- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BALTIMORE | Gov. Martin O’Malley announced an ambitious agenda Tuesday for improving Maryland education, saying the state’s public schools were recently ranked best in the country, but their students still lag far behind those in Europe and Asia.

Education Week recently named Maryland’s schools the country’s best and said its students take Advanced Placement exams at a higher rate than in other states.

“That’s the good news,” said Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat. “The bad news is, about 20 other countries … have all climbed beyond America.”

In addition, Maryland continues to struggle with a persistent achievement gap between white students and certain minorities and failing schools in low-income, majority-black jurisdictions, particularly Baltimore and parts of Prince George’s County.

The state is getting about $1.1 billion for education from the economic-stimulus bill signed last week by President Obama. The money spared the state from planned cuts in education funding that would have hurt Baltimore and Prince George’s in particular.

More federal money - nearly $5 billion - will be available in the form of education-incentive grants, and the governor said competing for that money should be a top priority for the state. He also said federal money would be available to help implement statistical tracking of students from pre-kindergarten through college.

Mr. O’Malley outlined his education agenda in a rare address to the State Board of Education. He clashed with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick early in his term and during his time as Baltimore mayor, but the two pledged last year to put their rift behind them. Mr. O’Malley and Mrs. Grasmick clasped hands after his remarks and spoke briefly about initiatives already under way that mirror his agenda.

Other accomplishments Mr. O’Malley is seeking:

- Establish a system to compare the achievements of Maryland students to those in other countries.

- Better prepare students for college and eliminate the need for remedial classes at the university level.

- Improve instruction in science, technology and math, in part by making the curriculum more relevant to students’ lives.

- Improve career and technical education.

- Enhance recruitment and retention of talented principals and teachers.

The governor asked the board to develop a strategic plan on how to put in place the improvements. He also wants to host a meeting between Maryland’s board members and the Virginia’s board of education so the states can establish benchmarks for comparing their students to children in other countries.

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