Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Will The Kirwan Commission Help Baltimore’s Schools Improve?

On Thursday night, people filled the auditorium at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute to participate in the Kirwan Commission forum. The auditorium was full of energy, people waving yellow papers that stated #fixtheforumla, and a group of people in matching shirts with “Yes!” and “No!” signs. The 25 members of the Kirwan Commission sat ready to hear from the people of Baltimore City.

How did we get here?

In 2002, The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act created a school aid formula in Maryland. This gave each school system a, “per pupil amount—which was $6,860 in fiscal year 2015—is [was] then adjusted for every local jurisdiction depending on its property value and income levels…counties with less wealth (and therefore less ability to cover educational costs) receive a greater share of state aid” (“Thornton Plan,” 2016). Additionally, “school systems receive supplemental aid” for children based on backgrounds of poverty, limited English proficiency, and special education services (“Thornton Plan,” 2016).

Now, in the fall of 2017, the Kirwan Commission (named after the chair of the commission, Dr. Kirwan) is tasked with revisiting this formula and providing the General Assembly of Maryland with recommendations. The members of the commission conducted forums across the state to hear from concerned citizens. For more information on the Kirwan Commission, see the links to the articles in the reference section of this post.

I left the forum thinking about a few things:

The people who spoke at the forum shared a wide-range of perspectives and offered different ideas on the biggest problems in our public education system in Baltimore. Each speaker spoke from his or her sphere of influence about specific concerns. People shared concerns about class sizes, access to SAT prep and AP courses, teacher preparation and retention, the burden of taxes to the citizens of Baltimore, and the need for more counselors and social workers. I was struck with the complexity of the problems shared at the forum and immense task upon the shoulders of the Kirwan Commission.

Then I heard the Kirwan Commission would give its recommendations by the end of 2017. I had just watched as leaders from Baltimore City pleaded with the commission to hear their concerns and possible solutions. The members of the commission sat quietly without responding. The forum was held on October the 12th, and the commission is going to provide their recommendations by the end of 2017? I believe a timeline to hear the concerns, take them into consideration, conduct a healthy debate, and make a recommendation would take a lot longer than the two and a half months left in 2017. Was this forum all a formality? How will this commission be able to make meaningful recommendations based on the experience and insights of the people these changes will most affect?  It is the difference between hearing and listening. I could see that the commission was hearing the people of Baltimore, but was the commission really listening? We will see in January 2018.


Richman, T. & Bowie, L (2017, October 12). Hundreds urge Kirwan Commission to provide equitable funding to schools. Retrieved October 14, 2017 from

Sterner, Rachel Baye Nathan. “A packed Poly urges equity in school funding.” WYPR, WYPR, 13 Oct. 2017,

Thornton Plan. (2016, January 29). Retrieved October 14, 2017, from

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Vouchers and School Policies

"Since the creation of the program, the BOOST advisory board said, about a dozen private schools have decided not to take vouchers because they were unwilling to give the state assurances they would not discriminate." (Bowie, 2017)

This quotation is disappointing, saddening, and unsettling. Trinity Lutheran Christian School in Joppa, Maryland lost its voucher funding after it became known that the school's handbook contained discriminatory language even though schools which receive voucher funds are mandated to pledge non-discriminatory admissions procedures. Trinity Lutheran Christian School had agreed to this condition both last year and this year, but now it shall not be receiving any voucher funds for the current school year. The currently-enrolled students who are receiving voucher funds are permitted to take the voucher money and switch to other schools. While Trinity Lutheran Christian School's board offered to change the handbook language to comply with state law and not discriminate in admissions, BOOST was not satisfied as the school handbook had contained this phrase while the school had been held responsible under the pledge. Trinity Lutheran may re-apply next school year to be a school which accepts voucher funds, but it will be required to release information about enrollments and admissions. 

Considering the current climate of the United States and the marginalized and oppressed communities which still have not found equity, equality, or justice, this article resonated considering one of our upcoming topics is vouchers. Most importantly, this article demonstrated the importance of evaluating actions compared to words; especially, consideration of those actions before and after higher tiers of involvement become involved is important.

It will be curious to see if this sparks an investigation into the other private schools receiving voucher funding. Additionally, it will be worth observing if Trinity Lutheran Christian School applies to receive voucher funding next year or if it chooses to keeps its admission and enrollment records sealed. The question moving forward from this situation is whether or not private schools accepting public school funding will be subject to the same educational court case outcomes as public schools when the situation concerning discrimination lawsuits. 

Bowie, L. (2017, October 13). Private school loses state voucher money over anti-LGBT policy. Retrieved October 14, 2017, from

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Should We Train Teachers Like We Train Doctors?

When then-Secretary of Education John King spoke at Hopkins last fall, he brought up the intriguing idea of remodeling America’s teacher training programs to look more like medical residencies. He cited the fact that after World War II, a revolution happened in medical education wherein society realized we needed to ensure that our doctors were fully qualified to serve the public. Training residencies, in which doctors work under the supervision of qualified superiors for several years before entering medical practice, were established and public funding began to pour into medical education. Currently, we spend roughly $11.5 billion per year, or $500,000 per new doctor. Of course, teacher residencies would not need to be as lengthy and therefore would not cost nearly as much. But would a similar investment in teacher training be worth it?

The data seems to suggest that it would. With baby-boomer retirements, high turnover, and underenrollment in teacher preparation programs, we are facing an unprecedented teacher shortage. In the hopes of mitigating this crisis, some states have begun to relax policies in order to make it easier for teachers to enter the profession. But underprepared teachers are quick to leave the field, and we spend $2.2 billion annually to replace teachers who drop out.

In states that have begun implementing yearlong co-teaching residencies, however, the picture is more promising. Upwards of 90% of teachers who have gone through residency programs stay in the profession, compared to only 47% of others. 74% of principals say that residency graduates are more or much more effective than the typical teacher. Slowly but surely, the trend seems to be growing: Minnesota, Oklahoma and Kentucky have implemented statewide residency programs, while a number of cities such as Boston, DC, and Denver are piloting smaller efforts. Because of the novelty of these programs, student achievement data is limited, but thus far seems to suggest that students taught by these highly trained teachers are outperforming their peers.

Of course, such an overhaul of our teacher training system would require a great financial investment. But when viewed next to the millions that would be saved from expenditures on teacher replacement efforts, the expense has the potential to be greatly worthwhile. It is possible that here in Maryland, we’ll see the benefits of a teacher residency program very soon. Last year, the Teacher Induction, Retention and Advancement Workgroup began working on a recommendation for a yearlong teacher residency program in Maryland, and it may be included in the state funding formula for the upcoming fiscal cycle. Final recommendations will be made at the end of this year.
References: Polakow-Suranksy, S., Thomases, J., and Demoss, K. (2016, July 8). Train Teachers Like Doctors. Retrieved from

Hershkowitz, S. (2016, Novemeber 29). Train Teachers Like Doctors? It Might Happen in Maryland. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 7, 2017

ACEs- Adverse Childhood Experiences and Baltimore City's Grant to Help Address Them

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled into the opportunity to participate in an event at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Hosted by The Prevention and Health Promotion Administration in collaboration with The Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and The State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, the screening of the documentary “Resilience” and subsequent discussion of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs_ and their impact on physical health and cognitive and social-emotional well-being was a somber but illuminating experience.

In an attempt to better serve students who have experienced traumatic experiences, especially in the wake of the civil unrest following the murder of Freddie Gray, Baltimore City Public Schools secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Education called Promoting Student Resilience. The $2.374 million grant will allow for the hiring of full-time mental health clinicians at 13 city schools and provide professional development for on how to recognize and respond to the effects of trauma.

This is a reasonable step in the right direction towards serving the students of Baltimore City Public Schools, many of whom have experienced many deeply traumatic things in their short lives. The 10-question described in the documentary to determine how many ACEs a child has include questions about physical abuse, verbal abuse, lack of support or attention, having insufficient resources, struggles with addiction, incarceration, and mental illness within a family or household. The higher the ACE score, the more likely students are to experience depression, use and abuse drugs, be raped, smoke as an adult, contract hepatitis, and perpetrate domestic violence, to name a few. I don’t think it would be out of line to think that many Baltimore City Public School students suffer with far more than 3 ACEs and I hope that this grant and the trauma-informed care that is supposed to come from it is not just a passing fad. The students need support in ways that schools may not be accustomed to providing support but places where this type of care has been prioritized have seen great improvements in outcomes, like in Walla Walla, Washington, where a school that has adopted a trauma-informed care model has seen an 85% drop in suspension rates.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

SAT Scores and Diversity

The Baltimore Sun article "SAT scores vary across Baltimore region" brought to mind our last week's discussion of differences in diversity across Baltimore County schools and our observations of the schools' test scores. While we did not focus on college entrance examinations, we paid attention to the differences in the schools' levels of diversity. We also reflected on the communities' accesses to resources and socioeconomic levels.

Unfortunately, I was unsurprised to see in this article that Baltimore City ranked the lowest out of the reported results in this article; furthermore, Baltimore City scored significantly lower than the Maryland average. This article provided a cursory preview of the score results as spread across different racial groups, with Asian students earning the highest scores on average and Black and Hispanic students earning the lowest scores on average. This pattern is the same as we observed when reviewing elementary and secondary scores during class.

I think that this article adds to our discussion of integration and diverse school environments. If Black students and Hispanic students do not have access to the same resources as White students for assessment testing, most likely access to SAT preparation resources also is not equitably distributed to students. While this brings to mind many issues, such as teaching to the test, school quality, redlining, etc., I hope that these rankings draw attention to the barriers impacting students as they enter tertiary education.

One thing which concerns me with these kinds of results is how Asian ethnic groups are treated as monolithic. Typically, when Asian-American experiences are discussed in racial conversations, East Asian American narratives dominate the discussions. I believe that we might see a different picture, in particular we might discover groups which are being marginalized and forgotten, if we re-evaluated through the results with this consideration in mind.

Richman, T. (2017, September 30). SAT scores vary across Baltimore region. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved from