The following letter was sent from Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey to Harford County Executive David Craig. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
Dear County Executive Craig,
I recently read your interviews with the Dagger. I am writing to clarify some issues, which, I believe you have misconstrued. I think it is important that our elected officials have a complete understanding of current education concerns.
Without this understanding, it is impossible to make responsible policy decisions. To that end, I would like to offer some clarification. You state the Common Core was “a great mistake”. You also state, “The only reason Maryland [adopted the Common Core] was they saw they could get all this money.” I assume you have associated the adoption of the Common Core with Race to the Top (RTTT). However, in this assumption you fail to recognize that the Common Core was developed independently of RTTT. In fact, the impetus behind the Common Core finds it roots in a common recognition that high school graduates were not adequately prepared for success. In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers led the development of standards, which would help to better prepare high school students both for college and for the workforce. “The federal government was NOT involved in the development of the standards.” (http://www.corestandards.org/resources/frequently-?asked-?questions) “Maryland was one of the first states in the nation to adopt the Common Core State Standards in Reading/English Language Arts and Mathematics. The State Board of Education adopted the standards by unanimous vote in June 2010.” (http://www.marylandpublicschools.org/MSDE/programs/ccss) The Common Core State Standards embody the content and pedagogy widely accepted as crucial to public education. While I and most other teachers in Harford County have severe concerns related to implementation, these concerns grow out of a lack of professional development and curricular materials. As you know, HCPS has been forced to cut both professional development and purchasing to conform with the restrictive funding which you have provided throughout your tenure as County Executive.
I share your concerns about the new testing requirements. I have never supported standardized testing and question the underlying motivations behind the testing movement. However, the PARCC test is still unfinished and has not even been norm referenced. Therefore, it is too early to judge whether test scores will drop. It would initially appear that the PARCC assessments would more accurately assess student learning than past assessments like MSA, HSA, etc. Likewise, the PARCC assessment is designed to minimize “teaching to the test” since the test items are designed to assess critical thinking, and application, as well as, basic skills. You can view sample items on the PARCC webpage. (http://www.parcconline.org/samples/item-?task-?prototypes).
I found it particularly curious that you would seek to abolish state-wide testing since it is mandated through NCLB. In fact, Title I, Part A, Subpart 1, section 1111(2)(A) states, “Each state plan shall demonstrate that the state has developed and is implementing a single, statewide State accountability system that will be effective in ensuring that all local educational agencies, public elementary schools, and public secondary schools make adequate yearly progress as defined under this paragraph.” (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg2.html#sec1111). As you may know, Public Law PL 107-110, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, was enacted under President George W. Bush. If Maryland were not to comply with the mandates of this law, which has been reauthorized multiple times since its enactment, Maryland would not be eligible for federal aid for education. Considering that the federal government provides substantial funding for education in Maryland, this noncompliance would result in either dramatic cuts or substantial tax increases for all Marylanders to offset the funding gaps. While Harford County does not receive nearly as much federal funding as other less affluent counties in Maryland, failure to comply with NCLB would result in about a 5% decrease in funding for Harford County Public Schools. How would you propose to offset these revenue losses?
You also state in reference to the technology needed to implement the PARCC assessment, “If I’m governor, we won’t have to pay for it because we won’t do it.” Your statement seems to imply that you feel the technology available to students in HCPS is adequate or equitable. This could not be further from the truth. There are tremendous inadequacies and inequities associated with technology in HCPS. While other school systems have been able to integrate technology into daily student learning, HCPS simply does not have the resources or funding necessary to facilitate this. Without substantial investments in technology, Harford County’s children will not receive a competitive modern education, regardless of whether we participate in the PARCC assessments or not.
With regard to your statements about teacher salary freezes, you are categorically wrong. Teachers do not understand why they have been abandoned by you and their local government. Teachers do not understand why their salaries are continuously held hostage. Teachers do not understand why you, a self-described life-long educator, who only once in your entire career had your salary frozen, have chosen to refuse to fund their salary steps for 4 out of the past 5 years. Likewise, we do not understand why you continue to demagogue the issues surrounding public school funding. You state, “I read the same articles in every other county.” Teacher salaries are not being frozen in all counties. In fact, most counties have returned to their negotiated scale.
Last year, Harford County ranked 19th in per pupil funding. Likewise, the state of Maryland contributed more in fiscal year 2013 to Harford County Public Schools than Harford County Government.(http://dls.state.md.us/data/polanasubare/polanasubare_intmatnpubadm/polanasubare_intma
tnpubadm_annrep/Overview-?of-?Local-?Maryland-?Governments-?WEB-?COPY.pdf). Harford County teachers are among the only teachers in the state of Maryland who have had their salaries frozen 4 out of the past 5 years. As a result, Harford County Teachers are paid less than teachers of the same qualifications and experience at virtually every step on the salary scale. HCPS ranks no higher than 17th in the state of Maryland for any teacher salary step in years one through ten. Given this information, I find it unlikely that you “Read the same articles in every county.” Quite simply, Harford County teachers have endured more than their share of sacrifice and have suffered enough.
Harford County teachers can no longer tolerate the lack of sufficient funding for our schools. We are protesting to save our students, our schools, our profession and our community from the long-term detriments of under-funding our schools. We protest because, we believe in education and affirm that quality public schools are the foundation of success in America. It is true that we are protesting for a return to the security provided by adherence to our negotiated salary scale but we are also protesting for much more. We are protesting to change a history of under-funding schools and undervaluing education; in favor of investment in education, which ensures providing quality schools for our children is our local government’s first priority.
To this end, I found your assertion that Magnet Programs were made available in all high schools intriguing. I whole-heartedly agree. In an ideal situation, students would have access to all available programing at every high school. Considering that the current magnet program accounts for approximately $2,000,000 each year, are you willing to invest the millions more that it would cost for HCPS to expand these programs to all high schools? One of the most obvious impacts of the lack of funding for HCPS is a lack of equity in programing and opportunity for students. Are you willing to provide the necessary funding that all students in Harford County Public Schools have equal access to all programing?
I also agree that “pay to play” is not ideal. However, since you have not provided sufficient increases in funding to continue the current programing in HCPS, the Board of Education was left with little other option. Perhaps if you increase funding to HCPS, investing in our students and teachers, “pay to play” will not be necessary in the future. Unfortunately, without substantial investment in our schools, HCPS will have no choice but to institute fees for extra-curricular activities.
The underfunding Harford County Public Schools did not begin with your administration but you can end it. I call on you to work in concert with HCPS, the Harford County Board of Education, the Harford County Council, HCEA, and other stakeholders to craft a solution to this problem. I implore you to act to support our students, our schools and our teachers in a manner, which allows HCPS to expand, attract the best teacher candidates and retain Harford County’s most talented teachers. I ask you to please get beyond the rhetoric. Please properly fund our schools.