9 February 2009 11:55 AM

Maryland Number 1 in 2009

by Dr. Rick

Let me disclose right up front, Maryland is my home and I’ve been an educator in this state for nearly forty years.  So I was pleased and proud when I saw recently in every educator’s must-read Education Week (www.edweek.org) that Maryland schools are the top-ranked in the nation.


Why?  Well, there are plenty of theories, but a few are more plausible than others.


Money.  The state of Maryland has increased its education spending by over $2 billion since 2002.  The money was targeted to special education, poor students, and English-language-learners.  It also went to support teachers, improving salaries, reducing class size, and improving the quality of classroom teachers. As funding from the state increased from $2.5 billion to $4.6 billion, local jurisdictions were required to maintain their level of support.  No fair reducing local funds as state funds increased.  As a result, local funding rose by over $1 billion since 2002.  For every $1,000 spent per student, math and reading scores rose significantly.


Fewer districts.  Most states have scores, even hundreds, of school districts.  Maryland has only twenty-four, divided into large counties and the city of Baltimore, rather than smaller cities and townships, as other states have.  It’s easier to establish standards, monitor them, and ensure relatively equal spending among the districts that way.


A long-serving state superintendent.  Dr. Nancy Grasmick, a born-and-bred Marylander, has been superintendent of the state schools for nearly twenty years now.  Prior to that, she was a teacher, principal, and county administrator.  Now, she’s nationally known and respected.  Improvement comes slow and steady, over a period of time, not overnight.  Grasmick knows Maryland, its educators, its schools, its politicians.  She’s tireless, persistent, has a good balance of patience and impatience, and is motivated by her belief in teaching, learning, and the needs of children.  She’s clear about one thing above all else – kids come first.  Consistent, steady leadership is as important on the state level as it is at the classroom, school, and school district level.


A strong belief in the power and opinions of teachers.  Maryland involved teachers in its decisions.  Teachers responded to surveys to find out what practices work best in struggling schools.  Unsurprisingly, teacher collaboration was high on their list.  So was careful analysis of their schools’ test scores, which determined curriculum and classroom practices.  They also said strong principals are key.  It’s good to listen to what the troops are saying in the classrooms.  They know the truth.


Things are not perfect in Maryland, though.  The Education Week top ranking was graded a B, not the A everyone wants.  There’s still much work to be done.  The most troubled school districts still need help.  So do beginning teachers.  Getting new teachers is problematic.  So is retaining them.  This is a problem nationally.  Why do we burn out teachers so fast?  (See my blog about becoming a teacher, September 16, 2008,).  Salaries should be higher, and motivation to remain in the profession more, well, motivating.  (See my blog about merit pay, December 30, 2008).  These issues are relevant to every state in the country, by the way.


That grade of B, however, could be just the incentive Maryland needs.  Just as any good student wants to improve her grades, so Maryland wants to act on Education Week’s suggestions in order to stay top-ranked. It should take this proud moment to savor and feel well-earned pride.  Then, just as we tell students to do, Maryland must re-dedicate itself to set its goals, monitor its progress, get the help it needs, and improve even more.  It’s for the kids.


How’d your state do in the Education Week rankings?  Let us know the issues facing your classroom, school, school district, state.  Click on “comment” and let us know.


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