Maryland Legislature Ends Session with Flurry of Activity

One of the highlights of the recently completed legislative session was the agreement by the governor and General Assembly on an aid package of several-hundred-million dollars to Baltimore City in response to last spring’s unrest. The state funds, designated to shore up some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, will be used to expand after-school programs, keep libraries open, fix up community parks and demolish vacant houses.

The Maryland legislature also approved new initiatives either as budget items or as legislation to enhance K-12 education. These include scholarships for low-income students, a grant program for summer learning, funding for private school scholarships, and setting up a commission to make recommendations on the adequacy of public school funding.

Governor’s budget:

The governor put $5 million in his budget to offer scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools under the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program. The Maryland Department of Education will administer the program and be responsible for establishing procedures for the application and awarding of scholarships. The program is funded on a year-to-year basis. Maryland will be the 24th state in the nation to allow private-school tuition assistance.

Education legislation:

To see the complete review of the legislative season and to check on each bill’s status, visit

  • Pathways in Technology Early College (P-TECH) High Schools—SB (Senate bill) 376 provides funding to establish planning grants for six P-Tech schools. Two of the school will be in Baltimore City. P-Tech schools prepare students for 21st-century jobs through a collaborative partnership between high schools, community colleges and industry. Students graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from a community college.
  • Baltimore City School Board—City legislators passed a controversial measure HB (House bill) 558 on the last day of the session to create a partially elected school board. Two new members to be elected by city voters in 2020 will be added to the nine-member board. Delegate Cheryl Glenn told the Baltimore Sun said, “We will finally have people on the school board who will be accountable to the citizens of the city.”

As the session was nearing a close, a last-minute amendment was offered to HB 858 that would require a member of the House of Delegates and Senate be involved in any decision to select a new CEO for Baltimore I city schools. While their participation would be advisory, the action was seen as expressing dissatisfaction with school board’s hiring of the current CEO.

  • Next-Generation Scholars Grant—HB 1403 provides college scholarships to low-income students who meet rigorous academic and social criteria during middle school and high school. Middle-school students are eligible to apply and must maintain a 2.5 GPA through high school and be open to summer work or internship opportunities.
  • Public School Opportunities Act—HB 1402 addresses the problem of learning loss that occurs in the summer months when students fall behind due to a lack of educational opportunities. The loss is most frequent among low-income children. The law establishes a grant program for extended day or summer enhancement programs administered by the Maryland State Department of Education. A local school system, community school or nonprofit is eligible to apply.
  • Information on Mandated Assessments—HB 412 requires boards of education to provide information on each local, state or federally mandated assessment in that county that measures a student’s academic success. By October 15 of each year, this information must be updated, posted on the local board’s website and included in the board’s master plan.
  • Pre-kindergarten and Kindergarten Assessments—SB 794 scales back kindergarten assessments in the state. The current system of statewide assessments of all four-year-olds is to be limited to a random sample, as determined by MSDE, of kindergarten students in each jurisdiction.
  • Habitual Truancy—HB 429 establishes the Task Force to Combat Habitual Student Truancy. Task force responsibilities include identifying best practices to determine how records are collected and maintained, and the best time to notify pupil personnel workers of a student’s chronic absenteeism. The task force will be staffed by Morgan State University.
  • Teacher Induction, Retention and Advancement—SB 429 established a pilot program for first-year teachers. The program offers mentorship, peer observation and professional development for first-year teachers who are selected to participate in the program. The state pays 80 percent of the costs and the school district the remaining 20 percent. Counties are not required to participate.
  • Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education—SB 905 established a commission to review findings of a consultant’s study on the adequacy of public school funding in Maryland that was completed in December. The commission is tasked with translating the work done by the consultant into legislative proposals on changes to the state’s school-funding formula to be presented to the General Assembly. A preliminary report is due December 31.

Henry Smith Reviews Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences

Daniel DiSalvo opens his new book with the declaration that he is a third generation
union member. However, the author quickly distances himself from this heritage; he
spends the 229 pages of Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its
Consequences (2015), arguing that America’s public unions, the strongest unions in
modern America, are destructive of our democratic culture. I am from a union family.
My mother was a teacher and union member in Massachusetts, and I spent three years
working for the AFL-CIO. My disagreement with DiSalvo’s position is, therefore, not
only philosophical but also personal.

The chapter titles betray DiSalvo’s view: Electing your own boss; The Distortion of
Direct Democracy; Shelter from the Storm; and A Day of Reckoning? Inside these
chapters DiSalvo outlines the rise of public sector labor unions, including the fact
that the local, state, and federal governments now owe the public unions $3.2 trillion
in unfunded pension plans. Furthermore, DiSalvo tells the readers that these
unfunded pension plans arise because the three levels of governments must pay
these workers retirement benefits that reach, in some cases, the outrageous sum of
$100,000 per year. In other words, the author attacks one of the few organizations in
this country that has successfully helped workers to receive the retirement comfort for
which we all strive. Continue Reading →


Steiner wants legislators to toughen curriculum

David Steiner, executive director and founder of the Institute for Education Policy at the School of Education, briefed members of the House Ways and Means Committee on the institute’s mission and offered his views on improving K-12 education.

Steiner told the committee that in recent years the goalposts have moved for educators. “Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school,” he said. “The two are not the same. In New York for example, 75 percent of the students graduate from high school while only half that number are ready for college. Unfortunately, the number of disadvantaged students who are ready for college is even lower.”

His message was clear: If we are to improved educational opportunities for all students, we need to focus more attention on what we teach and how effectively students are learning.

“Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school.”

According to Steiner, research shows that with the exception of the contrast between a superbly effective and ineffective teacher, no single factor makes more of a difference in student learning than the curriculum. A strong curriculum can accelerate student learning as much as seven months over a weak one. Since there is no national consensus, curriculums now can vary by teachers within a school, among schools and among districts.

He said we “massively” under-educate our children and expect too little of them. “However, when we teach them really interesting and demanding material and challenge them to think about it, they do much better.”

As proof, he cites the example of the International Baccalaureate program, a top-rated curriculum, introduced to Chicago public schools. The program is serving 22,000 regular high school students, 70 percent of whom are minorities. Students completing the program are showing 40 percent greater rates of entry into higher education than their peers.

Steiner said student learning is directly related to the quality of the teaching they receive. He was critical of the lack of accountability of the nation’s 1,200 schools of education. He told the committee we have no idea what kind of training that teacher candidates are getting, nor do we know how effective they are in the classroom. “The problem of teacher quality is as deep a problem as the curricula problem,” he said.

He encouraged the legislative committee to take a leadership role in both areas. “You should know what curriculum is being taught in schools and whether it is research-based,” he told legislators. “You should also know if a school of education is producing effective teachers for the classrooms of Maryland.” The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act allows states more flexibility in using federal dollars to address these concerns.

Steiner offered legislators the services of the institute by providing access to an unbiased education research and also to answer questions important to them and their constituents. To see his complete presentation, click here. His presentation starts at 1:05.


Institute for Education Policy Barnstorming the State

Jim Campbell
Senior Writer and Government and Community Relations

For the past two months, David Steiner, executive director of the Institute for Education Policy, his deputy Ashley Berner and I have been meeting with legislators from across the state to introduce them to the work of the institute. Steiner sees the institute as offering state policy-makers the best available information on proven programs to help students achieve academic success. He plans to accomplish this by providing access to high-quality research, commissioning research that responds to real-world needs, advising on interventions to narrow the achievement gap and providing a forum for interested parties to dialogue on students’ educational outcomes.

On December 1, we traveled to Annapolis for a series of meetings with legislative leaders and members of the policy committees that included an afternoon briefing on reforming teacher-preparation programs. Steiner was first on the agenda, followed by Jack Smith, state superintendent of education, and representatives of the University System of Maryland who presented the results of a year-long effort to develop an action plan for the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers.

Steiner didn’t hold back when he told committee members “The nation’s teacher-preparation programs are falling short of preparing teachers to be the effective instructors that every child needs regardless of the child’s background or readiness to learn.

“Survey after survey shows fewer than half of new teachers believe they are ready for the realities of the classroom, such as teaching students of diverse backgrounds, analyzing performance data and setting goals or planning instruction. The 1,400 schools of education have a lot of work to do,” he added.

His presentation included a review of what’s working in other states and his recommendations on ways to strengthen programs. When a legislator asked what would be on his wish list for reform, Steiner said he would like to see schools of education:
• involve high-performing teachers in the redesign of teacher-preparation programs,
• adopt a residency-based model similar to what is done in medical schools, and
• work with school districts to extend training programs through the first year of actual classroom teaching.

“Teacher-preparation programs stop when students begin actual teaching, but we know that the first year is the most critical for all new teachers. It’s the worst of their entire career.”

We ended the day by meeting with Sheila Hixson, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Steiner discussed how the Institute for Education Policy is intended to serve the interests of policy-makers. Delegate Hixson invited us back to brief the full committee when the General Assembly begins next January.

Click here to see Steiner’s presentation followed by the full briefing.