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The Troubles With MCPS: Falling Behind, Declining Performance, Resistance to Real Ed Reform

EDUCATION is a key focus of my campaign as candidate for County Council (District 2) in 2018. This makes sense since I am a former classroom teacher and have been an active education reform advocate learning what works and what doesn’t work across the country for the better part of three decades.

Unfortunately, things are not working as well as they should in our Montgomery County public schools. First, let’s review the cost side. We recently had a county charter-busting 8.7 percent property tax increase, voted unanimously by our Councilmembers. Then, MCPS’s budget requested funding over and above Maryland States Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements. This was all because our schools were supposedly starving for funds, even though we already spend more money per pupil than any other jurisdiction in Maryland, save Baltimore City. Worse, it costs our county twice as much to build or renovate our schools as it does in the Houston, TX metropolitan and suburban areas, even as our own Office of Legislative Oversight says these costs can be reduced by up to 36 percent -- with just three simple, budget-conscious policy changes.

What has this spending gotten us? Not much, it seems. Statewide, Maryland has the fastest declining test scores in the entire country, and we are ranked about “average,” according to the most recent (2016) National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report, better known as “the Nation’s Score Card.”

Closer to home, the number of Montgomery County high schools ranked nationally among the “Most Challenging Schools in the U.S.” has been falling for 10 years. Eleven MC schools were in the top 200 in 2009; just six remain in 2016. Walt Whitman has fallen from 62 in the rankings to 188, Wootton from 52 to 255, and Blair from 127 to 571.

What are we doing to improve education outcomes? Largely, actions that appear to be counterproductive. Our Board of Education has eliminated teacher-created high school final exams against the wishes of the teachers themselves and promoted assessment and grading policies that lower standards and encourage students to “game” the system instead of studying and learning. This was all because students were performing so poorly on end-of-year, cumulative assessments. In other words, our schools failed to teach so that students were able to retain what they were learned during the year.

In the meantime, there are few objective performance-based measures for any MCPS programs, no independent reviews or Inspector General oversight, and ever-growing summer school programs to meet the needs of students who haven’t learned during the school year.

The aforementioned list of “Most Challenging Schools” is dominated by public charter schools, in such states as Texas, Arizona, Utah, Florida, Ohio, and Oklahoma. In New York City, Success Academy students gain two years in testing every year they attend.

Yet, the protectors of the status quo in Maryland and our county resist public charter schools and school choice. Our neighbor, Washington, DC, is one of a few jurisdictions showing consistent gains on the Nation’s Scorecard; maybe it is because more than 50 percent of its students go to charter and non-traditional schools.

Right here in Maryland, public charter schools are operating with enormous success even as they are starved for funding by protectors of the status quo (they only receive on average about 70 cents to the dollar that government-operated schools receive). The Chesapeake Foundation runs a few such charter schools – the results are absolutely inspiring. At its Chesapeake Science Point High School, a majority-minority school in Hanover, 86 percent of its African-American student population tested proficient in reading, 90 percent were proficient in math, and 84 percent in science.

Chesapeake Science Point has obliterated the achievement gap, and I have 21 pages of tributes to the schools from the parents to support this assertion. For this, they are not given a hint of gratitude from the education establishment. Instead, they are harassed and treated as a pariah. Rather than embracing the successes of these schools and looking for ways to replicate it across the public school system, the education establishment treats it as a pariah anathema.

We are falling behind the rest of the country. What are we doing to improve our educational outcomes?

Ed Amatetti is a Republican candidate to be the District 2 – Germantown/ UpCounty representative on the Montgomery County Council in 2018.

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