RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD (SEE AD AT END OF STORY)
" Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
It seemed that the legislators and the Maryland State Board of Education got the message last year when HB 119/ SB 199 died. The bill would have allowed the State Superintendent, at the time Mohammad Choudhury, to remove state funding from counties who did not implement fully the State's Comprehensive Sex Education Curriculum. Choudhury, who was hired under Republican Larry Hogan, arrogantly named himself sole arbiter of what would be taught in Maryland schools.
Choudhury's arrogance was his eventual undoing. The bill died and months later, Mohammad was on his way out as State Superintendent.
If you think about it Choudhury was only hitching his wagon to the premise behind the State's Blueprint for Maryland's Future which puts the state in charge of all aspects of what is done in local school except curriculum. Even more, it allows the State to tell locals what their education budget will be. The Blueprint is the crack in the dam, allowing the flood waters of state control loose.
He thought he could do the same. But, you don't embarrass State Legislators in livestreamed meetings and politically live to tell about it. Choudhury had no people skills. So he's technically gone.
But, the State never tires of sucking up all control.
Now they have a more palatable figurehead in the person of Cary Wright, the new interim Superintendent who will probably be permanently hired later on this Spring.
One look at her and you think that Cary is a sweet old lady much like your third-grade teacher. Soft spoken and respectful, she comes across as someone who has a level head and only the best interests of Maryland students at heart. Maybe she does.
I'm not convinced.
Excerpt from the article above:
Wright has been retired since 2022 and lives in Baltimore County. She is a former teacher, principal, and administrator in Montgomery and Prince George's County and was the Chief Academic Officer for the Washington D.C. public schools from 2009-2013. Her latest position was as Mississippi State Superintendent of School for the past 11 years.
You don't rise up in the ranks in systems like Montgomery and D.C. without being someone who, at the very least, can play the power system aggressively.
Also, though she is credited with the "Mississippi Miracle" in raising scores there, she also had some rather shady dealings in that state:
Wright came under scrutiny by a watchdog group and a state auditor who claim that under Wright’s watch, the Mississippi Department of Education has been guilty of funny business in the awarding of contracts including MDE trying to direct work to specific vendors and avoid oversight by coding similar contracts differently and by breaking up large contracts into smaller increments so as to keep them below the thresholds that would require competitive bidding.
Then there’s the dubious business relationship MDE had with Joseph B. Kyles, a Democratic activist in Memphis, whose company received over a two-year period more than $250,000 in no-bid contracts for information technology goods and services. In four of the six payments to Kyles’ company, the purchases were just under the $50,000 threshold that would have required MDE to get other quotes. Curiously, except for the invoices, there are no contracts or other paperwork to be found to back up these expenditures. 1
Doesn't sound like anything my third-grade teacher would have done.
The biggest problem with her is HOW she and her Mississippi State Department of Education engineered the advance in student scores in the state:
Many have lauded the progress Mississippi has made academically. Although the state has shown some academic progress under Wright, it’s hard to gauge how much. When she touts the increase in the state’s graduation rate, for example, she glosses over the fact that graduation requirements have been watered down. Later this month, the state will release the new accountability grades for schools and school districts. MDE has rigged the grading, though, to increase the likelihood that the number of F-rated districts won’t jump and the number of A-rated districts won’t fall. (This from an article written in 2017)
Does any of these tactics sound familiar to you? Think about the recent move in the state to share testing data for schools wrapped in other "feel good data" such as school climate, diversity, access to a "well rounded" curriculum (whatever that is), etc. thus giving "star ratings" from one to five for each school. A school with miserable testing data can avoid a poor star rating by doing well in soft, non-objective measures. Here's an example of one of those areas:
The School Quality and Student Success indicator measures the performance of students in a school who regularly attend school, report positive perceptions of their school, and have actively engaged in rigorous and/or co-curricular academic coursework outside of traditional English language arts and mathematics (elementary) or science and social studies (middle). School points are comprised of a school’s percentage of not chronically absent students, school survey results, and measures of access to a well-rounded curriculum.
It's almost like Cary brought these ideas with her.
So, it's no surprise that Superintendent Wright is jumping on the state control of local education bandwagon with a mandate by the Maryland State Department of Education that ALL school systems implement THE SCIENCE OF READING.
The Science of Reading has been around for a while, but recently has become a preferred method of teaching reading. This is a reaction to the ridiculous Whole Language instruction of the late 90's into the 2000's that left so many children without the ability to read. If you were a student, parent or teacher during that time period, you know what I am talking about.
Our county started talking about implementing the Science of Reading about two years ago.
This website gives an explanation of the Science of Reading:
I have no problem with this approach. In fact, as a former teacher I am excited to see that perhaps NOW schools will actually start teaching reading in a variety of ways including phonics, decoding, etc. All those teachers who have hidden those materials away for years in fear of being fired if they used them can take them out of storage. (And yes, people were threatened with unemployment if they didn't go along with whole language.)
Plus, I know how miserable reading scores have been in many Maryland districts. The State average hovers around 48% of students being proficient in reading, meaning more than half are not. Some districts like Baltimore City have percentages in the mid-twenties, meaning three quarters of their students are not proficient in reading. Others like Worcester, have scores nearing the 70th percentile.
What I have a problem with is this:
You might say to yourself, "What's the big deal? Isn't this about improving literacy in our state?"
I suppose it is. But I think it is more about control than anything else. The above document, with all the legal language, says two troubling things:
One, "All literacy instruction in Maryland public schools must be aligned to the Science of Reading, including structured literacy, effective School Year 2024-25."
Two, "The State Board charges the State Superintendent of Schools with drafting a comprehensive literacy policy aligned to the Science of Reading for consideration to the State Board for approval, including but not limited to curriculum adoption, assessment, data analysis, early warning system, intervention, and accountability."
Any time a state uses the word "all" in a phrase, we have a problem.
Regardless of how great Science of Reading is, requiring all systems to use the exact same approach to reading is discounting that there are negatives about SOR that cannot be ignored. (see link at the end of this article.) Also, there are districts in the state that already have successful literacy programs in place. Now they only have a year to get all their teachers extensively trained in the Science of Reading model.
Do they have to dismantle successful practices to meet the wishes of the State Board/Superintendent? Will they be punished if they don't?
The second problem is that this State Superintendent will be designing a "comprehensive literacy policy" aligned with Science of Reading. This policy will include "curriculum adoption." Anyone who has been in education will tell you, "Curriculum" is a huge category which can include everything from books read, materials used, lessons taught, strategies enlisted, assessments used, etc. Districts will be restricted in which materials they can use and how they can use them. This leads to a lack of creative district/school/student centered options for teachers.
The sad truth is that this is exactly how the now discredited whole language was forced into schools. It is the same way they are forcing systems to use the Comprehensive Health and Sex Education framework. Neither of those have had good results.
It's clear that the State of Maryland, under the guise of caring about student achievement, is intent on taking control away from local school boards. And, as I have written before, the school boards seem willing to give that control away so they don't get blamed for whatever disaster the state creates.
It's a different person at the helm, perhaps someone with a kinder, gentler approach.
The end result is still the same. New boss. Same as the old boss.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Run for local office, especially school board. We need strong people who support parental rights and local control of education. The deadline to file in Maryland is 2/9/24. Find the deadline for your state!