‘Silly,’ ‘trivial,’ ‘stupid’
Our view: It shouldn’t take a world-class physicist to recognize the gravity of Governor Hogan’s Labor Day edict
The letter submitted this week by the vice president of the Maryland State Board of Education who resigned in protest of Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive orders requiring a post-Labor Day start of the school year should be required reading for anyone whogives a damn about public education in this state. S. James Gates Jr., the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park and a world-renowned expert on particle physics, nails it on the head when he frets not only about the adverse impact Mr. Hogan’s orders will have on the quality of schools but the frightening precedent they establish that educational policy will henceforth be set not by an independent school board but by gubernatorial edict.
This is not some political hack, some big donor rewarded with a seat on the state school board by Gov. Martin O’Malley. This is a National Medal of Science winner who serves on the council advising President Barack Obama on matters of science and technology and holds a Ph.D. from MIT. He looks at matters as any responsible researcher does — carefully assessing the observable facts and drawing conclusions based on the evidence.
Now contrast that to Governor Hogan’s recent appearance before the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce with Comptroller Peter Franchot that featured the two professional politicos yucking it up about how the decision wasn’t “controversial at all.” Here are the words Maryland’s governor used to describe the arguments against his executive order: silly, trivial, stupid and nonsense. And local school board members? They are “whiny.” He even took some shots at The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board during this Donald Trump impression, misrepresenting the newspaper’s argument and calling it “nuts.”
Maryland’s leading bromantic couple have offered two principal reasons for forcing the school year to start later than most actual school boards have considered prudent — to boost tourism, specifically in Ocean City, and because it polls well. They have never suggested, not for one instant, that it will have a positive effect on the quality of public education in this state, which is, perhaps, the real scandal of this nonsensical debate.
As Professor Gates notes in his resignation letter — and as anyone who has actually bothered to research this issue can attest — the late start to schools has the potential to hurt both low-income students living in the most at-risk circumstances by expanding the summer learning loss, and high-achieving students who are losing opportunities to prepare themselves for college. As we have written in this space before, simply maintaining Maryland’s 180-day rule doesn’t cut it for Advanced Placement students who face test deadlines as early as May1. If their teachers can’t cover all the material before the tests, these students could lose out on college credits potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars. Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot make no pretense that their drive for post-Labor Day school starts is about education.
Governor O’Malley may have supported the 18-member commission that recommended a post-Labor Day school start, but that work group was biased from the start. Not only did representatives of business, the General Assembly and parents outnumber educators by a 2-to-1 margin, but three of four lawmakers on the panel had previously sponsored legislation mandating a post-Labor Day start. In any event, the group did not recommend that Mr. O’Malley or any governor issue an order; it clearly anticipated a legislative response — and bills were subsequently introduced but then failed to make it out of committee. That’s how democracy works.
Meanwhile, as local school boards scramble to design calendars to meet Mr. Hogan’s edict, it’s clear one of the “trivial” losses may be religious holidays. In Baltimore County, for instance, the board may cancel its traditional day off for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. That shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Worcester County, the only Maryland system that currently opens all schools after Labor Day, doesn’t give students that day off either.
The governor is right that what day schools open isn’t the most pressing issue facing this state. More distressing is the precedent Mr. Hogan’s action sets in establishing education policy by gubernatorial whim regardless of the consequences. As Mr. Gates observes, “with this directive, the state of Maryland will risk losing in the future its national standing of having one of the country’s best education systems.” That concern is not trivial, silly or stupid — it’s what ought to matter to a governor far morethan an extra weekend on the beach for those who can afford it.