At a time when more than 45% of Maryland’s public school students are low-income and analysts have found that our schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion annually, it’s imperative that we close the gaps in opportunity that act as barriers to success in school. While some remain distracted by the idea of weakening neighborhood public schools and privatizing education, educators are working hard to close the achievement gap so that every child has the chance to learn, no matter their zip code.
Poverty Is Holding Kids Back
The number of low-income public school students in Maryland has more than doubledin the last 25 years, and continues to grow. Breaking this cycle of poverty is the key to improving student success in our public schools, and deserves urgent and comprehensive action.
There are now nine counties in Maryland where the majority of public school students come from low-income families—including Baltimore City and Somerset, where more than 80% of kids have to overcome poverty to do well in school.
What does poverty mean for students? It means living in communities with higher rates of violent crime, leading to heightened anxiety and stress; less access to nutritious meals outside of school hours; and having a parent who doesn’t have time to help with homework because they have to work two or three jobs. These are all tremendous barriers to learning—and the only way to close the achievement gap is to address these disadvantages head-on.
Any conversations about closing the achievement gap that focus exclusively on school-based reforms are missing more than half of problem. Neighborhood schools that serve poor communities should be given the additional support they need to overcome challenges that schools in affluent areas don’t face.
The Educator Plan to Close Opportunity Gaps
1. Expand the Number of Community Schools: Community schools are designed to close opportunity gaps by making the school a hub for essential services that students in disadvantaged communities lack. These schools generally have the following four components:
- They serve a high concentration of students in poverty
- They employ a full-time coordinator to lead community school-related services
- They conduct a needs assessment of their student population to identify key obstacles to learning and the services needed to close opportunity gaps
- They work with community partners to bring those needed services into the school building or nearby locations to make them accessible to students and community members
2. Guarantee Parental Leave for School-Based Activities: Parents in low-income families often have to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, or don’t have the education or language skills to help their children succeed in school. They deserve a parental leave act that gives them the same time and opportunity to support their kids’ education as more affluent parents.
3. Increase Focus on Equity of Opportunities to Learn: Under federal law, state accountability plans must now incorporate both academic indicators — like test scores or graduation rates — and school quality indicators — like a supportive school climate or access to teachers with advanced certification. Federal law requires states to give academic indicators more weight than school quality indicators, but it doesn’t say how much more. The Protect Our Schools Act, passed by the General Assembly in 2017, takes advantage of this long overdue opportunity to finally focus on more than just test scores, striking a balance of 65% academic indicators and 35% school quality indicators. This 35% will be determined from three opportunity-based “school quality” indicators, one of which must be based on a school climate survey completed by educators, parents, and students. The other two could be anything from chronic absenteeism to class size to teacher certification rates, so long as it is not based on student testing. Each of the three measures must count for at least 10% of the entire school score — ensuring that these measures of a student’s opportunity to learn are taken seriously by school and district leadership.
“Today was a huge day for public education in Maryland—and all supporters of our neighborhoods schools thank the General Assembly for overriding Gov. Hogan’s misguided veto. The Protect Our Schools Act will position our schools to improve learning opportunities and student outcomes for years to come, while protecting them from failed, top-down privatization ideas that put corporate interests before our students," said MSEA President Betty Weller.
“Gov. Hogan’s veto of the Protect Our Schools Act isn’t out of left field, but it’s certainly out-of-touch. It’s profoundly frustrating that the governor refuses to stand with parent, educator, and civil rights groups in support of a smarter, more transparent approach to holding schools accountable, and instead stands with Betsy DeVos in attempting to privatize our public schools. It’s also inconsistent with the bipartisan agreement that an over-reliance on standardized testing has led our schools astray from what really matters for our kids," said MSEA President Betty Weller.
This morning, the Maryland Senate passed the Protect Our Schools Act—legislation to strengthen Maryland’s school accountability system and prevent Betsy DeVos-style school privatization—by a veto-proof 32-15 margin. The House of Delegates then moved tonight to send the bill to the governor's desk with a veto-proof 87-50 vote.