Maryland Interim Superintendent speaks on what needs to change

In her first sit-down interview since becoming the Interim State Superintendent of Schools in Maryland, Dr. Carey Wright spoke candidly about her vision for the future of the state’s education system.

Dr. Wright shared her insights from the first six months on the job, highlighting areas she believes need change and how she plans to implement reforms. “It’s all focused on how we improve outcomes for children and how we support teachers and leaders in that process,” Wright told Project Baltimore.

With billions in additional education funding coming to Maryland, it is Dr. Wright’s responsibility to ensure taxpayers see a return on that investment. However, this is not her first overhaul of an underperforming school system with limited resources.

Before arriving in Maryland, Dr. Wright served as the State Superintendent in Mississippi, a state whose schools were ranked among the lowest performing in the nation when she took over. “The old saying in the south used to be, ‘Thank God for Mississippi’, because the other states knew when test results came out, they didn’t have to worry about being at the bottom, because we always were,” said Wright.

In 2013, Mississippi overhauled its education system with a focus on improving early childhood literacy and training teachers in evidence-based reading instruction methods. “We hired literacy coaches and put them in our lowest performing schools,” Wright explained. “We tracked and monitored progress three times a year to make sure we were on track. We provided additional help to those schools that needed it the most.”

The plan proved successful. Mississippi’s grade on Education Week’s Quality Counts report card improved from an F to a C under Dr. Wright’s leadership, boosting the state’s national ranking from 50th to 35th.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Mississippi now outperforms Maryland on many key metrics, prompting the question – could similar solutions work in this state?

“I don’t know that I would say what we’re doing wrong as much as what we may need to change,” explained Wright. “And I think that, to me, is reading instruction.”

Dr. Wright believes, like Mississippi, Maryland must prioritize achieving literacy by 3rd grade through training teachers in the science of reading instruction. “To me, there is a very methodical way that you go about teaching children to read.”

Teacher professional development is a major component of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education reform plan, which allocates billions to public schools. However, some districts say they cannot afford the Blueprint’s costs and are calling for delays in implementation.

“I think that we need to continue to fully implement the Blueprint,” insisted Dr. Wright. She believes schools must restructure spending rather than delay reforms. “You’re not going to get extra funds to keep doing what you’ve already been doing. You have to look at your funds and your staff and say, ‘Where are these children?’ And then, ‘How does that money end up where those children are?’”

In 2022, Mississippi spent $10,170 per student, while Maryland spent $16,417 per student according to Census data. When overhauling Mississippi’s system, Dr. Wright had significantly less funding, but she also faced less opposition from teachers unions which lack collective bargaining rights in that state.

Regarding concerns about unions making it difficult to remove underperforming teachers in Maryland, Dr. Wright said, “I think you’ve got to go through the steps of trying to help someone… I think everybody deserves that first. I think everybody deserves the opportunity to see, can we build your skill sets?”

If results still do not improve after training and support, Dr. Wright believes options like reassigning teachers to non-classroom roles should be considered. “A teacher has more than a job, you’ve got a mission…The bottom line for me is we should not have anybody in any kind of leadership position…that’s not putting students first.”

Dr. Wright took over as interim superintendent, replacing Mohammed Choudhury. She has applied for the permanent position, which the Maryland State Board of Education expects to fill by late April after a national search.