in areas ranging from paying teachers professional-level salaries — teachers are leaving Frederick for Montgomery County where, as one speaker noted, his wife increased her yearly salary by $42,000 — to pleas for a return to well-rounded curriculums that include the arts, history, civics, and more.

Here are some excerpts from the testimonies of educators, parents, and advocates:

Jim Rossi, Washington County middle school social studies teacher and International Baccalaureate Programme Coordinator: “I call for the Commission to recommend more funding for professional development in the field of trauma informed care. I have students who have witnessed their parents being shot, stabbed, and abused. Some of my students have been exposed to the horrors of human sex trafficking.

“I’ve had the opportunity to participate in trauma-informed care training and I have experienced the positive benefits of this approach with my students. It is essential for more teachers to be trained and given the same tools.”

Tomas Reyna, Frederick County 11th grade student: “Work must be done to prepare students for jobs they want. Why push standardized testing, which is rarely accurate, when students can prepare for a certification for those who want to go into IT, or more lab projects for students interested in the sciences. All the time eaten up by unnecessary required classes or standardized tests could be used for special programs to give specialized classes and instruction.

“Colleges and jobs look for experience and by providing this, we lessen the gap between great test takers and equally promising students.”

Neil Becker, parent and president of the Washington County Teachers Association: “Schools are providing foundational skills for three- and four-year-olds more than ever, but state and federal agencies are not funding pre-k. The Kirwan Commission can fix that. The return on investment for these youngest learners and their families reaps dividends for decades.”

Tomas Reyna and Logan Ojard with Brit Kirwan, chair of the Kirwan Commission. The Frederick County students added their comments to those of educators and the public

Jonathan Araujo, Frederick County high school English teacher: “Please consider the wisdom in the requests of my students as you make your final recommendations — they had varied and insightful thoughts:

Ryan Nicotra, Maryland arts in education advocate: “A researcher from UCLA found that greater involvement in the arts led to higher academic performance, increased test scores, more volunteerism, and lower dropout rates even among the students form the poorest neighborhoods.”

Logan Ojard, Frederick County 12th grade student: “I have found that our AP classes have issues with overcrowding in classrooms. The College Board recommends that every student do their own lab work or a maximum of two [work together]. In my AP chemistry class, we have four to a lab. We have 30 students in one AP class and 33 in another. We can get only get so much of the one-on-one time we need.”

Evan West, former educator, parent, and MSEA UniServ director in Allegany and Garrett counties: “Educating students must be a cooperative undertaking and pay-for-performance and merit pay undermine that effort. A much sounder approach is to increase base pay to a level that is comparable to other professions with similar educational requirements and reducing stressors such as workload, class size, and poorly conceived accountability schemes.