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  December 15, 2017

Will Kirwan Consider Race When Recommending Fixes to Maryland Schools?

Baltimore students and advocates are pushing the Kirwan Commission to consider racial equity when recommending changes to policies and funding
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A. WASHINGTON: Our goal is to make sure that you're career and college ready in the same level that these other high-performing countries are.

JAISAL NOOR: The debate over how to address the consequences of chronic poverty in Baltimore often focuses on education. Many agree the Baltimore school system is troubled and say a historic pattern of underfunding is in part to blame. Courts have found the state has shortchanged Baltimore City school students by hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two and a half decades, which is why students and educators gathered at a meeting of the Kirwan Commission this week, a body tasked with addressing college readiness and seeking a more equitable funding formula for Maryland Public Schools. Among the attendees, ninth graders from Baltimore Seed School, which aimed to prepare at-risk youth for college.

Currently, Maryland adheres to standards known as the Common Core, which requires students to demonstrate they're college and career ready by the 11th grade. But, the Commission is considering changing that standard to the 10th grade. The students later shared their reflections with Kirwan Commission member and Prince George's County delegate, Alonzo T. Washington.

ARON SIMPKINS: If you're gonna set the standard at 10th grade, and some students aren't ready and at that level, wouldn't they be more depressed?

JADYN PETERSON: You said if they don't reach the standards by 12th grade, I know some 12th graders that's stressing out, that's in distress because they aren't reaching the standard. If you lower that to 10th grade, how is that helping us by stressing us out to reach the standard that you want us to get to?

JAISAL NOOR: Washington emphasized that additional resources would be provided to ensure students would be able to reach proficiency.

A. WASHINGTON: ...Making sure that we have these recommendations ready for folks who are coming through and moving into ninth grade and 10th grade. I think mental health is also a big issue in our school system and that goes along with the depression and some of those things, too, that we must provide those wraparound services for students. But this is good to hear. One thing that this commission is missing is the student's perspective. The one reason I stayed back behind is because I wanted to hear from you guys.

My perspective is not only one of being a delegate from the Ways and Means Committee, but being an advocate for schools and for our teachers and for our public school system to ensure there's adequacy in education and there's equity, especially with a racial lens here. I am the youngest person on this commission and also one of only three African Americans on this commission as well.

JAISAL NOOR: I was struck when I walked in that room that there is that issue of diversity and of older white men seeming to dominate it. Is that a concern of yours?

A. WASHINGTON: I would like for there to be more diversity on this panel. I think we're holding the fort down pretty well and going to make sure that the racial equity lens is adhered to in here.

JAISAL NOOR: There are growing calls for Kirwan to adopt a racial equity lens not only examining how poverty is a barrier to learning, but specifically discuss race. I questioned Kirwan commissioner Craig Rice.

CRAIG RICE: I think that throughout my discussions and throughout a number of the other members that are also a part of this commission, there's continued to be a racial equity thread. I know that's one of the reasons why I'm on this commission to make sure that those kinds of things are represented as a part of our discussions and as a part of our potential recommendations.

JAISAL NOOR: A topic raised at the recent Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle legislative agenda session.

KHALILAH HARRIS: Whatever we're pushing for the commission to do, and we need to have also conversation about equity versus equality, which are not the same thing. Equity versus equality, as long as we ask for equal we will not have enough because we didn't start at the same place. We need to be pushing for equitable access to opportunities and resources.

JAMAL JONES: Because actually what it is, it's functionally of reparations. We're going to take current dollars and infuse them into communities that have been displaced or disenfranchised as a result of white supremacy, Jim Crow, all those things that have occurred traditionally in the country and that doesn't serve them at all.

DAYVON LOVE: A lot of times poverty is used as a proxy for talking about race and it's important to understand that racism is a separate thing that requires separate structures to deal with that. I think the issue is to really focus on where those resources go and making sure that there's an infrastructure that is community based and Black-led that will make determinations about what buildings are used for or challenging the school closings that are happening and bringing community organizations into those buildings if we decide to use them.

JAISAL NOOR: In attendance was Senator Bill Ferguson.

BILL FURGUSON: Yeah. I think this is essential. Race equity is an issue that the state of Maryland has struggled with for decades, centuries, and so it has to be a part of the ongoing vision.

JAISAL NOOR: In Annapolis, I asked Delegate Washington for a response.

A. WASHINGTON: We've had conversations about community schools providing more wraparound resources for high-poverty areas, raising the awareness around making sure that we have more African-American teachers or our teaching workforce is more diverse. Right now, in the minority community, the teachers, there's only about 25% of our teachers are minorities in the state of Maryland. I think you came on a day where we're just talking about one particular instance about some of our tests and increasing the standards, but we've had many conversations about the racial lens, about ensuring that we provide more resources for high concentrations of poverty areas.

JAISAL NOOR: Across Maryland and the nation, a growing number of experts and advocates like Towson University professor Jessica Shiller say it's time to move away from evaluating students based on standardized test scores like the PARCC test, which is a computerized test given to students starting in the third grade.

JESSICA SHILLER: Testing measures most, that we know from decades and decades of research, is family income. No matter what the test, even 10 years from now, we'll see that there are disparities in PARCC scores among Baltimore City students and students in wealthier districts.

JAISAL NOOR: Many argue test scores reflect inequality.

JESSICA SHILLER: Almost everyone that I know in my field believes that, but very few people working in education in Maryland are able to say that they disagree with using these tests because there's funding tied to them.

JAISAL NOOR: A growing number of states have abandoned the PARCC test, made by testing giant Pearson, over concerns over its accuracy and of over testing. Kirwan commissioner Joy Schaefer said the commission is not examining the issue of excessive testing.

Concern with over testing and too much of an emphasis on standardized testing and high-stakes testing, is that something you're taking into consideration and that the commission will be addressing?

JOY SCHAEFER: As far as the testing issue, we're not addressing but we are talking about there are folks on the commission who are very concerned about if we're going to give additional money, how do we make sure that it's spent the way in which we would like it to be spent.

JAISAL NOOR: Montgomery County councilman Craig Rice said education can't fix poverty.

CRAIG RICE: There definitely is a tie between socioeconomic status and the ability for students to oftentimes perform in school as well as on tests. That's something that we're very cognizant of and it's been part of our conversation around building community schools. We'll talk a little bit more about that today as a part of our framework and some our building blocks, but it's also something that's going to be outside of the realm of this commission.

JAISAL NOOR: Rice says a holistic approach is needed.

CRAIG RICE: But, I would encourage all local jurisdictions who are then going to be tasked with making these actual recommendations come to fruition. They've got to be factoring them in, in terms of really truly making catalystic change in their communities, having these be a part.

JAISAL NOOR: The Kirwan Commission has delayed releasing its recommendations until after this upcoming Annapolis legislative session, which has prompted many to call for Annapolis to increase funding for schools as a bridge to Kirwan. Baltimore School System may face another deficit like the $129 million it faced earlier this year. For The Real News, this Jaisal Noor.


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