Kirwan’s Career Prep Revamp Must Prioritize Equitable Access

With the 90-day 2020 Maryland Legislative Session underway, the state of education in Maryland could potentially see monumental changes over the next decade.

The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, if fully funded, has the opportunity to transform education in Maryland, leading to a higher quality and more equitable experience for every student.

If supported, the bill will infuse an additional $4 billion into the state’s 24 school districts over the next 10 years. The additional funding would positively affect teachers’ pay, ensure access to pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds, expand support of special education programming, invest in the building of additional community schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and remodel the state’s approach to career and college readiness—each worthy and important expenditures to providing an excellent and equitable education. As a community, we must ensure this happens for the good of our students and families.

Earlier this month, the Baltimore Sun published “Maryland schools have long overlooked career training in favor of college. An education overhaul would change that.” The article brought up some interesting points regarding our state’s current career prep system and outlined what a revamped college and career prep model might look like. While the reimagining of this system is overwhelmingly positive, we need to ensure that each district receives funding necessary to perform at the College and Career Readiness standard set by the Commission to prevent performance disparities between districts.

On the career readiness side of the proposed revamp, the Commission suggests a set of ambitious and rewarding pathway programs that allow students to graduate with an associate degree or credits towards a baccalaureate degree. Students would have access to robust career and technical education programs offered through their high school, local two- and four-year colleges and other training providers. However, access to these robust programs are dependent on academic performance, dubbed the College and Career Readiness Standard by the Commission. Any student who meets the College and Career Readiness (CCR) standard before twelfth grade can participate in post-CCR pathways. To put it another way, any student who does not meet this standard before the twelfth grade will not have this opportunity.

Students reach the CCR standard by scoring 4 or higher on the MCAP state assessments for Algebra 1 and English 10. Based on 2019 test scores, less than 10% of students of color in Baltimore City would meet this requirement compared to 60% of students in Carroll County. Through other interventions, the Commission is hopeful that by 2030 65% of Maryland students will reach this CCR standard by the end of grade 10. But what happens if these other interventions do not have as big of an impact as hoped for? Do we just exclude the majority of a district’s students from participating in these pathways because they weren’t able to score high enough on the MCAP? Their alternative would be the consolation prize of more “career counseling” and generic, non-credentialed “hands-on career exploration” which won’t be enough to connect them to middle-skill careers with livable wages. This simply won’t do.

For this metric to work, we must put individual accountability measures in place for each district and fund districts in proportion to the level of growth each needs to achieve the 65% pass rate for CCR standards. Getting to a state-wide goal of 65% means nothing if more affluent counties are reaching 85% for the CCR Standard, carrying the state to the 65% goal but struggling districts are only reaching a fraction of that. We can’t afford to exclude children from accessing these programs because they weren’t able to pass the standardized test that we neither gave them the supports or educational rigor to be competitive when taking in the first place.

For the next generation of students, we have to get it right because there are too many young adults, who’ve tried the career and technical programs, then graduated and tried the workforce development programs and are still under- and -unemployed, searching for a reason to have hope. It isn’t because they lacked “grit, determination and work ethic”. They were caught in an underfunded system that had no consistent way of getting them from one side to the other. This needs to change and ensuring individual districts’ performance meet the CCR standards, expanding access to career development programs for all students, is one way to do that.

Read the Fund’s full report Broken Pathways: The Cracks in Career and Technical Education in Baltimore City Public Schools, which provides practical, specific recommendations for restructuring the CTE program in City Schools to better support student success. The full report is available here.