Hogan calls for inquiry into suspected fraud in PG school system.
Hogan puts schools probe on right track
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for the state education board to investigate accusations of systemic corruption in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system.
In a letter Sunday to Andrew Smarick, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, Mr. Hogan directed the panel to “take immediate steps to begin a complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation into these allegations.”
“Any instances of fraud and corruption in the Maryland public school system certainly represents a state interest,” said Mr. Hogan, a Republican.
With 130,000 students, Prince George’s County is the state’s secondlargest school system, behind Montgomery County.
Four members of the Prince George’s County Board of Education called this month for an investigation of the school system’s authenticity of graduation rates. They suspect students’ graduation rates and grades have been inflated because of pressure by public schools CEO Kevin Maxwell.
On Monday, Mr. Maxwell said he looks “forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter.”
“From the beginning, I have maintained that politics lie at the root of these accusations,” Mr. Maxwell said in a written statement. “There has been no systemic effort to promote students in Prince George’s County Public Schools who did not meet state graduation requirements in order to inflate our graduation rates.”
County Executive Rushern Baker III, who appointed Mr. Maxwell as the top schools administrator in 2013, extended his nearly $300,000-a-year contract in February by four years. It marked the first contract extension for a schools superintendent in about 25 years in the county.
During Mr. Maxwell’s tenure, the school system has endured a child sex abuse and pornography scandal involving more than a dozen elementary school students and the loss of more than $6 million in federal Head Start funds because of charges of abuse in at least three schools.
According to county schools statistics, the graduation rate for high school seniors rose from 74.1 percent, when Mr. Maxwell became CEO in 2013, to 81.4 percent last year.
The school system earlier this year reported that its graduation rate had risen by more than 2 percentage points in just one year.
In their letter to Mr. Hogan, county school board members Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed and student representative Juwan Blocker challenged the veracity of those statistics.
“What does it mean when your graduation rates are in the 90th percentile, yet your math and literacy scores are in single digits or the teens? It doesn’t add up,” Mr. Burroughs said.
Mr. Burroughs said he and the other board members who signed the letter remain confident that an investigation will begin soon because of the number of whistleblowers who have provided information.
“We heard from a lot of employees in the school district. Teachers, counselors and assistant principals at almost every level of the system,” said Mr. Burroughs. “We had people who wanted to come forward, telling us that we had either graduated students who did not meet the state requirement for education, or their grades were changed without the knowledge of teachers — in order to graduate students.”
In his letter to the State Board of Education, Mr. Hogan said those whistleblowers will receive full protection under the law.
The governor also is taking into account concerns from “other state and local officials,” as well as those voiced by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse during his appearance on Fox 5. Mr. Muse, Prince George’s County Democrat, said many parents had asked for answers about the accusations but received none.
“Ensuring that all Maryland children have access to a world-class education is a top priority of my administration,” Mr. Hogan wrote, “and I am deeply troubled by these allegations regarding one of our school systems.”
Maryland’s probe into whether Prince George’s County administrators, teachers and others changed students’ grades and credits to boost graduation rates is no small undertaking.
Currently, fraud and corruption are the chief allegations.
Indeed, Prince George’s graduation rates have risen dramatically. In 2013 the rate was 74.1 percent, and in 2016 it was 81.4 percent — a 2 percent increase over last year. For instance, the rate at Surrattsville High School in Clinton rose from 80 percent to 90 percent.
If those numbers reflect the truth, then students, their families and school officials have every reason to shout from Prince George’s school headquarters in Upper Marlboro to the state Capitol in Annapolis.
Authorities also should clone Prince George’s schools CEO Kevin Maxwell, since the (remarkable) rise in grad rates occurred during his watch.
On the other hand, there’s no question that Gov. Larry Hogan has done the right thing by calling on the state Board of Education on Sunday for a two-prong investigation, and the fact that he also had to promise protection for potential whistleblowers proves the seriousness of the allegations.
Of course, at this juncture, the Prince George’s allegations do not appear to be as serious as those that rocked the state of Georgia. That state’s scandalous cheating affair began in 2009 with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution publishing an improbable likelihood that students’ grades could reach an incredible bar, and it ended in 2015, when 11 educators were convicted of racketeering and other charges.
Those educators were charged with running a racket, just like drug dealers and numbers runners.
Neither Maryland nor Prince George’s officials are unfamiliar with corruption. For starters, a federal probe has snared a handful of elected state and county officials and businessmen in a pay-to-play liquor board probe.
For another instance, teachers’ pay is tied not only to their individual educational achievement but also to students’ as well.
In his letter ordering the schools probe, Mr. Hogan said he wants the state school board to “take immediate steps to begin a complete, thorough, and exhaustive investigation” into the allegations that students’ grades were fraudulently boosted.
Mr. Maxwell, in response to media inquiries, again defended the school district, and said Monday that he is looking “forward to collaborating with the Maryland State Department of Education to resolve this matter.”
Well, that’s sort of a bad choice of words, isn’t it?
“Collaborating” is the very action that sent those Atlanta educators to the jailhouse. (“Cooperating” may have been more appropriate.)
Mr. Hogan’s letter was addressed to state school board President Andrew Smarick and cc’d to another top school official, the state superintendent.
Interesting, eh, that Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford was cc’d, as was Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.
The plot in Prince George’s thickens. ● Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.