The ‘Kirwan’ Commission

The ‘Kirwan’ Commission for Innovation and Excellence in Education: What You Need to Know

Kirwan Commission Fast Facts

  • The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (chaired by Dr. William ‘Brit’ Kirwan) has been working since 2016 on a plan to radically improve Maryland’s public education system.
  • Its recommendations will have broad-reaching effects on the teaching profession in Maryland, in the amount of wrap-around services schools provide, in the access of education and childcare services available to marginalized communities, and the level of college and career readiness that Maryland students will have by the end of high school.
  • There is still time for you to make your voice heard to support arts education’s place in these exciting reforms – read below!

The Kirwan Commission & The Arts

AEMS applauds the Commission’s hard work to improve Maryland’s schools, but believes that, in its final recommendations, the Kirwan Commission must show more support for the role that arts education plays in cultivating the whole child.

AEMS urges the Commission to:

  • Include language in its foundation (base) funding formula that specifies funding for arts education in Maryland’s public schools and
  • explicitly list “music and the arts” in all places where core subjects are enumerated.

Read AEMS’s letter to the Commission for Innovation and Excellence in Education here.

What Can You Do?


In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly passed into law Senate Bill 905, which created the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by William ‘Brit’ Kirwan, Emeritus Chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Brit Kirwan summarized the tasks of the Commission in his delivery of the Interim Report on January 25, 2019:

…in essence our charge has two parts:
-Review and recommend any needed changes to update the current education funding formulas (known as the Thornton formulas; and
make policy recommendations that would enable Maryland’s preK-12 system to perform at the level of the best-performing systems in the world.

(Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, Interim Report, iii)

By conducting studies of the top educational models in the United States and internationally (including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Singapore, Finland, Ontario, and others), the Commission’s Preliminary Report reveals how Maryland, one of the most affluent states in the nation, is underperforming in education, running roughly in the middle of the pack nationally even as the United States lags behind other countries in delivering a quality education. The Kirwan Commision makes sweeping recommendations of much-needed changes, these include increasing funding for:

  • Increased wrap-around childcare services
  • Full-day preKindergarten for 4 year-olds
  • Full-day programs for special-needs learners
  • Increasing the standards of teacher certification
  • Restructuring the teaching profession (with an increase in salary), leading to mobility along a career track; experienced, qualified leadership; collaboration and professional development; incentivized teacher retention; and an increase in hiring teaching professionals from within the state of Maryland
  • Schools and districts that serve impoverished communities
  • Programs that allow students to be college and career ready by 10th grade, including AP/IB programs and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs

The introduction of the Interim Report, “A Call to Action” lays out both the clear benefits of Maryland investing in its public education, and the perils of apathy and inaction:

Investing in full-day pre-K will greatly increase the proportion of students who come to schools ready to learn. A top-notch curriculum, coupled with greater resources and timely interventions and support for students who need them most, including schools serving concentrations of students living in poverty, plus a highly qualified professional teaching corps, will ensure the vast majority of students are on track to be college and career ready by the end of the tenth. The exciting pathways that follow during the eleventh and twelfth grades will enable most students to leave high school with significant college credit – even an associate’s degree – or a skill that is immediately valued in the workplace. And, importantly, the recommendations include an independent accountability process with the authority to ensure the desired results are being achieved.

That is the future Maryland can have if it embraces the Commission’s recommendations. But they must be embraced in their entirety. They are an interdependent and synergistic package of recommendations that will not produce the desired benefits if they are broken apart and selectively implemented…Nothing less than the future well-being of our State and citizens is at stake.

(Interim Report: A Call to Action: Building a World-class Education System in Maryland, 4-5)

The Commission is currently in the process of determining its foundation (base) funding formula for this ambitious plan of education reforms, with the intention of finalizing its recommendations and legislation following within this upcoming 2020 General Assembly session. There is still much work to do, and considerable opposition from State government leadership.

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