Why Kirwan Will Fail

By this point, everybody has seen the story coming out of Montgomery County. The headline saying everything it needs to say.

Can you skip 47 days of class and still graduate? In Maryland’s largest school system, the answer is yes.

A damning headline if there ever was one. Montgomery County should be super proud of their public school system after this headline.

Get into the meat of the story and it gets even worse from there:

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As graduation approached last year, the list of often-absent students at Albert Einstein High School in suburban Maryland was long. More than 175 seniors repeatedly missed classes, many in courses required for their diplomas.

Most students at the Montgomery County school graduated anyway.

They crossed the stage because of a phenomenon that goes widely unnoticed in Maryland’s largest school system: Students can pass classes they often miss. Some have forgone weeks of classroom learning and yet earned credit in their courses and graduated, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post and a video of commencement.

Records from Einstein High provide telling details about what students miss: One senior skipped algebra 36 times last spring. Another racked up 47 unexcused absences in English. Still another was gone for more than half a semester of chemistry.

Roughly 40 percent of Einstein’s Class of 2018 missed large chunks of instruction last school year, not showing up for some classes 10 to more than 50 times in a semester, documents show.

Despite these students being repeatedly absent, basically truant, from these classes, they were allowed to graduate anyway.

They were allowed to graduate anyway.

Allowing these students to graduate shows a woeful amount of indifference among educators in Montgomery County. This isn’t a failure of parents, it’s not a failure of teachers, it’s not a failure of administrators. It’s a failure of the entire Montgomery County Public School System.

Allowing graduation despite this level of truancy cheapens the entire Montgomery County school system. If a student who misses over one-third of their classes is allowed to graduate with a diploma that provides them with the same level of credentials as a student who attends class every day with a 4.0 GPA, then what does the diploma even mean? What value does that diploma have if the entire school system is willing to gloss over the fact that so many students didn’t even show up, much less show up to do the work of being a student?

And if this is happening in a “high achieving” school district like Montgomery County, what’s happening in the other 22 counties and Baltimore City? How many of their students are graduating without actually being qualified to do so?

All this, of course, brings me back to the Kirwan Commission.

As we have talked about ad nauseum, the main focus of the Kirwan Commission is the redistribution of state funds toward public schools. While there are other ancillary issues and requirements proposed along with the additional funding, it’s the money that is really driving the Kirwan train.

The problem with that is the fact that the same people who will administer this newfound Kirwan money are the same people who are in charge of our school system now. In Montgomery County, that means the teachers and administrators who allowed these students to graduate despite their truancy are the same teachers and administrators who will be spending this newfound Kirwan money.

And that is the crux of the Kirwan Conundrum. The Kirwan Commission recommendations are focused primarily on spending more money without addressing any of the underlying structural problems with public education in state education. While that may make the education advocates happy, while that may make the teacher’s unions happy, that doesn’t create a sustainable school system that actually prepares students to succeed and makes their high school diploma a valuable document.

This situation in Montgomery County is unfortunate, both for the students who were allowed to graduate despite being unqualified and for the students who did everything right and had their diplomas cheapened by their truant peers and the school staff that let them get away with it. If taxpayers are going to be expected to foot the bill for public schools, we desperately need to see an increase in accountability and consequences for bad actors like the ones who let this happen.

Sadly, we’re not in a position to there to be an increase in accountability and consequences. The Maryland State Education Association would never let Democrats off their leash long enough to allow anything like that to happen. But until we do, no blue ribbon commission recommendation in the world, no blank checkbook, and no political posturing is going to do anything to fix what’s wrong with our schools.

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