David Hornbeck: Reopening Education in Maryland

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Maryland education is being ravaged by two viruses: COVID-19 and RACISM.

Maryland students perform at a mediocre level in a nation that performs at a mediocre level globally. There is a yawning gap of opportunity and, thus, achievement, between students of color and white students as well as between low-income and wealthier students.

David Hornbeck

In response, the General Assembly passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The governor’s subsequent veto was wrong and cynical. It deepened the impact of the viruses. It blunted the message of hope sent by the Blueprint at the same time that COVID-19 engenders despair. Governor Hogan’s shortsighted veto is both a result of and perpetuates the ongoing structural racism of the Maryland education system.

Reopening education in Maryland requires answers to these questions:

— How will students make up the usual summer learning loss made worse by the twin viruses? Summer learning loss is well-established. We know the loss is greatest for students with the least opportunity. By September, students will have been out of school for at least 5 ½ months instead of the usual 2 ½ months. The loss will be deepened if social distancing requires school schedules to change to A/B days or weeks and if many parents do not send their children to school. The learning loss is exponential, not linear, especially for the most vulnerable children.

First Step Solution: More time. Many of the highest performing countries in the world have more than 180 days of school, some with as many as 240 days. Maryland should adopt a new school calendar so that students can at least “make up” days/hours they have lost. And, time must be used more productively. Make outcomes the constant and time the variable rather than the current practice with time as the constant.

— How will Maryland deliver reasonably high-quality distance learning by September? At best, I expect there will be a hybrid of distance and in-person instruction. Distance learning has been dismal despite the heroic efforts of thousands of teachers, hundreds of principals and many organizations. Schools were ill-prepared for COVID-19. They have never prepared for RACISM.

First Step Solutions:

A. A reliable internet connection for every student.

B. A dedicated computer for every student.

C. A reasonably suitable workspace for every student. If necessary, school and other community spaces must be secured.

D. Parent and student phone access to an educational Geek Squad equivalent to deal with tech issues.

E. First-rate professional development to equip teachers to deliver high quality on-line instruction.

F. Curricula and instructional material necessary to high quality on-line instruction.

G. Phone/on-line curricula and instructional support for teachers to deliver high quality on-line instruction.

— How will Maryland ensure that our education system DOES NOT return to “normal”? “Normal” in Maryland is a system in which less than 40% of the graduates are career/college ready; where 53% of Black students go to an underfunded school while only 8% of white students attend such schools. “Normal” is a system in which 47% of second-year teachers do not return for a third year. We must NOT resume “normal” operations…ever.

First Step Solutions:

A. Override the governor’s veto of the Blueprint at the earliest possible moment. If that’s not until January for COVID-19 reasons, the General Assembly can deliver a powerful vaccine to fight the RACISM virus by securing NOW the public commitments of enough senators and delegates to override when they do convene.

B. In light of COVID-19 laying bare the gross inequities arising from RACISM and poverty and with protests provoking new understanding regarding the depth of the RACISM virus, the governor has the opportunity to reverse his veto decision and change his legacy by calling on the General Assembly, himself, to override it. Unprecedented events call for bold leadership.

C. Charge a statewide group of education, political, civic, community and health stakeholder leaders to develop the action framework by July 15 to provide quality teaching and learning both remotely and in person in September.

D. Fund the full-time summer employment of all principals and 5-10 teachers in each school to do two things:

· Make substantive contact with every family in their schools to assess the academic and emotional needs of the students and the state of their families. Develop an action plan for each student and family.

· On July 15, upon receiving the plans of action from the statewide group and based on the assessment of individual student and family needs, design the implementation of the state action plan at the school level. Provide the leadership and inspiration for school colleagues and students upon their return.

Seize this moment. It will never return for hundreds of thousands of Maryland children.

— DAVID W. HORNBECK

The writer is a former Maryland State Superintendent of Schools and a former Philadelphia Superintendent of Schools.