Kirwan Commission: Preliminary Recommendations

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While the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) still has meetings scheduled for December 18 and 19 to finalize recommendations, we have a general idea about their priorities from the four working groups discussed at the December 6 meeting: (1) early childhood education; (2) high-quality teachers and leaders; (3) college and career readiness pathways; and (4) more resources for at-risk students. A fifth policy area for governance and accountability is being evaluated by the full commission.

Early Childhood Education Working Group 1 recommended to expand high-quality, full-day prekindergarten at no cost for four-year-olds and three-year-olds from families with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level (FPL) (approximately $75,000 for a family of four). For four-year-olds from families with incomes between 300-600% FPL (approximately $75,000 to $150,000 for a family of four), some public funding would be provided to families to assist with the cost of prekindergarten based on a sliding scale. Families with incomes above 600% FPL (approximately $150,000 for a family of four) will pay the full cost to attend a public prekindergarten program. Accommodating additional preschoolers will require increasing capacity and quality of prekindergarten programs, increasing the number of early childhood educators and staff and providing professional development incentives and tuition assistance for prospective teachers and staff.

High Quality and Diverse Teachers and Leaders Working Group 2 recommended making teacher preparation programs more rigorous, raising licensing standards for new teachers, and rebranding the teaching profession as a more attractive career. Teacher pay would be raised to make it equitable with other highly trained professions with comparable education requirements. Increases in teacher salaries will be tied to movement up a teacher career ladder. There will be a teacher leadership track and an administrative track. The school day must allow teachers to spend less of the working day teaching classes and more time to improve instruction and plan lessons, tutor students who are falling behind, and participate in collaborative professional learning. Expansion of teacher scholarships and loan forgiveness programs for students who teach, or agree to teach, in high-need schools are also recommended.

College and Career Readiness Pathways. Working Group 3 recommended that a tenth grade-level college and career readiness (CCR) standard be established that certifies that the student has the required literacy in English and mathematics needed to succeed in first-year credit courses in open enrollment postsecondary institutions in the State. Students who meet the CCR standard will be able to pursue advanced placement programs or redesigned Career and Technical Education programs that include workplace training and lead to industry-recognized credentials. Students who do not meet the CCR standard by the end of tenth grade, the State and local school districts will have eleventh and twelfth grade programs designed to meet the CCR standard by twelfth grade, including more project and program-based courses, summer instruction following tenth grade, assignment of a teacher as the student’s case manager, and priority access to an enhanced career counseling system.

More Resources for At-risk Students. To ensure that at-risk students have both the academic supports and wraparound services to address their social, physical health, mental health, and family needs, Working Group 4 recommended to revise the funding formula weights for special education students and English learner students and to add a concentrated poverty formula to support intensive, coordinated services for students in schools that have a high concentration of student poverty. Additional funding would be available to provide a community schools coordinator and a health services practitioner at that school and services such as extended learning time, vision and dental services, behavioral health services, and family and community engagement. For English learner students funding should allow for the provision of a family liaison and support services such as translation services, cultural competency training, family support and engagement, and referrals to resources outside the school.

Governance and Accountability. The commission is considering establishing an independent body to oversee and coordinate implementation of the commission’s recommendations over the anticipated phase-in period of 10 years, with up to 25% of new funds subject to approval of initial plans and demonstrated progress during the implementation period. While implementation of new programs is desired for educational improvement, many feel that the State Board and Department of Education should be overseeing implementation rather than a separate body.

All these recommendations will be very costly with a phase-in from $806,594,082 in Fiscal Year 2020 to $4,432,365,165 in FY2030. For more details, see the working papers of the Kirwan Commission here.

 

Lois Hybl,
LWVMD 1st Vice President, Action
vp1@lwvmd.org

It has since been announced the work of the Kirwan Commission will continue for another year before legislation is introduced to the Maryland General Assembly - see Baltimore Sun or Washington Post articles for more in-depth information on the delay in funding.