WASHINGTON – Maryland was one of only a handful of states to exceed a national school standard, leading the country in high school graduation rates, according to a report Thursday from the National Education Goals Panel.
Maryland topped the 90 percent high school graduation target by 5 percentage points in 1997, the last year for which national figures were available. It was one of only 12 states that was able to meet or beat any of the school reform goals set in 1990.
Maryland kept pace with other states or did slightly better on the other seven education reform goals. But most states fell shy of the goals in most categories, leaving panel members to concede that there is still work to be done.
“We acknowledge that we have not reached goals,” said Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, chairman of the panel. “The bar will be continuously raised. We will always be striving to do better.”
The National Education Goals Panel, which includes governors, state legislators, administration members and members of Congress, reports annually on the progress public schools have made toward eight goals. Besides graduation rates, the goals include: reading and writing, math achievement, readiness to learn upon entering kindergarten, teacher training, adult literacy, safe schools and parent participation.
The panel grew out of a summit between President Bush and the nation’s governors and was created by Congress to compare education data from states and the rest of the world. Data for Thursday’s report came from the National Center for Education Statistics, the College Board and other sources.
Maryland school officials attributed their success in graduation rates to prevention programs, started in 1991,that hold schools accountable for dropouts. Without those programs, the school system “would have lost as many as 10,000 students” during that period, said Ron Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.
“We believe improvements are due to the dropout prevention we’ve put in place,” said Peiffer.
Maryland kept pace with the rest of the country in most areas, leading slightly in some and falling slightly behind in others.
In Maryland, for example, 72 percent of teachers are certified to teach in their subject area, compared to the national average of 63 percent. Peiffer said the state has addressed the problem by putting a cap on the number of years a teacher can teach without being fully certified.
“We’re making it tougher so teachers will be forced to pass the test and be fully qualified,” he said.
But while 46 percent of student disruptions nationally interfere with teaching, the number is a relatively high 62 percent in Maryland, the report said. Peiffer said the state has adopted zero-tolerance policies in the schools in an effort to crack down disruptive students.
“We’re trying to build long-term strategies for how you can eliminate conflict and identify students that might do harm to themselves or others,” he said.
Maryland is also becoming “increasingly urbanized,” and schools in urban areas may have higher levels of disruption than suburban or rural schools, said Peiffer, who also noted that the classroom disruption data was from 1994.
An official with the Maryland State Association of Boards of Education declined to comment until he can read the report. Calls to the Maryland State Teachers Association and the state PTA were not returned Thursday.
“Are we moving in the right direction? Absolutely, and that is the point of these national goals, to keep us going forward in the right direction,” said U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley as the report was released. “You don’t improve on education by grabbing to the latest fad of the moment.”