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When William E. “Brit” Kirwan visited the Johns Hopkins School of Education last May, the chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland had sobering news.

“The harsh reality is that at present, Maryland students perform at a mediocre level—in a nation that performs at a mediocre level globally,” he told degree candidates at the school’s graduation ceremony.

Kirwan, who chairs Maryland’s Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission, went on to identify five major policy recommendations to make the state’s schools competitive with the best school systems in the world. These include an integrated preK-12 curriculum, a stronger system of accountability, robust teacher development programs, and significant new investment in early childhood education and in schools with high concentrations of poverty.

How many of these recommendations will see the light of day?

On September 20, Kirwan will return to Johns Hopkins University, along with a panel of noted education policy experts, to examine the challenges of systemic change—and the political compromises that make them possible.

Moderated by Johns Hopkins School of Education Dean Christopher Morphew, “Transforming State Education Policy: The Money, the Policies, the Politics” also will feature school finance expert Bruce D. Baker, professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers; Myles Mendoza, president of Empower Illinois, a statewide scholarship granting organization, and One Chance Illinois, an education political action group; and Annette Campbell Anderson, associate professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Education and expert on community schools and school leadership.

“We will hear from Brit Kirwan himself and a panel of experts about the critically important work of the Kirwan Commission and the future of education in Maryland and beyond,” says David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, which is hosting the event.  Steiner, a professor of education, serves as member of the Maryland State Board of Education and the Kirwan Commission.

For the past two years, the 25-member commission has been conducting a comprehensive analysis of the needs of the public school system in Maryland. An initial report, released in February, did not include cost estimates but suggested that new funding formulas should be sufficient to finance universal pre-kindergarten for students of all incomes and include additional funds for schools in low-income neighborhoods.

In August, the commission received recommendations from its working groups that would call for major expansions in early childhood education and a change in how teachers are paid. The panel has not put a price tag on any of its recommendations, but they are expected to be costly and politically volatile. Thursday’s event, which is open to the public, is expected to include lively debate that touches on these and other important issues.

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