What was State BOE President Crawford thinking when he hired scandal-ridden Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury?
History would be made when State BOE President Clarence Crawford hired Mohammed Choudhury as Maryland Superintendent, but not for the reasons you think.
State Board of Education President Clarence Crawford and his Superintendent Mohammed Choudhury have been under a barrage of bad press in recent months following the MSDE’s state test score coverup, bipartisan blowback from the now dead House Bill 119, and now several MSDE insiders coming forward with stories describing a culture of “fear and chaos” under Choudhury.
Despite so many problems with Superintendent Choudhury’s job performance, and Maryland’s Education Blueprint now at risk, Crawford shockingly continues to defend the Superintendent. “We stand with the superintendent”, said Crawford when approached by Fox 45’s Project Baltimore.
It’s hard to understand why Crawford is so willing to come to the Superintendent’s defense, but to comprehend, we should look back at the rationale the state board used for hiring Choudhury.
In May of 2021, Crawford and his board colleagues would unanimously appoint Mohammed Choudhury as Maryland’s State Superintendent. Choudhury would become the 1st muslim American in the state’s history to take on the role and only the 2nd Superintendent of color.
But Choudhury’s innate characteristics wouldn’t be the only reason he would make history. He would also become the first Superintendent going all the way back to 1976 to serve the State of Maryland without a Ph.D. or Ed.D. A surprising move by the MSDE given the importance our expert class places on credentialism.
Choudhury’s Master’s in Education would meet the minimum requirements set by COMAR, but why would Crawford relax their standards for this critically important position?
To answer this question, one doesn’t have to look beyond the MSDE’s tagline of “Equity and Excellence.”
“Equity”, which is striving for equal outcomes based on group identity, is a fundamental pillar of the MSDE and the Education Blueprint. The decision to hire Choudhury and break historic precedent would show Crawford’s firm adherence to this belief system above everything else, and set the stage for “equity” to become the bedrock of Maryland’s public school system.
With many of the promises of Blueprint still to be realized, Crawford and the board were not only looking for someone who symbolized “equity”, but someone who practiced it. The MSDE needed a change agent to lead its implementation, and a forceful one at that.
And Choudhury’s track record would show just how forceful he could be.
Having previously served as Associate Superintendent and Chief Innovation Officer in the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), Choudhury led various efforts to enforce equity-based initiatives. One being to create “innovation districts” where “socioeconomically diverse learning environments” would be built using “controlled choice”.
“Controlled choice” sounds like an oxymoron, particularly in the free state of Texas, but in Choudhury’s view the mandate was necessary to place “equity guardrails” on parent’s ability to select their child’s school. “The free market has not done right for the vast majority of the country,” Choudhury was quoted when justifying his forceful approach.
Control would be the name of Choudhury’s game as the state of Maryland would immediately come to find out. In July of 2021, just two months into his tenure, he would reverse Governor Hogan’s decision to leave masking policy to the local school districts through an unprecedented statewide mask mandate.
The move was highly controversial and would meet collective resistance across the state, particularly at a time when the effectiveness of cloth masking K-12 students was being debated, but it wouldn’t matter. The damage had been done, and the rights of locally elected school boards eroded.
Next, Choudhury would attempt a complete take over of local education through House Bill 119, a sweeping bill that would have given him the unrestrained power needed to unilaterally push Blueprint control curriculum in all jurisdictions. The bill was so far overreaching that it generated a bipartisan backlash across the state and resulted in a petition led by a local parent group demanding his removal.
As Maryland residents appeared to be unified in their opposition to the Superintendent, stories began to leak from MSDE insiders describing a culture of “fear and chaos” under Choudhury, and a situation so dire that employees described a “mass exodus” occurring in the organization.
Former colleagues who knew and had worked with Choudhury during his days in San Antonio said they weren’t surprised by what was happening in the MSDE.
“Complaints were filed against him in San Antonio. He would railroad others, there were accusations of sexism. His behavior is nothing new, makes me question the search process in Maryland,” said a source.
Crawford and the State Board were either unaware of the accusations or willing to turn a blind eye in the name of “equity”.
It’s hard to tell where the Maryland State Department of Education goes from here, but sources close to the State Superintendent have advocated for his removal.
“I don’t think he should be Superintendent in Maryland, or anywhere for that matter. He’s a liability to the State Board.”