Kirwan Commission


The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education was created in 2016 as a bi‑partisan effort by Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr. and the General Assembly. The Commission was asked to assess the current state of Maryland’s PreK-12 education system and the adequacy of its funding formulas and to make policy and resource recommendations that would ensure Maryland children achieve at the levels of students in the world’s best-performing school systems. The premise for the creation of the Commission and its charge was driven in large part by the widely accepted view that success in today’s economy requires a well-educated, highly skilled workforce. The ability of Maryland enterprises, from family farms to medical technology companies, to be competitive requires their access to a workforce with world-class technical expertise and a general education that enables individuals to master ever changing, complex new skills quickly and easily. Moreover, the State’s responsibility to make broadly shared prosperity for its citizens possible depends as never before on the ability of its education system and its students to meet world class education standards.

After examining the performance of Maryland’s public schools, the Commission came to the inescapable conclusion that, overall, Maryland’s school system performs at a mediocre level in a nation where, based on international assessments, U.S. student performance is falling further and further behind that of students in other advanced economies. The Commission was in unanimous agreement that if the State is serious about developing a school system where students achieve at a level comparable to students in the world’s best systems, then a major transformation of the present system is required.

Benchmarking Maryland to International Top Performing Systems

The Commission, which was primarily staffed by the Department of Legislative Services, undertook an in-depth study of the policies and practices of these leading systems with the National Center for Education and the Economy (NCEE) and its founding president, Marc S.Tucker, as its primary consultant. NCEE is a highly regarded not-for-profit organization that has spent the past 30 years doing comparative analysis of school systems around the world. Through this research, NCEE developed what it calls the “framework” of high-performing systems. With NCEE’s support, the Commission conducted a rigorous gap analysis, using NCEE’s framework, to compare practices in four high performers (Finland; Shanghai; Singapore; and Ontario, Canada) plus three states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire) with practices in Maryland.   

The Commission studied in depth every aspect of policy and practice of these high-performing systems to ensure that it understood the keys to excellence and equity in education systems at the scale of a state. Excellence is defined as globally competitive average student performance, with gaps between the best-performing and lowest-performing students no greater than in the countries with the smallest gaps. Equity means ensuring every student, no matter their family income, race, ethnicity or physical, intellectual, and emotional challenges, has the resources to be successful.

The Commission also analyzed how to implement these strategies in Maryland, tailored to the State’s needs and context. Based on this analysis, the Commission identified five major policy areas that must be addressed if the state is to have a school system comparable to the world’s best systems:  (1) early childhood development and education; (2) preparation of high quality and diverse teachers and school leaders; (3) rigorous college and career pathways, benchmarked against those in the world’s best systems; (4) equitable funding to ensure that all students are successful; and (5) effective governance and accountability. The Commission became a firm believer that just spending more on education is not the answer. Rather, it agreed that new funds must be invested in these strategies, coupled with a rigorous system of accountability based on faithful implementation of policy recommendations and evidence of continuous improvement in student achievement.

The Commission’s 2018 Preliminary Report and Technical Supplement ​describe the research and gap analysis undertaken by the Commission that led to the policy recommendations.

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Developing Policy Recommendations

The Commission then divided into working groups to develop detailed practices to support each of these policy areas. In this effort, the Commission invited representatives of interest groups and others from around the State to offer their ideas on how Maryland could adapt international best practices to the Maryland context. Literally hundreds of Maryland citizens participated in these sessions. The Commission also heard from scores of national experts and benefited substantially from their expertise. Drawing upon this advice, the Commission developed a detailed, 10-year implementation plan designed to transform Maryland public schools and make it among the world’s best.

In its deliberations and final recommendations, a paramount priority for the Commission was the critical need to address the issue of equity in Maryland. Its final policy and resource recommendations were driven by the belief that all students, regardless of family income, race, ethnicity, language spoken, disabilities, or other needs, must have the resources they need for success. In support of this effort, the Commission engaged Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, professor at Howard University, head of the Quality Education for Minorities Foundation, and former head of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, to serve as a consultant. He was asked to review initial versions of the report and suggest changes so that the Commission’s final recommendations adequately addressed equity in all of its forms. The Commission adopted all 17 of Dr. Toldson’s suggested additions and modifications to the interim report.

The policy recommendations, the rationales behind them, and the estimated cost to implement them are fully described in the Commission’s January 2019 Interim Report.

Incorporating Estimated Costs to Implement Policies into Funding Recommendations

To complete its work, the Commission had to finalize cost estimates, and then new funding formulas, to provide the resources necessary for full implementation of its policy recommendations. In this work, the Commission drew heavily on APA Consulting and its principal, Justin Silverstein. It also benefited from the expertise of the Funding Formula Workgroup, a group of school finance experts in Maryland appointed by the Presiding Officers of the Maryland General Assembly to advise the Commission.


The Commission’s final report, published in 2020, contains the final recommendations of the Commission. 

The Commission’s work from 2016 through 2019 is fully documented on the Maryland Department of Legislative Services we​bpage, including meeting materials and archived video for every Commission meeting.