Thornton Revisited

Thornton Revisited?

by George W. Liebmann


Baltimore Sun,  July 6, 2016

A Commission under the chairmanship of former University of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan has been studying the ‘adequacy’ of financing of Maryland’s K-12 education system. Creation of the commission was provided for in 2002 ; it is carefully composed of only two designees of the Governor (because of the danger that the Governor sometimes is a Republican), ten designees of the state’s gerrymandered and perpetually Democratic legislature, ten designees of the various segments of the state’s public education establishment, and three ex officio members. The private schools that still command the allegiance of about 10 % of the state’s taxpayers and parents are entirely unrepresented. The Commission is commanded by statute to use the same consultants as were used by the Thornton Commission, and must report in an election year, so that the legislature is under maximum pressure to accept its recommendations. The Thornton Commission recommended added expenditures of $1.1 billion annually, and few changes in practices, producing no measurable improvements in school performance. The new commission is programmed to do the same; and sceptics about its program will be stigmatized as enemies of education, enlightenment, and the Maryland way of government. But here is a test by which the worth of the Commissions’s recommendations may be examined:
Does it foster a sensible model of a public school?

What is such a school?

1. A school in which teachers and principals retain control over student discipline, without fear of “disparate impact” claims, procedural steeplechases, or ruinous attorneys’ fee awards.

2. A school in which disruptive students are promptly removed from the classroom, so as not to delay or disturb the education of other students.

3. A school in which hiring of teachers is reposed at the building level, without seniority “bumping” and other curtailments on schools’ ability to build a team and select their teachers.

4. A school in which the principal is selected by and responsible to a building-level board, enlisting the energies of parents, teachers and community members with relevant expertise.

5. A school that is free like private schools to recruit its teachers from the 90% of college graduates excluded from the teaching force by today’s public school certification rules.

6. A school which unlike most of today’s public schools can hire properly qualified teachers of physics, chemistry, computer science, Arabic, Chinese and other critical languages and teachers trained to educate the blind, the deaf and the seriously physically disabled without being obstructed by the unions’ single salary schedule.

7. A school which can adjust its salary schedules to recruit members of single-earner families in the interest of not having an almost entirely female teaching force

8. A school which includes in its teaching force persons of varied ages and backgrounds, including career changers, scientists, returning housewives, and retired military, law enforcement, business, professional and civil service personnel

9. A school in which inadequate teachers as determined by a principal and building-level board can be terminated without lengthy grievance procedures

10. A school in which learning disabilities are identified early in a student’s career by school health examinations

11. A school which takes seriously discouraging drug use among its students, and which does not, for fear of lawsuits, relegate them in wholesale lots to the criminal justice system

12. A school in which the quality of teachers renders unnecessary heavily prescribed curricula; in which books are read, not bite-sized chunks of them; and in which ‘teaching to the test’ is unknown

13. A school which treats 11th and 12th graders like the incipient adults they are, separating them from adolescents

14. A school which does not shrink from the inculcation of cultural and religious traditions and values, and which respects parental rights of choice in this respect

15. A school in which teachers are rewarded with adequate salaries, not with over-elaborate fringe benefits encouraging malingering and ‘gaming the system’ , and in which ‘burned out’ teachers are not locked into their jobs by seniority benefits and vesting requirements for pensions

16. A school with meaningful and internationally recognized graduation standards, which will not be waived by reason of supposed ‘disparate impact’

17. A school with meaningful connections with the ensuing experiences, educational or industrial, of its graduates

18. A school in which handicapped students enjoy the services of specially qualified and properly paid teachers, in which resources are not wasted on bureaucracies preparing ‘individual treatment plans’

19. A school whose teachers are able to use new distance learning and digital technologies, free of state-level restrictions imposed by the unions

Will the schools liberally financed by the Kirwan Commission’s plan correspond to this model? Don’t hold your breath.

The writer, a Baltimore lawyer, is the volunteer executive director of the Calvert Institute for Policy Research in Baltimore and the author ov various books on public policy, including Solving Problems Without Large Government (Praeger, 2000), reprinted as Neighborhood Futures (Transaction Books, 2004) which discusses education issues.

Posted in: Budget, Education, State and Local Politics

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