Maryland State Board of Education’s Newest Members Support Charters, Vouchers, High-Stakes Testing

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Update on May 22, 2015: The post has been edited to reflect clarification received in response to a query about Bellwether Education Partners.

100_3383The Maryland State Department of Education has announced the appointment of two new members to the Maryland State Board of Education. Governor Hogan has selected Chester E. Finn, Jr., Ed.D. of Montgomery County and Andy Smarick of Queen Anne’s County to replace Charlene M. Dukes and Donna Hill Staton, whose terms ended last year.

Chester Finn is Chairman of the K-12 Education Task Force of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. According to the Hoover Institute’s website, the Education Task Force promotes “systematic reform options such as vouchers, charter schools, and testing.” Click here to find analyses that Finn wrote for the Hoover Institute, generally avowing the importance of “results-based accountability” and testing. Finn is also President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank with ties to the Gates Foundation that supports education reforms such as the Common Core State Standards, school choice, and accountability testing.

In January, Finn wrote an article for the New York Daily News praising Governor Cuomo’s education-reform agenda, calling it “awesome” and “union-unfriendly.” Cuomo’s agenda included “revamped (and tougher) teacher evaluations, more charters, a state-level version of the Dream Act,” but the item that Finn singles out for special attention is a tax-credit scholarship program for families to send their children to private schools. Praising the governor’s proposed voucher program, Finn writes that “school-choice advocates — and those who care more about the education of children than the interests of adults — should celebrate and applaud.”

Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit that specializes in strategic advising, policy and thought leadership, and talent search services for educational organizations.

In a 2012 blog post titled “Chartering the Future,” Smarick writes this about the charter school movement:

First, we must see chartering not as a sector and not even as a system but as the system for urban education’s future. The systemic practices it has introduced into public education must be the playbook for how urban school portfolios are managed. Second, we must accept that the full flourishing of this new system requires the permanent demotion and the potential cessation of the district.

In addition to his work at Bellwether, Andy Smarick has served as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education and an education aide at The White House Domestic Policy Council. He has also been named a Senior Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

He recently reflected on his appointment to the Maryland State Board of Education on the blog Flypaper, found on the Fordham Institute’s website:

I’m beginning with a few goals in mind. I’d like Maryland to develop a sophisticated, nuanced accountability system that reflects the complexity of schooling, the wide contributions of teachers, and the priorities of families and communities. I’d like the state to have the best system of standards and assessments and the best policies for educator preparation, evaluation, tenure, and compensation. I hope the state can expand families’ access to great schools of choice by, among other things, dramatically improving its charter school law. I’d like the state to make room for more innovation without impetuously chasing faddish approaches. I desperately want to help Baltimore.

You can learn more about Smarick’s priorities here.

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