Candidate Survey: John Egan for Baltimore County Board of Education
John W. Egan
B.A. – Ohio Wesleyan, Liberal Arts
M.S. – Syracuse University, Education
M.S. – Johns Hopkins University, Applied Behavioral Science
PhD – The George Washington University, Human Resource Development (incomplete)
Current: Leadership Development Consultant. Previously: USF&G Insurance – Head of Training and Development; Field Operations
Three years, 8th grade social studies teacher, Moravia, New York
Lifelong interest in politics – but no political experience
Why are you running for office?
I am running for the Baltimore County School Board because I will provide a strong, conservative voice that the School Board needs. I know that our school system can be exceptional and that up until now, I am convinced that our system has failed to live up to its fullest potential. Our system has the resources to be literally world class, yet it seems as if there has been a general desire to just be ‘good enough.’
I am running because the School Board has failed to provide necessary oversight in the past and must improve in this area. With my knowledge, experience, and commitment to education, I can help provide that necessary oversight.
I am running for the School Board because children are the future and their education is a critical societal responsibility. As a citizen of this community, I want to share my insights in making the important educational decisions that will literally affect the very future of our community and country.
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
This may be a cliché, but my political role model is Ronald Reagan. I admire him for his policies (both national and international) and for his interpersonal skills.
I am in complete agreement with his fiscal conservatism. Like Reagan, I believe in supply-side economics focused on lowering taxes, decreasing regulation and reducing government spending. I admired how he addressed and ended the air traffic controllers’ strike.
I respected how he championed the family and the “American” way of life and used strong and unambiguous language to challenge the Soviet Union and communism. He won the cold war by standing up to the “evil empire” and showed strength, challenging the Soviets by escalating an arms race until the Soviets “surrendered.”
I admired him because his humor and general humanity was constantly on display and his willingness to work with others outside of his political party. I admired his optimistic spirit.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
My favorite “political” author is Thomas Sowell. While his books may not be specifically about policy, there are underlying political themes. My favorite Sowell book is Conquests and Cultures but my favorite Sowell book that has a stronger political orientation is The Vision of the Anointed.
This book powerfully critiques the failures of many of our social policies by arguing that these policies (addressing topics such as education, the family, crime, and others) were created through a political correctness lens rather than a basis of actual facts. This political correctness of liberals, who think of themselves as enlightened and intellectual, discourages / prohibits the full exploration of these critical topics and results in policies that cannot achieve their desired goals because they are not based on hard data or facts.
What is your favorite book about education, and why?
While I would not use the term “favorite,” an education book that made an impact on my understanding of education was John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. This book exposed me to an interesting philosophy of education and created a foundation to build on while working on my graduate degree in education. Although this book was labeled “progressive” in 1916, I believe it stands the test of time by speaking to the need for schools to consider societal standards so all Americans have a foundation of similar ideas and expectations.
Related to this idea of having generally accepted societal standards, I found great value in William Bennet’s The Book of Virtues. I am also supportive of current education books that speak to the importance of whole brain development. Unfortunately, the majority of current education books are primarily written with a clear liberal bias.
What will be your top priority on the Board of Education?
My top priority is to give voice to our schools’ highest performers. I understand why the Board must address the needs of the lowest performing students with programs such as English as a second language and remedial math and reading skills. I am concerned that in addressing these needs, we overlook the need to provide additional resources to support and nurture our school’s top achievers.
I want our schools to provide greater resources to those students who have the potential to be exceptional. We need to identify these students and give them the resources and encouragement to excel. Carver Center for the Arts has done a fantastic job of nurturing and supporting our students in the arts. We have a responsibility to provide comparable resources dedicated to academic excellence in both the social sciences and STEM.
I want to establish Genius grants for our exceptional students. This program, designed for high school students, will combine elements of both the MacArthur Fellowship Program and entrepreneurial start-up grants. Talented students with exceptional talent and ideas (both science and humanities/art) would be eligible to receive monies to further their ideas. I would seek partnerships with local firms to fund these grants.
What is the biggest issue facing your county schools?
The biggest issue facing the School Board is the need to simultaneously provide greater oversight to school administration and increasing transparency. Recent history provides evidence that the current Board has not provided an adequate level of oversight.
Several situations expose this need. For example I question the initial selection of Superintendent Dance and then later the extension of his contract. I want to know why the Board was not more critical of his performance since we now know that he spent about a third of all school days in 2016 outside of the school district. And I am concerned that the decision to provide laptops throughout the system may not have been based on solid educational principles.
What are the three biggest issues facing Maryland schools?
The three biggest issues facing MD schools: Oversight, Transparency, and Competence.
First, the School Board must provide more effective oversight as addressed above.
Second, the School Board needs to create more transparency. The Board needs to assume a more proactive role in including the community at large in the conversation regarding providing quality education. The Board needs to sponsor town halls throughout the county, at least on a quarterly basis and improve access to information regarding school policies. The school system needs to establish an ombudsman position. This person will field and address issues and questions from the entire community and will allow citizens greater access to the inner workings of the school system.
The third issue is assuring that we recruit and maintain the most talented and engaged teachers possible. We need to assure that our best teachers receive pay appropriate to their contributions. We need to assure that minimal performance teaching standards are addressed. We must offer our least effective teachers opportunities to improve but be prepared to remove them from classrooms if they do not possess the required skills.
Have you read your county schools curriculum? If so, which parts do you like and which parts do you dislike?
I am familiar with elements of our curriculum, but I intend to become more thoroughly conversant in the complete curriculum to best prepare me for a seat on the School Board.
What is your position on school spending?
Baltimore County School Board has an operating budget of $ 1.6 billion. Unfortunately, presented in a 350 page format, it is almost indecipherable if you wish to understand specific elements. There needs to be greater transparency. Until some of the details of the budget are explained to me, I am not prepared to state whether or not the current spending is appropriate. My experience has taught me, however, that most budgets contain funding for activities and resources that are not essential to the vision of the organization and that re-prioritizing expenditures is often what is needed and not just asking for more money and bigger budgets.
Please identify the three areas which you believe should be prioritized when it comes to school funding
Curriculum Development, Extracurricular Activities, STEM Programs
What is your position on teacher tenure?
I am opposed to teacher tenure, in both practice and theory. In practice – I oppose teacher tenure because almost every K-12 teacher receives tenure, whether it is earned or not. In theory – I oppose teacher tenure because I believe it leads to teacher complacency. The best teachers do not need tenure because their quality performance provides them with job security while on the other hand, the least competent teachers can use tenure to defend them from any disciplinary actions.
What is your position on standardized testing?
I am in favor of standardized testing. In almost any endeavor, to determine progress there needs to be standardized measurements of performance. If used correctly, standardized testing provides benchmarks for parents and teachers and can help identify problem areas for individual students. And, it brings an element of objectivity to what can otherwise be a very subjective evaluation of student performance.
Standardized testing should not be the only determinate of school progress or success, but is a critical element to determine whether students are improving and whether the schools are achieving their most important objective – the education of its students.
What is your position on classroom size?
Classroom size should not be standardized, although standardization is a useful technique in a budgeting process. Actual classroom size should be situational – dependent upon a number of factors such as: aptitude of the students, complexity of the subject, teacher skill/experience level (e.g. newer teachers having slightly smaller classes than more experienced teachers), etc.
Generally, I believe that the lower the teacher-student ratio, the more attention individual students receive resulting in the general improvement of student learning and performance.
Do you believe the Board of Education should having taxation authority?
I do not believe the Board of Education should have taxing authority. Taxing for school operations should be the decision of the citizens of the community. The citizens should assess the performance of the schools in determining the level of funding.