In a recent interview focused on education, gubernatorial candidate and Harford County Executive David Craig said that Maryland’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards wasn’t simply a mistake, it was a “great mistake”; ditto for statewide tests and education funding required under the state’s maintenance of effort law (“ridiculous”, both). And don’t get the former educator started on the current head of the local teachers’ union.
On the other hand, Craig also said that Maryland has a “very good” school system, even if he doesn’t buy the #1 ranking touted by other politicians. As for school improvement, Craig said that the success of education really comes down to one person, and it’s not who you might expect.
The Dagger was invited to sit down with Craig on June 20th to discuss education. Below is a summary of the Q&A, Part I:
Dagger: Adopting the Common Core State Standards helped Maryland win federal Race to the Top money ($250 million plus, over 4 years). Yet, teachers say they are inadequately prepared for statewide implementation in 2013-14, and the coming state tests based on the Common Core require technology that is not available in all schools. Was it a mistake for Maryland to sign on to the Common Core?
Craig: “It wasn’t a mistake, it was a great mistake”
Similar proposals, always based on tests, have come along before, Craig said, only to be replaced when they didn’t help. Such cycles have occurred five or six times in the last 30 years, he said.
Regarding the Common Core, Craig predicted that test scores will drop dramatically, as he said they always do with new tests, and that state and federal government would then ask for more money. “It’s all about testing,” he said, “it should be about teaching.”
As for the Common Core’s goal of improving college and career readiness, Craig said that not everyone needs to go to college, and he questioned the value of certain college majors: “I don’t know of any companies that deal in philosophy.” The push to increase college attendance created “customers” for the colleges, he said, but contributed to rising costs.
New state tests aligned with the Common Core, which are being designed to be taken via computer, are “ridiculous”, according to Craig, as are the current state tests, the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) and High School Assessment (HSA). Craig also criticized tests where students are marked wrong if they don’t arrive at the correct answer in the right way, and conversely, where credit is given for wrong answers depending on how the answer was developed.
Craig’s answer to the problem: “We don’t need statewide testing,” and as governor, he would advocate for their abolition. Instead, he said that tests should be developed at the school and classroom level, “That’s why we hire teachers.”
Dagger: Some states have delayed mandatory implementation of the Common Core. Should Maryland follow suit?
Craig: “The only reason Maryland [adopted the Common Core] was they saw they could get all this money. How much went to teachers? How much went to the classroom? None of it.”
Calling the Common Core an unfunded mandate, Craig estimated it would cost Harford County Public Schools between $1 million and $5-6 million at a minimum to get the necessary technology and train teachers, which should be funded by federal government. As for a statewide delay in implementing the Common Core, put Craig down as a “definite yes.”
Dagger: How will Harford County fund the necessary technology?
Craig: “If I’m governor, we won’t have to pay for it because we won’t do it.”
Dagger: Labor unrest has plagued Harford County Public Schools for the past two years as teachers say they are not being paid as well as their peers in other counties. Are Harford County teachers paid enough to attract the best and brightest?
Craig: “I read the same articles in every other county.”
Craig added that advocates cherry pick the salary levels, which are based on teacher experience and education, to show their salaries are the lowest in the state. While acknowledging layoffs in HCPS this year, Craig said that teachers hadn’t been furloughed in the past.
Not all teachers are protesting either, Craig said. Many are unhappy they didn’t get salary increases for next year, but most understand what’s happening to county employees and in private business, where people have lost their jobs or seen salaries decline, he said. Craig conceded that some teachers were protesting but “…only because they are being given really bad information from probably the most inept union leader I’ve ever seen.”
Dagger: You’ve complained that local government funds education without any say over how the money is spent. What changes to the process would you propose?
Craig outlined three options:
1. Local school boards become part of county government, operating as a county department run by the counties as another service they provide. The county executive, in conjunction with the county council or county commissioners, would appoint the superintendent. Craig explained in a rare understatement, “We’re the ones who provide the money, and we should have a little say in how it gets spent.”
2. Give school boards taxing authority. Not the best option, Craig said, because it doesn’t get rid of the duplication in services between county government and local school boards in areas such as human resources, procurement, information technology, and facilities. As an aside, Craig criticized elected school boards, which he said had “undermined the way boards of education used to work in the State of Maryland.” (More on this subject in Part II of the interview)
3. Eliminate local school boards all together. Citing the state-mandated curriculum and state testing, Craig asked why 24 superintendents and 24 curriculum directors were needed, one for each jurisdiction. “If the state wants control over it”, he said,” they can run the whole thing.”
Craig said that none of the above options would be approved, however, because change would be undermined by whoever might lose as a result: “Education should be about the children and it’s obviously not.”
Dagger: The Harford County Board of Education just scaled back its spending plans for next year by $20 million to match funding provided by you and the county council. The school board cut teachers and instituted Pay to Play. Were they the right moves? What would you have cut instead?
Craig: “The school board has 550 more positions than when I started as county executive and the school population has declined by 6%. They need to be more efficient.”
Pressed for an example, Craig said, “I’m sure some teachers have 15 students [in their classes] and others have 35. I don’t think they’re looking at that”. Old programs should also be looked at when new programs are brought in, he said. Asked for examples of programs that could be cut, Craig deferred to Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan, whom he said would know where to cut given her 40 years of experience in HCPS.
Magnet programs were not on Craig’s cut list, but he said that they should have been made available in all high schools. Otherwise, it upsets the distribution of students among the schools. The existing magnet programs are good, he said, but they also could have been expanded to include more vocational and technical programs.
Finally, Pay to Play should not have been instituted, Craig said, because all students in school should have access to extra-curricular activities. He called special exemptions from the policy – currently allowed for the children of teachers and active military, and students on free and reduced meals – unfair.
Coming next in Part II: Taking on Maryland’s #1 ranking in education; how the budget process should work; and the key person responsible for success in education.