‘Silly,’ ‘triv­ial,’ ‘stupid’

Our view: It shouldn’t take a world-class physi­cist to rec­og­nize the grav­ity of Gov­er­nor Ho­gan’s La­bor Day edict

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

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.


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