Prince George’s County Parent Appointed to State Board of Education

86426424_190174975421114_5863933452117606400_nCongratulations to PGCPS Parent and PGCABS Committee Member Lori Morrow on her selection as the parent member for the Maryland State Board of Education! Lori’s name was included in the list of  “Green Bag” appointments submitted to the State Senate by Governor Hogan on Friday, February 14th for Senate confirmation.

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed SB529/HB0087, State Board of Education — Membership — Teacher and Parent Members. This legislation added two members to the Maryland State Board of Education, a teacher member and a parent member. The teacher member, Rachel McCusker of Carroll County, was elected in November 2019 through a process outlined by the Maryland State Educators Association. As the parent member, Lori was chosen by the Governor from a list of three names the Maryland Parent Teacher Association submitted in December 2019. 

Both the parent and teacher members will serve abbreviated terms for their first term. The parent Member will serve until June 2023 and the teacher member will serve until June 2022. Subsequent appointments for the positions will be 4-year terms, as is standard for the regular Board of Education Members appointed by the Governor.

As the parent of two children in Prince George’s County public schools, Lori has served in many volunteer roles including PTA President at Tulip Grove Elementary School and PTSO President at Benjamin Tasker Middle School. She has also served on the PGCPS Board of Education’s Parent and Community Advisory Council. Lori is a frequent contributor to our PGCABS blog (www.pgcabs.org) and one of the managers of our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pgcabschools). You can also follow her on Twitter (@geauxdores). 

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What We Know About the Prior Investigation into Alleged Fraudulent Graduation Rates

by Genevieve Demos Kelley

Earlier this month, four Prince George’s County board of education members raised hackles when they alleged that graduation rates in the county schools had been inflated through grade fixing and other tactics. The board members — Edward Burroughs, David Murray, Raaheela Ahmed, and Juwan Blocker — asked Governor Larry Hogan to order an investigation into the claims of fraud. Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell and other school officials have denied the allegations, citing an investigation by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) conducted earlier this year that cleared the schools of any wrongdoing.

But State Delegate Jay Walker has publicly questioned whether the MSDE investigation was sufficiently thorough, and on June 25 Governor Larry Hogan sent a letter requesting that the MSDE conduct a “complete, thorough, and exhaustive” investigation into the allegations.

So, why order a second investigation? How thorough was the investigation that was completed earlier this year? A letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education describes the previous MSDE investigation in detail. (Scroll to the end of the post to find the letter in full.) Here is what we know about the investigation:

  1. When did the investigation occur? The investigation was conducted in January 2017, but it was a follow-up on an informal inquiry that had occurred the previous year. In July 2016, Patrick Rooney, deputy director of the United States Department of Education’s (USDE) Office of State Support had sent a letter to Maryland State Superintendent Karen Salmon informing her of an anonymous tip made to his office, alleging that Schools CEO Maxwell was forcing grade changes in order to boost graduation rates. The letter included mention of two high schools in particular. After receiving the letter, Salmon contacted Maxwell about the allegations, and he denied them. Nothing further was done until the MSDE received a phone call in December 2016 from the USDE asking for an update on the investigation.
  2. Who conducted the investigation? The January investigation seems to have been conducted by a single person, Carol Williamson, chief academic officer of the Office of the Deputy for Teaching and Learning, and a former superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools. The investigation was preceded by a meeting between Williamson and Maxwell on December 12, 2016.
  3. What was the scope of the investigation? The investigation consisted of 1) looking at graduation rate data, 2) meeting with Kevin Maxwell, and 3) interviewing Maxwell and four others. Carol Williamson looked at the graduation data for the county for the past five years and for the two high schools mentioned in the complaint. She discussed the graduation data with Maxwell at the December meeting, and in January she interviewed Maxwell and four other PGCPS employees: an instructional director, a data management and strategy analyst, a special project officer*, and a deputy superintendent.
  4. How were the interviewees selected? How long was each interview? The employees interviewed were referred by Maxwell. It appears that none of the employees interviewed is in a school-based position. Williamson writes, “At the conclusion of our [December] meeting I asked him to identify others with whom I could talk. I asked to talk with the principals’ supervisors for the two high schools, with someone involved in grade collection on transcripts, with someone responsible for school counselors, etc.” Each interview was between 30 and 45 minutes long. According to Williamson, the discussions were thorough, and each person interviewed was “very proud of the work being done in the school system.” (See the letter below for a list of questions asked.)
  5. Who knew — or didn’t know — about the investigation? In a statement issued on June 20, Board Members Burroughs, Ahmed, Murray, and Blocker claimed that they were not informed of the MSDE investigation. They write, “We were absolutely unaware that MSDE had done an investigation on the matter earlier this year. Neither the CEO nor Board leadership informed us of it previous to yesterday evening, when it went out as a blast to school system stakeholders and the media.”