Saturday, February 28, 2009

MCCPTA: Students are entitled to a free public education

This month the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) will be taking up a resolution regarding Curricular Fees charged to families in Montgomery County Public Schools. The first sentence of the resolution states: Students are entitled to a free public education. It is great to see that the word is finally getting out to PTA members countywide! In Maryland, your child has the right to a free public education! For more information, please refer to the Parents' Coalition's Guide to Fees.

Obscurity masquerades as transparency in unauthorized $25,000.20 expenditure

When it became time to renew the software license for the MCPS instructional management system, MCPS officials went to the Board of Education (under the watch of former BOE president Nancy Navarro) and received approval to spend $350,000.

The BOE minutes of October 14, 2008 show approval for $350,000 in funding under award number 1152.1, Edmin.com, Inc.

A memo dated January 13, 2009, from Superintendent Weast to the BOE, confirms the expenditure of $350,000.

But the purchase order (shown below) shows that the amount spent was $375,000.20. That’s $25,000.20 more than the amount that was appropriated.

Edmin Purchase Order



Meanwhile, BOE President Shirley Brandman and other officials claim that all expenditures over $25,000 are available for public viewing in the BOE minutes.

Maybe $25,000.20 isn’t that much money to Ms. Brandman, but if MCPS tacks on an unappropriated $25,000 here and an unappropriated $25,000 there, it starts to add up to real money.

Eastern MS schedule change

The Eastern MS scheduling change appears to be a "done deal" according to Switched On Mom.

Click here to read her blog posting at the More Child for a summary of last week's meeting.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Questions on GT for a written response from MCPS

On 1/14/2009 at 2:25PM, I emailed MCPS the following questions and never received an answer. These are questions never placed on the record by any Advisory Committee member. They need to be answered on the record, in detail, so that we know in concrete terms where MCPS is heading with GT.

We know "programs" and "forums," under the auspices of folks sitting at the table having made secrecy pledges are a beginning, but these are typically well-orchestrated and controlled.

So, here are my questions in their entirety—MCPS I await your response.

I have carefully viewed the Mock GT Screening video, studied the accompanying PowerPoint, spoken to parents, etc., and arrived at some conclusions that are, I believe, fact.  I present them to you and respectfully request your kind comments, specifically if you disagree I would ask for a explicit statement describing the reason why.  These were facts presented to the community by me and I will assume MCPS agrees with them unless I hear from you to the contrary before policy IOA revision is finalized for presentation to the BOE.

Based on the information MCPS presents to the public, I have concluded that MCPS uses a lower threshold for GT identification than prescribed in state law. i.e., MCPS, instead of requiring the "remarkably high levels of accomplishment"  it subscribes to a lower threshold of simply "high levels of accomplishment."  Further, MCPS, according to its video considers a child gifted if he/she meets 3 out of 4
qualitative factors ( (a) Parent Survey; (b) Reading and Math Levels; (c) Teacher Survey (d) Staff Advocacy) OR
2 out of 4 quantitative factors ((1) InView-- Analogies Subtest; (2) InView-- Quantitative Reasoning Subtest; (3) Other; and (h) Raven).  The high GT levels of GT ID in our fair county are simply due to a lower threshold and criterion that is not used in the accepted manner (and, as has been shown by my analysis of Westbrook--subject to gaming).

(1) It is agreed that the Maryland General Assembly expressly recognizes the existence of "gifted and talented" students and requires services be provided for this population.
Ann. Code, Educ. Art., Sec. 8-202, 5-401, etc.

(2) It is agreed that Maryland statute specifically defines "gifted and talented," as "Having outstanding talent and performing, or showing the potential for performing, at  remarkably
high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of a similar age, experience, or environment; Exhibiting high performance capability in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas; Possessing an unusual leadership capacity; or Excelling in specific academic fields."
Ann. Code, Educ. Art., Sec. 8-201.

(3) It is agreed that legislation that mandates specialized training in gifted education for teachers/specialists of gifted students is being considered.
See proposed regulation.

(4) It is agreed that gifted and talented education is, by law and regulation, an integral and necessary component of our educational system.

(5) It is agreed that MCPS, in Policy IOA, defines "gifted and talented," as students who have "outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at high levels of accomplishment when compared
with others of their age, experience, or environment" OR "exhibit high performance capability in intellectual, creative, and/or artistic areas, possess an unusual leadership capacity, or excel in specific academic fields.
Policy IOA (C)(1)(a).

(6) It is agreed the MCPS policy differs from state policy by NOT requiring "remarkably high levels of accomplishment" instead, it subscribes to a lower threshold of simply "high levels of accomplishment"

(7) It is agreed that MCPS by subscribing to the lower threshold will necessarily identify higher numbers of its population as gifted.

(8) MCPS identifies "gifted and talented" using an eight-factor matrix of data.
See GT ID slide show produced by MCPS.

(9) It is a fact that MCPS GT ID statistics range from ~15% to ~90% and, as was recently demonstrated by this author, and can be manipulated by the schools.
MCPS GT ID criteria published on their website clearly states the criteria as:
(a) Parent Survey; (b) Other; (c) Teacher Survey (d) Staff Advocacy (e) Reading and Math Levels (f) InView-- Analogies Subtest (g) InView-- Quantitative Reasoning Subtest and (h) Raven*

10. It cannot be disputed that there is no legitimate, factual basis to explain the statistics and/or evaluate the efficacy and integrity of the GT ID process because appropriate data has not been analyzed and
presented to stakeholders.

11. The MCPS GT ID process as stated on their website (see http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/enriched/giftedprograms/recognizing.shtm#mock)on a video and PowerPoint presentation is: 

To be classified as GT within MCPS you must meet cut-off scores on three of the following criteria

CRITERION

SCORE

MEETS CUT-OFF?

Parent Survey

0-48

  

Teacher Survey

0-32

  

Staff Advocacy

0-12

  

Reading and Math Levels

Unknown



 

 OR

 Meet the cut-off scores in two of the following criteria

CRITERION

SCORE

MEETS CUT-OFF?

InView―Analogies Subtest

0-20

  

InView―Quantitative Reasoning Subtest

0-20

  

Raven

0-60

  

Additional information

0-1 (Yes/No)

  

 
MCPS uses this data to calculate

Age Performance Level

0-10



12. MCPS has data that would determine if the GT ID process conforms to law, inclusive of Civil Rights statutes, and has a pending request for all the data from 2004 to date. 

Please be kind enough to provide me with a written response confirming or denying the accuracy of the above on or before any "revised" Policy-IOA is presented to the BOE.

Report: Special ed integration fails expectations

by Leah Fabel Examiner Staff Writer

In the Montgomery County schools, phasing out of segregated classrooms for students with significant learning disabilities has been met with a districtwide report raising serious questions about its success.
The report showed that 100 percent of the students in transition out of the segregated classrooms scored at the lowest level on the Maryland state math exam, and 81 percent of them fared equally poorly on the reading portion...A mandatory training for teachers receiving special-needs students into regular classrooms saw little more than 50 percent attendance... (Click here to continue reading Examiner article.)
Read Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland blog articles on Secondary Learning Centers Report.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Promethean Conference In London, (the video!)

Didn't make it to London? Just watch the video to hear "delegates" talk about what a good time they had and everything that you missed!

The video is interviewing participants at the symposium, which is sponsored by Promethean (you can see the prominent Promethean logo in the background of many of the shots).

One of the delegates stated that she "particularly enjoyed the connection with Montgomery County Public Schools" last night.

Again, to repeat my question:

1. Who from Montgomery County Public Schools attended this Promethean-sponsored conference in London as a representative of MCPS?

2. Who paid for airfare, lodging, travel, and meals?

Lyda A

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Andrews: "This is a serious mistake...the law is clear...crystal clear..."

The County Council Education Committee's February 23, 2009 meeting on Promethean Boards and E-Rate rebates was captured on video. The video is in two parts. See quotes from each video below and click on the videos to watch the meeting.
Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County uploaded a new video.
Hear Councilmember Ervin, "...The issue is that the Council has appropriation authority. Going forward we need a reporting mechanism by MCPS to capture these E-Rate dollars and rebate dollars for all funds. So we need to know what we are getting for our dollars. We need all the data that staff requested prior to budget disclosure. And in this case, there are many that believe that MCPS is taking on ongoing expenses that we are going to have to fund over the long term...."
Councilmember Andrews, "
...it's about openness, accountability and authority...we weren't notified about the commitment to contract for this additional expenditure and so we didn't have any opportunity to approve it...This is a serious mistake in my view..."Councilmember Knapp, "When I look back...the magnitude of the purchase of this size never came up..."

Feb. 23, 2009 Part 1 - Promethean Board Discussion
*** *** *** *** *** ***
Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County uploaded a new video.
Councilmember Andrews, "...I am concerned about the single commitment that was made to, for these funds of $13.3 million...through FY12, but Council has approved only $698,000 for this purpose...rebate funds aren't sufficient to pay for this...have to come back to public funds...that is tying the hands of both bodies...it's not the way to run things...the law is clear...crystal clear"Superintendent Weast, "...we want to be open and transparent and accountable...not any intent to deceive..."

Whitman's Student Paper Calls for More Transparency in MCPS

Good article in the online edition of Whitman HS's student newspaper.

The students get it - we're in tight budget, with a rough economy - its time to get tougher with the county credit cards, stop spending where its not needed. Start with more open disclosures of how we spend our money. And of course, check the credit card logs.

Can the kids get the adults in MCPS to shape up?

************************************************
Opinion
MCPS officials should more closely regulate purchases with county credit cards
Members of the Montgomery County Parents Coalition recently raised concerns over credit card regulation within the school district. A local legislative audit released in late January supported the claim that MCPS doesn't do enough to regulate credit card usage. While independent organizations have recognized the problem, Superintendent Jerry Weast asserts in his memo that every system can improve, and that he is pleased with the results of the credit card audit.

Yet it seems surprising that Weast was satisfied when auditors found that there were 512 credit card purchases totaling $39,400 in fiscal year 2007 that didn't have an obvious connection to education or the MCPS mission. Officials need to better regulate the questionable purchases that they don't approve before or after employees spend the money.

Members of the County Legislature are taking ineffective steps to rectify the situation through a proposed bill to mandate recording all purchases over $10,000 in a searchable database.
While measures like the proposed database are well-intended, the county still needs broader reform for credit card policy. Most of the illegitimate credit card purchases are less than $10,000, making the database irrelevant to the problem. Officials should just follow the regulations and check the logs.

The school system also needs to ensure that different people order, receive and allocate the credit cards, leaving less room for questionable purchases. Officials need to be diligent about checking and approving credit card logs. Standards should be stringent for what constitutes justifiable spending.

MCPS officials are slashing funding in an attempt to close the deficit gap in the operating budget during these tough economic times. To maximize the efficiency of every dollar, the county should implement a more transparent and efficient system, with strict adherence to regulations, thus monitoring credit card spending and decreasing unnecessary expenditures.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WTOP: School system's use of federal funding questioned

February 24, 2009 - 10:23am
Kate Ryan, WTOP Radio

"One-Size-Fits-Nobody"

Testimony given February 23, 2009 to MCPS Board of Education by Eric Marx, Co-President of Gifted & Talented Association of Montgomery County, MD

Good evening.

As Co-President of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, I strongly urge you to include in the Committee on Special Populations' work plan a serious review of MCPS' failure to meet the educational needs of gifted and talented and high-achieving students.

Second, I also implore you to postpone the Policy Committee's consideration of Policy IOA until that review has been completed.

It's been more that two years since the Board received the DSAC Report on Gifted and Talented Education -- two years without the Board even publicly addressing the report.

It's been almost a year since the Committee on Special Populations was given a mandate to address GT education -- almost a year without any action.

Many parents say that MCPS is currently gutting GT education -- that's not quite true. Outside of math, in most schools, there is virtually no GT education left to gut. Particularly in elementary and middle schools, the norm long ago became "one-size-fits-nobody."

Instead, MCPS is just attempting to gut the GT POLICY -- ironically, for no reason -- it has ignored the policy since it was adopted. Even under the current policy, MCPS has been more than able to make sure that, in most schools, "no child gets ahead."

In addition to being highly divisive, MCPS' plan to gut the GT Policy would be a repeat of the travesty of the secondary learning centers' closings -- again based only on MCPS' disingenuous promises to provide instructional services that never quite happen -- here as well, there will continue to be no real differentiation in local schools, and no appropriate curricula and training, and real students will really suffer.

This time, please study first and act second, instead of the other way round.

Thank you.

700 Promethean Boards - procurement still a mystery!

Examiner: Council panel questions schools’ spending on high-tech chalkboards

By Leah Fabel Examiner Staff Writer 2/24/09

Leah Fabels reports on the February 23, 2009, Montgomery County Council Education Committee meeting. Of note, is the misconception that only 2,600 Promethean Boards were purchased. That is not correct. According to MCPS, there are 3,300 Promethean Boards in MCPS classrooms. The only reason 2,600 Promethean Boards are being discussed is because that is the number that were purchased in the lease that a parent was supplied in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request to MCPS. That lease, signed by MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers, has been made public via the Parents' Coalition website, not via Board of Education minutes or the MCPS website.

The purchase of the additional 700 boards still remains a mystery and MCPS Board of Education minutes do not reflect bulk purchases of Promethean Boards. An additional procurement of 700 Promethean Boards would represent an expenditure of approximately an additional $3.5 million.

From the article:

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, chairwoman of the education committee and a former school board member, said the council lays out clear rules regarding when the school system needs funding approval from the council, and those rules were circumvented in this case.

“The way they went about this was not transparent,” Ervin said, adding that increased expenses are especially unwelcome in a time of economic calamity.

The school system “is taking on long-term expenses that will have to be funded in the long term,” she said. “And it’s not chump change.”

Monday, February 23, 2009

MCPS in London?


Please click HERE to see the agenda for a conference held in London, England, in October, 2008:

The name of the conference is the Interactive Technology in Education Symposium. One of the sponsors is Promethean.

Please note, on page 2, that Sherwin Collette, Chief Technology Officer, Montgomery County Schools, US, is listed as the presenter for "Best Practices District Wide Implementation" for Concurrent sessions # 1 and # 2, on Monday, October 6th, 2008.

According to the agenda, the location of the conference is the "stylish Milennium Gloucester Hotel in the heart of Kensington, one of the most prestigious areas of London."

I have a few questions for the Board of Education, since Dr. Weast said on the radio today that MCPS is all about transparency:

1. Did Mr. Collette actually make this trip to London, England, as a representative of MCPS?

2. If so, who paid for the airfare, lodging, meals, ground transportation, etc?

Government - Quick Refresher on Appropriations

I've said before that Montgomery County School System appears to no longer teach government in the schools. This was reinforced after reports of this morning's Ed Committee Meeting for the County Council.

For those of you in need of a refresher, here is a definition of public appropriations law that I like from Answers.com:

The grant of money by a legislature for some specific purpose. The authority to grant appropriations, popularly known as the power of the purse, gives legislatures a powerful check over executive branches and judicial branches, for no public money can be spent without legislative approval. Congress, for example, can approve or reject the annual budget requests of the executive branch for its agencies and programs, thereby influencing both domestic and foreign policy. (See also checks and
balances
and pork-barrel legislation.)

Thank goodness government was still part of the curriculum when Phil Andrews attended school in MCPS. I look forward to a follow-up when we find out exactly how those lovely 3,300 fancy whiteboards wound up in classrooms across the county, and whether anyone other than Dr. Weast and those invited to "the table" had a say on whether these tech toys were more beneficial than, let say, special education programs, science labs, textbooks, or teachers.

"Intentions" & "Parsing", but no Appropriation

WTOP's Kate Ryan reports on today's Montgomery County Council Education Committee meeting to discuss the appearance of 3,300 Promethean Boards in MCPS classrooms in August of 2008. Hear the two reports: Superintendent Weast on "parsing words" and Board of Education President Brandman on Board's "intention".

Both of WTOP Kate Ryan's news reports are also available on the Parents' Coalition website under the section on 3,300 Promethean Boards in MCPS classrooms.

Read the County Council Education Committee's staff report. Councilmembers Valerie Ervin, Michael Knapp and Phil Andrews sit on the Education Committee.

No Down Payment, Rent to Own, and Install it This SUMMER!

The Maryland Office of Legislative Audits, in their financial review of MCPS, alerted members of the public to the issue of "long term leases".

Click here to review the OLA Audit Report, and go to audit page 62, where you will see that the OLA stated as follows:
Capital Lease and Cash Management Policies Need To Be Established

"MCPS had not adopted a policy to govern its use of long-term lease obligations to finance operations. Long-term liability levels and their related annual costs are important obligations that must be managed within available resources. An effective policy should provide guidelines to ensure MCPS manages its long term liabilities accordingly. By law, MCPS is not authorized to issue bonds or similar debt instruments to finance capital or operational needs. However, MCPS used a capital leases to purchase equipment such as buses and computer hardware. According to MCPS audited financial statements, capital lease payments through 2012 had a present value of $45.9 million at June 30, 2007, with $19.5 million due within one year."

Why is this important, you ask?

Of course, it has to do with Promethean Boards.

The County Council Education Committee called MCPS on the carpet this morning for Montgomery County Public Schools' failure to bring before the council the massive expansion of the Promethean Board initiative, which MCPS has tied to its receipt of future e-Rate rebates.

Phil Andrews, County Council President, said that MCPS had made a "serious mistake, in my view." He went on to state that MCPS should not be committing future taxpayer funds beyond what the Council had appropriated and agreed to.

Mike Knapp, also on the ED Committee, agreed that the "magnitude of the purchase never came up."

Larry Bowers, the Chief Operating Officer of MCPS, reiterated MCPS's view that MCPS didn't need appropriation authority to spend e-Rate rebates, and that it was the same type of arragement as with the buses.

Phil Andrews disagreed, and stated that by its action, MCPS had tied the hands of both bodies, MCPS and the County Council. The boards are installed and they have to be paid for now with a committment of future public funds. They will focus in the future on other long term committments, he said, and that he was sure their intentions were good, but the law (on appropriations) is clear. Crystal Clear, he emphasized. In the meantime, the council is still waiting for that data that County Council staff requested regarding the amount of all e-Rate funding received and how it has been spent.

Why is our school system being run like the cheesy "Rent to Own" appliance store? What ever happened to "wait until you can afford it" before buying it?

Examiner: Instead of "GT" for Gifted & Talented how about "M" for mediocrity?

The Examiner's Barbara Hollingsworth writes about MCPS' public relations expert Brian Edwards and MCPS' Director of AEI Marty Creel's efforts to keep one parent off the AEI Advisory Board.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It's official - cuts to Eastern MS Magnet in 2009

Here is a link to the PTSA Presidents letter in the Eastern Eagle Post. See page 2.

Did the Board of Education take a vote to change the program substantially? I didn't see any motions or discussions at the "table."

Are cuts to the other magnet programs also in the works? Can we expect more surprises from Mr. Creel and Mr. Morrison?

Blair magnet students are planning on an eight period day next year. The school system has an amazingly complex system where the magnet students at Eastern MS, Takoma Park MS, and Blair HS share bus transportation. So - aside from the educational impact, what are the transportation plans?

Parents this week are signing up their students for the high school magnet programs, and will be making similar decisions for their middle school children.

Inquiring parents need to know what is really in store for their families.

$3,632,148.04

On January 7, 2009, Superintendent Weast provided Answers to Board of Education questions about the procurement of Promethean Boards by MCPS. Question #8 and the answer are shown belowQuestion 8
The total in E-Rate rebates received for the years shown on the chart supplied by Superintendent Weast is $7,498,124.

According to the Universal Services Administrative Company that administers the federal E-Rate telecommunications rebate program, Montgomery County School District, 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD, has received the following amounts for the years FY 2004 - 2008:

2004 $1,731,744.92
2005 $1,497,545.12
2006 $1,760,241.90
2007 $3,459,021.34
2008 $2,681,718.76

For a total of $11,130,272.04

There appears to be a difference of $3,632,148.04 between what Superintendent Weast is reporting and what is shown on the Universal Services Administrative Company website.

As an example, here is the Universal Services Administrative Company report on Montgomery County School District for FY 2006:
2006E-Rate Hopefully, the Universal Services Administrative Company information can be reconciled with the information provided by Superintendent Weast at tomorrow's County Council Education Committee meeting.

Government Courses - Another Missing Component in MCPS Education

What has happened to the teaching of US government to our high school children? Do they know that federal laws apply in MCPS schools? Are our children learning from the adults in the school building to follow rules and standards of conduct?

Apparently not if your child attends a school where they post or disclose personally identifiable information that is readily apparent for all to view.

I've seen this first hand at Blair. Every few weeks, our trusted Blair volunteer coordinator puts out a plea for volunteers to help stuff envelopes containing student interim grades for mailing to parents. When I have questioned this practice, I've been told that the letters are folded in such a way that the volunteers do not see the individual score reports, and that even if they view the letters, the parents are acting in accordance with school policies that let them perform these tasks. Pretty feeble justification, in my opinion, especially when the policy requires training of the volunteers, documentation of the hours, and requires that the the principal is responsible for:

Supervising the scheduling of the volunteer, determining the
role of the volunteer, and assuring that the volunteer has no access to
confidential student or personnel information.


Then, a few weeks ago, at Blair, I noticed the public posting of students who were scheduled to sit for the January administration of HSAs. Names, room numbers, and tests to be taken - names of those students who didn't pass the tests when they were administered the previous May. My student's name is not among the ones posted, so I don't have standing to complain. This time Blair administration won't get an e-mail from me - but I hope that some of the parents of kids named on the list will say something.

Is this an isolated practice? No. Just yesterday, I heard of another high school in Bethesda that will be posting names in the school hallways of students who owe financial obligations. I thought that practice was eliminated - after all, didn't Magruder and Richard Montgomery HS also do that a few years ago and were told to stop?

From the Department of Education
website:

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g;
34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

. . .

Generally, schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record. (34 CFR § 99.31)

What can you do as a parent or student? Call your principal, show him/her the law, assume this is a mistake, but ask to get the information off the wall.

Should they refuse and you want to pursue this further? Contact the Department of Education Compliance office at the information on their website.

For additional information or technical assistance, you may call (202) 260-3887 (voice).

Individuals who use TDD may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339.

Or you [use] the following address:
Family Policy Compliance Office
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202-5920

What MCPS said THEN vs. what they say NOW

CLICK HERE to see a question and answers sheet about the phase-out of the secondary learning centers that made the following promises:

"During the summer of 2007, 3 days of mandatory training will be provided to general and special education teachers who will be working with grade 6 students coming from learning centers. (page 2)

Did parents of the transitioned students have a right to expect that "mandatory" meant "mandatory?" Apparently not! See page 17 of the OLA report on the LC phase-out, where it is reported:

"An item on the survey of classroom professionals asked teachers if they had attended the mandatory summer training. Sixty one of the 132 Grade 6 teachers who responded to the survey indicated that they did not attend the mandatory summer training...." (page 17, OSA report)

And what happens when classroom professionals either don't go to the "mandatory training" or the training is not productive?

Almost half of all the survey respondents rate themselves as only "somewhat prepared" to meet the needs of these students. See Table F-5, on page 93 of the OSA report:

"How prepared are you to:"

Implement assistive technology in your classroom: Somewhat prepared: 56%
Implement co-teaching strategies: somewhat prepared: 45%
Provide differentiated instruction: somewhat prepared: 47%
Understand characteristics of disabilities: somewhat prepared: 47%
Implement behavioral strategies: somewhat prepared: 47%

Did parents and students have the right to expect that the receiving classroom professionals would be "fully prepared" to implement assistive technology, and provide differentiated instruction? Advocates urged the Board of Education to delay the plan, saying that three days of training were not enough. Apparently, the advocates were correct.

Differentiated Instruction Doesn't Happen, MCPS Reports

When Superintendent Jerry Weast, and Board of Education members Nancy Navarro and Shirley Brandman moved full steam ahead with their plan to phase out and close the Secondary Learning Centers, parents of affected students were given lots of promises about how regular classroom teachers would be trained to provide "differentiated instruction" in order to meet the needs of students whose reading abilities could be two or more years below grade level.

Promises, Promises.

The Montgomery County Public Schools Office of Shared Accountability has now released their report on the evaluation of the phase out of the secondary learning centers. Page 14 of their report contains this electrifying statement:

"With the inclusion of the transition students, it was expected that teachers would need to provide more differentiated instruction (e.g., different activities, formats, or outcomes). Only 27% of the grade 6 classes and 27% of the grades 7-11 classes displayed any differentiated activities at any time during the lesson. Only 8% of the grade 6 classes and none of the grade 7-11 classes included differentiated activities throughout the lesson."

Even worse, knowing that the students in their classrooms did not have grade-level reading abilities, less than one third of classroom professionals responding to the OSA survey reported that their students had access to materials re-written at an appropriate reading level (page 15).

According to the OSA, "very little differentiation was observed in classrooms." (page 32)

And what was the outcome of the Weast-Navarro-Brandman plan?

Maryland School Assessment scores (MSA scores) tanked for these students. According to the report,

"Achievement of the transitioned students on standardized tests was weaker than that of students with similar disabilities. Their mean scores were lower than comparison students on the MAP-R reading test and on the MSA tests in Mathematics and reading. Also, a higher percentage of transitioned than comparison students scored at the basic level on each MSA test. (page 33).

It is time to end the experimentation with our students and make available a full continuum of special education options once more.

Lyda Astrove

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Serious Problems with Phase Out of Secondary Learning Centers

The long awaited Montgomery County Public Schools report on the phase out of the Special Education - Secondary Learning Centers has finally been released and presents a picture far from that of a glowing success.

MCPS made the decision to close the Secondary Learning Centers two years ago, despite loud community protest. The decision was made without community input or involvement, using a process later found by the State Board of Education to have violated MCPS policy. This report is the first to look at how well the phase out of the Learning Centers has progressed.

Among the group of students transitioned from the Learning Centers to their home schools in 2007/2008, despite all the focus and extra attention showered upon this group, fewer than 1 in 5 achieved proficiency on the statewide assessment (MSA). By contrast, among the group of disabled students MCPS selected as comparable more than ½ achieved proficiency and 1 in 14 scored as advanced on the same assessment. In other, words the transitioned Learning Center students performed much worse than expected.

Given these test scores we should not be surprised to read from the accompanying survey of teachers that almost half of 6th grade teachers failed to attend the MANDATORY summer training designed to support this program closure. The report included no information as to how this failure of management and oversight has been addressed.

Further, direct classroom observations by assessors reveal differentiated instructional activities were found in only 1 out of 4 of the observed Grade 6 classrooms. The report also noted widespread failure to take advantage of technology, including the Kurzweil Readers.

The MCPS report noted multiple times that co-teaching was not properly implemented. In addition, 7 out of 10 Guidance Counselors and 1 in 3 Principals indicated they received little or no support for the inclusion of the transitioned Students.

In the one apparent bright spot parents were quite pleased with the Case Management services provided by the Central Office. However a very low response rate was noted in the report, as well as staff resorting to telephone calls in order to pump up this response rate. Such practices may seriously bias survey results.

Of particular interest in assessing the quality of Case Management only 36% of teachers indicated the Case Manager attended the IEP meeting, while 95% of parents responded that the Case Manager was at the IEP meeting. This can only mean that parents must have been confused or misinformed as to who was providing this central office case management. In stark contrast to the parents positive impression, the survey of staff shows sizeable dissatisfaction with the central office Case Management and support.

But don’t just take my read of this report. Check it out for yourself;

http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/departments/sharedaccountability/reports/2009/LC%20Transition%20Final%20Report%20Feb%2009%2009.pdf

Bob Astrove

Panasonic Foundation

We learn from the Washington Post article that Superintendent Jerry Weast went on a trip to Colorado Springs, to the Panasonic Foundation conference.

Click Here to see the list of the travels that Jerry Weast reported to the Washington Post.

Why did Jerry Weast's trip to the Panasonic Foundation conference only cost $4 ?

Who paid for the Airfare, hotel, and meals?

The Sopranos Meets the PTA

The "More" Child blog reports on the activities of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs (MCCPTA) this week in an article entitled: The Sopranos Meets the PTA.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Two Questions

To: Members of the Montgomery County Council and staff:

In preparation for Monday's Montgomery County Council Education Committee (8:30 AM) meeting I am submitting the following questions. I hope that someone, either on the Council or Council staff, will be able to ascertain answers to these questions.

1. Why does the Council packet for the 8:30 AM February 23rd Education Committee meeting, submitted by staff contain a different version of the November 26th letter and attachments from Superintendent Weast to Councilmember Ervin, than were originally received by the Council and stamped in as #039369? Attachment B as shown in the Council packet is not the same Attachment B (June 9, 2008 memorandum from Superintendent Weast to Board of Education) as was originally received by the Council. When was the switch made and why?

2. Where is procurement information/documentation for the 700 Promethean Boards that are unaccounted for? A lease for 2,600 Promethean Boards has been made accessible to the public because of a Maryland Public Information Act request that I filed. However, there are also approximately 700 Promethean Boards that are unaccounted for in Board of Education minutes, as MCPS has revealed there are about 3,300 Promethean Boards in place in MCPS. 700 Promethean Boards would represent a procurement of approximately $3,500,000.

Thank you for your assistance in answering these questions.

Janis Sartucci

Centro Familia: Show Me The Money

The Washington Post reports HERE on the Inspector General's findings about Centro Familia, the $900,000 in taxpayer grant money, and the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

Board member walks out to avoid Open Meetings Violation

Board member Jennifer Abell walked out of a Charles County Board of Education meeting on February 6th rather than risk being found in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

On January 30, 2009, the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board found the Montgomery County Public School Board of Education to be in violation of the Act. As of yet, no MCPS Board of Education member has spoken publicly about this violation and the MCPS Board of Education has not discussed this issue in Open session.

In sharp contrast to the demeanor of members of the MCPS Board of Education, Charles County Board member Jennifer Abell publishes a blog that details her activities to her constituents, including her refusal to participate in a meeting that should have been open to the public.

WPost: Superintendents Out of Town

The Washington Post is reporting on D.C. Area School Chief's Perk that Refreshes: Travel. The Parents' Coalition website chronicles the travels of MCPS Administrators on the Weast Watch page of its website.

What the article doesn't go into is what the Superintendents were missing when they were out of town. For example, Superintendent Weast has missed Board meetings and events such as graduations and the Superintendent's Performing Arts Award Ceremony when students would actually have had contact with their school system's chief. Last year Superintendent Weast traveled out of town to receive a "Tech-Savvy" Award sponsored in part by Promethean. Later in the year thousands of Promethean Boards arrived in MCPS classrooms.

As a follow up to this article, how about an article on how much time Superintendent's spend in schools with actual students? How many Superintendents have ridden a school bus with students, eaten lunch on the floor in a high school (no room in cafeterias), used a student restroom, attended a P.E. class on a field, or gone back stage for a performance? How many public school students have ever laid eyes on their school superintendent?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Examiner: Mont. Co. can't account for $900,000

The Examiner is reporting that Montgomery County can't account for $900,000 to child care center.

2/19/09

Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services can't account for more than $900,000 it paid to a child-care center for Latino immigrants founded by a local school board member, according to the county's inspector general.
Read the full report from the Inspector General here.

WPost: Board Told to Open Up About Closed Sessions

As first reported here, the Montgomery County Board of Education has been found to be in violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act. At the time of the violation the President of the MCPS Board of Education was Nancy Navarro. No elected Board of Education members are quoted in the February 19th Washington Post article on this violation.

At the meeting that was the subject of the Complaint, the Board of Education went behind closed doors, without proper disclosure of the topic, to discuss the illegal curricular fees that are being charged MCPS students. The topic of that meeting was disclosed after the fact by President Navarro in a prepared statement later that day.

Note that to date, the Board of Education has not put the issue of illegal Curricular Fees as an agenda item at an Open Meeting. Yet, the Superintendent has gone forward with "new" curricular fee rules to be implemented for the 2009-10 school year, without any public discussion by the elected Board of Education.

What was the Board discussing at the September 9th meeting? When did the Board decide to remain silent on this issue of major importance to public school families? When did the Board delegate this issue to the Superintendent?

The Board's silence on the issue of Curricular Fees means that MCPS parents will continue to be charged to attend public school classes in MCPS for years to come. The Maryland State Constitution, the opinion of the Maryland Attorney General and the opinion of the Maryland State Board of Education are to be ignored in Montgomery County.

Our elected Board of Education will not stand up for a child's right to a free public education in Maryland and they will not take up this issue in public.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Congratulations and a note of caution to this year's recipients of the Tech Savvy Superintendent award

Congratulations to this year's winners of the Tech Savvy Superintendent's awards.

What an honor - but as yourself, how much of the Tech Savvy Superintendent award is really an honor and how much of this is a marketing opportunity for sponsor/vendors?

For those lucky ten school systems with honorees who will receive this award on Friday, February 20, you may want to reconsider.

Just last year, Dr. Weast, Montgomery County Maryland's Superintendent of Schools, was named as one of the 2008 Tech Savvy Superintendents. Not only did Montgomery County taxpayers send him to receive this award, but the schools wound up purchasing over 3,300 fancy whiteboards from Promethean, the sponsor of last year's awards. The Montgomery County Council is holding a hearing February 23, at 9:30 am to figure out who picked up the tab for these wonderful tech toys. Curious taxpayers want to know, especially since the four unions serving the school system gave up their negotiated pay increases to make up for public funding shortfalls as a result of the downturn in the economy.

Think carefully before your school system and taxpayers find themselves in the same situation - or at least hide the checkbook before your superintendent gets on the plane for San Francisco.


***********************************************

Here is the invitation to become a sponsor of the recently announced Tech Savvy Sup awards.

From the invitation to become one of the three sponsors:

Leadership Support Is
Essential to Your K-12 Sales


Be an integral part of the most venerable gathering
of superintendents in North America.

Top educators believe in supporting those who support them. The
Ninth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards (TSSA),
produced by the eSchool News Network, is the ultimate sign of
support not only for the year’s 10 winning superintendents, but for
chief school executives from coast to coast who are fighting to
ensure the effective use of technology in our schools.

Sponsor eSN’s 2009 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards.
Establish an up-close-and-personal encounter with well over 100
key superintendents.

If you’ve ever tried to set up a meeting with the Chief Executive
Officer of a public school system, you know it can be devilishly
difficult. But as one of just three sponsors of the eSchool News
Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards program, you’ll get the
undivided attention of more than 100 superintendents at the
high-prestige event of the year!

In addition—through the print, online, eMail, and video channels
of the eSchool News Network—you’ll get electronic marketing
opportunities via eSchool News Online, video exposure via
eSchoolNews.TV, and display advertising in the national print
newspaper eSchool News. Altogether, you’ll get an effective,
sustained marketing reach to nearly one million executive educators.
And your marketing exposure hits in multiple media formats from
October 2008 through April 2009.

In February, the eSchool News Network and the Century Club
100* are teaming up while the American Association of School
Administrators (AASA) conference is under way.

The Ninth Annual Tech-Savvy Superintendent Awards ceremony
itself is scheduled for from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at an AASA
headquarters hotel in San Francisco on Friday, Feb. 20, 2009.
But the benefits of sponsoring the 2009 TSSA program begin
months earlier, in October, with a call for nominations issued
throughout the eSchool News Network. Hundreds of superintendents
are nominated by their colleagues and peers. Then, past years’
TSSA laureates join with the editors of eSchool News to select the
2009 winners. Each of those 10 winners are profiled in the print
newspaper, the February “AASA Show” issue of eSchool News.
The 2009 winners, along with past years’ laureates, program
sponsors, eSN editors, and the full membership of the Century
Club 100 are invited to the luncheon ceremony at one of San
Francisco’s finest hotels.

As part of the Century Club 100 annual meeting—a by-invitation only
affair customarily attended by well over 100 superintendents—
the eSN Awards ceremony brings together the 10 new superintendent
winners and the sponsors’ chief representatives. Each sits
for an on-camera interview with eSN.TV. At the start of the awards
ceremony, each sponsor’s chief representative brings greetings to
the gathering. Several members of the sponsors’ sales teams are also
invited to the luncheon to solidify relations with the full assembly of
superintendents. eSchool News records the event as a video feature,
issues press releases to all local news media of the winning
superintendents, and covers the proceedings for publication in the
April issue of the print eSchool News newspaper.

Only three companies can be sponsors of this high-profile, high prestige
program. Please speak with your account executive today to
learn more about this multi-month, multimedia marketing program.

If it is curriculum related a school system cannot charge a fee

These words come from the Maryland Attorney General's office in response to questions about hundreds of course fees charged students who attend Montgomery County Public Schools.

If it is curriculum related a school system cannot charge a fee.

Yet, we see Superintendent Weast continuing to put out contradictory information to MCPS staff via the February 17th edition of the MCPS publication "The Bulletin". In this edition of the MCPS Bulletin, MCPS staff are told:
Generally, allowable course-related fees are limited to:
  • Materials that become a product that belongs to the student, such as a student art project.
  • Personal items that become the student’s property, such as auto technology uniforms.
  • Food consumed by the student as part of a course.

According to the Maryland Attorney General, there are no "allowable course-related fees". Why are MCPS staff being given bad information?

On August 18, 2008, Superintendent Weast was sent a letter (see below) from the Maryland Attorney General's office. The letter outlined current Maryland law with regard to curricular fees and quoted the opinion of the Attorney General that, "we are safe in saying that anything directly related to a school's curriculum must be available to all without charge."

Why are MCPS students being denied their Maryland Constitutional right to a free public education under Superintendent Weast's leadership? Why has the Board of Education been silent on this fundamental issue of equal access to education for all?

For a complete overview of the Curricular Fees issue in Montgomery County Public Schools, please see the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland's Guide to Fees, including MCPS' own attorney's explanation of the difference between Curricular Fees and Extra-Curricular Fees in Maryland. MCPS' own attorney knows that Extra-Curricular fees can be charged under Maryland law, and Curricular Fees can not be charged.

KameenOAGLetter

Math Forum: The Experts' Top Ten Recommendations for the New Superintendent

Tuesday evening, February 17, 2009, a group of twenty parents, students, teachers, and community activists gathered at the Somerset Town Hall to hear Parents Coalition math education experts Julie Greenberg, Jerry Dancis, and John Hoven discuss "The Top Ten Math Initiatives for the Next MCPS Superintendent." Also present in the audience was Phil Kaufmann, one of the newly elected Board of Education members, who stated that he was very interested to hear the community's concerns on this topic.

John Hoven led off the discussion with the proposition that there is too much "fluff" currently in the MCPS math curriculum. He gave the example of students spending several days learning the difference between "acute" and "obtuse" angles by plotting cities they would like to visit on a map and drawing lines between them, and measuring the "angles." Mr. Hoven also urged for a true class in statistics, and decried so many of the math activities that purport to teach statistics by having the class survey their friends on their favorite foods and making a bar chart about it.

Jerry Dancis spoke about the fact that at the college level, kids are coming in knowing less math than they did ten or even twenty years ago. Calculators are being used as a shortcut. He presented a chart showing the percentages of MCPS graduates by race and ethnicity who are minimally ready for college math when they entered a college in Maryland.

Julie Greenberg talked about the importance of professional development in the specific content area. She showed a quiz taken by one of her neighbors, which was graded as an "A", and showed why it really deserved a "D". She suggested "immersion institutes" for professional development, and said there are certainly plenty of content experts in math in this area who could do that.

Topics for discussion from the audience included: lack of textbooks, Singapore math, what to do for students peforming below grade level, placement directives from the central office, principal pressure to place students in higher level classes even though the kids aren't ready, "BCRs" for math, etc. Board Member Phil Kauffman suggested that those people concerned about math curriculum and education should figure out how their concerns can best be reflected through the strategic plan, since everything always comes back to the strategic plan.

The Parents' Coalition certainly should thank Julie Greenberg, Jerry Dancis, and John Hoven for hosting this informative event.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

IQinVision removes MCPS logo from advertisement

On February 14, 2009, the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland blog reported that one of Montgomery County Public Schools' technology partners, IQinVision was using MCPS employee testimonials and the MCPS logo in its Internet advertisements.

On February 16, 2009, IQinVision's online advertisement was modified and the MCPS logo was removed. See the original advertisement here and the revised advertisement without the MCPS logo below. However, the advertisement still contains a testimonial from a MCPS employee despite MCPS Policy BBB and the statement (Q&A #9) of Superintendent Weast that such testimonials are not permitted.

mcpscasestudywologo