Maryland Schools are a Mess
Maryland Schools are an absolute mess. There is just no other way to put it. Local jurisdictions are caught in the middle between parents on one side and state and federal entities on the other. On the federal level the CDC says “Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction continues to be a priority.” The state continues to support these recommendations by issuing an “updated K-12 school and childcare Covid-19 guidance on isolation and quarantine to help continue full-time, in-person learning for Maryland students.” The state goes further, however, by issuing “interim guidance for local school systems, nonpublic schools, and childcare programs.”
This interim guidance temporarily replaces the isolation and quarantine guidance in the “K-12 School and Child Care COVID-19 Guidance” document dated October 27, 2021. This document is a nice compact 18-page government publication with charts and graphs that identify multiple pathways of isolation, quarantine and “modified quarantine.” The interim guide was issued because the CDC is expected to issue specific updates to its recommendations for K-12 schools and childcare programs in the near future. Of course they indicate that “it should be noted that this interim guidance is subject to change.” Got it?
It is beyond the scope of this essay to attempt to say who should quarantine (standard or modified) or isolate and for how long. Good luck figuring it all out.
They have Lost Their Soul
The real issue is that Maryland school systems as well as others across the nation have lost their soul. They are no longer in the business of educating our children. They are now in full survival mode just trying to stay afloat and have turned into social gathering places.
A quick look at websites and Facebook pages of the Maryland local school systems reveals the ugly truth. Most pages and sites are full of COVID-19 related and other general information about school closures due to the recent inclement weather, sports teams, free meal schedules and more. If you dig around on these sites, you will find the “Strategic Plan.” This is where each system has laid out it plan for the upcoming 5 years or so. This is a legal requirement under Every Student Succeeds Act. Each system lists what it has determined its top priorities. In most cases, academic achievement is somewhere in the middle of the list. Some plans include fancy looking graphics and charts with lots of impressive sounding language with arrows to indicate the circular nature of the plans. None, however, includes real hard data associated with any past, present or future achievement of these targets. Some do include achievement data, but it has been since the 2018/2019 school year when any meaningful data has been reported.
Anne Arundel County’s plan is very confusing to say the least. It identifies “relationships, rigor, and readiness” as its overarching theme. There is then another page with “driving values” including: “All Students, Families, Employees & Community Members Feel Welcome,” and “Everyone in the AACPS Family Fosters Student Growth” among the values listed. The next two sections of driving values are titled “Ready Set Launch, and Sound Stewardship.” The plan lists 17 strategies including “Orange Frog rallies.” It is not until #5 on the list of 17 strategies does Anne Arundel County Public Schools mention anything related to academics.
Baltimore County’s plan lists 5 focus areas. It speaks of “Raising the Bar, Closing Gaps and Preparing for our Future, but of the five focus areas, only one is academic in nature. They even have a goal for teacher and staff attendance. Harford County’s plan consists of 5 core values. One of which is academic.
While some of these plans do address academic achievement, what is sorely missing in all of them is any actionable data. Yes COVID-19 has put a damper on much of the school assessments, but many of the plans have not been updated since the spring of 2019. It is hard to believe that there is no data available for any of their stated goals.
All the strategic plans include a method of evaluating the plan, none has included any actual or measurable data, other than 2018-2019 PARCC data. Prince George’s County, for example, indicates a long list of data sources that will be used to evaluate the plan. They use language like “percentage of student in a given group” as their means to measure the specific outcome, but they do not include a specific percentage as a target. For example, to measure math proficiency their statement of how it will be measured is: “Percentage of students meeting (Level 4) or exceeding (Level 5) grade-level mathematics proficiency standards.” They do not, however, indicate what the target percentage is, nor do they indicate what the current or historical level is.
The vagueness and incomplete nature of these school systems’ plans is of no surprise. Schools are now fully focused on staying afloat by working to create and implement online curriculum to replace the traditional in person learning. This is no small task, and many systems should be commended for their quick response to the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The issue now is how to maintain academic standards. Apparently, schools cannot or will not rise to the challenge. From the very beginning of the shutdowns, the focus was on the social emotional component of the closings. It apparently has never changed and most systems prioritize it over academic excellence
Schools are being asked to be everything to everyone except educators. Harford County has now instituted pop-up COVID-19 screening clinics which are for students and staff throughout HCPS who are ASYMPTOMATIC (not showing signs of COVID-19), have not been identified as a close contact, and who choose to be tested; however, symptomatic students and staff have to contact the Harford County Health Department or their physician to have access to a test. Maybe there is sound rationale behind this policy, but as an institution of learning, they are clearly out of their area of expertise.
Teachers and administrators are trained educators, not healthcare workers or policy makers. Teachers are trained how to teach. Administrators are trained how to evaluate that teaching and how to effectively lead school systems. As we keep asking more and more of our schools, we have derailed them into losing their core focus and purpose.
They have lost their souls.
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The MEN was founded by John Huber in the fall of 2020. It was founded to provide a platform for expert opinion and commentary on current issues that directly or indirectly affect education. All opinions are valued and accepted providing they are expressed in a professional manner. The Maryland Education Network consists of Blogs, Videos, and other interaction among the K-12 community.