Ho­gan calls for in­quiry into sus­pected fraud in PG school sys­tem.

Ho­gan puts schools probe on right track

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY EMMA AY­ERS DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS

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 dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.