Calvert educators address Kirwan Commission
Members will later inform new education policy across Maryland
Hundreds of stakeholders in Maryland education from across the state convened in Upper Marlboro on Oct. 25 to urge the Kirwan Commission to keep a number of items in mind as it begins to formulate recommendations to present to the state delegation on how to more equitably fund public education and ensure school policies are properly accommodating students.
The 25-member Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, better known as the Kirwan Commission, was formed in June 2016 to review and assess current education financing formulas and accountability measures and make policy recommendations, so Maryland students can perform at their optimal levels. The commission is headed by William E. “Brit” Kirwan, former
chancellor and CEO of the University of Maryland.
The Kirwan Commission is preceded by the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence, also known as the Thornton Commission, which has governed education funding in Maryland for the past 15 years. Alvin Thornton, the head of this commission, was in attendance for the Oct. 25 public forum at Largo High School.
Last week’s forum was the final one held by the commission to garner public input regarding its recommendations to the General Assembly. Sixty people signed up to speak during the forum, many of whom represented Southern Maryland. Forums were also held in Stevensville, Frederick and Baltimore over the last two months.
Attendees were distributed “YES” cards, which were held up high when speakers mentioned something they agreed with. Many members of the Calvert Education Association (CEA), the union representing the county’s public school teachers, rode a bus to Largo High and were coordinated in red shirts depicting phrases like “educators lead ’18” and “this is our moment.” Other Calvert organizations represented at the hearing included the Calvert school board and the Calvert branch of the NAACP.
“We are in the stage where we are just beginning to formulate our recommendations for the report so the timing of this session could not be better. We are very much in mode of getting things in on paper and getting our recommendations in place so your constellations will be into that process,” Kirwan told attendees before introducing the other 14 commission members in attendance.
Among the speakers during public comment was superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools Daniel Curry, who stressed the importance of student growth over student efficiency and the value of collaborative planning for teachers. “YES” cards were held in the air throughout Curry’s testimony, followed by a loud applause.
Lee Reed of Closing the Gap Coalition of Calvert County described the county’s demographics and reminded the commission of the diversity of Maryland’s public school systems. Reed described the need in assisting needy and disadvantaged children to ensure they receive the same resources as others and leave CCPS college and career ready.
After scores of speakers, CEA members were allotted the opportunity to address the commission. Member-at-large and Patuxent High School social studies teacher Nancy Crosby woke the audience with chants at the start of her testimony.
“We’re really feeling a little tired out here, so I ask all supporters of public education to please stand up. When I say Kirwan, you say funding!” Crosby exclaimed, as the audience shouted back in response. “When I say kids, you say need it!”
Crosby noted that she sees the effects of the underfunding of public education and the lack of resources. She said she has seen “teachers work for years without any pay increases and ever-increasing workloads, resulting in plummeting teacher morale.”
“My county may have a high median income, but there are truly poor children who attend my school. We have families in crisis due to addiction issues, unemployment, under-employment, homelessness, insecure immigration statuses and abuse,” Crosby told the commission. “To ensure equity, public education must be generously funded, so that all students can have equal access to educational supports.”
Barstow Elementary School second-grade teacher and CEA member Betty Goldstein described the issues she sees in the materials shortage in her school and how the shift in classroom setting has worsened the issue.
“At the end of last year, the county decided to return to a traditional classroom setting for first and second grades, where students would stay with one teacher all day. My primary purpose for raising this is to note that the shift caused the material shortage that had been endured by two or three teachers became a desperate material shortage endured by four to five teachers,” she said.
Goldstein specifically described a box of materials five teachers — who all teach science at the same time every day — are sharing to teach a science unit that works with fossils. She said she has had to fill the gap in some areas and buy supplies for her second-grade students out of her own pocket.
“There is a huge difference between a government-funded classroom and a teacher-funded classroom and the differences are glaring and significant. Education becomes less of an equalizer when classrooms are not offering equal access to materials,” Goldstein said.
President of the Education Association of Charles County Linda McLaughlin spoke about a lack of equitable access to textbooks and technology in various Charles County schools. She said not only are more resources needed, but also more trained staff.
“When they have to take a standardized test on a desktop or laptop computer, students are lost because they haven’t practiced on one,” McLaughlin said, questioning how students can succeed on standardized assessments if they don’t know how to work the technology.
Some of the other recurring issues mentioned throughout last week’s testimonies included smaller class sizes, universal pre-K education, less testing, wraparound services for students and more of a focus on students who speak English as a second language.
At a General Assembly House Appropriations Committee meeting in Annapolis earlier last Wednesday, Kirwan announced the commission would not have the funding recommendations complete to submit to the delegation in December for the 2018 General Assembly. He said the commission does not have enough time to determine the costs of its recommendations or come up with suggestions for paying for them before the start of the upcoming legislative session.
“What we are charged to do is of such monumental importance for the state that will impact generations of students to come, and quite frankly, we’re asked to do something no other state has ever done before. So if it takes up to another six months or whatever to do this properly, it is time well spent,” Kirwan told his fellow commission members.
Kirwan said the commission will get as much work done as possible in its final four meetings this year before creating a workgroup to meet with legislative staff and consultants to determine how much each of the recommendations would cost the state. Some of the recommendations Kirwan said the commission is proposing are an increase in funding for teacher planning, universal pre-K, a revamped pay structure for educators and a formula for more equitable education funding.
Carina McDaniel, french teacher at Mill Creek Middle School, gives testimony to the Kirwan Commission during its public forum last week.