Dems Question Need for Hogan’s School Accountability Proposal

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a December press conference when he unveiled the “Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act.” Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

A school accountability plan floated by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was met with skepticism Tuesday by senators, who said the plan to allow specialized teams to take over struggling schools is duplicative of current law and would create an undue burden on school communities.

Hogan’s “Community and Local Accountability for Struggling Schools Act” would allow school-based committees to take over schools with persistent low showings in the state’s star-rating system. The committees ― comprised of the county superintendent, a county board of education member, a parent, a principal and two county teachers ― would develop a five-year plan for the school, including new goals for student achievement and changes to curriculum, budget, school schedule, staffing policies and professional development.

Fourteen schools have received a one-star rating from the state for two consecutive years and would qualify as an “Innovation School” if the program were in place now.

In unveiling the legislation in December, Hogan said it was key to improving accountability in public schools.

“Local communities will be able to take charge of that failing school and be empowered to enact critical changes,” Hogan said.

The proposal is based on a similar model implemented in Massachusetts under the former Democratic governor, Deval Patrick.

But Democrats and education advocates who oppose the bill say it also largely mimics the school improvement process in existing law, and only adds an additional layer of bureaucracy.

In 2017, the majority in the General Assembly passed the Protect Our Schools Act to guide the state’s implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. That bill set parameters for identifying struggling schools ― defined federally as the lowest performing five percent of Title I schools and high schools with a graduation rate later than 67 percent ―and implementing locally developed “Comprehensive Support and Improvement Plans.”

The first batch of so-called CSI schools were identified in April: 42 schools statewide, including 37 in the city of Baltimore, three in Prince George’s County and two in Anne Arundel County.

The process is underway to develop local improvement plans by panels that include principals, school leaders, teachers, and parents.

“I’m just trying to understand, substantively, how this is different,” Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairman Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) said of Hogan’s proposal. Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) said the bill seemed to add an additional layer of unnecessary bureaucracy.

Hogan’s bill was supported by outgoing State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon and the state Board of Education, which is comprised mostly of Hogan appointees.

Salmon said the process in current law is very state-driven and the Hogan proposal could add an additional option to identify additional struggling schools by using the star-rating system instead of the federal guidelines.

The bill was opposed by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Maryland State Education Association, the union that represents 75,000 teachers and school employees.

Those groups argued in opposition testimony that the proposal could contradict collective bargaining agreements and would create confusion by layering on a similar, but not identical, intervention program.

“The governor recently introduced a bill on a separate topic with the goal of ending, in his words, a purported ‘mass confusion’ in school calendar policy,” MSEA’s Tina Dove wrote in written opposition. “Whether or not that exists is debatable, but this legislation would quickly create mass confusion in school accountability policy.”

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore), who is a sponsor of the bill, said she didn’t understand the resistance to the bill, particularly if everyone agreed on a basic goal of improving public schools for Maryland children.

“I don’t really understand when I hear from a lot of rank-and-file teachers, school leadership and board of education members that are open to accountability and these type of proposals, and then to have these statewide organizations come in and not even appear to want to work on an initiative like this,” Carozza said.

Sean Johnson, assistant executive director of MSEA, responded that the union and other statewide organizations were part of the process to create the accountability plans in existing law, as well as additional new accountability measures expected to be a part of Kirwan Commission legislation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland also opposed the proposal, arguing that the “bill unjustly targets a small number of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County schools by proposing unreasonable oversight and mechanisms that force undue administrative burdens on the Superintendent, teacher unions, parents and principals.”

A hearing has not yet been set on a cross-filed version of the bill in the House of Delegates.

The Senate committee also held a brief hearing Tuesday for Hogan’s AP Opportunities Act of 2020, which would provide $1.1 million annually to help low-income students cover the fees to take Advanced Placement examinations free of charge.

There was no opposition to that bill.

[email protected]