Creating a High-Performing State Education System

The Maryland Blueprint

The Maryland legislature has passed a revolutionary piece of legislation aimed at transforming the state’s education system— the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The legislation was informed by research conducted by NCEE on the policies and practices of top-performing education systems. The process Maryland used provides a model for other states interested in building an education system that matches the best in the world on student achievement, equity and efficiency.

Why Maryland Decided on System-Level Reform

For years, Maryland maintained a national reputation for having a high-performing education system. In 2002, the state legislature made major investments in education funding based on recommendations produced by the Thornton Commission. In 2016, the Maryland legislature established the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education to review and revise that funding formula and make policy recommendations that would enable Maryland’s students to perform at the level of students in the best-performing systems in the world.

The Commission, known as the Kirwan Commission for its chair William “Brit” Kirwan, asked NCEE to help them understand how Maryland’s education system compared to top-performing U.S. states and international jurisdictions. The Commission learned that, despite Maryland’s reputation, students performed in the middle of the pack among U.S. states. They also learned that in many cases, the U.S. itself performed in the middle among other countries on international assessments of learning. In some countries, students were graduating from high school three or four years ahead of the average U.S. student. The members of the Commission understood that the state’s economy and the ability of its residents to thrive in the future was at risk. Small tweaks and silver bullet solutions had proven insufficient. It was time to take a hard look at how other countries had taken a systemic approach to improve their education systems with equity, and to apply those lessons to the Maryland context.

Learn more about how U.S. students stack up against the world’s best.

multiracial students standing in a row

Learning from the Best—The Essential Components of Top-Performing Systems


The path taken by the Commission was inspired in part by the National Council of State Legislature’s (NCSL) seminal report, No Time to Lose, which investigated top-performing education systems around the world in order to develop an agenda to improve education systems in the United States. NCEE supported the NCSL study group in their work to understand the successful policies and practices of the world’s top education performers with equity and efficiency, how those policies and practices compared to policies and practices in U.S. states and drafted its report.

Influenced by the NCSL study group’s work, the Maryland Governor and state legislature charged the Commission not only with modernizing its education funding formula, but also with learning from top-performing education jurisdictions to guide the its work.

For more information on the research that informed both NCSL’s No Time to Lose report and the Commission, see what NCEE’s research and analysis have found to be the essential elements of high-performing education systems.

Applying the Lessons Learned in Maryland

With the support of NCEE, who served as the Kirwan Commission’s lead policy consultant, the Commission examined the policies and practices of top-performing systems to see how they attained high levels of achievement and equity and how these policies and practices could be adapted to Maryland’s context. NCEE conducted a “gap analysis” that compared Maryland’s education system with those of the top-performing education systems based upon the common elements of education systems around the world whose students perform at high levels, and are equitable and efficient. These findings informed the Commission’s final recommendations, including:

  • Greatly expanding access to high-quality, full-day preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds;
  • Raising the status of the teaching profession by strengthening teacher education, raising teacher pay to be comparable to professions requiring similar levels of education and training, and creating an educator career ladder that rewards educators for their expertise and leadership roles and responsibilities;
  • Setting a new college and career readiness standard that students can meet as early as grade 10;
  • Providing substantial increases in funding for social services, before- and after-school and summer academic programs, and school-based health services for students who need it the most; and
  • Creating an Accountability and Implementation Board that has the authority to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations are successfully implemented and produce the desired results.

Learn more about the legislation passed by the Maryland legislature.

Learn more about the history of the initiative or contact NCEE to learn how we can help your state match the success of Maryland and top-performing systems.