Kirwan Commission to Recommend Sweeping Changes

Education

by: Deborah Bailey Special to the AFRO
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The Kirwan Commission will soon recommend the most sweeping changes in Maryland public K-12 education in decades. The 24-member commission, created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016 and chaired by former Maryland University System Chancellor Britt Kirwan, is in the midst of a four-city tour across Maryland, that included Baltimore, to talk about the future of public schools.

Baltimore City Public School (BCPS) officials and community-based groups like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, the Baltimore grassroots think tank, both know the stakes are high, especially for students of color and low income students in Baltimore’s underserved schools. But, both sides seem to have different outlooks on how to transform public education in Baltimore.

“There are only a small number of public hearings happening throughout the state and this is the only one in the greater Baltimore area. It’s our city and we want to make sure people are informed and given the opportunity to help inform the Commissioners,” said Anne Fullerton, Executive Director of Communications at BCPS.

BCPS needs the Kirwan Commission to recommend changes in the state’s educational funding formula to ensure city schools receives an additional $358 million. In a letter to parents, BCPS School Superintendent Sonya Santelises says the funding is needed to “ensure adequate education for Baltimore’s students.”

Dayvon Love, director of Public Policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle said those who know the real needs of Baltimore’s children are not represented at the table sharing solutions to the education gap that has persisted in Baltimore public schools and across the state.

“There’s been a professionalization of the education sector where community folks and people who have non-traditional approaches to education that are community based are afterthoughts in terms of curriculum, setting up objectives and goals and policy,” Love told the AFRO.

The Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) has spent the past year in Annapolis hearing from leaders in the field of education on best practices across the nation and throughout the world. At the Commission’s most recent regular meeting in August Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) joined the Commission via SKYPE from Paris.

That broad, global approach is also part of the problem in developing strategies that will impact change in the African American community, Love said.

“Many of the organizations that are closest in proximity to community and many of the organizations that have been very successful in producing high quality students in public schools have been forced out of the process. For the past 20 – 25 years the current stakeholders have done little to move the needle for our children and in our communities in the field of education,” he said.

Fullerton said BCPSS has cast a wide net to encourage all sectors of the City Schools family to connect with the Kirwan Commission and sit at the table in the conversation about the future of public education.

“We have been communicating very broadly. We have been communicating with the whole city schools community, staff, family members, people who subscribe to receive news from us and partners with our schools over the years that include our community schools’ partners and our social media accounts. We’re attempting to make sure that all members of our community are included in the conversation,” she said.

Delegate Adrienne Jones, the first African American speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates and member of the Legislative Black Caucus, implored African Americans to work with the Kirwan Commission at the remaining regional hearings in Baltimore Oct. 12 and Prince George’s County Oct. 25.  “We need to show up and make our voices heard if we want to see the approaches, programs and funding that will positively impact the educational trajectories of African American students for years to come,” said Jones, who is also on the commission.

The Kirwan Commission will make final policy and funding recommendations to make Maryland’s K-12 public schools “a top performing system in the world” to the Maryland General Assembly Dec. 20.

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