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Chester Finn Laments Maryland’s Corporate Reform Resistance; Fails to Connect Common Core to Falling NAEP Scores

March 26, 2017

On March 22, 2017, former Fordham Institute President and current Maryland State Board of Education Vice President Chester Finn published an opinion piece for the ed reform think tank, Fordham Institute, entitled, “A Painful ESSA Setback in Maryland.”

Finn is upset that signature ed reform policies, such as the expansion of charters and vouchers and test-score-centric policies for “grading” schools are taking a hit in the Maryland legislature.

Finn tries to leverage his argument by centering on Maryland’s 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores:

Maryland prides itself on having high-performing public schools, but the truth is that its primary-secondary education system is failing to prepare far too many children for what follows. On the most recent (2015) National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, barely one third of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” or “advanced” in either math or reading. Among African-American youngsters, that key benchmark was reached by fewer than one in five.

Yet lawmakers are on the verge of undermining the best chance the state has had in ages to do something forceful about the schools that have allowed this sad situation to endure. They’re about to prevent the State Board of Education from installing a new school-accountability system that prioritizes pupil achievement and student success, as well as true transparency by which parents can easily tell whether their child’s school is succeeding or failing. Instead, House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871, now speeding toward enactment, sharply limit the extent to which learning counts, restrict the use of achievement data, forbid the state from “grading” its schools (or intervening in dreadful ones), and give top billing to measures of teacher satisfaction, class size, adult credentials, and other inputs that are dear to the hearts of teacher unions but have woefully little to do with classroom effectiveness. The General Assembly has already killed Governor Hogan’s proposed expansion of the state’s cramped charter school program and is threatening to shrink its tiny voucher program, thereby ensuring that kids stuck in district-run dropout factories won’t have any alternatives. Maryland districts are also famously allergic to public-school choice, save for the occasional magnet.

Maryland’s House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871 are essentially the same bill. Both call for school quality indicators to be included in school performance grades; both specifically forbid school quality from being measures using test scores. Furthermore, regarding schools identified for intervention, both bills specifically forbid 1) the creation of a state-run school district; 2) “converting a public school to a charter school” (note that such language defies the notion that “charter schools are public schools”); 3) “issuing scholarships to public school students to attend nonpublic schools through direct vouchers, tax credit programs, or education savings accounts” and 4) “contracting with a for-profit company.”

As Finn notes, Maryland districts might be “famously allergic” to charter schools since in Maryland, only traditional school districts can authorize charters– a move understandably at odds with the fiscal interests of a traditional school district.

Maryland does have a voucher program, but if HB 978/SB871 passes, vouchers will not be expanded as a “solution” for addressing schools “in need of intervention,” a part of ESSA Title I funding.

Indeed, based on a December 2016 Washington Post article on charters and vouchers, it seems that notable hope for expansion has indeed been nixed by HB 978/ SB 871.

On the charter expansion front, there was another push: In January 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan promoted charter school expansion with his Public Charter School Act of 2017.

However, that, too, is a no-go. Hogan’s charter expansion bill received an unfavorable report on March 01, 2017, in the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, and the hearing on the issue was canceled in the Maryland Senate on March 06, 2017.

Back to HB 978/SB 871:

In short, these bills are misery for the likes of Finn, who has spent his, uh, education career promoting the grading of things and the privatizing spin-off collectively known as “corporate education reform.”

As one might expect, Finn goes for some test scores that support his public-ed-privatizing point.

Indeed, Maryland’s NAEP scores have dipped in 2015 in both math and reading. Finn doesn’t focus on the dip, but it is obvious.

Maybe too obvious.

Another way of looking at 2015 NAEP scores is as those that are five years after the official completion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

In 2010, like most other states, Maryland adopted CCSS– which Finn’s Fordham Institute worked hard to sell. (Also see here and here.)

According to a report released by Fordham Institute in July 2010— only one month following the official release of CCSS– Finn et al. graded Maryland’s state standards as C in ELA and D in math.

Still, in 2015, Maryland’s NAEP scores dropped below its 2007 levels in both reading and math.

This is surely no Common Core win.

Finn is silent this point.

Finn is also silent on the fact that Fordham Institute’s 2010 grading of state standards did not consider 2009 NAEP scores. To do so then would not have served Finn’s purposes, for NAEP scores do not align with Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards.

Note also that Fordham Institute’s grading of state standards had the end goal of promoting a CCSS, as shown by the fact that CCSS itself did not receive a Fordham Institute grade higher that the math and ELA standards in all states.

To solve this issue, Finn et al. offered a slanted interpretation of state standards letter grades, one designed to promote CCSS. I wrote about it in 2013:

Traditionally, the A-F letter grades hold the following meanings:

A = excellent or outstanding

B = very good or above average

C = average or satisfactory

D = below average or needs improvement

F = failing or unsatisfactory

However, in Fordham’s “bottom line [summary of state standard grading],” traditional meaning is replaced with the following biased terminology (or not discussed at all):

A = Letter grade not included in “bottom line.”  (A-minus, B-plus, and sometimes B are also not included in “bottom line.”)

B = “decent”

C = “mediocre”

D = “among the worst in the country”

F = “among the worst in the country”

Fordham’s “bottom line” letter grade setup allows for no state to outdo CCSS.

If Chester Finn wants to complain about Maryland’s 2015 NAEP scores, he should address how it is that Maryland’s NAEP scores have fallen below pre-Common Core levels.

The beauty of being Chester Finn is that he never has to answer to anyone for the reforms he pushes.

But it sure is refreshing to read that Finn is not getting his corporate reform way with the 2017 Maryland legislature, regardless of his all-too-obvious Common Core silence.


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Ah, will Finn again ever wake!?

  2. Lisa M permalink

    He’s an old man. He needs a hobby to keep himself busy and feeling useful. Unfortunately, his hobby is making money from corporate ed reform which involves children. It’s sinful and he should be ashamed. He probably has never set foot in a public school yet he wants to tell everyone how it should be run.

    • This is what I always wonder — whether these punditzes really believe their own idiotology or whether it’s just the fact they have such a huge financial stake in commercializing public education.

    • Your comments here explain much of what is going on with educational reform. It is just sad in days when those who have sucked up all the money decide that they should then get on that “philanthrocapitalist” bandwagon. So many who have massive money think that it is their JOB (Hobby!) to interfere where they have no experience.

  3. Edd Doerr permalink

    Finn, who lives in my county in MD, is a disgrace to the state board of ed. Years ago I heard him speak at a conference on vouchers at Catholic University in DC. He declared that he was ashamed to be Jewish because Jewish organizations opposed vouchers. A prominent rabbi was present and responded appropriately. — Edd Doerr

    • Lisa M permalink

      I’m in HoCo, MD. Finn and his friend Andy Smarick need to get their ed reform out of our public school classrooms. They are they primary reason we are still saddled in the Pearson/PARCC nightmare….friends with the Gov. Mike Petrilli (Bethesda) also needs to find another source of income and get his nose out of education.

      • Edd Doerr permalink

        Good comment. Finn and Smarick were appointed by Gov. Hogan, a Republican who has been pushing for school vouchers. — Edd Doerr

      • Lisa M permalink

        Edd Doerr….For the most part, I really like the Governor except for his education policy. I don’t think he has a clue what is going on with education and he relies on his appointed friends (Finn/Smarick) to influence his decisions and policy. MD’s budget is a mess and education isn’t at the top of the list of things that need fixing. It’s sad that these 2 are sitting at MSDE and are allowed as much power as they have over our children. I bet neither of them have set foot in a public school or sent their children to public school.

    • Lisa M, Finn was in the classroom as “a full time intern teacher” in 1965-66. He wrote about it in his book, _Troublemaker_. I refer to Finn’s year in the classroom on page 56 of my book, _Common Core Dilemma_. Finn notes that he “wasn’t any good at it (teaching).”

      • Edd Doerr permalink

        Finn, quite simply, is no friend of public education.

      • Lisa M permalink

        If he was smart enough to realize that he wasn’t any good at teaching, you would think he would be smart enough to let others do their job well and to keep his mouth shut. Or maybe he didn’t like the salary/pay scale back then and decided teaching couldn’t satisfy his need for greed. The man is a deplorable human being and sits on the appointed board at MSDE. There’s an old saying….”put up or shut up” and Finn can’t “put up” so he needs to just go away.

  4. Thank you for digging into and sharing this, Mercedes! We have a very interesting dynamic here in MD between the leg, gov, and state board, to say the least!

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