Longer summer vacations.

I agree with the editorial board of The Capital that the proposal by Comptroller Peter Franchot for a State mandate requiring that school districts delay the start of the school year until after Labor Day is misguided.  [“School year’s start isn’t an economic issue,” 1/17/15.]  I disagree that the problem with his frivolous proposal is that it would usurp “local control” of primary and secondary education.

Instead, the problem lies in the fact that the governance model used in Maryland and most other states for primary and secondary education is obsolete, incapable of establishing useful long-term goals and objectives, and even less capable of implementing them.  Against the backdrop of a crisis in educational performance in this country the best that we can come up with is a plan to make sure that Maryland students can go “down’e ocean” on Labor Day?  If we had an effective system of governance for public education the debate over the school calendar would be driven by evidence on the calendar that best promotes learning rather than by what best serves the interests of boardwalk vendors.

Maryland may be among the best of the worst, but the United States now consistently ranks in the lower third of developed nations in the mathematical skills of its secondary students, generally considered the most important measure of an educational system.  As described in the most recent OCED (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) survey, American students “have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.”  Stated another way, we are going to be increasingly dependent upon the immigration of scientists and engineers from Asia and Europe unless something changes.

The governance model consisting of 24 independent school districts run by local boards of education under the loose supervision of the State Board of Education may have been adequate in the 19th century but it is not adequate today.  The “American exceptionalism” described by de Tocqueville in the 1830’s had to do with the pragmatism of its citizens and their willingness to try new approaches to old problems.  Today’s hidebound educational bureaucracy is anything but exceptional, dominated by teacher and administrator unions and run by school boards with minimal educational expertise.  School districts lurch from one educational fad to the next implemented by peripatetic superintendents rather than focus on establishing and achieving meaningful goals and objectives.  They are incapable of making the changes necessary to improve educational performance.

The 2013 report of the National Foundation for Educational Policy disclosed that 70% of graduate students in electrical engineering in American universities were foreign-born; 63% of graduate students in computer science were foreign-born.  Universities simply cannot find enough qualified students from the United States for those disciplines.  The numbers are astounding.  Fortunately for Maryland, however, our State leaders are working to ensure that students and their parents can go to Ocean City or Deep Creek Lake on Labor Day.

January 17, 2015

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