Moving Forward with Covid-19: What’s Next for Maryland Schools?

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by Lori Morrow

Lori Morrow is a board member of the Prince George’s Advocates for Better Schools and was appointed as the Parent Member of the Maryland State Board of Education in March 2020. The opinions expressed here are her own.

Two months ago, I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education under the most unusual circumstances: 6 feet apart from the county clerk, barely inside the front doors, with no family or friends as witnesses. In February, I expected much of my 3.5-year term to focus on the Kirwan Commission recommendations. Instead the Blueprint bill was recently vetoed by Governor Larry Hogan and the upcoming years will most likely be focused on Covid-19, school closures, the trauma in our communities, and how we move forward.

Distance learning has been a monumental feat across the state.  I commend the teachers, school staff, parents, and students who shifted rapidly in mid-March to make this happen, while also jumping into action to address issues of food insecurity, child care, and massive unemployment. Our public schools do so much more than teach curriculum, and this crisis has highlighted the important role they serve.

There are only a few weeks left of the 2019-20 school year, and the biggest question is, “What comes next?” There is no single answer, as each of the 24 school districts develops a plan for their county. However, I am fairly confident in saying that school will not look “normal” when it starts back up in the fall. We are facing a school year where parents and volunteers may not be able to host events or assist inside the buildings in the way we have before. While public health will dictate many circumstances, we must take the time to look at how we can be involved. This is a time to remember advocacy is a core mission of National PTA and many PTOs. We must work together with school leaders to ensure all of Maryland’s children get the education they deserve.

What can parents and community members do?

  1. Read the Maryland Recovery Plan for Education. These are the overarching options and guidelines that local districts are considering. Comments can be emailed to educationplan.msde@maryland.gov. The document is still in draft form and will continue to evolve with stakeholder input.
  1. Avoid rumors. The Maryland Recovery Plan does not outline specific dates or timelines. Check the Maryland rumors page or be sure to share information directly from school district or state websites.
  1. Start planning locally. It is okay to grieve for the events and activities we missed out on this school year, and those we may have to skip next year too. In-person meetings, back-to-school nights, and family events may not be possible. This is a time to get creative to find things we CAN do, and don’t forget to involve students in the brainstorming and planning too!
  1. Participate in feedback opportunities at all levels: school, district and state. Take advantage of any survey opportunities; share ideas with school and PTA leaders; and send constructive comments to district and state leaders. Solutions usually go farther than complaints.
  1. Stay active in PTA/PTO for next school year and continue to advocate as situations evolve. We may not have the same events or fundraisers, but parent voice will be even more important when we can’t meet in person.

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Eighth Grader Asks Maryland Board of Education for Less Standardized Testing

A Prince George’s County eighth grader testified at a recent Maryland State Board of Education meeting, asking for a reduction in the amount of standardized testing for Maryland students. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Public Schools or its members.

My name is Katherine Grace Harness. I am an 8th grader at Kenmoor Middle School. I have been taking standardized tests since second grade. They have become a way of life. However with the addition of the new PARCC test, people everywhere have woken up to the excessive 100_3370amount of standardized testing. We need to reduce the number of standardized tests. Fifty-five out of one hundred and eighty school days are taken up with standardized tests, not counting the unit tests each teacher may give. That means more than a quarter of the school year is taken up with testing. We take at least six different standardized tests.

Standardized tests are used for getting data. This data is not being used for improving student instruction; it merely says if students are on grade level or not. It does not diagnose the problems in the classroom students are having so that teachers can help them. It does not improve education.

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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.”

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