Sunday, November 29, 2009

Montgomery County employees take sailing lessons, go on spiritual retreats on taxpayers' dime | Washington Examiner

Montgomery County employees take sailing lessons, go on spiritual retreats on taxpayers' dime | Washington Examiner

White Flint Sector Plan: Congestion Pricing?

Get ready for it folks! The Montgomery County, Maryland Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee is now taking up ‘Transportation Issues’ for the proposed White Flint Sector Plan. And what are the recommendations of the PHED staff, in the staff report by Glenn Orlin, the Deputy Council Staff director?

Well, let’s see how our great ‘vision’ for a lowered carbon footprint, ‘sustainable’ urban’ ‘pedestrian-friendly’ development fares. First Mr. Orlin makes clear, “Incorporating a new or expanded transportation project in a master plan does not even guarantee it will be built in the long term.”

Yep, there you have it in black-and-white on the first page of the staff report. We may never get any new public transportation. 20,000 new jobs, with people needing to go to and from work sites? We’ll get those. 9800 new residential units on 400 acres? We’ll get those. 7.49 million new square feet of commercial/residential space? We’ll get that. But the public transportation needed to support the tens of thousands of new residents and job holders? Well, not so fast…

Instead, Mr. Orlin states that ‘A plan in balance does not mean the traffic conditions at build-out will be deemed ‘good’ or even ‘fair’ more likely the traffic congestion will be at the borderline between ‘tolerable’ and ‘intolerable.’ Finally, an honest public employee. The traffic will be at the borderline between tolerable and intolerable.

How does the ‘Plan’ envision achieving even the most pitiful ‘tolerable’ traffic? Well, the non-auto-driver mode share for employees in White Flint would have to increase to 50 percent. Or, as Mr. Orlin posits it, “…so this would mean the proportion of commuters to White Flint not driving would have to nearly double.”

How could it reach 50%? How about congestion pricing? How about removing the median on Montrose Road between I-270 and Montrose Parkway and replacing it with a reversible lane, as is done on Colesville Road or Georgia Avenue? How about widening Rockville Pike from 6 to 8 lanes between Edson Lane and the Beltway? That is what the Planning Board and Mr. Orlin envision for our community. The roads should look more like the roads that represent some of the worst traffic nightmares in the region.

If you can’t wait for this traffic disaster to come your way, just sit tight and it will. IF you don’t quite see this ‘vision’ for your neighborhood, or for our county, please email the County Council immediately. Tell them you don’t want the ‘intolerable’ traffic that the Council staff says will happen. Tell them you don’t think the FAR is in balance with the infrastructure. Tell them you want the density decreased so our infrastructure can support it and tell them not to approve unachievable density plans. This is not sustainable.

Who is on the PHED Committee? Councilmembers Mike Knapp, Nancy Floreen, and Marc Elrich.

To contact the council email; to read Mr. Orlin’s report, go to

Mandated Recess

The Parents' Coalition received a disturbing anonymous comment. You can read the comment here.  Is this true? Is recess taken away as punishment for not completing homework and classwork in Montgomery County Public Schools? Did a MCPS administrator really send out this note?

The November 5, 2009, Atlanta Journal Constitution article below tells what one group of parents in Georgia did to combat the use of recess as punishment. 

Play ball! Recess mandated now at DeKalb County schools
...DeKalb County officially welcomed the return of recess to its schools this week.
Recess is now formally required by the DeKalb County Board of Education

While most schools held recess, it was not mandated and could be denied to a child as a punishment or canceled for the entire class due to a conflict.
Now, recess is no longer an option but a requirement and cannot be withheld from a student.

A core group of dedicated DeKalb parents had been pushing for a concrete policy. (See the petition for mandatory recess.)...
Posted using ShareThis

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving - Monocacy Elementary

Washington Post, Letter to Editor
In Montgomery, the courage to save a small school
...Mr. Weast's proposal was rash and myopic, viewing the closing of a small school in a small community as the only option while depriving residents of any sense of due process...
...It is easy to complain when government does something wrong. It's nice to be able to say "well done."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Truthiness, W00t, Rogue... What Comes Next?

A. Admonish
B. Nugatory
C. Emaciated
D. Any of the above
E. None of the above

I don't know about you, but I do feel empathy for students who don't like MCQs. These are tough choices! Let's try to work this out together, shall we? First, we have to figure out the connection among the three terms in the first part of the question. Being a Stephen Colbert fan, I immediately link truthiness to rogue, figuring that a rogue... [fill in the blank: politician/judge/economist] prefers figures and facts that s/he wishes to be true over figures and facts known to be true. But why should this be cause for w00t? Then I remember that Valerie Ervin, former BOE member and current chairwoman of the Education Committee on the County Council, recently called Dr. Weast a rogue superintendent, and I know many people who found cause for celebration in this astute observation. Could I be on to something?

The first choice to complete the list is "admonish." Did Valerie Ervin admonish the superintendent? To me, her comments sounded more like a harsh reprimand, a rebuke, a sharp reproach. There is something too gentle about "admonish" that makes me think that A may not be the correct answer, although I have to admit that this answer does not fit that badly since "admonish" expresses disapproval. How about we put a question mark next to A and move on to the second choice?

Could "nugatory" follow "rogue" in the list? Well, it depends. Having a rogue superintendent at the head of the 16th largest district in the nation and one that gobbles up half the county budget is definitely not a matter of little or no consequence! But then again, if his multi-million dollar "communication" operation allows him to get away with it, who's to say? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? How about we put a question mark next to B as well and move on to the next choice?

Emaciated. No way, no how. Eliminating C is good because we can then cross out D ("any of the above.") So, what say you? A, B, or E? E is tempting because A and B both kind of fit without either of them actually being a good fit, so why not eliminate both A and B and pick E? Of course, there is another option -- that of leaving the answer blank, thereby missing the chance of earning one point, but being assured that no fraction of a point will be deducted. (I am so glad I never had to answer MCQs when I went to school and college in France! Writing papers is so much more rewarding!)

If truth be told, the correct answer is.... D! "Admonish," "nugatory," and "emaciated" are all among the top 2009 Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year list . "Truthiness" made the list in 2006, "w00t" in 2007, and "rogue" in 2008. Interestingly, "rogue" made the list again in 2009, dropping from 8th place to 10th. Uh-oh. Rogue politicians, judges, economists, and others, beware! More and more people are on to you, and they are learning! Vagrant, dishonest or worthless person, mischievous person, horse inclined to shirk or misbehave, or individual exhibiting a chance and usually inferior variation -- "rogue" is all of that, and now you know it, too! But don't thank me -- thank Bob Salsberg, of the Associated Press.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Survey reveals wide variation in high school parking enforcement policies

A Parents' Coalition study reveals wide variation in student parking policies and enforcement among MCPS high schools, with some schools using parking violations as a source of income and others towing on the first offense.

MCPS Regulation ECG-RA covers student parking procedures. Under the regulation, each principal "is responsible for submitting to the Office of School Performance local school procedures for student parking and subsequently any revisions which may occur because of changing conditions." The regulation goes on to state that "Principals of new high schools [are required to] submit the procedures to the chief school performance officer within six weeks after the opening of the school, and subsequent revisions also are [required to be] submitted for approval or disapproval."

A request to the MCPS Public Information Office (PIO) for copies of parking procedure documents for seven schools -- which should have been readily available from the files of the Chief School Performance Officer -- took 30 days for MCPS to fulfill.  Based on dates shown on the documents, many of the procedural documents appeared to have been collected from the schools only after they were requested from the PIO. Some of the documents were copies of material from student handbooks that provided no information about enforcement procedures or fines. There was no indication that the Chief School Performance Officer -- or anyone at MCPS headquarters -- had reviewed or approved the procedures.

According to Regulation ECG-RA, parking procedures, including disciplinary actions, are to be developed by the principal of each school in cooperation with student representatives. At an October 2009 meeting of SGA leaders, no student could recall being involved in development of parking procedures.

Fines for parking without a permit vary widely.  Most schools charge no fine and simply place a warning sticker on violators' cars, and tow only after repeated warnings.

Representatives at some schools, including BCC and Springbrook, stated that violators are towed immediately without issuing warning stickers or fines.  Most towing is handed by Anchor Towing, which charges $95 under a flat fee contract with MCPS.  A representative at Anchor Towing stated that Paint Branch High School is one of their larger customers among the high schools.

Although not allowed by regulation and not stated in any document provided by MCPS, a representative at Blake High School stated that they offer a $2 daily parking rate to students who do not have parking permits if the student pays at the beginning of the school day.  Those who do not display a permit or pay the daily fee in advance are issued a $10 citation. 

Entire parking procedures provided to MCPS headquarters by Blake HS

Regulation ECG-RA also states that students are subject to ticketing by the police, but a police spokesman stated that the county police department never issues citations for failure to display a student parking permit in a school lot because that type of infraction is not a violation of law.  The police department can, however, issue citations for other parking violations, such as parking too close to a fire hydrant or parking in a handicap space without a handicap permit.

High schools are required to charge a system-wide fee set annually by the Board of Education (currently $37.50 per semester) for parking permits. Fees collected from the sale of parking permits must be used to fund extracurricular athletics, under regulation ECG-RA.

Some schools also charge a hefty fee for replacement of a lost parking permit.  Sherwood High School charges $25 for replacement, according to documents obtained from the school. 

A table of fines for failure to display a parking permit is below.  The information in the table was obtained from security staff and business managers at each school and is believed to be accurate, but could change at any time - and apparently, without notice to students.

$ Fine
Paint Branch
Quince Orchard
Richard Montgomery
Seneca Valley
Walter Johnson
Watkins Mill

Johns Hopkins Panel on NCLB Legislation

JHU School of Education hosts panel on No Child Left Behind

The Johns Hopkins University School of Education will host a panel discussion titled “What’s Next After No Child Left Behind” in anticipation of next year’s reauthorization of the legislation. The program, which is the culminating event in the school’s 100th anniversary celebration, will be held on Monday, Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m. in Shriver Hall Auditorium.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are encouraged and can be submitted online at

Panel members include Martha Kanter, undersecretary of education, United States Department of Education; Nancy Grasmick, Maryland state superintendent of schools; Andres Alonso, CEO, Baltimore City Schools; Joe Hairston, Baltimore County school superintendent; Robert Slavin, director of JHU’s Center for Research and Reform in Education; James McPartland, director of the Center for Social Organization of Schools, and Mariale Hardiman, former Baltimore City principal and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the School of Education. A question and answer sessions will follow the presentations.

This program is the first in a series titled Shaping the Future, a series of discussions addressing the most challenging issues in education. For information, call 410-516-5588.

Weast Watch: 7 days in October 2008

October 2008 was a typically busy time around MCPS. The news media was covering the issue of illegal curricular fees being charged in schools, local school audits were being released with surprising revelations, and HSA's were threatening to keep students from graduating.  The MCPS Capital and Operating Budgets for FY10 were being prepared.

Where was our Superintendent during 7 days of the busy first semester of the 2008-09 school year?

The dates these pictures were taken were from October 11th through October 15th.  Superintendent Weast missed a Board of Education meeting on October 14th.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

MCPS Hiring Freeze? Just kidding.

Please see the Superintendent's Budget Savings Plan as presented to the Montgomery County Council on September 17, 2009, for a list of positions that are exempt from the MCPS hiring freeze.

How serious was that Budget Savings Plan?

Here is the ad running on The Washington Post today.  Division of Construction - Civil Engineer - Starting Salary up to $83,415 - Genereous Benefits

Do you see this position on the list of MCPS positions that are exempt from the hiring freeze in the Budget Savings Plan?

It was just 72 hours ago that Superintendent Jerry Weast was pleading with the Board of Education to close Monocacy Elementary School and cut 11 teaching and school based positions because of dire economic times. 

At a starting salary of $48,870 for teachers, the compensation being advertised for the position above could provide about 1.7 teaching positions.

Does the hiring freeze only apply to classrooms? That is, will budget cuts be made FIRST to classrooms and then to administrative positions? 

Gazette Letter: Looking out for non-public education

Gazette Letter to Editor
There are lies, damned lies and statistics. Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast uses the third when he claims that the skyrocketing enrollment comes from parents pulling their children out of "private" schools due to the recession...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ask Congress about MCPS' investment in Wireless Generation

The link at the end of this article reproduces testimony given to Congress from the CEO of Wireless Generation on November 20, 2009. The CEO touts the "success" of the Montgomery County Public Schools "partnership" with Wireless Generation.

Maybe Congress can find out the details of the secret deal that Wireless Generation made with MCPS?

Certainly, Jerry Weast isn't telling.

As a reminder, Harvard University Business School has published an article that details that MCPS has invested at least half a million dollars in Wireless Generation's development of a product, on the bet that royalties would be income producing to MCPS. (The article was written by Stacey Childress - Harvard Business School staff, Wireless Generation Board member, and co-author of recent book on MCPS.)

Did the Board of Education ever discuss this deal? No. But Harvard knows all about it.

Did MCPS collect "income producing" royalties? Not even close.

To date MCPS hasn't even recouped the estimated half a million dollar investment, and additionally continues to pay annual fees to Wireless Generation for the use of a product whose development costs taxpayers fronted.

House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Hearing

Gazette: Council OKs $30M in cuts for fiscal 2010

Officials turn attention to bleak budget picture for next year
by Erin Cunningham
Staff Writer

...Among the cuts approved Tuesday were Montgomery County Public Schools ($9.7 million)...
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast presented his own plan for about $9.9 million in cuts in fiscal 2010 — part of Leggett's $30 million spending reduction plan.

School system cuts to textbooks and instructional supplies ($1.5 million), prior restrictions placed on administration salaries (at least $2.7 million), freezes on travel, equipment purchases and staff development ($1 million) and special education ($1.2 million) also were approved.
Weast also expects to save about $1.2 million in student transportation costs because of a drop in the price of diesel fuel.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BOE member creates conversational, public blog

An MCPS Board of Education member has lead the charge by the Board into the 21st century through creation of a conversational blog. BOE member Tim Hwang created the blog as part of his SMOB 2.0 initiative.

As far as can be determined, this is the first time that any MCPS BOE member has used the Internet to engage the public in open conversation.

The blog can be accessed at

Update(12/05/09): The blog has been changed to allow only comments that are approved by the SMOB.

Barclay, "I see a train wreck"

Board of Education member Christopher Barclay's opening comments at the November 19, 2009, MCPS Board of Education meeting are shown on the video below. 

Board member Barclay refers to the Board's recent revision of the MCPS Core Values as one reason for rejecting Superintendent Jerry Weast's plan to close Monocacy Elementary School. Mr. Barclay does not mention that the revision of the MCPS Core Values was discussed at an off-site Board "retreat" that was found to have violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act

The surprise recommendation to close a school based on previously unseen data, and unsubstantiated cost numbers is one very good example of why respect for the Maryland Open Meetings Act is important in a public body. 

The Board of Education has been found in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act twice in the last 10 months. Those violations point out the public business that is not being conducted in public, thereby depriving the public of their right to observe, monitor, learn, understand and participate in the work of the Board of Education. 

Failure to respect the Maryland Open Meetings Act by the governing body, the Board of Education, contributes to a culture of disrespect for the public in general that permeates how MCPS conducts business. Hear Mr. Barclay discuss how failure to include the public in the decision making process erodes the public trust in the Board.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Breaking News: Monocacy Parents Save School

This evening, a unanimous MCPS Board of Education rejected Superintendent Jerry Weast's sudden announcement to close Monocacy Elementary School.

Superintendent Weast's recommendation to close the school had been based on surprise enrollment data and a timeline that would have closed the school by next summer.

Board members rejected Superintendent Weast's proposal based on its violation of MCPS' Core Values and its failure to follow the Baldridge process for community involvement.  The proposal was seen as "disrespectful" to the community and creating an "awkward" situation for Board members. 

Board member Berthiaume made the point that long term decisions should not be made in order to support short term operating budget savings.

Board member Barclay said that these types of decisions "erode the trust the community has in us" and alluded to the surprise announcement made a few years ago to close programs. (That would have been Weast's surprise announcement to close the Secondary Learning Centers and the Kingsley Wilderness Center.)

UPDATE:  Video - Barclay: "I see a train wreck"

Does Jerry Weast have a dog?

Washington Post:  Taking healthy habits' measure

At Hollin Meadows Elementary in Va., first lady helps USDA honor the school's nutrition and fitness efforts

..."Anyone who has kids knows they need recess and exercise to focus. If you own a dog, you know that," Obama said, drawing laughs from school officials. "But I guess that's part of the challenge, changing the mentality within the system about what priorities make sense and why."

The first lady started a White House garden where fruits and vegetables are grown for use year-round in the kitchen. She also initiated a public campaign to help Americans better understand where their food comes from...

Superintendent Weast and the MCPS Board of Education's position on recess.

Superintendent Weast and the MCPS Board of Education's position on vegetable gardens.

Advanced Placement Results Show Passing Rates Don’t Assure College-Level Success

The Dagger has obtained detailed AP data from Harford County Public Schools (Maryland) with the break out of exams and scores by high school.

AP data for MCPS for 2008-09 school year? Anyone seen it?

Gazette: Accelerated math classes leave students playing catch-up

Parents, teachers concerned MCPS curriculum pushes children into higher math classes without building foundation

...The Montgomery County Public Schools math curriculum remains "a mile wide and an inch deep" even as an increasing number of sixth- and seventh-graders begin studying algebra, according to Nancy Feldman, a former long-term substitute teacher in math at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda who now tutors students in math...

...Negative effects of acceleration can reach into later high school and college years, according to Doug Prouty, president of the county's teachers union and a member of the Math Workgroup.

"The school system is concerned with the number of students who are taking remedial courses when they enter Montgomery College," Prouty said. "That itself is something that we need to work on, so that students don't need to begin their college careers taking remedial courses."
Montgomery College does see a large number of students with a "calculator dependency" when it comes to more basic math concepts, according to Margaret Latimer, chair of the math department at the college's Germantown campus. Different grades should also matter when considering acceleration, she said.
"We know that our C students do not do well when they go on to the next course," Latimer said.
At the Huntington Learning Center in Bethesda where tutoring and remedial academic work takes place, the center's owner Mark Schlossberg said Huntington's evaluations of students show that many times, seventh-graders have the exact same "gaps" in math as 11th-graders. He said these gaps have become more pronounced over the last decade...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

White Flint Sector Plan: Town Hall Meeting TONIGHT


It is very important that we all be at the Town Hall meeting tonight, which is for the residents, to let our councilmembers know we do not want inappropriate development, overcrowded schools, and dangerous traffic.  We do not want our children breathing in dangerous air quality.  We want to REDUCE our carbon footprint, not increase it with tens of thousands of new cars.
As a resident of Luxmanor, I live in a community of some 800 homes on 400 acres. On about the SAME amount of property, the Planning Board wants to put 9800 residential units.

Paula Bienenfeld

TIME: 7:30PM

Here is the information (below):
Montgomery County Council to Host White Flint / Kensington / Garrett Park/ North Bethesda Areas Town Hall Meeting On Wednesday, Nov. 18

Residents Invited to Express Their Views on Issues, Ask Questions of Councilmembers at Tilden Middle School

ROCKVILLE, Md., November 9, 2009—The Montgomery County Council will continue its efforts to find out what issues most concern residents when it hosts a Town Hall Meeting for the White Flint / Kensington / Garrett Park / North Bethesda area on Wednesday, Nov. 18. The meeting at Tilden Middle School will start at 8 p.m. A pre-meeting reception will begin at 7:30 p.m.

This will be the third Town Hall Meeting hosted by the Council in 2009. The Council is composed of President Phil Andrews, Vice President Roger Berliner and Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen, Mike Knapp, George Leventhal, Nancy Navarro and Duchy Trachtenberg. The Council previously held Town Hall Meetings this year in Germantown/Boyds and West Gaithersburg/Darnestown areas. Most meetings have attracted more than 200 residents.

Tilden Middle School is located at 11211 Old Georgetown Road between the Wildwood section of Bethesda and the southern area of Rockville, adjacent to White Flint.

The meeting will allow residents to let the Councilmembers know how they feel about specific issues and will allow them to ask questions of the Councilmembers in an organized, but informal, setting.

Topics expected to be of interest include the proposed White Flint Sector Plan, schools, public safety, traffic, growth, the County budget and taxes.

“In many ways, our County is facing one of its most difficult periods in a very long time. We are all in this together and we want residents to tell us about their most important concerns as we approach making important decisions about growth in this area,” said Council President Andrews. “This Council has made a priority of having better direct communication with residents, and Town Hall Meetings have proven to be an excellent way to do just that. For the citizens, these meetings provide a forum where they can see their elected officials in a different format than a televised meeting or through a news release.”

The meeting will be taped for later broadcast on County Cable Montgomery (CCM—cable Channel 6 on Comcast and RCN, Channel 30 on Verizon). Susan Kenedy, a producer for the county station, will moderate the meeting.

For more information about the Town Hall Meeting or about the broadcast times, call 240-777-7931.

BOE Member Berthiaume recognizes declining condition of MCPS facilities

Marcus Moore reports in today's Gazette about the upcoming vote by the Board of Education on the capital spending plan.

From the article:
"You've got to ask yourself, how did we get to this state of affairs?" said [Laura] Berthiaume (Dist. 2) of Rockville. "I think we have a significant part of the population in Third World conditions. Patchwork Band-Aids have been applied to old schools in lieu of new schools being built."
Berthiaume is one of four new members of the Board of Education.  She was elected in late 2008, along with Phil Kauffman.  The other new members are Michael A. Durso, who was appointed to the BOE in June 2009 when former BOE member Nancy Navarro left to join the County Council, and Student Member Tim Hwang, who began his term in mid-2009.

Happy Birthday Parents Coalition

Today, November 18, 2009, is the seventh birthday of Parents Coalition. Many of you ask about how we started. Here is an article from the Gazette:

Essentially - the groups that met on November 18, 2002 represented a broad range of parent interests. Energized by Robyn Traywick's showing in the recent Board of Education election against the more well known activist Reggie Felton, we thought that perhaps we could try to change the face of the Board of Education by getting a friendly face elected. Many of us knew each other from PTAs and other school and community activities. We met in Ellen Paul's house to talk about working together - while our specific interests were as diverse as the groups themselves, we talked about how jointly we might support each other. We called ourselves "November 18th" because that was the date of the meeting. We later changed our name to Parents Coalition, started a political action committee and a listserve to stimulate community discussion. For the 2004 election cycle, we supported Bob Astrove and Sheldon Fishman; Bob lost in the primary and Sheldon list in the general election. The PAC is still on the books, but its modest treasury remains untouched, waiting for someone to come up with a good idea. What is now different?

The listserve has been fairly active since its inception, its
one of the most free flowing discussions on educational issues in Mo Co, on a wide variety of topics. The website has been useful to keep background information  And the blog? We get visitors from Asia, from college admissions staff, and all around the world.

More important, we are seen as the resource for getting things done in education in Montgomery County. We are working with similar organizations in Fairfax, and have requests from other parents groups (for example, Howard and Calvert Counties in Maryland) for suggestions on how to get mobilized.
As we envisioned when we started - we are the resource to help other folks advocate in the education system in Montgomery County. Look at our blog, and you will see a variety of issues - many of which have been brought up by others who use us as a platform. I especially love the kids from Piney Branch Elementary School and their request for a greener cafeteria. We serve as the oversight for the county educational system because the Board of Education simply refuses to act. Taxpayer money is finite. More importantly, we want a system that works,not one that is constantly experimenting, without evaluating what works and what doesn't. Our children only get one chance to go from kindergarten to grade 12, no call backs, no repeats. Their minds are our most precious resource, and we want to see them get what they deserve.

Its been a great 7 years of working with all of you. Thanks for supporting and working with us on behalf of the kids.

Silver Chips: Teachers to renegotiate contract with MCPS

Recent concessions made to save county funds raise tensions

Warren Zhang, Managing News Editor and Ombudsman

With the 2008-2010 teachers union contract to expire soon, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the official teachers union for MCPS teachers, is set to renegotiate their contract with the MCPS Board of Education (BOE). However, recent dealings with MCPS have left some MCEA members unsatisfied and could affect the upcoming contract negotiations between the two groups, according to MCEA Vice President Christopher Lloyd...

...Additionally, the agreement made last school year with MCPS to not launch any new initiatives until the adjustments are brought back has since been questioned, according to Grossman. The definition of new MCPS initiative is, according to Grossman somewhat obscure. He specifically mentioned the "Seven Keys" program launched recently as a possible violation of the agreement.

As a result of the cancelation of the cost of living adjustment this year, less staff development time, a hiring freeze and the creation of new initiatives, some MCEA members are frustrated with the current situation with MCPS, according to Grossman...

Open Board seats in 2010 - You're Up!

MCPS Board of Education seats open in 2010

Shirley Brandman (at-large)
Patricia O'Neill (must live in District 3)
Judy Docca (must live in District 1)
Michael Durso (must live in District 5)

MCPS refuses to release financial aspects of Wireless Generation agreement

In an article last week, we released several of the documents showing royalties received by MCPS from Wireless Generation.  MCPS released these and other documents after repeated MPIA requests for information about the deal that former deputy superintendent John Q. Porter made, on behalf of MCPS, with Wireless Generation.

Of all the documents that have been received, perhaps the most interesting is the Development Agreement.  The copy of the Development Agreement, which is 24 pages long, is of interest not because of what it contains but because of what the provided copy excludes.  Under claim of exemption from disclosure pursuant to Section 10-617(d) of the MPIA, MCPS refused to provide two sections of the Development Agreement.  Without those sections, it is not possible to determine who, other than MCPS, is receiving royalties under the agreement, nor is it possible to verify that MCPS is receiving all of the royalties to which it is entitled.

The sections of the Development Agreement that MCPS reluctantly shared contain no financial details and, as such, are probably of interest mainly to MCPS and Wireless Generation.  The sections that have been redacted are short and probably of great interest to taxpayers, but MCPS has advised us that if we want copies of those sections, we will have to pursue the matter in circuit court.

In the meantime, here are the cover letter and signature page for the Development Agreement.  It is worth noting that the Agreement was signed by John Q. Porter, instead of Superintendent Weast or the President of the Board of Education, which, from all appearances, is contrary to MCPS procurement rules.
Wireless Generation Royalty Agreement (excerpt)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Knapp; " is being slowly pulled apart..."

Dear President Brandman:

As you are no doubt aware, the Superintendent, as part of his FY2010 proposal in the capital budget request which you will be considering in the coming weeks has recommended the closure of Monocacy Elementary School in the Poolesville and Barnesville regions of the Upcounty. As the County Councilmember representing the Monocacy Elementary School community, I wanted to bring their concerns and mine to your attention, especially as the Board will be discussing this matter this week.

Monocacy Elementary serves a small, close knit community in the Agricultural Reserve a community with spectacular views of Sugarloaf mountain, and where traffic is more likely to get backed up behind a combine than a FedEx truck. I held a meeting in the community several weeks ago to discuss the Board's recommendation and as you can imagine, the news of this recommended closure has rocked the area, which fears its sense of community is being slowly pulled apart in the name of economy.

I know, and appreciate, that the Board of Education is properly following all its formal procedures for a school closing. This is, however, more than a school closure. In a very real sense, this is the equivalent of a boundary change for students and families at Monocacy Elementary and boundary changes rightly take time. I believe we need to ensure the community is given the time it needs to discuss its options with the Board of Education, determine the impact of the closure on its community, and determine what options, if any, are available. I strongly encourage the Board to work with the Monocacy community to this end.

As part of its consideration, I would also appreciate the Superintendent providing a more detailed explanation of the cost analysis that was done to determine the savings generated by Monocacy s closure. Because cost is the driving factor in the decision to close the school, I believe both the Board and the Council would be better served by more information.

I understand that this is a recommendation that the Superintendent has not made lightly.

It is obvious that we continue to face many challenges when it comes to the county's budget, especially as our revenues drop and student enrollment continues to climb. There are many tough decisions to be made but I want to ensure that these decisions are made on the best available information, and with the fullest input from the affected communities.

If I can provide you with further information, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Mike Knapp

Councilmember, District 2

"Knowledge Transfer Sessions"

What is a "Knowledge Transfer Session?"

According to the American Productivity and Quality Council, Montgomery County Public Schools was a "best practice partner" in one of their studies. According to their website, APQC did a evaluation/study on "Professional Learning Communities," that culminated in a "Knowledge Transfer Session (KTS)" The "Knowledge Transfer Session" was described as follows:
This is the final event in the project. It is a two-day event held at APQC in Houston. Subject matter experts and APQC staff conduct breakouts and presentations based on survey results and key findings. Participants have the opportunity to network with colleagues from across the nation and develop long lasting relationships. Best-practice districts will participate in roundtable discussions, and APQC will facilitate activities for each district to develop action plans to take the results from the study and utilize them in their own districts.

Develop long-lasting relationships? Gimme a break.

In any event, readers will be pleased to know that MCPS administrators have participated in these APQC relationship-building meetings in Houston. CLICK HERE to see copies of the actual reimbursement requests and credit card logs, but in summary:

Stephen L. Bedford, Chief School Performance Officer, 7-8-08 thru 7-11-08. Houston, TX. Present at APQC conference. Common Carrier $114.18, Meals $302.02

Stephen L. Bedford, Chief School Performance Officer, 4/30/08 $318.50
Stephen L. Bedford, Chief School Performance Officer, 4/30/08 $318.50
Trip to Houston, Presenter at APQC

Stephen L. Bedford, 07/11/08 Greater Houston Transport $54.18
Stephen L. Bedford, 07/12/08 Houstonian Hotel, TX $137.00
Stephen L. Bedford, 7/10/08 Kona Grill, Houston TX $59.00
Presenter at APQC

Heath Morrison, Community Superintendent 7/8/08 thru 7/11/08
Knowledge Transfer Session with Mr. Bedford
Estimated Travel Expenses $96.00

So: at a minimum, taxpayers spent $1300 for two individuals to participate in a "Knowledge Transfer Session." (The Parents Coalition did not receive any documentation for Mr. Morrison's travel expenses to and from Houston.) Have we gotten our money's worth?

We are saved! We have found the North Star!

Once again, a MCPS employee has given a testimonial for an outside vendor.  See the image on the left highlighting the statement from Dr. Michael Perich of MCPS.  In this testimonial MCPS' Dr. Perich sings the praises of C. Jackson Grayson's APQC organization. Dr. Perich is quoted as a "leading administrator". (Who is Dr. Perich?)

What brought about this testimonial? MCPS has apparently been saved by C. Jackson Grayson's "North Star".

Remember C. Jackson Grayson?  His APQC organization gave Superintendent Weast an award in 2008.

C. Jackson Grayson's product is the "North Star" approach to school reform.  Grayson assures that his North Star product works! Why? Because it has already "yielded substantial changes in outcomes" in school districts, including Montgomery County, Maryland.  The white paper (see bottom of page 4) on his success says so!

What the white paper doesn't say is APQC is a membership organization and MCPS is a member (see page 4) of APQC.  That's right, Montgomery County taxpayers have funded MCPS' membership in this organization.

How much does MCPS' membership cost ($6,000 for some companies) per year? Where has the data on the use of this product been reported to the Board of Education?

Here is what the public knows:
  • MCPS is a member of APQC.
  • APQC gave Superintendent Weast an award.
  • "North Star" approach used on Board of Education retreat.
  • MCPS administrators tell Harvard writers that they are using APQC's "North Star" product.
  • MCPS "leading administrator" gives testimonial for APQC's product.
  • Results from use of the APQC product are not found in Board of Education minutes, but are touted in promotional materials for APQC.
If we have found the "North Star" it would be nice to know what that means, how much we paid for it, and to see the data that proves we have been rescued!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gazette: Clarksburg High teacher charged in armed robbery

Rockville man alleged to have used a gun to obtain drugs and money

by Susan Singer-Bart
Staff Writer

A Clarksburg High School teacher was charged on Friday with two counts of armed robbery.

Montgomery County Police say Brendan Fuller Friedman, 41, of the 5400 block of McGrath Boulevard in North Bethesda, robbed a grocery store in Bethesda and a bank in North Bethesda between 3:35 and 5 p.m. Friday.
Police said a man entered a Safeway at 5000 Bradley Blvd. at 3:25 p.m., displayed a handgun at the pharmacy counter and demanded Xanax and OxyContin. He fled on foot with the drugs before police arrived.
The robber was described as being between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet tall. Witness told investigating officers the robber wore a blue surgical mask, a black knit hat, a black jacket and a black hooded sweatshirt. He carried a duffel bag.
About 90 minutes after that robbery a man wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans with a white design on the rear pockets and black suede shoes demanded money from a teller at the M&T Bank at 5910 Executive Blvd. The robber carried a black backpack. He displayed a note implying he had a gun and demanded cash, county police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks said. The robber fled on foot with an undisclosed amount of money.
article continues here

MontCo education officials call for more job training | Washington Examiner

MontCo education officials call for more job training | Washington Examiner

MCPS bans vegetable gardens

Takoma VoiceForbidden fruit

County school system prohibits vegetable gardens
Such a troublemaker, that Michelle Obama. Did you see her helping schoolchildren push a wheelbarrow full of sweet potatoes? Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), our school system, doesn’t want your kids to get any big ideas from glimpsing that disturbing image, because MCPS prohibits growing fruits and vegetables in school gardens...
article continues here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Attend joint Board of Education & State Delegation meeting on Tuesday, Nov 17th

Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Montgomery County Delegation - Annual meeting with the Montgomery County Board of Education
in the auditorium of the Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, to discuss key issues facing our school system and community.
7:30 - 9:00 p.m.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Md. school boards petition state legislators | Washington Examiner

Md. school boards petition state legislators | Washington Examiner

Closing a strong, vibrant, academically successful school

Testimony to Montgomery County Board of Education
November 12, 2009

I have to believe that sitting here two consecutive nights listening to a litany of everything you’re doing wrong is like giving yourself a papercut and pouring lemon juice on it. This is brutal on my end, I can't imagine what it's like on yours.

I figure you are on the School Board for one of three reasons. Either you are Power Hungry, or you are Altruistic and have integrity, or you are simply a glutton for punishment. If you are here for the power trip, you haven’t and won’t hear a darn thing that has been said thus far. If you are here because you are noble and altruistic, then you have to consider the wishes of the people who’s money you take for the purpose of teaching their kids. And if you are here because you are a glutton for punishment, you should be having a ball right now.

*******Reject the proposed procedures to consolidate Monocacy and Poolesville. The timeline will not allow the Advisory Committee to fully investigate the impacts, nor will it give them adequate time to develop alternatives. A decision of this magnitude – closing down a strong, vibrant, academically successful school like Monocacy – and in the process – pushing children into a facility that is certain to become overcrowded in a few short years – is not a decision to be taken lightly.

The Monocacy and Poolesville communities are legally entitled to the opportunity to respond to this proposal without an artificially constrained schedule that short-circuits Due Process. Monocacy is an example of what MCPS should be striving to attain – not demolish. There is literally nothing undesirable about Monocacy and certainly no reason to consider closing it.

Why would you close down an academically thriving school that is at 86% capacity? It’s counterintuitive in a school system that is struggling to keep up with an ever-growing student population, with facilities that are stretched well beyond their desired capacities.

…Instead,… consider alternatives
• like opening enrollment, allowing interested parents to enroll their children from surrounding school districts.
• The Clarksburg cluster coordinator told you last night that they would fully support a liberal transfer policy to re-populate the Poolesville Cluster. Its that easy.
• Or you could re-instate the Spanish Emersion program that had increased Monocacy’s numbers just a few years ago.
• Or, Instead of spending $200,000.00 on a Consultant for the Promethean Boards, save it and choose to keep a school open. (By the way, I’ve seen the Promethean Boards. They are cool tools, but they sure as heck aren’t more important than saving a school.)

Use our resources more wisely. Prioritize differently. Closing Monocacy will only add to the inventory of overcrowded schools requiring further capital expenditures. Instead, find another way, and capitalize on this gem of a school that you already have.

Thank you.

Pamela Boe

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weast's Plan: Leaky pipes and dead animal odor

How does "leading American education expert" Superintendent Weast maintain MCPS school facilities in a world class school system? Listen up Harvard University, Northern Ireland Parliament, New Jersey school systems, and Professional Learning Communities Institute, this is what you want to emulate. 

Potomac Almanac:  For Cabin John, a Double Dose of Maintenance

Parents find Tilden Holding Center unfit.
By Ansley LaBarre
Thursday, November 12, 2009
On their first visit to the temporary academic facility, parents found profane graffiti on the walls, absent baseboards leaving gaps above the floor, and leaky pipes dripping through ceiling tiles — an issue that led to the corrosion of electrical outlets and light fixtures. The faulty heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system left some parents wondering if the excess water was causing mold to grow in the building while concerns grew over the possibility of increased student illness...

...concerned with the decaying and broken asbestos tiles in the stairwells...

..."My jaw hit the floor at the filth and the blatant disrepair of the building," said Lisa Caplan, parent to a seventh grader...  
...the timing of which left parents wondering if the maintenance issues would have gone unnoticed had they not raised alarm...
... "Although issues like a nonfunctioning HVAC unit and dead animal odor were noted in the air quality report."...

"James Song has promised to resolve the list of 52 items we noted at the beginning of the school year and we are continuing to work with MCPS on unresolved issues."

"You can put in all the new ceiling tiles you want," said Caplan, who believes there are instances where the County has resolved to temporary solutions. "But if you don’t stop the leaks above the ceiling tiles at the source, then all that new money is going to waste."

One year later -- Has MCPS made progress?

Exactly one year ago today, The Montgomery Sentinel published President Obama, Take My Superintendent, Please!, one of a series of articles about Dr. Weast and MCPS by the late Wayne Goldstein.

In the article, Mr. Goldstein made the following 10 suggestions for reform:
  1. Hire enough BOE staff to provide independent verification of MCPS performance claims. Take these staff from MCPS, including part of its Office of Shared Accountability, put them under a Chief of Staff who reports only to the BOE, and make the Ombudsman a separate position where the office is also physically removed from the BOE offices.
  2. Ask the state legislature to double or triple BOE salaries so that members will be able to justify to themselves and their families putting in the hours that the job demands.
  3. Ask to be part of CountyStat and accept their advice, ask the independent County Inspector General and the County Council Office of Legislative Oversight to do lots of audits and studies and make lots of recommendations for improvement.
  4. Greatly strengthen MCPS and BOE ethics laws and enforcement so that MCPS officials who cut big corners will find themselves out of a job.
  5. Provide very tight oversight of all school Independent Activity Funds, even putting them under centralized control.
  6. Rewrite regulations to strengthen community involvement, and otherwise bring back unscripted community participation.
  7. Put all MCPS contracts, checks, and credit card charges online in a searchable data base.
  8. Make contract funding sources and actions for all goods and services as transparent and as detailed as possible.
  9. Have BOE staff regularly scrutinize certain of Weast’s and his top staff’s activities, such as his attending conferences for 57 days in 2008, and the extravagant amounts spent on staff meals and entertainment.
  10. Start thinking about what you really want in the next superintendent, which means ruthlessly examining all of Weast’s big failures, studying his modest but genuine successes, deciding what kind of leader can best clean up the mess he created over 12 years, and deciding how you can most honestly try to improve student performance and not to be fooled again by yourselves or another superintendent more focused on marketing claimed successes than enacting genuine positive change.
Now, a year later, it appears that even the most modest of Mr. Goldstein's suggestions have not been implemented by our Board of Education.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Video: Closing Monocacy

Board urged to assert authority

Testimony of: Peter F. Gimbrere
Father of a third grader enrolled at Monocacy


A. The Board Should Ensure That a Fair, Equitable, and Timely Process That Fully Involves the Community is Followed While Any Decisions Regarding the Closure of Monocacy Elementary School Are Made

1) No one can logically disagree that the proposed closure of Monocacy Elementary School constitutes a significant boundary change. The Board has traditionally handled any proposed boundary changes with full due process, fair time frames, and transparency on decision making.

2) The Superintendent’s proposed procedural timeline contained within his October 23, 2009 recommendation regarding the proposed closure of MES is inconsistent with the process and timeframes afforded to other school communities, past and present. His proposed time frame affords the community less than ten months between his recommendation and the closure of the school in August of 2010. This is less than half the amount of time afforded to all other communities.

3) Example #1: Woodward High School was the last school closed within Montgomery County. The input, discussion, and decision process on that closure started in January of 1985 and the school was ultimately closed in June of 1987. That is a time period of over two and one-half years. The timeframe suggested by the Superintendent for the closure of MES is under ten months, leaving little to no time for appropriate input and discussion from the community, PTAs, advisory committees, and other stakeholders. Ten months is significantly shorter than two and one-half years.

4) Example #2: The Carl Sandburg Learning Center is proposed to be consolidated in 2011 or 2012, over two years from now. However, this years CIP budget appropriates funds for a workgroup to form and begin working the consolidation issue close to two years prior to the Superintendent even making a final recommendation on the proposed consolidation in the fall of 2011. With Monocacy, there is no evidence that the Superintendent created any sort of workgroup, advisory committee, or any other vehicle for any input prior to making his recommendation. Again, ten months is significantly shorter than two years.

5) Example #3: The Germantown Elementary Schools. Both the Superintendent’s recommended 2011 Capital Budget and the 2011-2016 CIP appropriate facility planning funds in order to conduct capacity studies during the 2010-2011 school year which will be used to determine how to proceed with any changes to those schools in the 2011-2012 school year. To our knowledge, no such capacity studies were conducted prior to the Superintendent proposing to close Monocacy. And, again, the citizens of Germantown were afforded two years of process time as compared to ten months for the Monocacy community.

6) Example #4: Takoma Park Boundary Changes: Here is the timeline for this proposed change: Boundary study authorized in November of 2008. Advisory Committee meets from March 2009 through June 2009. Board review and action in November 2009. Implementation of changes in August of 2010. Again, a period of over two years between the proposal and the change. Why is Monocacy not receiving this same level of due process?

Conclusion: These examples make crystal clear the disparate and rushed manner in which the Monocacy closure decision is being fast-tracked. It is incumbent on this Board to ensure that the Superintendent’s misplaced zeal is reigned in and that he is forced to move forward in a consistent and fair manner on the Monocacy closure issue. A two year time frame would allow for appropriate community input and discussion and would have Monocacy closing at the earliest in August of 2011. Any time frame shorter than the two years afforded to all other communities within Montgomery County can only be characterized as arbitrary and unreasonable, and will be argued as such should the members of the Monocacy community be forced to appeal a premature closure decision to the State Board of Education. I urge the Board to utilize all means available to you to ensure that the closure process and time frames are established in a non-arbitrary and reasonable fashion.

B. The Board is Responsible for Establishing School Closure Procedures, Not the Superintendent

1) It is a fact that due to the length of time between the last school closure and now, there are currently no detailed procedures in place for the Board to follow in school closure situations.

2) To fill that gap, the Superintendent has unilaterally created proposed procedures and timelines for the Board to utilize in the Monocacy situation. His suggested course of action is contained within his October 23rd recommendation. However, as previously established, his proposed timeline and process is arbitrary as well as inconsistent with previous practice.

3) More significantly, Title 13A, Subtitle 2, Chapter 9 of COMAR clearly requires that the Board, not the Superintendent, establish the procedures to be used in making decisions on school closings.

4) In doing so, the Board is required to follow Board Policy Regulations related to policymaking that require, amongst other things, a thirty day comment period between the promulgation of any policy and the adoption of the policy.

5) To date, the Board has not proposed closure procedure policies or otherwise tentatively adopted any closure procedures. Once you do, by the provisions of your own policy setting regulations (Section C.1.e.4), the public will have a minimum of thirty days to comment on the proposed policy. Only then can the Board vote on the policy.

6) Accordingly, as no proposed school closure policy is currently in front of you, the Board is clearly precluded from voting on school closure procedures on November 19th. To move forward with the vote at that time would illegally limit the public’s ability to comment in direct violation of your own Board regulations.

Conclusion: In closing, the Board has the responsibility and the authority to establish procedures, including timeframes, to be utilized in school closure decisions. The Superintendent has no such authority. I urge the Board to assert the authority given to you over this issue and to make sure that due process is afforded the Monocacy community.

Secret Meetings have begun!

In an August 21, 2009, YouTube Video, MCEA President Doug Prouty announced that the secret MCPS Budget discussions have already begun for the next budget cycle.

MCEA is "at the table" working on putting together the FY 2011 MCPS budgets along with MCAASP, SEIU and MCCPTA.

When Superintendent Weast announces his Capital and Operating budgets he has the full support of these 4 groups who have been participating in budget creation since the summer.

Noticeably absent from the "budget table" are our elected members of the Board of Education and our ability as citizens to observe this process. If the MCPS budgets were being constructed by the Board of Education the public would be permitted to observe and monitor the process under the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

Board of Education member Laura Berthiaume spoke out about the Board's failure to actually review and discuss the Operating Budget earlier this year.

This announcement by Mr. Prouty also means that the "secret table" discussions began even before the public presented comments to the Board of Education at the fall community forums. See Board member Berthiaume's comment about sitting "stone faced".

See minute 1:35 of this video. Thanks to Mr. Prouty for letting the public know that the secret budget meetings began before school started!

UPDATE: MCEA has taken down the video of Mr. Prouty announcing the start of the secret budget process.

Gazette: Lack of planning time is a problem, teachers say

Public school teachers throughout Montgomery County wore stickers Friday to raise residents' awareness about their lack of time to plan lessons for students.
The school system's $2.15 billion fiscal 2010 operating budget cuts back on planning periods for teachers. The current budget already eliminates much of the support staff teachers once had.
This is the second consecutive year the school system has scaled back on teachers' planning time. In fiscal 2009, several teachers sent letters to the school board asking them to reinstate planning periods.
"If I don't have planning time, then my classes won't be as tight," said Patrick McCann, a special-education teacher at Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville. "Teachers need time to make sure their kids are able to be successful in class. We'd like to have some time to do our jobs."
Article continues here.
Note: The teachers' union has representatives that sit on Superintendent Jerry Weast's secret budget planning committee. (No Board of Education members are on the budget committee.) Each year, for the last 3 years, when the MCPS Operating Budget is presented, Superintendent Weast has had the support of the 3 unions and MCCPTA as "partners" in the creation of the Capital and Operating budgets. 

Safety, security an issue for many Montgomery students -

Safety, security an issue for many Montgomery students -

Potomac's Cabin John is on the list where students don't feel safe? Ouch.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woman killed after being hit by school bus -

Fox 5 reports:

This is the second MCPS bus accident in the last week.

MCPS Board of Education Reverses Position on Foreign Language

In a surprising about face at yesterday's (11/10) meeting, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved the following new countywide courses for the next school year:
AP Chinese Language and Culture
AP Japanese Language and Culture
AP Russian Language and Culture A/B
Arabic and Italian will also be offered at BCC High as part of its International Baccalaureate Program.

This represents a 180 degree about face from its meeting on April 14, 2009, when Dr. Weast announced that only French, Spanish, and Chinese will be offered in MCPS schools.

Japanese and Russian? What made MCPS switch?

A world class school system needs to offer world class offerings. Its nice to see the Board of Education take a stand on behalf of our kids who will be competing with their global counterparts - many of whom are already fluent in multiple languages.

Wow. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this represents the first in a series of actions by MoCo's Board of Education admitting that some program cuts just don't make sense?

Gazette: MCPS bus accident - no comment from PR dept.

Special needs students among seven hospitalized in school bus accident

...MCPS bus hit by sedan at Layhill and Norbeck roads in Silver Spring
A Montgomery County Public Schools bus carrying three elementary-school-age special needs students, a driver and a 70-year-old school aide was hit by a Toyota sedan around 3:35 p.m. Friday afternoon at the corner of Layhill and Norbeck, according to Assistant Chief Scott Graham of Montgomery County Fire and Rescue....

...MCPS officials were not available for comment Friday.

Gazette: Ervin blasts superintendent over ‘rogue' funding plan for schools

From today's Gazette:

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Report: Inability to remove bad teachers hurts D.C., Md. | Washington Examiner

Report: Inability to remove bad teachers hurts D.C., Md. Washington Examiner

Vendors LOVE MCPS!!!

Because despite MCPS' ethics rules prohibiting testimonials, MCPS staff, administrators and even the Superintendent are more than happy to endorse a vendor's product and have the endorsement used in product descriptions!

Here is today's endorsement:
From our customers:
“ has been great to work with in measuring the technology literacy of students in Maryland. customized its support and training to meet the needs of the various school systems in Maryland. Its communication practices are excellent,” says Kalani Smith, Project Manager for Montgomery County Public Schools. “After implementing Technology Literacy Assessment during the 2008-2009 school year, systems in Maryland reported that the implementation was easy and wished other online vendors had products that ran as smoothly.”

Suspensions drop in Montgomery schools | Washington Examiner

Suspensions drop in Montgomery schools | Washington Examiner

Monday, November 9, 2009

Details of deal between Wireless Generation and MCPS finally revealed

Of all the deals made between MCPS and vendors, the details about the Wireless Generation royalty agreement have remained the most elusive. Over the past several years, various newspapers and blogs have included articles questioning the terms of the deal.  The Parents' Coalition has finally obtained some of the documents that describe the development, distribution, and payment arrangements for the MClass DIBELS product that was jointly developed by Wireless Generation and MCPS.

In this blog article, the first of a series, we will reveal some of the details about the revenue that has been received by MCPS from the partnership between MCPS and Wireless Generation.

But first, readers who need a refresher on the deal between MCPS and Wireless Generation should review the following articles:

The Curious Case of John Q. Porter

John Q. Porter and the DIBELS Debacle

Peyton Wolcott: Maryland  (Jerry Weast Montgomery County Public Schools - Media Query)

Montgomery County Public Schools Announces Partnership With Innovative Technology Company Providing Handheld Solutions for Teachers
Stacey Childress: Wireless Generation (Harvard Business School Case Study)
(Note:  Dr. Stacey Childress is one the authors of Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Montgomery County Public Schools and is a director of the Wireless Generation company.)

Did Harvard flub the analysis of Montgomery County Public School Performance?

Since its inception, the partnership between MCPS and Wireless Generation has yielded $320,842.59 to MCPS, illustrated by the document below.

Wg Royalties

As shown in the above document, MCPS Chief Technology Officer Sherwin Collette has directed that the royalties be placed in the "OCTO [Office of the Chief Technology Officer] Technology Initiatives" account -- a slush fund controlled by Mr. Collette.  These funds should have been forwarded back to Montgomery County government for future appropriation, but as with the E-rate rebates, MCPS improperly retained the royalties. 

Meanwhile, MCPS has purchased large amounts of products from Wireless Generation.  We will have more about the purchases and the people behind the deals in upcoming articles.

Montgomery officials lay blame for school finance failure | Washington Examiner

Montgomery officials lay blame for school finance failure | Washington Examiner

School Reform: Where Does MCPS Fit in the Landscape of Reforms?

by Joseph A. Hawkins

How do school districts get students to perform better? They reform themselves!

I thought I would use this post to explore school reform. Many of us throw the term around as if everything done under the reform banner is the same. Well, there are degrees and shades of school reform and those degrees and shades matter. For this post, I’m going to place school reform in three camps, and for simplistic sake, call them reform 101, 102, and 103.

The Three Camps

Reform 101 rarely alters our traditional view of the school house. Under reform 101, I believe most grandparents still recognize schools as places they attended.

Generally, reform 101 starts from the premise that the current organization of schools is fine and all we need to do to get students to perform better is to work smarter and harder. Smarter and harder applies to all—students, teachers, and parents. Examples of working smarter and harder include requiring preschool for all poor students, requiring all students to complete Algebra 1 by end the of 8th grade, requiring all students to enroll in and complete a certain number of College Board Advanced Placement courses, requiring all teachers to participate in periodic staff developments, or mandating that all classrooms be staffed with a highly qualified teacher (this one is actually a No Child Left Behind goal/requirement). While many of these things are rather straightforward—even simplistic—there is no implication here that these things are easy to implement or achieve. Getting a highly qualified teacher in every classroom in America is proving to be an extremely difficult challenge. Even wealthy Montgomery County fails to achieve the goal (see for details).

Reform 102 occasionally alters our traditional view of the school house. Under reform 102, some grandparents might still recognize schools while some others might be slightly confused about some of what they see.

Reform 102 efforts underscore the value of working smarter and harder yet these efforts take things a step further by actually altering some traditions. Examples of altering traditions include year-round schools—including the modifications to the traditional bell-schedule and calendar, gender-assigned classrooms—the creation of boys or girls only classrooms, schools without walls—high school students independently complete most classes on a local college campus or dividing a large comprehensive high schools into smaller houses—each house might even have its own principal or curriculum theme.

Reform 103 seriously alters our traditional view of the school house. Under reform 103, many grandparents would not recognize their grandchild’s school at all—assuming there is a brick building.

Many reform 103 efforts are thought to be radical departures from tradition; however, I do not believe that those designing reforms under reform 103 start out telling themselves they must create something radical. I think reformers under reform 103 end up with radical departures from the status quo because their articulated solutions for getting students to perform better require more than what is offered in the traditional school. Examples of reforms under reform 103 include charter boarding schools (take for example The Seed School in Washington DC), virtual or online schools (no or few bricks), or the Harlem Children’s Zone—an effort to transform not just schools but an entire neighborhood (see Paul Tough’s 2008 book Whatever It Takes).

The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and School Reform

For the most part, when it comes to school reform, pretty much everything MCPS does in the name of reform falls under reform 101. We are firmly in the working smarter and harder camp while maintaining the basic traditional view of the school house. In terms of organization, county schools look and feel like they looked and felt 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years ago. Sure, the kids are different, but the buildings they walk through—with the exception of the technology toys—look and feel the same.

There is nothing wrong with tradition. And if simply working smarter and harder jacks up achievement levels higher, and narrows achievement gaps, than MCPS ought to remain firmly planted in the first camp of school reform. Nonetheless, it seems fair to ask the following question: Can those firmly planted in the first camp actually claim to be school reform leaders? I ask this question because recently someone on an education blog wrote the following, “Not to put too fine a point on it, but Montgomery County Superintendent Jerry Weast is the Churchill of school reform.” (See August 18, 2009 PC blog posting.) Wow, the Winston Churchill of school reform! Wouldn’t this make Weast the elder statesman of school reform?

But seriously, is this possible in a school district that views reform only as working smarter and harder? And can you be “the” elder statesman of reform if you have never viewed a charter school as a potential solution to a specific issue or problem, opened your district to a KIPP school, offered a wide-range of online courses for credit, encouraged a group of high schools to switch to a more flexible bell schedule or created a school from scratch to serve a special population that currently is not well served by the traditional MCPS model? For me, to be “the Churchill of school reform” one has to be able to rule over all visions of school reform—all visions and forms of learning and schooling. And since I know MCPS fails the vision test, I cannot possibly see us making Weast the elder statesman of school reform.

Why Is School Reform Restricted in Montgomery County?

Now, many supporters who find themselves in the first camp of school reform (reform 101) claim that only this type of reform is appropriate for MCPS because the other camps mostly find themselves in failing urban school districts. These are places where desperation is the name of the game. These desperate individuals grab onto anything that floats the boats in a better achievement direction for kids. I think this view of why some may select reforms that fall into the second and third camps is both elitist and ignorant.

  • It is elitist because when we take such a view of urban school districts, especially ones with a history of failure, it means we have automatically concluded we are better. Clearly, we are better in terms of resources, facilities, and outcomes; however, we should not assume with certainty that everything we do is automatically better than what happens in Harlem, New York or even Baltimore, Maryland. Why would educated people not believe that others have valuable ideas?

  • It is ignorant because by limiting our vision of school reform we automatically eliminate learning and schooling options that might actually be better for certain populations of students. Why would educated people box themselves in to a restrictive concept of reform? Or what a school can be?

I strongly believe that those who find themselves in the third camp of school reform (reform 103), and sometimes in the second camp (reform 102), may in fact be desperate, but I do not think desperation is their only motivation. I believe some of what comes out of reform 103 evolves from a serious child-centered process. What is that?

I actually believe that some reformers in the third camp do not specifically have a school organization or design in mind when they begin the reform process. I believe these reformers actually sit and digest perhaps all that is known about children and learning, and with the resources available to them design a school that 95% of the time ends up looking fairly radical in both concept and design when compared to the typical Montgomery County public school. On the other hand, I doubt that MCPS takes such an open-minded approach when it huddles up to discuss children and learning. It cannot. If this county did take the more open-minded approach, wouldn’t there be at least some variation in what our schools look like?

Yet there is no variation. Not even a single example of a school variation falling into either reform 102 or reform 103. For god sake, we can’t even modify the bell schedules. We want to keep schools open for poor kids year-round, but even on this front, we don’t make the practice mandatory. We went guns a blasting with all-day kindergarten, yet we are struggling to move our traditional Head Start programs to an all-day, year-round format—something others in the nation moved to back in the late 1990’s. If poor kids need all-day kindergarten then they also need all-day Head Start. And those same poor kids and their families probably could use the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Baby College—think Head Start and childhood literacy from the first moments of pregnancy and beyond. We want more students of color to experience the International Baccalaureate (IB) program but we would go into shock if some stood up and suggested that all kids of color be required to sit for the diploma degree (via the full range of IB exams). We could probably fit all of the black kids who now sit annually for exams to receive the full IB diploma degree in a single classroom.

And then there is the Kennedy Cluster Project. The county has gone on record saying it will turn the cluster into a laboratory of social experimentation that will take the cluster’s poor kids of color and turn them into high achievers all headed off to college. For me, “experimentation” implies more than just working harder and smarter. It also makes me think that we are actually going to break some molds and deviate from traditions, and along the way, schools might even end up looking different. So, is this possible? Perhaps, but let me end this posting with offering a few suggestions.

In 2008, I directed a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation research project that evaluated the DC Achievers Program. This program serves high school students in Ward 8 in DC—Anacostia. The program is part of the city’s Double the Numbers initiative—an effort to increase not just the number of poor kids of color who get accepted to college but also graduate with a college degree. The DC Achievers Program is managed by the DC College Success Foundation (see and for details).

When I read the background documents on the Kennedy Cluster Project, I immediately thought of the DC Achievers Program. Why? Because I actually think the county could learn from what is going on in Anacostia. But it will take more than just working harder. Here is some of what the program is doing in SE DC.

  • First, to get more poor kids into college a foundation was established. And I want to say this is a pretty serious foundation with a long-term mission. The foundation is literally pouring millions of new dollars into scholarships and resources that support efforts to get kids in college and to keep them there through graduation. I’m not an expert on how much money is going into the Kennedy Cluster Project but published amounts I have seen are a drop in a very small bucket. There are no millions of new dollars going into the Kennedy Cluster Project.

  • Second, lots of additional staffing resources have been allotted to the six Achievers high schools (Anacostia High, Ballou High, Woodson High, Thurgood Marshall Academy Charter High, Friendship Collegiate Charter High, and Maya Angelou Charter High) in Ward 8. For example, beyond the normal guidance/college counseling, students have additional college advisors who work full-time on their behalf. They also work with parents and guardians, spending huge amounts of time helping parents and guardians solve the mysteries of college financial aid, including filling out the FAFSA—the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (as well as direct aid in filing annual income tax forms). For many poor kids of color, the absence of this aid pretty much leaves them abandoned with only a slim chance of getting into a college and staying.

  • Third, there is a wide range of mandatory support efforts/formal programs to keep students focused academically not just while in high school but also while in college. It is never easy getting poor kids into the right college nor is it easy to make sure they stay and graduate. Nonetheless, the DC Achievers Program has in place efforts to help kids matriculate—a mandatory summer college bridge program, mentors who check in frequently with students, and efforts to track kids through each semester of undergraduate school.

So, for those in the county willing to really understand what true experimentation is all about, I’m available to anyone as an Anacostia guide. Warning: I will make you visit a few SE DC charter schools, especially Thurgood Marshall Academy—a great example of a small high school (less than 400 students). Can any of us ever imagine such a small MCPS high school?