Rascovar: Hogan strong arms his own state school board

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By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

In one of the oddest situations Annapolis has seen in recent times, Gov. Larry Hogan is trying to sabotage his own school board.

That’s right. A state school board made up almost exclusively of Hogan appointees is scheduled today to submit to federal officials a plan for turning around under-performing schools.

The panel agreed to this improvement plan after 19 months of intense study that included five “listening tours,” 205 meetings, testimony from education experts and extensive staff research.

Yet the governor is intent on blowing up his school board’s plan before it arrives in Washington.

Hogan wrote a scathing letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos denouncing the school-improvement program approved by his own education panel. He says it preserves “the status quo in failing schools.”

A reading of the state’s submittal doesn’t appear to support Hogan’s objection, which is rooted almost completely in politics, not education.

Hogan wants to turn under-performing schools over to private contractors to be run as charter, non-unionized schools. He’d like to strip counties and Baltimore City of authority over those schools and lump them into “recovery districts” controlled by the state. He’d love to shut down failing schools and give students vouchers to attend private schools.

Multiple-choice education 

His notions are rigidly conservative and radical. He would sweep away much of the underpinnings of Maryland’s public school system, including local control. Hogan wants to replace weak-performing schools with a privatized, multiple-choice system for educating children.

That idea hasn’t gotten off the ground in the Maryland General Assembly. The Democratic-controlled legislature repeatedly has rejected Republican Hogan’s attempts to privatize parts of the state’s public education system.

To make sure Hogan can’t embed his conservative education ideas by way of state school board decisions, the legislature passed a measure earlier this year limiting reforms the state panel can include in a plan it must submit to Washington to deal with failing schools.

Essentially, Democratic lawmakers instructed the state board that reform efforts must deal directly with student deficiencies and teacher deficiencies at existing schools. The board’s remediation plan must be implemented within the current education structure. No radical steps like charter schools, privatized management, vouchers or recovery districts allowed.

Lawmakers also rankled Hogan by limiting how much weight can be given to standardized tests in determining if a school is failing.

Hogan vetoed the legislature’s bill, which Democrats then easily voted to override.

Much of the language approved by the legislature is what the powerful state teachers union wanted to protect its members from being fired in a mass privatization movement.

Dealing with failed schools

Yet the legislature’s restrictions hardly amount to “preserving the status quo.” It did restrain what Hogan’s school board can propose as far as school takeovers and other sweeping moves to turn to private-sector solutions.

Yet the final product gives a detailed description of how schools will be judged and how the state will support comprehensive improvements in the weakest public schools.

It’s a far more challenging and thoughtful plan than an “off-with-their heads” approach that would re-create faltering public schools along privatized lines.

Hogan could well gain backing for his subversion from DeVos in Washington. After all, the pair made a joint guest appearance at an elementary school in Montgomery County earlier this year. Their education ideas seem to mesh.

She, too, is an ardent believer in privatization of schooling, though that approach has a mixed record.

Despite reservations from some of its members, the state education board’s submission to Washington is a solid, commendable effort to directly confront failings in schools across Maryland. The stress is on comprehensive efforts to improve teaching skills and student performance.

That may not be radical enough for Hogan, who is using all his tools to try to gum up the works. The danger is that he succeeds, with $250 million in federal school aid hanging in the balance.

But don’t count on Democrats in the legislature letting the Republican governor have his way on education privatization, even if DeVos sides with him. They are unlikely to yield.

This could well turn into an election issue next year with Hogan appealing to his conservative political base, accusing Democrats of pandering to the teachers’ union and resisting wholesale reforms.

On the other side, Democrats are sure to exploit Hogan’s unyielding advocacy of school privatization as part of his effort to diminish state support of public education.

DeVos’ decision on Maryland’s school-improvement proposal could play a prominent role in the state’s upcoming elections, especially the race for governor. It could have ramifications far beyond the classroom.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.

  • Lisa Moore

    Education issues will be his downfall in the next election. I generally like what the Gov has done for the state, but I have children and my vote will directly be tied to what is best for my children. That does NOT equal a vote for Gov Hogan. But everyone needs to remember that Finn and Smarick (appointed by the Gov) sit on that board and both are in favor of privatization and charters.

    • Dale McNamee

      And what is wrong with charter and private schools that turn out literate and educated graduates ?

      • edddoerr

        What’s wrong? Plenty. Charter and private schools are not answerable to elected school boards. They can “select out” the kids they do not want, and do so often. Further, the vast majority of private schools are run by religious organizations and are generally used for sectarian indoctrination. Tax aid for private schools would mean that all taxpayers are forced to support religious institutions they would not support voluntarily, and this would violate their constitutional religious liberty. Tax support for church-run private schools would lead to the fragmenting of our school population along religious, ideological, class, ethnic, and other lines. — Edd Doerr

        • Ed Amatetti

          Public charter schools, by law, generally do not “select out” students. In all of the more than a hundred public charter schools I have been affiliated with, visited, have familiarity about, admissions are based on random lottery. Nearly all of them have a higher percentage of minority and disadvantaged students than the surrounding traditional public schools.

          • edddoerr

            Nationally MOST charter schools are selective in various ways. Keep up to date on this matter through educator Diane Ravitch’s daily blog. Further, the Stanford U CREDO study has shown that nearly 40% of charters are worse than regular public schools, while fewer than 20% are any better, and that is due generally to their selectivity. Charters, especially for-profit and online charters, are part of a national effort to privatize and downgrade the public schools that serve 90% of our kids. — Edd Doerr

          • Ed Amatetti

            There is no reason to compare public charter schools to traditional public schools. It isn’t a competition – they are both trying to serve students. It’s about innovation and choice. I’m guessing you don’t want to visit any charters schools with me.

          • edddoerr

            Anyone even remotely familiar with charters knows that they ARE competing with regular public schools. Amatetti seems unfamiliar with the CREDO study cited above. There is actually little innovation in charters, and many are seriously defective online schools and for profits that exploit uncertified beginning teachers. With over $500 billion spent each year on education, many charter operators are salivating at the chance to get some of it. Again, read educator Diane Ravitch’s daily blogs. — Edd Doerr

  • ME

    Rascovar showing his true colors of his former employer Baltimore Sun…

  • charlie hayward

    I think it’s far fetched to believe MD could lose $250M Federal school aid b/c of Hogan’s action or inaction. If I’m wrong, I wonder if our litigious and partisan AG will sue Trump’s Dept. of ED?

  • edddoerr

    Hogan seems to have forgotten that Maryland voters rejected tax aid for private schools in state referenda in 1972 and 1974. Hogan also seem unaware that in 28 state referenda from coast to coast over the last 50 years many millions of voters have rejected all plans for diverting public funds to private schools by 2 to 1. So much for Hogan’s respect for voters and for our constitutional heritage of religious liberty. — Edd Doerr

    • pennyroyal

      Voters have repeatedly, on the local and state levels rejected voters and other scams such as Betsy DeVos, the GOP, and the religious right have scared up. Now they are using the full power of the federal government to rip off American taxpayers.

  • Ed Amatetti

    Shame on you. This article greatly mischaracterizes Hogan’s position as well as the nature of education alternatives and school choice.

    First, Hogan’s refusal to sign on to the State’s plan for school accountability is because the plan has no teeth, and will accomplish nothing except allow the underperformance of Baltimore schools to persist and
    continue the decline of Maryland schools compared to states that are pursuing real education reform.

    Hogan is only “blowing up” a plan his MDBOE appointees were forced to settle for after the Maryland Assembly passed the Protect Our Schools Act (HB978), which effectively gutted the state BOE ability to set anything close to rigorous school standards to promote school performance. The Protect Our Schools Act forces the BOE to put less emphasis on test scores and academic achievement when evaluating schools. It prohibits an A-F grading system for schools, and disallows any turnaround plan that affects existing collective bargaining agreements. Finally, it categorically prevents the State from converting chronically failing schools into public charter schools, private vouchers, or any other alternative mechanism, that might bring the kinds of successes being realized all cross the country to improve the
    educational prospects of our most unfortunate children.

    As far as you contention that “Hogan wanting to turn under-performing schools over to private contractors to be run as charter, non-unionized schools,” it should be pointed out that charter schools ARE “public schools” i every sense of the word – they are correctly referred to as “public charter schools,” and often employ union teachers. Across the country, they are achieving great things. In Maryland, these public
    charter schools, like Chesapeake Point Science Academy, are obliterating the achievement gap.

    I, for one, am so tired of seeing generation and after generation of children being underserved – held hostage to zip codes, curriculum fads, and top-down management. I am so tired of seeing the most creative, talented teachers quitting the public school system. I am, so sick of the long lines of desperate
    parents trying to get their children into the schools of their choice. As a former teacher in the some of the most challenging schools in the Maryland/DC area, I’ve seen enough. I STAND WITH THE CHILDREN.

    Shame on you for not taking the time to consider what is best for our most disadvantaged children.

    • edddoerr

      Referring to charters as “public schools” is a sham. They are not accountable to elected local school boards, as regular public schools are, and they are unfriendly to teach unions and tend to pay teachers less and get less well trained teachers. — Edd Doerr

      • Ed Amatetti

        Thank you for your response Edd. The concerns about accountability of public charters are important. Thankfully, I can tell you they are not true. Maryland charter schools are completely accountable to local school boards BY LAW, they are required to employ union teachers, and they pay them the same. If you would like to visit a Maryland charter school some time with me I’d be happy to arrange a visit. We can talk to the teachers and administrators.