Maryland Education System Ranks in Nation's Top Three

By VEENA TREHAN, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (Jan. 9, 2008) - A well-known national education survey ranked Maryland among the top three states at a time when the school superintendent has lost the support of Maryland's top elected officials.

Education Week's "Quality Counts" survey grades all states on their performance outcomes and policy efforts. The annual survey, considered one of the nation's most comprehensive, uses six categories containing more than 100 total measures.

Overall Maryland received a B, along with Massachusetts and New York. The average grade for all states was a C.

"Learning that Maryland schools are ranked among the top in the nation gives us all a reason to be very proud of our school system," said Sen. Roy Dyson, D-29, vice chairman of the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. "We have achievement gains spanning from pre-K to 12th grade."

In the category specifically measuring K-12 education, Maryland earned the second-highest grade in the nation, a B versus the D+ national average. Maryland ranked above the average for transitions and alignment (between different school levels) and school finance. Maryland was below the average in a category that measures teacher attraction, recruiting, and retention.

Maryland was among the top six in "chance for success," a measure started last year that evaluates the importance of education from "cradle to career."

"Our education system's strength augurs well for continued state job growth through base realignment and other business opportunities," said Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick in a prepared statement.

Last month, the state's top three elected officials opposed her reappointment. Now they are considering ways to rescind her new term. But on Wednesday Grasmick took credit for the survey accolade.

"I think it represents a very sustained effort that has occurred in Maryland over a long period of time," said Grasmick. "It's a tribute to the State Department of Education which set in place the policies which yielded these results."

In June, Grasmick will start a fifth term, a feat attributed to what many consider her unusual political savvy.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley has been clear that he wants Grasmick out of the job she's held since 1991. Today he called her a 'poster child' for President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law and "a pawn" of the Republican Party, according to the Associated Press.

O'Malley cannot change her reappointment by the State Board of Education, which was dominated by outgoing board members from Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich's administration. However he has said that he'll push for legislation to change that.

Last month, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, sent a letter urging the state board to not reappoint Grasmick. Grasmick was also opposed by former Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.

Wednesday, her administration touted the long runs of the superintendents in the top three ranked states. "This sort of consistency breeds excellence in the state system," said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

The record of Maryland schools is mixed. Montgomery County schools have long been ranked among the best in the nation, with three schools placing among the top 50 public high schools nationwide in the last US News and World Report listing.

However, many Baltimore schools are violent and perform well below expectations. Grasmick attempted to take over 11 low-achieving middle and high schools in Baltimore while O'Malley was Baltimore mayor, but she was rebuffed.

Consistency is difficult to achieve in any state, said "Quality Counts" Project Director Chris Swanson.

"The big challenge we see for high-performing states is they fail to continue to do well for all students," said Swanson.

"The high-performing states do very well overall but they (also) have very poor-performing schools."

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