Dr. Lillian Lowery, Maryland’s new State Superintendent, proved herself a force to be reckoned with in Delaware, where she led the state to receive the first federal Race to the Top grant. We know that great schools change everything: from the economy, to our communities to a child’s future. But to have great schools, we need great leaders.
Dr. Lowery’s track record is inspiring. She’s been in the education reform trenches, serving as a principal in Fairfax, Virginia and as Delaware’s Secretary of Education. She led one of Delaware’s largest school districts out of a $28 million budget deficit and convinced her state board to unanimously approve the expansion of the high-performing Newark Charter School. We hope she will bring that same energy and urgency to the vexing problems facing Maryland’s public schools.
But the road ahead won’t be easy. Maryland has the second largest achievement gap in the nation between low-income students and their wealthier peers. While we’re proud of our “Best School System in the Country,” designation by Education Week, it’s imperative that we acknowledge that there’s another side to our education story: as a state, we’re struggling mightily to serve all our students. For example:
- On the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 18% of black students in eighth grade scored at least proficient on the math exam, compared to 56% of white students.
- By eighth grade, low-income students are more than two grade levels behind their more advantaged classmates in reading and more than three grade levels behind in math.
And according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, we have the second worst public charter school law in the country. Because of that law, more than 10,000 kids are sitting on charter school waiting lists instead of in charter school classrooms. Day in and day out, children in some of Maryland’s most financially distressed counties don’t get the kind of education they deserve.
To create dynamic and long-lasting change for Maryland’s students, we, as citizens, must have the conviction to make our voices heard and hold our officials accountable. And Dr. Lowery, in turn, must have the courage to listen, attack these issues at their root and do whatever it takes to ensure that each and every one of our children, regardless of race or class, has access to a great public school.
Written by Curtis Valentine, founding executive director of MarylandCAN: The Maryland Campaign for Achievement Now.