If you think the Baltimore Orioles are the year’s biggest turnaround surprise, you haven’t been following the fortunes of the Maryland State Department of Education.
It was only about four months ago that the State Board of Education was singing the praises of the beleaguered state superintendent. All the while, as I’ve reported in these pages, implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was lagging, and Maryland was continuing to fall behind many states in the most critical element of school reform: early literacy.
But lo and behold, the State Board announced Wednesday, in the wake of the resignation of the superintendent, the appointment of Carey Wright as interim superintendent. And she just happens to be, arguably, the person with the most accomplished early literacy leadership record in the nation.
I wrote as much here in June: “In teaching children to read, Mississippi puts Maryland to shame.” Wright was the superintendent in Mississippi during what became nationally known as the “Mississippi miracle” in reading. I concluded the column by saying that all Maryland schoolchildren can learn to read if “we do it the Wright way.”
Of course, Wright’s new job won’t be easy, including in literacy. Maryland has a lot of catching up to do. And she’s only interim until June 30, 2024 (though Board President Clarence Crawford said Wednesday that Wright could apply during the upcoming national search for a permanent superintendent).
Still, Wright should be able to hit the ground running. For one thing, her educational, management and people skills are ideal preparation. And she’s got a home field advantage: She lives in Baltimore County, and much of her pre-Mississippi experience was as a teacher and top administrator in Prince George’s, Howard and Montgomery counties school systems.
Another advantage is that, contrary to conventional belief, the major steps to achieve statewide leaps, especially in literacy, do not require legislative action. We already have plenty of laws on the books that require state standards for core instruction, interventions for struggling learners, monitoring and evaluation. But MSDE has struck out on follow-through and accountability.
That doesn’t mean that Annapolis is completely off the hook. Gov. Wes Moore (D) and the General Assembly must step up resources and shore up support for MSDE against political backlash from protectors of the status quo.
Toward that end, the Democratic majority in Annapolis might be reminded that, in many states that have moved far out in front of Maryland on literacy reform, Republicans have beaten Democrats to the punch.
Happily, it appears that Governor Moore is ready to lead. He earns an A+ for his recent appointees to the State Board; the newcomers became catalytic agents who galvanized the board into action.
What we can be sure of is that with Wright on board, there will be much closer working relationships among Annapolis officials, the State Board, MSDE, local school systems and the Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board. The AIB has repeatedly emphasized that early literacy is the single most important challenge ahead.
So, let’s hear a loud cheer for the entire State Board. With special applause for Crawford and Vice President Joshua Michael who have earned most valuable player awards. And let’s start rooting as hard as we can for Carey Wright (and the O’s).