Clairelise Rodriguez is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Last week we had the pleasure of officially welcoming NYCAN: The New York Campaign for Achievement Now into the CAN family. And this week another CAN opened its doors, this time in the Old Line State.

MarylandCAN: The MarylandCAN Campaign for Achievement Now launched yesterday in Anapolis with Executive Director Curtis Valentine at the helm. MarylandCAN’s launch included the release of the inaugural State of Maryland Public Education report, which scrutinizes all of the available data on Maryland’s K–12 public school performance.

The report findings include good and bad news for Maryland kids. The good news is that Maryland public schools are producing some of the nations’ top students. The bad news is that there’s a dark underbelly to that achievement. 

As the Washington Post reported, “A week after Maryland was named the Number One state in the nation for public education by Education Week magazine, a new advocacy group released its own report highlighting Maryland as one of the worst-performing education states when it comes to achievement.”

Not only are Maryland’s achievement gaps some of the largest in the nation, the data shows that they’re getting even larger: on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent of black students in eighth-grade scored at least proficient on the math exam, compared to 56 percent of white students. This 38-point performance gap is higher than it was in 1990 when the gap was 19 percentage points

Even in the face of these grim numbers, there’s still hope. As State Senator Bill Ferguson said during his speech at the launch yesterday, “Our achievement gap is absolutely solveable. We know how to fix it.” MarylandCAN is calling on Marylanders to rally around its legislative campaign, Bridge the Gaps, and advocate for three commonsense policies as first steps to bridging Maryland’s achievement gaps:

Bridge #1: Jumpstart public charter school innovation

Overhaul Maryland’s charter school law

Maryland’s public charter school law desperately needs a complete overhaul. It ranked 40 out of 41 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools among states with public charter school laws. Written in 2003, the core tenets of Maryland’s law are at odds with the growing body of research documenting charter school best practices and results. States with the strongest charter school laws allow their public charter schools the flexibility to be innovative while still holding them accountable for improving student achievement. The small number of charter schools we have created struggle under a system that makes it difficult to innovate and also impossible to grow to scale. The law must be changed.

Bridge #2: Fund quality pre-K for all

Expand preschool to all Maryland four-year-olds

Improving the outcomes of Maryland students means providing every Maryland four-year-old with access to a high-quality, full-day pre-K program. Maryland parents should be able to choose from a wide variety of state-approved pre-K programs for their children so that they can find the learning environment that best meets their child’s needs. Maryland’s recent Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge victory means that Maryland has a smart statewide plan and key federal investments to emerge as a national leader on preschool. Now we need to make good on that promise. During the 2012 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly will have the opportunity to demonstrate the state’s belief that all Maryland children deserve the chance to be set on a course towards academic and economic success by providing every Maryland four-year-old with access to a high-quality, full-day pre-K program.

Bridge #3: Champion active parent participation

Build a bridge between parents and teachers

No parent should ever have to choose between providing for their family and participating in their child’s education. Most people agree that active parent engagement is critical to ensuring a great education for all kids. While we cannot legislate parental involvement at home or in school, we can advocate for laws that reduce the barriers to active parent participation in their child’s educational success. One critical first step is legislation to allow parents to meet with their children’s teachers, such as in parent-teacher conferences, without penalty from employers. Just as employers are required to allow employees to carry out their civic duty and vote or serve on a jury, they should also be required to allow parents to fulfill their obligations to actively participate in their child’s education. Regardless of whether or not a parent’s job affords them leave time or whether or not the parent has remaining leave time, they should have the right to attend biannual parent teacher conferences without risking their livelihood.

Help Curtis and the rest of the MarylandCAN team bridge the gaps by joining Maryland’s new movement of education reformers. With your help, MarylandCAN will give all Maryland children access to a great public school. And great schools will change everything in Maryland: the community, the economy, and the hopes and dreams that Maryland parents like Curtis have for their children.


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