Posted tagged ‘school choice’

Against Rehiring Joshua Starr

1 February 2015

The Montgomery County School Board is in the midst of deliberations on whether to rehire Superintendent Joshua Starr.  Montgomery County Public Schools have been headed in the wrong direction, academically – and schools superintendent Starr makes it worse.  In fact, most everything about Joshua Starr indicates that he had no interest in student achievement.  The long-standing achievement gap in mathematics and other classes gets little reaction or attention from his office.  And there’s little reaction to the scandal over massive failure rates in high school finals.  MCPS, years after this was revealed, is still studying the matter.

Starr has been a vocal opponent of academic testing.  As a measure of accountability, after all, testing represents a threat, because it allows the public to judge how well he is educating our students.  Of course, that’s his basic job.  Isn’t it important for us to evaluate how well he is doing his job?
Instead of academic testing, the Post reports that he will be evaluating students on their feelings.  How happy they are.  How do they feel hope.  I wish I were making this stuff up.

And, in addition to opposing testing and student achievement, he is opposed to allowing parents to send their kids to schools where achievement is encouraged.  Starr is opposed to charter schools, and works to suppress them.  Competition isn’t something he would like, because, like testing, it threatens to make MCPS look bad.

Well, despite all that, MCPS is looking bad, and sadly in need of new leadership.


National School Choice Week: School Choice is Weak in Montgomery County

12 February 2014

We’re just out of National School Choice Week, and the Daily Beast is reporting on the issue as a matter of civil rights advocacy.  It’s bringing together civil rights advocates and conservatives, — for example, ultraconservative  Sen. Ted Cruz and ultraliberal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee  —  in joint advocacy for opening up options for parents and students.

School choice, broadly, is about getting a variety of options for educational settings.  Choices include magnet schools, homeschooling, private schools, charter schools, and on-line coursework.   It’s also about getting parents to stop thinking automatically of the neighborhood school as the only place for their children.

But in order to have options available for parents, the forces that impede those options have to be cleared. School bureaucracies and teacher unions (Hello MCPS and MCEA!) fight against the interest of students, in favoring of solidifying their own power over education and school budgets.  The forces in favor of empowering the public school bureaucracy are particularly strong in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County took home a C- on the Brookings Institution’s annual Education Choice and Competition Index, released last month.   Baltimore City Schools and Washington DC Public Schools did relatively well, each earning a B minus score.

Here are some of the grading criteria, and how Montgomery County met them (poorly, or not at all):

Availability of Alternative Schools

“Alternatives to traditional public schools include charters and at least two of the following: magnets, vouchers, affordable private and tax credit scholarships [NO]

 Assignment Mechanism: A measurement of opportunity for students to get into alternative settings.

 – Students are assigned to schools through an application process in which parents express their preferences (rather than through geographical attendance zones)  [NO]

– Students receive a default school assignment based on a geographical attendance zone but parents can easily express their preferences for other schools [NO]

– Assignment to oversubscribed schools that do not engage in preferential admissions maximizes parental preference [NO]

– Assignment to schools out of the students’ geographical attendance zone is difficult, unclear or substantially disadvantages parents [YES]

 The survey looks at processes and results.  It doesn’t examine the degree to which county school administration facilitates school choice.  In Montgomery, the school board actively seeks to block and hinder school choice.  It’s probably only the high average income level which enables wealthier parents to facilitate school choice, leading to MoCo getting a grade as strong as C-.      That really doesn’t reflect how poorly the school system treats lower-income parents, who don’t have the means to overcome the impediments that the board of education and MCPS place in their way.

MoCo will likely do even worse next year, as the only charter school in the county is closing down.


MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and Charter Schools

24 March 2013

Is MCPS superintendent Joshua Starr being hypocritical? He recently wrote in Education Week praise to a Boston pilot school. (Pilot schools are very similar to charter schools, but have somewhat less flexibility in teacher pay and seniority rules). He praised the autonomy given the principal and teachers, and the results of a tailored education that flexibility gives to meet the needs of the students.

Joseph Hawkins notes on Patch that this is nothing new for Starr; he has offered admiration before for progressive schools and others that provide a more flexible approach than that mandated within strict MCPS guidelines. That’s all well and good – but it appears to be just talk. He has spoken out against charter schools, in the fashion of Henry Ford’s dictum about car colors. Everybody should be happy with what MCPS provides – nothing better or different is necessary.

If charter schools are going to be given a chance in Montgomery, they will have to overcome the “one-size-fits-all-and-you-should-be-grateful-we’re-giving-you-this-much” attitude of the teachers’ union and the MCPS leadership.

Success — Reluctant, Begrudging, Hesitant, Minimal — but Success

28 July 2011

After several tries, and pleading for years, the Montgomery County Board of Education has finally begrudgingly agreed to allow a charter school to operate in the county.  The Community Montessori Public Charter School will open in Kensington next fall (2012).

There must have been some arm-twisting going on, because the Board still was clearly opposed to the idea of a school that would compete with Montgomery County Public Schools.  Of eight members, two voted against the application, and the Board president showed his distaste, too. 

I can only conclude that they had run out of roadblocks to throw in front of the school organizers.   Another applicant, Seneca Creek Charter School ,  gave up on Montgomery County and will organize in Frederick County, instead.

I  hope that this is the beginning of the loosening of the MCPS monopoly, but I’m not optimistic.  The new superintendent, Joshua Starr, is not a fan of charter schools, finding them “unnecessary”.  Note the attitude there: You can have a free education at any school that he thinks is “necessary” to exist.  He will fit right into Montgomery County, where the government does not want residents to have a choice, but rather accept what the county thinks is best for them.

I don’t know whether the students will get a “better” education at one of these public schools than their local public school.  But I know that we are all better off if the choice exists.   That choice exists at 51 charter schools that will be operating in Maryland next fall.  Only one of those fifty will be in Montgomery County.

A Breakthrough for School Choice?

5 July 2011

Who’dathunkit?  A significant blow to the stone walls of the Montgomery County Public Schools monopoly — and it’s wielded by Jerry Weast.

The MoCo school superintendent has finally recommended approval of a charter school in the county.  The application is the third from the Community Montessori Public Charter School.  The Board of Education in the County, historically focused on defending MCPS from competition, must approve the application.

The Board of Education has previously rejected all applications,  with such extreme bias that the state has berated them.   Professionalism and concern for the best education for the county’s children have taken a distant back seat to protecting their fiefdom and privileges.  Has the call for choice in education finally reached even the board of education?   They are scheduled to vote on Thursday.

A Second Chance for Charter Schools in Montgomery?

31 January 2011

Last week was School Choice Week, highlighted by activities around the nation supporting the ability of parents to choose the best education for their children.  One aspect of school choice is charter schools. There are over forty charter schools in various jurisdictions around the state – but none have ever  been approved in Montgomery.

MoCo is a particularly dismal place for those trying to establish charter schools.  Montgomery County Public Schools  fights hard to maintain their monopoly, and they are strengthened in the iron triangle with the support of the Montgomery County Board of Education and the Montgomery County Education Association (the teachers’ union).    That’s a power trio that you don’t mess with in this county.

In 2010, two applicants for charter schools found that out the hard way, as the Board of Education summarily dismissed their applications to establish public schools that would not be beholden to the MCPS bureaucracy.  (In a textbook example of the foxes guarding the henhouse, the County Board of Education is given control and decision authority over charter school applications ).

One application came from Global Garden Public Charter School, envisioned as a small K-8 school in the Kensington/Wheaton area.   The school would feature a longer school day and a longer school year, an IB program, and have a substantial focus on foreign language education.

Another application came from Crossway Community Charter School, a K-6 Montessori school, also in Kensington.

Upon appeal, the State has slapped the County Board for their decision to reject the applications.

–           The Board of Education did not provide any rationale, in writing or orally, for turning down the 350-page application.

–           TheBoard of Education used criteria for evaluating the applications that are nearly impossible to meet.

–           The Board of Education did not follow state regulations for evaluating the applications

–           The state’s decision also implied that several members of the Board were biased against allowing any charter school to operate in Montgomery.  They cited explicit statements by Board members  that were hostile to charter schools, because they might take resources away from MCPS.   The State had to remind these Board members that charter schools are public schools.  These Board members were not concerned with public schools, therefore; they were surely  not concerned with the education of Montgomery students.  They were concerned with protecting the MCPS monopoly.

–           The stated also cited statements to the same effect by MCPS superintendent Weast.  <Why, you have to ask, is the MCPS superintendent involved in the decision to allow competing public schools?  Because MoCo can’t even manage the façade of a fair evaluation. >

The ruling from the State concluded that the County Board of Education needs to re-evaluate the applications.  Unfortunately, we don’t have reason to believe that the Board will be any less biased this time around.   It might help for those who are interested to contact the Montgomery County Board of Education and emphasize the need for professional evaluation, instead of defending their turf.

The Problem of Inadequate Secondary Education

17 December 2008

If you had a suspicion that our high schools are not adequately preparing the students, we now have some verification. One out of six Maryland high school students are not passing the High School Assessments.

The HSAs are a series of tests in algebra, government, biology, and English. Originally, the state thought to require passing the HSAs in order to earn a diploma. Then students were given an out; those who failed twice could complete “an academic project” in lieu of passing the test. At some schools (like Einstein High), nearly a third of students don’t pass the tests.

The logical plan of action, of course, is to make the standard easier; MoCo school superintendent Jerry Weast is in favor of getting rid of the requirement altogether.

Then, you pass the problem on to the next guy (the college, or the employer), and let him deal with it.

The problem shows up in the college, of course. Here in Montgomery County, it shows up most clearly at our community college. An analysis by the Washington Examiner shows that 2/3 of entrants at Montgomery College need remedial courses. For graduates coming from some Montgomery schools (Einstein, Wheaton, Blake), the number hovers around 80%. A related article laments not only the lost time, but the costs of not learning the first time around, noting that a student had to pay about $600 for one such remedial offering. But the costs aren’t just the tuition the student pays. What about the costs to the taxpayer for ineffective education in the high school?  What about the resulting costs of high school dropouts?

We need more choices and more variety from our monolithic public school system. Public charters are a great way to achieve that. Just over the border in DC, charter schools abound. Some fail, but that’s good. Some public schools should be allowed to fail and close up, too. Overall, though, the students in DC’s charter schools are outperforming students in the traditional public schools. The charter schools have been demonstrated to be particularly effective for low-income students. Meanwhile, there are still no charter schools in Montgomery County.