Thursday, January 08, 2009

Bragging About Our Schools

We ought to brag a little! Our state has the best schools in the country. Here's how The Post put it:
A six-year Maryland effort to spend billions of dollars more on public education has led to major performance gains that have helped make the state's schools the best in the country, according to a pair of independent reports released yesterday.

A three-year study of the Bridge to Excellence Act came as Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes the trade newspaper Education Week, announced the results of its annual survey of state school systems. In the latter report, Maryland was ranked first among the 50 states and the District. Last year, the state ranked third.

"I'm elated," Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said at an Annapolis High School event to promote the two reports. "We now have the No. 1, the best public school system in the United States of America, and we need to do our best to defend that."

The Education Week study evaluated school systems on several criteria, including accountability standards, college readiness of high school graduates, spending and equity. Virginia ranked fourth and the District last. State Public School System Ranked Best in U.S. by 2 Reports

It's kind of fascinating that you would find such disparity within the same geographical area. Maryland number one, Virginia fourth, DC last, all states that share borders, the worst nestled between two of the best.

I won't pretend it's all so straightforward and simple. We know there is some kind of budget screw-up at the state level that is shorting Montgomery County schools, some finger-pointing and frantic ... uh, franticness? franticity? It looks like we will get the money after all, but it is a constant fight to keep education on track.

Hey, while Googling for news I just noticed this Post story, put on the Internet an hour ago:
Course fees charged for workbooks, art supplies and other items would be cut by more than half in Montgomery County schools under a proposal Superintendent Jerry D. Weast announced yesterday to ease the burden on parents.

Across the Potomac River in Loudoun County, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III proposes to raise fees for students to park cars and play sports to ease the burden on the school system's $758 million budget.

They are contrasting responses to the economic downturn pinching public schools and the families they serve.

Montgomery parents rebelled last fall against course fees, which have multiplied in schools regionwide at a time when families, too, are minding their dollars. Schools' Reaction To Tight Times Seen in Fee Rules

We have not been following that particular controversy on this blog, but it is not far outside our little circle of light. Some groups, notably the Parents Coalition, have been putting a lot of pressure on MCPS to stop charging lab fees and other costs. Their argument is that public education ought to be free, but if taken to its conclusion that argument would simply bankrupt the school district, which I suspect is the motivation for at least some of the parents who are part of that movement. On the other hand, it does get expensive for families, costs add up, and it isn't fair if richer students have opportunities the poorer ones don't -- though I think in most case schools are careful to avoid that. Anyway, it is a little too much to tuck into a blog post about our state being rated highly.

Back to the original Post article:
Maryland student performance on standardized tests, another factor in the Education Week report, has steadily improved since passage of the law. Annual state education spending is now $4.6 billion a year, up 80 percent from the 2002 level, according to the report. In addition, local governments have raised education spending 34 percent in that time.

The report by MGT of America found that "proficiency levels statewide have improved dramatically for all students," particularly in elementary schools. Elementary students cut in half the gap between where they were in 2004 and the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, the report said.

The MGT report found that for every additional $1,000 spent per elementary student, proficiency rates rose 4 percent. They rose 8 percent on the same measure for middle school students.

"Additional money, with strong accountability, can make a difference," Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, said in response to the two reports.

I think Grasmick nailed it here. First, we need legislators who will support education in the bottom line, by funding it generously. Second, we need educators, especially the superintendents and boards at the state and county levels, who will administer the money responsibly. You see here that MoCo and Loudon County made entirely opposite decisions about what to do, for instance, about the accumulation of fees and charges. You can't say that one approach is "right" and the other is "wrong," but if administrators are responsible, it is possible that either one can solve the problem.

It's a lot of tough, thankless work, especially in this economy, but we can be proud to see our state's schools rated at the top.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always suspicious of statistics used to evaluate performance of educational systems. I know firsthand what a muck can be made of such numbers.

Not to poormouth MD schools, of course. It sounds like the state has made a real effort, I just often find numbers are misused to evaluate success and failure. It's embarrasing sometimes.

The factors that generally correlate most with school success, year after year, from state to state, are neighborhood, parent income and parent education levels.

January 08, 2009 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert's right. The key factors are strong here because money is pumped here sucked from taxes on other parts of the country that make our families stable because economic tides generally don't affect us.

One significant achievement of the Bush administration, and the effect if focused here, is a shrinking of the achievement gao for minorities because of No Child Left Behind.

January 08, 2009 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


MCPS was closing that gap long before the joke that is No Child Left Behind. People don´t realize that doing well on a standardized test doesn´t necessarily mean a child can perform effectively in the difficulties and struggles of everyday life. It simply means that a child can memorize facts.

We have gone well beyond helping children become well-rounded in MCPS.

As for NCLb... maybe this would have been good for G.W. Bush... he seems to forget most facts.

January 08, 2009 2:49 PM  
Blogger Tish said...

frantic ... uh, franticness? franticity?

Jim, were you perhaps trying to say that people are "franked out?"

January 08, 2009 3:05 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Tish, as usual I had no idea what I was trying to say!


January 08, 2009 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am right, of course, as I always am (hee hee), but for none of the reasons that anonymous spouts.

I have seen no evidence that No Child Left Behind has narrowed achievement gaps.

Virginia and Virginia schools point to SOL scores to indicate student achievement. They are, in fact, invalid measures, as such numbers indicate little except success at taking these tests, and the stats are used to compare incomparable groups.

What measures does MD use to meet the (silly) requirements of NCLB?


January 08, 2009 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What have we been doing in MD? The same as all teachers do---

We, as teachers, have been doing everything we´ve been doing for centuries; caring about children and wanting nothing more than that they succeed. Something AnonBigot would know nothing about.

January 08, 2009 7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"People don´t realize that doing well on a standardized test doesn´t necessarily mean a child can perform effectively in the difficulties and struggles of everyday life. It simply means that a child can memorize facts."

That's true, DerrickMoron, but one of the subjects Jim has brought up here is how well Maryland kids perform on standardized tests.

You needn't be bitter. Not everyone's a genius.

January 08, 2009 9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason Maryland came out number one is not excellence but well-roundedness. Maryland scored a B in every category. Other schools ranked lower actually got "A"s in some criteria.

New Jersey, for example, got an "A" for "chance of student success" but only ranked fifth overall.

New York got third overall even though they had "C-" for "K-12 achievement".

West Virginia, the most beautiful state in the nation, come in at eighth even though they got an "F" in "K-12 achievement". They also got a "C-" in "chance of student success". They do well overall because they got a "B" in school finance. Oh yeah, we're number 8! We may not do that well but we're spending a lot of money.

Wonder if they're bragging too.

Sounds like a screwed-up survey and a mediocre national public education system.

I mean, come on, straight Bs makes Maryland the valedictorian?

Sounds like we should dump public education and give kids vouchers so their parents can find a private school that excels.

Private schools actually have some standards for teacher and hold them accountable for them. Public school teachers are generally a bunch of social misfits, hardly role models for the kids.

January 09, 2009 6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words, Anon disagrees with Bush, who said yesterday:

Thank you for the warm welcome. And Laura and I are thrilled to be here at Kearny [public] School. We have come because this is one of the really fine schools in the city of Philadelphia.

...I am proud to be here with Arlene Ackerman. Thank you for your introduction, Arlene, and thank you for being -- (applause.) Arlene is a reform-minded leader. And by that, I mean you have a Superintendent [of public schools] here who is willing to challenge the status quo if the status quo is unacceptable. Sometimes that's hard in public life. You see the status quo, and people are saying, oh, let's just leave it the way it is; it's too hard to change. And you have a Superintendent here that says, if we're finding failure we're going to change. And I want to thank you for taking on this important assignment.

...Strong American Schools. That means schools that actually teach people how to read, write, and add and subtract. At least that's my definition of strong American schools.

I want to thank very much the Reverend Al Sharpton. Now, some of you are probably about to fall out of your chair -- (laughter) -- when you know that Al and I have found common ground. And by the way, it's on an important issue. See, he cares just as much as I care about making sure every child learns to read, write, and add and subtract. And I want to thank you for your leadership on this issue, and I appreciate you -- (applause.)

I want to thank the teachers who work here...thank you for taking on a noble profession. Laura and I are proud to report that one of our daughters is a teacher, and it makes us feel just incredibly great to know that we've raised a child who is willing to take on an important task of teaching a child to be able to have the skills necessary to succeed in life.

Teaching is a much more noble profession than launching attacks against public schools and people who are different than yourself from the cover of anonimity. Anon would rather say "Uncle" than to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work necessary to make public schools work for every citizen of Uncle Sam, regardless of their ability to pay.

January 09, 2009 8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Teaching is a ... noble profession"

Never said it wasn't. Just a comment on the general quality in public schools. Believe or not, education in America is happening outside out of public schools and private schools are where most of America's future leaders are being educated.

The new President-elect, for example, is sending one of his daughters to a private school here in Bethesda, a pretty long haul from the White House, because he knows that's where quality education takes place in the Washington area.

"Anon would rather say "Uncle" than to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work necessary to make public schools work for every citizen of Uncle Sam, regardless of their ability to pay."

Your statement here presumes public education is an end in itself. Actually, it's a means to a goal: ensuring that everyone has access to education. That goal could more effectively be achieved by having the government reimburse parents for private school and removing the vicissitudes of politics from the education process.

January 09, 2009 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" You said: "Believe or not, education in America is happening outside out of public schools and private schools are where most of America's future leaders are being educated."

Of the 1,500 new MCPS students this school year, 1,000 of them transfered from "private" schools. Elitism or being wealthy has never been a strong indicator of either being educated or supportive of democratic ideals.

We have to seriously question your sanity when you make such stupid remarks as: "Private schools actually have some standards for teacher and hold them accountable for them. Public school teachers are generally a bunch of social misfits, hardly role models for the kids."
The majority of "private" schools, especially those religious-oriented ones, do NOT require educator certification
in order to inculcate their students with their narrow, parochial outlook on life. Many of them hire "warm bodies" to share space with the students and many would even hire you - which proves the point.

January 09, 2009 1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just thought this would be something people would want to take a look at, especially since AnonBigot was head-over-heels in love with hate when he thought that 70% of African-Americans were anti-LGBT marriage equality in California::::::

Task Force Policy Institute releases groundbreaking study examining Prop. 8 vote

The Task Force Policy Institute released a groundbreaking, in-depth analysis of the Proposition 8 vote this week that shows party affiliation, political ideology, frequency of attending worship services and age were the driving forces behind the measure’s passage. Through a precinct-by-precinct analysis and review of multiple other sources of data, the study puts African-American support for Proposition 8 at no more than 59 percent, nowhere close to the 70 percent widely reported since the night of the election.

The report, which was unveiled Tuesday during a national audio press conference, received widespread media coverage by major media outlets, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune.

January 09, 2009 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If this keeps up, nobody will be able to afford private school:

WASHINGTON (Jan. 9) - The nation's unemployment rate bolted to 7.2 percent in December, the highest level in 16 years, as nervous employers slashed 524,000 jobs, capping one of the worst years in modern history for American workers.

The Labor Department's report, released Friday, underscored the grim toll the deepening recession is having on workers and companies. And it highlights the difficulty President-elect Barack Obama faces in resuscitating the flat-lined economy. This year has gotten off to a rough start with a flurry of big corporate layoffs, pointing to another year of hefty job reductions.

For all of 2008, the economy lost a net total of 2.6 million jobs. That was the most since 1945, when nearly 2.8 million jobs were lost. Though the U.S. labor force has more than tripled since then, losses of this magnitude are still being painfully felt.

With employers throttling back hiring, the nation's jobless rate averaged 5.8 percent last year. That was up sharply from 4.6 percent in 2007 and was the highest since 2003.

While economists were forecasting even more payroll reductions in December - around 550,000 - job losses in both October and November turned out to be deeper than previously estimated. Revised figures showed employers slashed 584,000 positions in November and 423,000 in October.

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose from 6.8 percent in November, to 7.2 percent last month, the highest since January 1993. Economists were expecting the jobless rate to rise to 7 percent.

Losses were widespread in December. Construction companies slashed 101,000, and manufacturers axed a a whopping 149,000 jobs. Professional and business services got rid of 113,000 jobs. Retailers eliminated nearly 67,000 jobs, and leisure and hospitality reduced employment by 22,000. That more than swamped gains in education and health care, and the government.

All told, 11.1 million people were unemployed in December.

January 09, 2009 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous: In a previous post, you were crowing about "all" of President Bush's accomplishments - all of those wonderful things that will raise him to the pantheon of our great Presidents. Have you added this economic disaster to Mr. Bush's list of great achievements?

January 09, 2009 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No I haven't. I've read much discussion from economists and various analysts and there seems to be broad disagreement about exactly what happened. Most credible accounts find the Deomcrats who controlled the Congressional Oversight Panels to be major contributors to the problem.

Bush was following policies that have had our country in a mostly unquenchable expansion for the last 28 years so it would be interesting to hear the case that Bush's policies are at fault.

Remember, prior to 2006, when the Democrats took over these panels, our economy had absorbed a number of huge blows from the bursting of the internet bubble to 9/11 to the anthrax scare to Katrina to two foreign wars without as much as a shiver. Further, this economic calamity seems to have hit worldwide all at once in countries with all types of economic and governmental structures.

It seems the economy started slowing down in 2006, went into a mild recession in late 2007 and completely collapsed in late 2008.

What changed?

The Democrats took over Congress.

What's your explanation for how Bush caused this?

January 09, 2009 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got news for all you Dems. A few places in the country actually have had their property values rise since the beginning of the year.

They are all in Republican areas like South Carolina.

Meanwhile, Obama has hired a Treasury Secretary tied to the Bush administration and promised similar economic policies. After griping about Bush tax cuts and deficits, turns out Obama will push a much bigger tax cut and promises trillion dollar annual deficits for years.

Turns out that,, he can't!

BTW, did you guys hear that Obama has picked a top intelligence official who had to withdraw from consideration for some government post last year because he has publicly spoken in favor of Bush administration interrogation techniques of war prisoners?

What's next? Is George H W gonna adopt Barack?

January 09, 2009 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoever is to blame for the economy, I hope they fix it. It's pretty bad and getting worse.

January 09, 2009 5:21 PM  

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