On Tuesday, after working night and day against a new deadline imposed by the threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Maryland legislature passed by a large margin the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a historic bill containing a massive redesign of the state’s education system.
The bill is intended to implement the recommendations of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by William “Brit” Kirwan, better known as the Kirwan Commission. When it began its work, the Commission believed that Maryland had one of the best education systems in the United States and the world. But it quickly found out that the performance of the average Maryland high school student is about the same as that of the average student in the United States as a whole and is years behind the performance of the typical high school student in the top performing countries, even though Maryland is one of the richest states in the union.
The Commission members, realizing that Maryland students will compete in the global workforce with students who are far better educated and charge much less for their labor, concluded that Maryland’s future depends on doing whatever is necessary to educate all of Maryland’s students to global standards if they are going to succeed in our highly complex, deeply technological environment. No less important, the Commission realized that the future for Maryland’s employers would be bleak without a workforce that could compete with the workforces available to employers in other states and countries all over the world.
The Commission spent three years carefully studying the policies and practices used by the countries with the best education systems and built their recommendations around what they had learned. The bill passed last night reshapes Maryland school finance to provide much more support to students living in concentrated poverty, a wide array of social services to the families of disadvantaged students and high-quality early childhood education to many more preschoolers. It raises the pay of teachers and requires them to meet higher standards to become educators. It establishes careers in teaching and makes advancement in those careers contingent on a teachers’ skills. It contains a thorough redesign of Maryland’s high schools that includes the potential for completing a whole two-year college degree in high school, taking a program of Advanced Placement courses or an International Baccalaureate program or completing a demanding vocational program leading to a credential that employers will honor with an attractive salary. It includes a redesigned employer-based vocational education and training program based on those in use in Singapore and Switzerland, the world’s leaders in vocational education. Not least, it includes a tough accountability system designed to make sure that the new money that goes to schools and districts is used to implement the very strategies used by the top-performing countries to become as effective as they are.
The components of the plan are not a collection of silver bullet solutions. They are designed to work in harmony with each other as component parts of a smoothly working system of the kind that is found in the countries with the most effective education systems in the world. Just as in a high-performance automobile or airplane, each component works very well but the performance of the whole is really a function of the way they fit together.
NCEE is very proud to have served as the lead policy consultant to the Commission, providing the research it used and the recommendations the Commission considered as it made its recommendations. We are confident that, if these recommendations are fully implemented, Maryland students will perform as well as any in the world, the enormous gap that now exists between Maryland’s top-performing students and those who perform least well will be much, much smaller and, after the transition from the current system to the new one has been accomplished, the new high-performance system will cost little more than the current system. We can be confident of these outcomes because we are not theorizing or guessing. These are the very outcomes that the countries that have pursued the strategies embraced in this legislation are using.