D-7 Delegates “A Hopeful Future for Maryland’s Education”

–The following article was submitted by District 7 Delegates Lauren Arikan, Ryan Nawrocki and Kathy Szeliga about Mohammed Choudhury stepping down as Maryland School Superintendent–

A big win for Marylanders was secured last week. In a surprising turn of events, the current Maryland School Superintendent announced that he would not be seeking a renewal of his contract. Mohammed Choudhury was appointed in 2021 to lead the Maryland State Department of Education in the midst of the pandemic, as well as the historic rollout of Maryland’s Blueprint for Education.

While Superintendent Choudhury has been acclaimed as a brilliant educator and champion of equity, he struggled in this position of leadership. Many MSDE employees spoke out against his unwillingness to collaborate and his ineffective leadership style.

Also, the Accountability and Implementation Board tasked by the General Assembly to monitor the effective rollout of the Blueprint has been at odds with the Superintendent more than once.

All of these frustrating examples just pile on top of the ultimate scorecard for an education leader – the test scores of Maryland students.

You may remember back in January 2023 when the MCAP scores were released on MSDE’s website, it became evident that schools had reached new lows, especially in the subject of mathematics.

In fact, it was discovered that 23 schools in Baltimore City had zero students proficient in math, and 17 schools in Baltimore County had 2 or fewer students proficient.

Delegates Nawrocki and Szeliga spoke out immediately and demanded that Baltimore County Public Schools address these shocking results.

We are aware that the pandemic had catastrophic effects on young people in the classroom; however, many of these low scores were abysmally low prior to COVID-19 shutting down our schools.

The Baltimore County Delegates first wrote multiple letters to the former local BCPS Superintendent, Darryl Williams, to ask him for an explanation of how failing schools would be held accountable if they were unable to improve these test scores.

Unfortunately, our efforts were met with excuses and a recurring punt of responsibility upon the new Blueprint rollout to rectify these problems.

As a result, we turned our attention to a higher source and scheduled a conversation with Rachel Hise, the newly appointed Executive Director of the AIB. She listened to our concerns about the recent test scores and that failing schools have not been held accountable or seen improvement for decades.

As a former educator (Delegate Szeliga) and a father of school-age children (Delegate Nawrocki), we take these issues very seriously and want a better school system for Marylanders.

Ms. Hise shared some of the efforts that teams of professionals within the Blueprint will undertake to address failing schools; however, there was no mention of a true consequence for those schools that still persist in failing their students despite intervention measures.

Delegate Arikan’s attention turned towards Mr. Choudhury shortly after his appointment. She met with him to discuss several concerns she had with the state education system.

He continued to support the masking of children in schools after he was appointed, despite a total lack of evidence to support the pseudoscience of community masking.

Then, this past legislative session, he testified in favor of HB1190, which aimed to indoctrinate children as young as 4 with progressive gender ideology.

Shortly after these conversations, a shocking news report was released from investigative reporter Chris Papst, from Fox45.

He revealed that MSDE had removed the test scores of failing schools and replaced them with an asterisk. It’s now impossible for parents, educators, and policymakers to compare test results from year to year.

Fox45’s report was met with aggressive hostility from Superintendent Choudhury, who claimed that he was using de-identification methods to ensure student privacy.

A heated debate resulted across the media, state legislature, and education professionals who took sides, either agreeing with the Superintendent’s excuse to expunge the records or calling for greater transparency and accountability from MSDE.

We took action and wrote a letter to the Superintendent detailing our disappointment and concern that Maryland parents can no longer truly evaluate the effectiveness of a school.

We also described our hesitancy in supporting the funding of the Blueprint with what we believed to be an apparent dishonesty and lack of leadership from MSDE.

Finally, we worked with the leadership of the General Assembly to include budget language that DID require accountability from MSDE to address the abysmal math scores.

Also, six of our Republican House colleagues across the state (Delegates Arikan, Grammer, Kipke, Morgan, Fisher, and Chisholm) joined us in a press statement demanding answers from MSDE regarding removing test scores from the website.

The statement was covered in multiple media outlets and did receive a curt response from the Superintendent who repeated his same excuses of de-identification privacy methods.

But parents, students, educators, and school leaders were beginning to notice these concerns more and more and joined our rallying cry for accountability and transparency.

It seems that after the budget language was passed and our press release hit the media, Superintendent Choudhury began an apology tour across the state.

His report that was due to the General Assembly by July 1st to explain MSDE’s plan to rectify the math test scores was a surprising 9-page letter that included only two paragraphs addressing the plan and instead was filled with apologies for his demeanor.

Many legislators also met with the Superintendent privately over the past few months.

However, over this same time frame, many media outlets, including The Washington Post, covered interviews with the Superintendent’s disgruntled staff and the continued lack of trust in his leadership.

Finally, the drama took to a new height when Fox45 released another breaking story: Superintendent Choudhury had been using an app to discuss state matters with technology to delete messages.

This removes the ability for PIA requests to be made and ultimately is an illegal use of state information. One of these disgruntled MSDE employees took screenshots of these various messages and turned them over to Fox45 – damning the Superintendent once and for all.

At this point, the Board of Education had delayed the vote for his contract renewal multiple times, and assuming that he would not be offered one, Mohammed Choudhury announced his departure.

It is unclear whether he will remain in the position until his current contract ends in June 2024. The Board of Education announced that they will be opening the search for a Superintendent immediately.

We applaud the various stakeholders who joined us in demanding answers from the Superintendent, which led to his decision to leave the position.

We thank the General Assembly for passing the accountability measures in the FY24 budget that placed pressure on MSDE to build a plan of action to improve student math scores.

We thank Fox45 reporter Chris Papst and his reporting that led to many of these discoveries that fueled the fire.

Also, we applaud the many parents who advocated for their children and asked why school leaders were not more concerned about continual decline year after year.

We look forward to the search process and the appointment of new leadership at the highest level for Maryland’s school system.

Leadership matters. Parents need to know that their children will get a world-class education in Maryland.

B.J. Joseph

Benjamin Joesph has covered news in Eastern Baltimore County since 2006. He started as a reporter with the original East County Times in 2006. He started East Baltco News and later Eastcountytimes.com in 2022.