Opinion: The Education of Our Children Is of the Essence. Arbitrary Timelines Are Not

William E. "Brit" Kirwan addresses a rally of supporters of the Blueprint for Maryland's Future outside the state House office building in Annapolis. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

This essay reflects the views of the Climate Communications Coalition, the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, Maryland Latinos Unidos, and Corazón Latino.

We are on the threshold of implementing an impressive, all encompassing, long awaited, education funding, and policy shifting Education Reform Plan. To do so, the governor must appoint a seven-member Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) for six-year terms which shall, by law, “reflect, to the extent practicable, the geographic, racial, ethnic, cultural, and gender diversity of the State.” The goal of the reform is to prepare our children for what is to come.

Unfortunately, we are about to jeopardize the years of hard work that went into the education reform by rushing the governor to appoint the AIB from an inadequately representative pool of nine nominees — by Thursday. The slate of nominees, despite their impressive resumes, is inadequate because it lacks representation.

Western Maryland, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore have no voice on the board. Americans of Latino, Asian, and Indigenous descent are not represented. The youth voice is missing. LGBTQ people are represented nowhere. And, if we are to prepare our children for what is to come, where is the push for environmental literacy within our current context of climate change and global pandemic?

Our children need to be taught sustainable practices, not only survive, but also to restore the health of our planet. Environmental science also needs a seat at the table.

Representation is not simply a question of appearance. The AIB is responsible for ensuring that the state and local jurisdictions fully implement the multi-billion-dollar Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which aims to close student achievement gaps and transform Maryland’s education system over the next decade. To be effective, the members of the AIB need to have experienced the many challenges and opportunities each of our communities face on a daily basis. The different needs and layers of support required vary significantly by state region and within different groups.

Some have argued that communities not feeling represented in the state Blueprint plan can wait and put forward a different candidate in two years or that then they can advocate at the local level for the community to be included in the local Blueprint plan. But as the saying goes, “when you are not at the table, you get scraps.” Do we really, again, want to put people of color and underserved communities into a position of inferiority, having to catch up, fighting for a place “at the table,” after the fact, and after a couple of years? Or do we want to lift them up now and correct our path?

Jean Piaget, a Swiss child development psychologist, said: “The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” Let’s not let a failure of our imagination set our children up for failure.

Our context and our environment have shifted; our communities have changed. To prepare our children for what is to come, we need to be inclusive and contextual, which requires an inclusive and representative AIB. Electing an AIB that lacks the necessary representation runs the risk of reproducing the status quo, instead of addressing the new and emerging needs of today’s students.

For these reasons, we agree with the concerns raised by many around the state and we urge that the deadline for appointment of members to the AIB be extended by one month. We ask for an extension of the AIB selection date, combined with a concerted outreach to Maryland
communities to ensure that all have the opportunity to submit nominees for Governor Hogan to choose from.

Let’s not waste this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set our education system on the right course because of a self-imposed deadline that will undermine the goals of the Blueprint plan. Let’s take our children’s future to heart and insist on appointing individuals who understand and champion their and their regions’ needs.

It is not of the essence that the governor appoint the AIB by Oct. 1 or that the first report be published by Nov. 1. The education and preparation for our children is of the essence. Timelines can and must be moved.