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Maryland is a gifted state, blessed with an abundance of natural resources and environmental gifts. The Catoctin Mountains, the Chesapeake Bay and its acreage of picturesque waterfront combine to create magnificent vistas seldom found concentrated so heavily in one corner of the world. It is magnificent to behold and every time I drive home over the Severn River Bridge and witness its beauty it’s as if I am seeing it with virgin eyes. Combine these gifts with the economic natural gifts bestowed upon our state in the form of a sea of natural gas ready to be unlocked from our western counties and it is clear that we have been blessed beyond words.
There are few, if any, Marylanders who would dispute the value these natural gifts add to their lives and those of their families, but the value of our greatest natural resource is frequently lost in the rigor of our daily lives due to its intangibility; our intellectual capital. With the state’s recent exemplary performance in national education rankings it is tempting to be coaxed into believing that our intellectual capital base is peerless and requires no emergency attention, but I am writing this to make the case that nothing could be further from the truth. Maryland’s intellectual capital base is being grossly underutilized and in parts of our state is being allowed to wither away, all with the sanction and imprimatur of elected officials interested more in ceremonial “pats on the back” than graduation ceremonies.
An example of this willful neglect and act of political malpractice is the utter lack of attention paid to reforming the Baltimore City school system. A recent analysis of Maryland’s inflated educational success rankings clearly showed that we rank near the bottom in terms of disparity in educational outcomes, meaning those who are struggling the most are being helped the least by a system their scarce dollars are funding and keeping afloat. The academic research linking both individual and collective educational achievement with prosperity and vibrant economic growth are conclusive and the numbers are staggering. Significant improvements in our educational achievement in neglected areas of our state would unleash an untapped intellectual basin of economic power the likes of which this state has never seen and would grow our gross state economic output geometrically.
With all of this evidence supporting the need for reform, the next logical question is, “Why isn’t it happening?” Why has Maryland’s political class allowed the largely minority communities in the City of Baltimore and Prince George’s County to continue to be served by a sub-standard educational system? It is certainly not the teachers. I neither know of, nor can I fathom, any teacher leaving for work in the morning determined to ensure the students finish the day knowing less than when they arrived. Is it the money? The argument that more money will lead to better outcomes is frequently cited as dispositive, yet despite both Maryland and Washington DC ranking at the top of per-pupil spending, and Washington, D.C. spending nearly $5,000 more per-pupil than Maryland, its average outcomes are far worse. Making matters worse is the fact that Prince George’s County ranks as one of the wealthiest, largely-minority-counties in the entire country, yet has the second worst performing schools in the state behind only the City of Baltimore. In addition, these facts pale in comparison to the gap between public and private school spending where, according to the CATO Institute’s Adam Schaeffer, in some cases underperforming public schools are spending an astounding 93 percent more than the estimated median private school, yet consistently producing inferior outcomes.
If it is not the money and it is not the teachers, then what is it? It is the destructive economic side effect generated when interests are concentrated and costs are diffused. We have allowed concentrated, powerful interest groups in the form of education unions to destroy any hope of accessing our unique American Dream for an entire generation of many of our minority youth. The American Dream does not live in some of their hearts and minds because these heartless interest groups prefer it that way. Their concentrated interest is in maintaining control and power over the education system and those it is supposed to serve, and the lives forfeited in the process are simply a disturbing means to a lesser end.
Fighting against these concentrated, powerful interests has historically been a political death-sentence for those leading the charge towards a better tomorrow, but I refuse to shy away from this fight. Both the country at large and the state of Maryland have a number of problems which both political parties have contributed to in different degrees, but the irony is that most of our stubborn economic problems could be significantly minimized with a serious commitment to bold education reform, to which both parties pay lip-service. The corresponding explosion of future economic growth accompanying bold reform would do much to pay down our crushing debt and provide quality employment for our citizens hungry to work.
We must not ask for, but we must demand educational freedom now. Parental choice in education will bring freedom and the peerless results of competition to an arena dominated by stagnation and special interests. Think about it, the University of Maryland at College Park is located in Prince George’s County and is one of the finest institutions of higher education in the country. Potential students clamor to be admitted to UMCP, yet, the Prince George’s County K-12 public schools are the second worst in the state and parents clamor for something better. How is this? How do we allow this? It is because parents and students choose the University of Maryland and by this simple act of choosing, they force the school to provide a quality product or they will go elsewhere. These same parents have no such luck in their K-12 schools, as they are forced to attend a potentially failing school, pay for it through their tax dollars, and doom their child to an American nightmare escaped by few and suffocating many. Do not stand back and allow this, fight the good fight, stand for those who may not be able to stand alone and do not allow the lights to go out on the civil rights battle of our generation.
Tags: Baltimore City, education, education reform, Prince George's County Schools
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