Submitted to the AFRO by Sharnice Barnett

Recently, the long-awaited “Kirwan” legislation was introduced, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (“The Blueprint”) – Senate Bill 1030 and House Bill 1413, intended to “transform Maryland’s early childhood, primary, and secondary education system to the levels of high-performing systems around the world.”

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, or “Kirwan Commission,” was formed to provide evidence-based recommendations in key areas of education that would create an equitable framework for outcomes. While we are thrilled to see a thoughtful initial proposal, it’s imperative that we take another look at how students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, will fare under each piece of the proposal.

Across all 24 jurisdictions, and across the board regardless of “subgroup,” Maryland students are failing to meet key benchmarks in core subject areas at alarming rates. Dr. Brit Kirwan himself stated that 60 percent of Maryland’s students are unable to meet College and Career Readiness standards including grade-level literacy and Algebra 1 proficiency. Additionally, students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, meet those benchmarks at lower rates, and there are dramatic racial disparities in student achievement at every income level.

Sharnice Barnett, Director of Education and Programs, Greater Baltimore Urban League. (Photo: gbul.org)

The report titled “Inequities in Opportunity and Achievement in Maryland,” created by The Education Trust in collaboration with the Maryland Alliance for Racial Equity in Education (MAREE), concluded that disparities in achievement are often the direct result of disparities in access to opportunities to learn. For example, Black children make up 36 percent of all high school students in Maryland, but comprise only 18 percent of students who took at least one Advanced Placement exam. To that end, The Blueprint must respond to the opportunity gaps with additional funding and strategic policies to ensure that students of color are accessing and excelling in college preparatory courses as well as Career Technical Education.

The same report also highlighted the fact that discrepancies do not end at students’ access to rigorous courses. Schools serving higher proportions of students of color are twice as likely to have inexperienced first-year teachers than schools serving lower numbers of students of color. Furthermore, most districts in Maryland do not receive the money the state’s funding formula says they need, and the districts serving high concentration of students of color are shortchanged more frequently. Nearly half of Maryland’s Black and Latino students attend schools in one of the three most underfunded districts in the state.

The members of the Kirwan Commission and members of the Maryland General Assembly have been tasked with moving Maryland toward solutions that will help eliminate the impact of these historically prevalent disparities in student achievement. The General Assembly and the Governor must ensure that the actions they take have the intended outcome of disrupting inequities in access and opportunity for students of color, as well as the state’s general student population.

These tasks require urgency, discernment, partnership, and political will if this long-term effort will in fact equitably serve the needs of students across Maryland. With this in mind, it is imperative that in 2019 and beyond, our state elected officials engage with alliances such as Maryland Alliance for Racial Equity in Education (MAREE) to determine whether these recommendations are racially equitable and best serve children we perpetually leave behind – Black and Latino children.

Sharnice Barnett, Director of Education and Programs, Greater Baltimore Urban League. MAREE membership includes the ACLU of Maryland, CASA de Maryland, the Greater Baltimore Urban League, The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, Advocates for Children and Youth, Strong Schools Maryland, Faith Leaders for Excellent Schools, The Education Trust.

Contributors: Maritza Solanos, Director of Education, CASA de Maryland; Kimberly R. Humphrey, Esq., Legislative Counsel for Education Policy, ACLU of Maryland; Shamoyia Gardiner, Education Policy Senior Associate, Advocates for Children and Youth; Barbara Dezmon, Education Chair, Maryland State Conference NAACP.

The opinions on this page are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the AFRO.
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