Crunch time coming for Kirwan commission; public hearings set

Crunch time coming for Kirwan commission; public hearings set

Commission chair Brit Kirwan

By Len Lazarick

Crunch time is coming for the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by former University System Chancellor Brit Kirwan and commonly known as the Kirwan commission,

After nine meetings over the past year, the 24-member commission has heard from dozens of experts and consultants on many aspects of education policy, practice and funding. They’ve spent hours learning how the best performing systems in the world got that way. The commissioners have mostly listened and asked questions, with limited discussion.

Now, it’s time to make some recommendations and decisions for a report due to the governor and legislature in December.

The commission has also scheduled a series of four public hearings around the state beginning Sept. 14 on the Eastern Shore.

Kirwan pep talk

Kirwan gave them a pep talk about the task ahead.

“At the 30,000 foot level, I think there’s fairly broad consensus,” Kirwan said, (a consensus not obvious to an observer). “There are high expectations for the work of this commission.”

“When else will our state take the time to take an in-depth look at our system of education? If [the commission] doesn’t make a difference, an opportunity will be lost.”

“We have a good system of education, we have a lot to be proud about, but we can and we must be better. Good is not good enough in this day and age.”

“We as a group, as we go into this final phase, have got to come together and propose transformational strategies with rigorous accountability and a financing plan that will enable Maryland to have a system that performs as well as any in the world.”

“We have to take a page from the Massachusetts playbook,” a state they’ve heard a lot about, whose students perform better than Maryland’s on standardized tests. “And that is the notion of a grand bargain. We have to accept the notion that to get there’s going to have to be some give.”

A grand bargain

“We want to give our teachers better working conditions. We want to give them better salaries. We want to make this teaching career a real profession. But then teachers will have to accept an evaluation system consistent with a real profession.

“We want to give our principals and superintendents more resources … We want to give them more autonomy. But what they’re doing has got to be in the framework of this commission.”

“This grand bargain has to start right in this room,” Kirwan said. “Many of you represent constituencies…. There’s got to be give and take.” (A list of the commission members and who they represent.)

“At the end of the day, if we have a plan or proposal that overall is going to move the needle, we have to come together and endorse something that will make a real difference in our state.”

“We can’t just allocate more money without accountability,” Kirwan said. ‘”There’s got to be accountability or our recommendations will be dead on arrival.”

Elusive consensus

That consensus may be hard to achieve, as a discussion after Kirwan’s pep talk showed.

In public testimony, representatives of a Baltimore City charter school told of their problems and issues. That produced an argument between commission members who support charter schools, like Chester Finn on the state school board and Buzzy Hettleman, with state senators Paul Pinsky and Richard Madaleno who have resisted the expansion of charter schools proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Other commissioners questioned whether there was enough time scheduled to come up with complete recommendations.

Hearing dates

Here are the proposed hearing dates. More information will be forthcoming on the commission’s website.

  • Sept. 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Stevensville Middle School, 610 Main Street, Stevensville, MD 21666.
  • Sept. 28, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Lynx at Frederick High School, 650 Carroll Parkway, Frederick.  
  • Oct. 12, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane, Baltimore 21209
  • Oct. 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Largo High School, 505 Largo Road, Upper Marlboro, 20774

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Bob Simmons

    As a former County Commissioner and Liaison with the School Board for 4 years, education is not an accepted science, nor just common sense as “Mom” would imply. If you have listened to dedicated, learned educators talk, you may reach the conclusion that some have that there is no “one answer fits all” for such a complex problem. The public needs to be aware of this. Is there any way that TV recordings of the 9 Kirewan sessions you mentioned could be shown on MD public TV to make that more obvious to us taxpayers? Setting education policy is more like making sausage than it is simple science or simple common sense. I don’t think the public understands that.

  2. Lisa Moore

    Well, I don’t have any fancy letters after my name except MOM, but I can tell you what needs to be done in order for every child to receive the public education that they deserve. I’ll just make a list.
    1. get rid of Common Core
    2. get rid of PARCC and all the other standardized tests
    3. fully fund public schools
    4. get rid of Charter schools….they are NOT public schools and take $ away from public schools and they use abusive disciplinary practices
    5. get rid of BOOST(vouchers) because it’s giving money to Private/ religious schools and takes money away from public education
    6. stop the contracts with ed tech companies….we don’t need to be Luddites, but all of this technology is just data mining our children
    7. stop it with all the CBL, PL, SEL
    8. respect teachers and refer to them as career persons
    9. allow teachers to have autonomy in their classrooms because they are trained professionals that know how to deal with children and how to teach children
    10. get the government and free market reforms OUT of our classrooms
    11. allow children to be/act like children….they are not meat widgets for the future economy
    12. cut it with the college and career ready garbage…no one knows what jobs the future holds in 5 years
    13. bring back technical high schools and trade schools
    14.Do not expect that every child wants to attend college. Quit pushing AP for everyone.
    15.Bring back librarians, school nurses, counselors and other wrap around services
    16. Get Finn and Smarick off he Board
    Must I keep going?….because I’ve only hit on a few of the larger issues

  3. charlie hayward

    Thanks for the story Len. The Commission’s scope should have been better aligned with taxpayer interests from its inception. It should be answering this question: Why does MD spend so much to achieve below-average results relative to other countries? Instead, it is answering this question: How many spinning tops can we control, and how much more can we lean on MD taxpayer resources and Federal borrowed money to do so?

    I’m especially interested in Kirwin’s “accountability” in view of this misalignment. How can he propose accountability without knowing what is the nexus between a marginal dollar of increased spending, and any tangible improvement to educating kids?