Transforming State Education Policy: The Money, the Policies, the Politics

A standing-room-only audience filled Johns Hopkins University’s Mason Hall on Sept. 20 for a spirited, thought-provoking discussion about the future of education in Maryland.

Presented by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and moderated by Johns Hopkins School of Education Dean Christopher Morphew, “Transforming State Education Policy: The Money, the Policies, the Politics” brought together prominent education policy experts with a broad range of perspectives.

William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, reported on the progress of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which he chairs. For background on the commission’s charge to advise the state’s governor and General Assembly on “how to put Maryland on par with top systems in the world,” Kirwan cited recent outcomes that put the state’s education system in the middle of the pack among U.S. states.

“The harsh reality that the commission faced is that Maryland schools are very mediocre in a country with a very mediocre performance in K-through-12 education,” he said.

Kirwan went on to identify the commission’s five key recommendations to address the challenge: invest in early childhood education; significantly increase support for at-risk students; transform teaching into a high-status profession; implement internationally benchmarked curriculum standards; and significantly strengthen governance and accountability.

Praising Maryland’s initiative as “ahead of what a lot of other states have done,” school finance expert Bruce D. Baker, professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, illuminated a number of practical concerns in estimating the direct relationship between costs and outcomes of large-scale policy changes in education.

Myles Mendoza, president of education nonprofit Empower Illinois, related his experience as an education activist during the long, difficult process of building consensus and garnering the political will to pass Illinois’s significant school-funding reform in 2017—after the state had struggled for more than two years to pass a budget.

Annette Campbell Anderson, community schools expert and Johns Hopkins School of Education associate professor, stressed the need to produce effective and equitable policy “out of the gate.”

“Massachusetts is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its ‘Grand Bargain,'” Anderson said, referring to the watershed Massachusetts Education Reform Act, passed in 1993, which has largely been credited with driving that state’s national leadership in education. “We don’t have another 25 years in Maryland to wait for our children to get them to where we want them to go—to make a world-class educational system.”

On Tuesday, October 30, the Institute for Education Policy will present a panel discussion “Should Schools Promote the Success Sequence? Why or Why Not?” at Mason Hall. The event convenes three education experts to consider Brookings Institution research that identifies, according to researcher Ron Haskins, “three simple rules poor teens should follow to join the middle class.” Panelists will include Richard Reeves, Brookings Institution senior fellow and co-director of the Center on Children and Families; Ian Rowe, chief executive officer, Public Preparatory Network; and Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. Institute for Education Policy Executive Director David Steiner will moderate.

Institute for Education Policy

Maryland’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education