Thursday, April 30, 2009
2009 ANNUAL AWARDS BANQUET
THE STAR CUP - Luella Mast
To a MCCF delegate or individual for outstanding
public service to Montgomery County
THE GAZETTE AWARD - The Parents’ Coalition
To an individual or group for outstanding public
service to the people of Montgomery County
THE SENTINEL AWARD - Stormwater Partners Network
To an individual or group who makes a significant
contribution to good government at the local level
Friday, May 15, 6:00 to 9:30 p.m.
All welcome to attend! Make your reservations now. Click here for the reservation form (see page 11 of newsletter)
This is the result of a lot of dedicated work over many years, I know to thank Ray Scannell, Deb Stoll, Howard Kohn, Dave Ottalini, Bob Gillette, the Athletic Boosters, Mr. Williams, Mr. Miller and Mr. Funk for their work, and I am certain that there are many other folks who have helped to make this field a reality.
I have not yet seen the MOU, and its provisions, together with careful attention to the use and maintenance of the field will be important to make sure that this new resource will continue to provide Blair athletes many years of a safe, fair, and inspiring athletic environment.
There are always a lot of challenges on the agenda for our school so it is important to celebrate the victories. Especially sweet are those long in the making, and that provide a real and lasting physical improvement in our school facilities.
He praised a police officer assigned to the school for knowing one of the suspects well enough that the student ultimately confided in him. "It's truly about relationships," Weast said.If Superintendent Weast believes this statement why is he out buying 13,000 security cameras and replacing security staff with cameras?
Why didn't Board President Nancy Navarro sign the contract for the purchase of the security cameras, and why wasn't this shift from people to cameras discussed at the Board of Education table?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
"It is so much cheaper to install cameras than it is to go hire additional security staff." (At minute 4:30)In light of the news from Northwest High School, and now the news from Springbrook High School, when was the decision made by the Board of Education to forgo hiring security staff and instead replace people with cameras?
How much are the 13,000 (?) cameras that are being purchased to replace the existing cameras going to cost? When was the cost-benefit analysis done on this procurement and where are the results? Is it really cheaper to replace cameras than hire security staff? When did the Board of Education evaluate these options, review the costs and make this decision?
*Mr. Hellmuth attended a conference in Dallas, Texas during the MCPS "travel freeze" (click link and see page 5 of memo from MCPS COO Larry Bowers for statement on MCPS travel freeze due to budget restrictions)
First posted March 27, 2009 on the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County blog. Updated and re-run in response to arrests at Springbrook High School.
I have often used this medium to advocate a different approach to addressing minority underperformance. If there is a succinct way to describe what I have said in many words, it would simply be HARD WORK. I have oft quoted Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, and cited the examples of high performing schools in support of my contention that parental involvement, support system, and yes, hard work, seem to have been the determining factor. Then I read more about the Meyerhoff Model pioneered at UMBC (see http://www.diverseeducation.com/artman/publish/article_11378.shtml and http://www.umbc.edu/Meyerhoff/the_meyerhoff_model.html , etc.) and recognized a philosophical kin.
The program, a brainchild of an African-American, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland Baltimore County, embodies the very concepts I have been advocating. I reached the conclusions of the Meyerhoff Model through a simple question: Why do Asian-Americans, in disproportionate numbers, do well in any environment?
The answer, as I have repeatedly asserted, is in our cultural values. If you visit the national site honoring Dr. King, you will find, prominently featured outside, a sculpture of Mahatma Ghandi. It symbolizes Dr. King’s foresight in embracing a strategy pioneered by another community. Success, I assert, is recognizing a good strategy, be it the brainchild of someone else, and embracing it. Overwhelming success is recognizing a good strategy and making it better.
With that philosophy, I advocate what I fervently believe is a reasonable strategy to address the “achievement gap” --use what can be learned from successful groups. If another minority is a good example, then learn from them.
When Jerry D. Weast, the schools superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., was asked what he was doing to improve low-performing schools, his answer was “that his public school district spends big bucks every year trying to teach low-income parents “how to kick my butt … how to work the system just like affluent people.” Here is a better strategy to improve school performance—create, support, and enhance programs like the Meyerhoff Model adapted for schools. Learn from the Asian-American cultural model of education.
I challenge Dr. Weast to prove me wrong in my belief that a pilot program of this type will be far more academically successful than gutting GT, steamrolling Special Education, and shoving Seven-Keys in the lock on the door to educational success.
My idea won't be a quick fix. It sure might turn out to be a permanent fix. So, why not give it a try?
It takes just ONE, WELL-MADE KEY to unlock the door to educational success.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The topic was AP/IB High School programs, yet the Board discussion of this agenda item was filled with references to the middle school program at Eastern, and parents who expected MCPS to maintain a program that was by exam and invitation. Imagine that.
Thanks to SwitchedonMom for her recent "the 'More' Child" Blogpost with a link to the report of the Eastern Middle School Schedule Decision Reversal Group. I don't have current connections to the Eastern situation, so if you want to read more, go to the MoreChild blog for details.
This year its the Eastern MS magnet program in the news and in jeopardy; last year it was the Blair High School magnet. Additional cuts in teachers and class offerings are still plaguing the Blair Science, Math, and Computer Science magnet, despite promises from Marty Creel and MCPS that last year's cuts would be the last. Current students and alumni fear that Blair, and its sibling programs at Eastern and Takoma Middle School, may soon have nothing left to cut.
Next year? Your guess is as good as mine.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Not true, Dr. Weast.
As an International Program, IBO offers a variety of language. The IBO offers its programs in 45 "first" languages. From the website, the IBO states:
Group 1: language A1
It is a requirement of the programme that students study at least one subject from group 1. Language A1 is the study of literature in a student’s first language, including the study of selections of world literature. Forty five languages are regularly available at either higher level or standard level.
And for a second requirement, IBO requires that students in the diploma program acquire an indepth understanding of a second language - and offers a variety of modern languages PLUS classical Greek and
Again, from the website:
Group 2: second language
The main emphasis of the modern language courses is on language acquisition and use in a range of contexts and for different purposes. Three options are available to accommodate students with different backgrounds.
Language ab initio courses are for beginners, ie students who have no previous experience of learning the language they have chosen. These courses are only available at standard level.
Language B courses are intended for students who have had some previous experience of learning the language. They may be studied at either higher level or standard level.
Language A2 courses are designed for students who have a high level of competence in the language they have chosen. They include the study of both language and literature, and are available at higher level and standard level.
So - why is MCPS cutting back on its language offerings if we are embracing the IB model for our students?
Maybe Dr. Weast should do some research and find out what the IB program really involves academically, before he commits our resources to its implementation. Its more than geographic proximity to the US IB office that is needed before this highly rated program will work within the confines of Montgomery County Schools and its limited course offerings.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
We may see some of the PLAN at the April 28, 2009 Board of Education meeting, when Dr. Weast introduces his "Seven Keys to College Readiness."
But - as a parent with kids who have done lots of IB and AP courses - here is my view of the instructional/educational merits. Caveat - this is not a discussion of how many or whether students receive advanced college standing as a result of these courses or how the Blair Magnet compares to the RM program. I'll leave these topics for future postings.
The idea to switch to International Baccalaureate classes is brilliant. This is the first time in a long while I can endorse something out of Carver. The program is excellent, intense, and provides students with comprehensive skills that extend far beyond the subject matter of the course. IB has internal and external assessments that occur over the entire duration of the course. Unlike AP courses, with their one three hour exam, IB provides multiple opportunities for student assessments, both written and oral. It is extreme learning - the ultimate in education. Although the Richard Montgomery Magnet is considered geared towards those with a humanities bent, with the Montgomery Blair Magnet thought of as the tech program, all scientists and mathematicians need to write, and speaking/writing are an integral part of the IB program.
In listening to the Board discussion, I note that Dr. Weast did not outline a plan for implementation of the AP/IB program. We are in tight financial times, our resources are limited, and our students, like many across the country, must choose wisely.
Here is my plan.
1. Choose one or two IB courses and offer them exclusively in MCPS high schools. My first choice would be IB Higher Level English; second choice would be IB Higher Level World History. The advantage of English is that students need to take English through their senior year anyway, this would just substitute one course for another; with history you would get an extra year beyond the diploma requirements - but that's part of a world class education.
2. Do not offer an AP course in IB subjects. Students who take an IB higher level course cover more than what is needed to sit for an AP exam in the same subject; any student who wants to take the AP exam can still do so.
3. Adequately fund the program to provide the teacher training, assessments, and postage (a significant sum to mail the materials to Geneva for evaluation). Do not follow the elementary William and Mary program or Silver Spring International MS MYP examples by offering a "lite" version of the program. Either do it right, or don't do it at all.
4. Note that my plan is not about the quality of educators in our classrooms - my other child who is currently in AP World History and AP English Language has benefited from terrific teachers, but the material just simply doesn't compare with IB program. Look at the summer reading lists for IB English at Richard Montgomery or IB HL World Studies.
5. Finally, IB English and /or IB World history will provide each child with the life skills of time management while solving the question of how to keep kids interested in high school throughout their senior year. No child enrolled in an IB higher level course can slack off. The constant assessments, deadlines, and sheer volume of the projects will keep all MCPS students engaged.
I look forward to seeing the proposals from Dr. Weast and the Board of Education. Stay tuned.
It took a South Carolina news article on the naming of the Winston Churchill High School stadium in Potomac to spill the truth. So who got the $10,000 - what pot did that go into?
Oh, sure any payments for the naming of a facility are prohibited without the approval of the Board of Education under Board Policy FFA. But who pays attention to Board Policy?
"Petitions received to name a portion of a school facility to generate financial gain are
prohibited unless expressly approved by the Board of Education."
The naming decision took place during the summer of 2008. At that time the Board of Education was run by President Nancy Navarro, with Vice-President Shirley Brandman, and members were Steve Abrams, Christopher Barclay, Sharon Cox, Dr. Judy Docca, Patricia O'Neill, and Benjamin Moskowitz (student) or Quratul-Ann Malik (student).
From the Aiken Standard news:
11/17/2008 11:47 PM
By SUZANNE R. STONE Staff writer
Aiken resident Fred Shepherd's former students - and their children - have a little something to remember him by. Shepherd spent 27 years as a teacher and football coach at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md., before retiring in 1997. This year, the school renamed its stadium to Shepherd Stadium in his honor... ...The drive to rename the stadium began four years ago, under the direction of Churchill teacher Don Higgins, who formed a committee to work on the project. The committee was informed it would have to raise the $10,000 for the name change themselves, which took several years to raise from former players and their parents."
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Had the public (and this blogger) only known then what is known now, we might have had more public comment, taken time out of our workday, or at least recorded this on our own home recording equipment.
In reality, this item revealed Dr. Weast's vision of Montgomery County Public Schools. From the wonders of Promethean smart board technology, to yet more calls for teacher training, this agenda topic covered the entire K-12 educational spectrum, across the county.
We've heard for years that Dr. Weast plans to backmap instruction to the College Board's Advanced Placement Tests, with the goal of having each child in Montgomery County Public Schools "college ready," as demonstrated by having 80 percent of MCPS graduates scoring a 3 or better on a scale of 1-5 on at least one Advanced Placement test prior to graduation.
Now, Dr. Weast is adding in International Baccalaureate Program courses throughout the school system.
I don't want to get into the merits of IB vs. AP - that's another post for another time, and as someone with children who have participated in IB and Math/Science magnet programs (one graduate, one current student) with a grand shared total of 6 IB exams, one IB diploma, and 9 AP exams, with four more scheduled for this May, I feel comfortable discussing the pros and cons of each - short answer is each has pluses and minuses, parents need to evaluate what works for any particular child. Another post, another time.
Here is what parents need to know NOW.
"Boutique Programs" are out. I don't know what these are, I can't find a reference to "boutique programs" on the Montgomery County School system website, but these programs are out.
Foreign language offerings will be limited to French, Spanish, and Chinese. No more Arabic, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Russian, or any other language that isn't offered by the International Baccalaureate program. Does this mean that American Sign Language is also out? I suspect that French will also be cut too, since the College Board is phasing out its AP French Literature course shortly. Spanish and Chinese, take your pick.
And those folks at Eastern MS magnet who are concerned that their children will not be able to take both foreign language and music? Choices are tough folks, but really, Eastern isn't a feeder program to the Richard Montgomery or any other IB program, so if you want your child to be able to test in, make a choice and skip middle school music.
Bottom line from Weast et al at the meeting - transitions are tough. We are going to scale, that's the important goal. Amazingly, they extended the discussions past the alloted time period for this meeting, so its unlikely that we will see additional discussion time at the Board table in public view.
Here is my advice to parents of current and future students in Montgomery County school system. Stay tuned, stay informed, ask lots of questions, and most of all, keep up with the lingo.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Baltimore Sun: More than one path to success
It's time for our schools to move beyond a focus on college preparation, which drives many black and Hispanic youths to drop out
- By Walter A. Gill
- April 23, 2009
It's time to connect the dots. Real reform, especially in large urban school districts, cannot occur until we recognize the reality that many students will not attend a four-year college - and provide alternative avenues to success for those students.
In his speech to Congress in February, President Barack Obama correctly noted, "The U.S. has one of the highest dropout rates of any industrialized nation," and said, "Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for." He recommended that students must "commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training."
Noble goals indeed - but first things first. Students need to graduate from high school before than can aspire to anything grander.
On April 16, 2009, the tide went out at the committee meeting and no one on the Advisory Committee was wearing a swimming suit.
When a member of the BOE rattled off a staccato of questions asking if the committee had reviewed the GT data, consulted with experts, perused available research, contact William & Mary or Johns Hopkins, none of the committee could answer in the affirmative.
These ideologues expounded their unsubstantiated beliefs in support of their views, often falling back on the obligatory story about their own children, but had not a shred of evidence to support their views.
Even when apparently factual claims were made one was hard pressed to find the facts in them. For example, one committee member asserted that the law mandated the gifted be identified and services be provided. However, he insisted, the law didn’t define gifted. I suppose
THE ANNOTATED CODE OF THE PUBLIC GENERAL LAWS OF MARYLAND
Education: Title 8. Special Programs for Exceptional Children
Subtitle 2. Gifted and Talented Students
§ 8-201. "Gifted and talented student" defined
however vague it may be, doesn’t count?
It is our apathy and indifference that has allowed MCPS to install Marty Creel, a Social Studies teacher with no experience, qualifications, or expertise in gifted education to corral a group of folks, swear them to secrecy, and spit out a policy that destroys gifted education.
Meanwhile, everyday some of you will look into the eyes of a child who craves knowledge, is bored in class at MCPS, and is losing that burning desire to learn. Now, that is tragic. Doesn't that tear your heart out?
In attendance at the Council's Education Committee meeting was Superintendent Weast. In response to the discussion of these enhancements, Superintendent Weast stated:
"You have to remember this board is deeply committed to the policy of differentiation. And we spend $60 some million dollars in the areas where the poverty is most prevalent in the community. So the board's thumb, if it's on the scale, is the other way. These are just minor architectural modifications, not to the educational core, but to the exterior."Superintendent Weast categorized these enhancements as "to the exterior", but the improvements to this school include:
• Terrazzo tile for the main entrance lobby
• Upgrade for sound and lighting systems on the stage
• Two glass backboards for basketball in the gym (This item was actually not approved by the Board of Education but went to the Council anyway.)
The following upgrades were not deemed to have needed Board of Education approval and are also interior enhancements. These enhancements were not presented to the Council's Education Committee:
• Two electronic message boards inside building $ 1,000
• Weather Bug Weather Station $6,500
• School graphics on the gymnasium wood floor $2,500
These improvements were approved by the Navarro led Board of Education in a 6-2 vote* last summer. The Gazette reported on this vote in their article "School policy divides haves, have-nots". The memo from Superintendent Weast to the Board of Education can be found here.
*The 6-2 vote of the Board of Education was:
Voting FOR the improvements to one school were: Mr. Abrams, Mr. Barclay, Ms.
Brandman, (Mr. Moskowitz-student), Mrs. Navarro, and Mrs. O’Neill
Voting AGAINST were Ms. Cox and Dr. Docca
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
"MCPS should adopt formal policies governing long-term obligations and cash management."What did that recommendation mean? It meant that the Board of Education should establish policies to govern when leases are used, how much should be purchased using leases (how much of budget), and what type of investments should be used when cash is available.
In your own home these decisions would sound like this, "Should we buy a new car or used, should we pay cash or borrow money, should we put our money in a savings account or buy a lottery ticket?"
The bottom line is that the MCPS Board of Education does not have policies in place for governing these type of long-term debts or investments, and the State Auditor thinks they should.
This is of particular importance as Superintendent Weast is now increasing the annual lease payments, and expanding the use of leases to Promethean Boards and the artificial turf field for Walter Johnson High School.
In January, the MCPS Board of Education increased the amount of the master lease agreement to $133 million without any discussion.
Maybe it is time for a policy to address the ever increasing long term debt of MCPS?
Here is what the State Audit said:
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.
Although MCPS had cash management policies for areas such as
the pension trust and student activity funds, it did not have a policy
for investing excess cash from routine operations. Cash and
investments from governmental activities totaled $50.2 million as
of June 30, 2007. The notes to the fiscal year 2007 audited
financial statements indicate that MCPS’ deposits had been
sufficiently collateralized so that the deposits were not subject to
custodial or credit risk.
Policies to govern the use of long-term obligations to finance
operations and manage cash and investments are recommended by
the Government Finance Officers Association.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Yes, we know that the website contains a caution that past meetings may take up to one week to post. But - if you look at the time to post for most recent meetings, the past three meetings have been available by agenda item 2 days (Feb. 23 and Mar. 10) or 3 days (Mar. 23) after the meeting.
And yes, the tape should be available through the Maryland Public Information Act - but why play that game, especially now that the MCPS Public Information Office is waiting 30 days to release any information requests.
Is someone at Carver hoping that the tape will disappear?
Remedies are mostly corrective - the objectives are get the school or school system to fix their policies and procedures. However, the regulations do permit the Department of Education to withhold funding for egregious cases - see 34 CFR 99.61 et seq.
As a lawyer involved in freedom of information and privacy act issues, most people I know outside of MCPS in who deal with records subject to the privacy act or educational research and testing work very diligently to comply with the various requirements of the applicable privacy laws and regulations. MCPS is rather cavalier in its interpretations - but then again, that seems consistent with MCPS believing that most laws and policies are meant for others. I know I've spoken with my kids schools about having volunteers helping out with mailing interims, but didn't get very far, since the school claimed the volunteers were working just like school staff. How fascinating. I've only had one instance that I know about where my child's name was on the "obligations wall," and at that point I was more concerned about whether she could purchase a homecoming ticket than I was about filing a FERPA complaint.
More on FERPA is on the Department of Education's website:http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html
Among the findings of the MCPS internal auditor:
- Contracts with vendors were signed without receiving required authorization from the principal.
- Staff members with MCPS-issued American Express cards never filled out the required purchase logs.
- Required pre-authorizations for purchases were frequently signed after orders had been placed and payments had been made.
- Required documentation for purchases was missing 37 percent of the time.
The audit report for the previous period, January 1, 2006 to February 28, 2007, in which the auditors complain of financial management issues similar to those in the new report, is available here.
A comparison of the two reports reveals little, if any, improvement in financial management practices between the two audit periods.
*In the report, hear the Whitman Principal say that it is "unrealistic for the schools to be able to provide everything - it is far too expensive".
*On November 20, 2008, I gave testimony to the Montgomery County Delegation to Annapolis on the issue of illegal curricular fees. In that testimony, I stated that as punishment for not paying illegal curricular fees "students have their names posted on lists that are hung on the walls of some schools." Later that same evening, in an apparent attempt to refute my testimony, Delegate Brian Feldman questioned Board of Education President Shirley Brandman, asking;
"...I hope you say that this is actually not true, but this idea that if there's arrears for fees, that somehow they are posted on some school, I mean, is that true?"Board of Education President, and Whitman High School parent, Shirley Brandman replied:
Watch the Whitman Shorts report showing the lists of student debtors posted on the walls at President Brandman's own neighborhood high school.
The Whitman Shorts reporter is John Yarchoan. Watch the video here:
Thanks to Whitman Shorts for providing the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland with a copy of this report.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Today, heavy metals. So here we go. First, zinc. Yes, zinc is a natural element that is found on the earth’s surface. Where it remains stable. However, it is commonly used in commercial manufacturing and that is why it is in tires. Well, to tell the truth, I don’t really know its function in manufacturing tires. But it’s there. And I won’t say, ‘trust me.’ Hey, you could look it up. And that is why it is in your child’s playing field if your child is playing on artificial turf made of ground up pulverized rubber tires - ambient, or 'cryogenic.' Doesn't matter. Yes, zinc is essential to humans – in small amounts.
However, it should not be ingested on the playing field. At least, I wouldn’t let my kid inhale or eat it that way. But, hey, that’s just me.
Other Trace Elements
Here are some other trace elements that researchers have found in tires:
Aluminum, arsenic, antimony, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, vanadium, titanium and of course zinc. Also, researchers found halides, like bromine and chlorine. Yum!
Not to worry, if your kid is like most kids, they get off that field, immediately head for a long, careful shower, and turn their clothes inside out and then place them in a plastic bag, as recommended by the State of New Jersey. Oh wait,…
Wash your Hands!
A 20-second hand washing is required, too. Now take a 20-second break from reading this, go to the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and when the water is warm, wash your hands for 20 seconds. Don’t cheat! Longer than you thought it’d be, right? Think your kid is doing that?
How long do you think your child washes their hands for before dinner? 7 seconds, maybe, I bet.
Too lazy to tear yourself away from the computer? Take your hands off the keyboard and rub them together for 20 seconds. Well?
Ok, back to zinc. Why zinc?
According to the California Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Environmental Quality, tires contain about 1% zinc oxide. According to their DOT, “The main source [of zinc] is suspected to be wear and tear from tires.” And California doesn’t like it. Why? Because it becomes stormwater runoff and gets into our water.
But no worries here in Montgomery County, Maryland. Phil Andrews and the rest of the County Council, and our Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) Board of Education, led by Shirley Brandman, aren’t too worried about environmental impacts of zinc, lead, arsenic, or any of the other dangerous elements and metals that will be washing off the artificial turf during our heavy rains. And they most certainly don't care about your child ingesting them.
Chesapeake Bay? Rock Creek? Cabin John watershed? Potomac River? What? What? I can’t heeaar you…
So zinc. Zinc is carried into our water as a dangerous pollutant. Zinc then is ingested by fish, and sea mammals. Zinc is not necessarily toxic for your child. It is much more dangerous for your pet. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it “interacts with components of the animal’s red blood cells and can cause weakness, trembling, and loss of appetite…” In other words, it is toxic.
It is one of the many heavy metals and carcinogens that leach out of the tire crumb on which your children are playing, to pollute our soil and water.
What are the other heavy metals that are in your child’s playing field? Stay tuned…
The following is reprinted with permission. Links have been added in the first paragraph to reference articles and organizations cited for background. Thank you, Mr. Vlasits for taking the time to put together this thoughtful and thorough overview of your position on this issue. Your time and effort are greatly appreciated.
I have been following the numerous postings to both the GTA and Parents Coalition listserves in response to the de Vise article in the Post on Dec. 16th and to the proposed changes to Montgomery County Public School policy coming from the AEI advisory committee. I am concerned that the views and arguments of those of us who oppose GT labeling, and more importantly tracking based on that labeling, have not been clearly represented. I did reply on the Parents Coalition to a few of the postings and have received several thoughtful responses, but felt that it would be better if I tried to lay out a more complete analysis of what I view as the logic of MCEF (and the movement to detrack public schools) and present that to both listserves in the hope of promoting a spirited, but rational dialogue on the issues. I do this in large part because I firmly believe that working through these issues would be a positive step towards engaging MCPS around the issue that concerns all of us, improving the education that the students in our schools receive. I welcome critical comments and will respond, as time allows.
I want to be clear that the ideas I am expressing are mine alone (I am not a spokesperson for MCEF) but I believe they are consistent with the goals of MCEF. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of MCEF and have been active in the organization over the past 5 years. I have been a teacher in MCPS for 25 years and am currently Social Studies Resource teacher at Montgomery Blair. I am also active in MCEA, the teacher's union and an elected member of their Council on Teaching and Learning (the MCEA body which supposedly has input into decisions on curriculum and pedagogy in MCPS). I have a son who spent 13 years in MCPS and graduated from Blair in the Communication Arts Program. For the last 12 years I have taught honors and AP classes at Blair, but prior to that I taught all "levels" of classes in MCPS, special education at a center in North Carolina and heterogeneous 11th and 12th grade history classes in a high school in New Jersey.
Furthermore, I have not always been an advocate of detracking, and even since becoming committed to the "cause", have had to deal with the apparent dissonance between my beliefs and what I was doing (teaching high fliers in tracked classes). So, I've had to think, long and hard, about why I support detracking. What follows is an attempt to reproduce that thinking, which has led me to conclude that "tracking" is detrimental to the education of ALL students and that by detracking we can BEGIN to address SOME of the major problems of American education.
MY UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT TRACKING IS
Identifying students as "gifted and talented" based on some measures of academic ability or academic preparedness and placing them in separate groups within a school or school system; providing those groups with educational opportunities which are different than those provided to the group not identified as GT (called "enriched and innovated" or "accelerated" or simply "GT").
WHAT I BELIEVE IS WRONG WITH TRACKING
1. Labeling and tracking are, to a considerable extent, responsible for exacerbating (and, in some ways, even creating) the achievement gap. I know that other factors are important (for example, academic preparedness when entering school and parental support throughout school). Many of these factors are beyond the control of the school system, so the focus needs to be on what the school system can do to overcome these obstacles. Borrowing from the medical profession, I would argue “First, do no harm.”
What happens when you start with a group of young children who come to school with less preparation, segregate them from the students more academically prepared, set a lower level of expectations for them and provide them with materials that are not "enriched and innovative"? They fall further and further behind and get less and less interested in school, so that even if you offer them the opportunity to move onto the GT track when they are "ready", they will never be ready (that is without divine intervention).
2. Tracking lowers expectations for the non-GT students. No amount of wishful thinking can wish this away. It lowers the expectations of teachers, it lowers the expectations of parents, and most importantly, it lowers the expectations of the students themselves. It's the system saying, loud and clear, "You cannot expect to fly" and "You need to be satisfied with learning to crawl." When the system says one group gets "enriched and innovative" instruction, it seems obvious what the other group will get. If they are both going to get "enriched and innovative" instruction, then why are they separated?
Not only are expectations lowered, so is the quality of instruction. I see this at the high school level, and am certain that it is replicated at the elementary and middle school levels. It is obvious that some members of the community believe that schools in MCPS offer little or no consideration of the educational needs of the GT students and that they are ignored and neglected as compared to non GT students. My 25 years as an MCPS teacher and my 13 years as the parent of an MCPS student have led me to conclude that this is for the most part not an accurate assessment and that it is the "non-GT" students whose educational needs have been most frequently and seriously neglected. This is not to say that GT services are evenly accessible across the system or that the quality of GT education is what it should be, but rather to note that, looking at this in terms of comparative neglect, the situation is far worse in the middle and at the bottom the academic ladder than it is at the top.
My point here is NOT to juxtapose the needs of one group of student to those of another. If we want to raise the bar, we can best accomplish this by raising the bar for ALL students. Just imagine if those who have been advocating for GT education AND those who have been working to end tracking AND those who have been fighting for special needs students were working together to fight for the highest quality education for ALL students, what we could accomplish!
3. Separating (segregating) children by "ability" has detrimental effects on those classified as "not GT". It invalidates their experiences and it stigmatizes them. In an earlier posting to the Parents Coalition listserve, I referenced Brown v Board, primarily to draw on the noted justices' conclusion that segregation was inherently unequal. If this is true for racial segregation (and there is a mountain of sociological and psychological evidence to support it) than how can it be any less true for segregation which is justified on the basis of supposed intellectual inequality? All one needs to do to verify this is to talk with students in the non GT or non Honors classes. Negative self image becomes a barrier to learning which is extremely difficult to breach; as the student progresses through the school system, this barrier gets higher and students become more likely to give up (which is most often a source of disruptive behavior in the classroom).
Couple that with the ultimate irony that one of the effects of this form of segregation is to replicate racial segregation (albeit de facto rather than de jure, but segregation nonetheless) struck down by Brown. Were the justices wrong in both their conclusions concerning the effects of segregation or in their belief that equity is a fundamental tenet of a democracy and something that public schools ought to be promoting? I doubt whether anyone reading this thinks the Supreme Court was wrong in Brown. Given that, if what we have done is to revive “separate and unequal” (whether by race or by income or by both), we need to take a long look to determine how to undo this unequal education.
The ultimate effect of tracking based on the labels is de facto segregation in the classroom. If someone is not aware of this, I challenge them to walk into any school in the county which has some diversity in its population and just check out the GT groupings (or honors level classes) and then look at the non-GT groupings. I can walk into any academic classroom at Blair and simply note the percentage of white, Asian, black and Hispanic students and tell you the level of the class. Jonathan Kozol, in his book "The Shame of the Nation", has argued that American schools are more segregated today than at any time since 1968. While this is true when one looks at the number of students attending all minority or all white schools, it is just as true in nominally integrated schools in progressive Montgomery County. Segregation within schools is as insidious as segregation between schools (and in Montgomery County we can see both).
Of course, one might pose the question as to whether breaking the barriers that segregation creates is a legitimate and significant goal of public education. As a US History teacher I know that public education in the US has always had, as one of its major objectives, the preparation of each generation of young people for their role as the future leaders in our society, which goes well beyond the three “Rs”. That there is both a moral and a practical imperative to overcome the limitations of a segregated society seems obvious to me and thus I would argue that segregation in public schools is detrimental to ALL students, as it fails to prepare them for the future in an increasing diverse American society.
4. Finally, I would like to point out that there are major problems with defining and measuring "gifted and talented". The significance of this is that we are taking young children, applying a very imprecise and subjective set of criteria and from that determining the paths (tracks) that their education (and ultimately their lives) will take.
The Marland Report (1972) was the first attempt to develop a systematic definition for "gifted and talented" and is, as far as I know, still the standard. The report defined as "gifted and talented" those capable of high performance, which it stated "...include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination:
General intellectual ability,
Specific academic aptitude,
Creative or productive thinking,
Visual and performing arts, or
How do we measure these? How many children may have "potential ability" in one or more of these areas? Five percent? Forty percent? Ninety percent? And how many "diamonds in the rough" will we miss no matter how sophisticated the criteria we develop are? Why should we delineate between these two groups and separate them? What would happen if we recognized that ALL second graders have gifts and talents, which they could use to contribute to their own and each others' development, if placed together in an environment which recognizes and encourages both achievement and diversity?
What makes this worse is how it is implemented. The system develops limited criteria, which mostly measure academic preparedness in certain areas, primarily math and reading. Then we make concessions to the subjective evaluations of teachers and parents and on that basis make a determination of who is (and, by definition, who is not) GT and who is (and is not) recommended for GT instruction. The result is that at some schools, where parents and teachers aggressively support the labeling of children as GT, there are often much higher rates of identification, while at others (generally those whose students come from backgrounds were they get less academic preparation before they enter school and/or where the parents are, for one reason or another, unable to advocate for their children) there are lower rates of identification.
The question I'm left with is why should we label these children "gifted and talented" at all and not simply note their progress in different academic areas? Suzie can add, subtract and multiply two digit numbers in 1st grade. Johnny has a vocabulary of "x" number of words in 1st grade. That information is valuable in determining how to make instruction relevant to the needs of the child and would have no other implication. Services, rather than labels, are, I think, much more important to a child’s development.
If Johnny and Suzie and Adam (whose is "gifted" in the physical manipulation of objects) are in the same class they will learn from each other and all will benefit. Separating students based on "ability" denies all children (those on the GT track and those who are not) the experiences of those who may not be just like them. Children learn from other children. That interaction is an extremely important part of their social and intellectual development. Group them heterogeneously and you broaden their educational experience; group them homogeneously and you narrow it.
THE WRONG (read MCPS) APPROACH TO FIXING THE PROBLEMS
1. Fix the numbers rather than fix the problem. MCPS is obsessed with certain kinds of test data (although they frequently are very shoddy in their actual collection of data.) So obsessed that they have created entire departments in the bureaucracy that do nothing but create and manipulate data. Their goal is to show how well our "World Class" system is doing. The result is that they attack the symptoms rather than the disease. Push more underperforming students into honors and AP classes in high school; changing the math curriculum so more students can complete Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade. Etc., etc.
There are two problems with this: the first is how you measure the various aspects of learning. A criteria that is frequently used is how fast students are moving through the curriculum and how soon they reach a certain benchmark (like passing Algebra 1). This has been the approach to math and the MCPS data shows very significant improvement. The problem is that what students learn (or miss) along the way isn't measured. High school math teachers around the county (and in particular math teachers in the magnet at Blair) have found that many of the students, who have been pushed through this accelerated program, have not mastered basic concepts necessary to move on to higher level courses. Quantifying learning is not simple (I would argue, as a former math teacher, it's probably a lot easier in math than in most other subjects).
But an even bigger problem comes from the fact that people who are doing the data collection are not educators conducting objective research, but bureaucrats, whose goal is to "prove" that what they are doing is working. I'll leave it to your imagination, what happens here.
2. Lower the bar. In general, MCPS has decided that one of the best measures of educational excellence is the percent of students taking honors or AP classes. Once again its data shows great progress; more and more students are taking these classes and the gains have been particularly significant among minorities. There is only one problem; simply pushing students into higher level classes doesn't mean that they are learning more. In fact it usually means that the expectations in those classes are lowered. It's the standard joke among teachers (although it's not funny at all) that honors classes are what we used to call on-level classes, and AP is the "new" honors. MCPS then changes the grading system (so students who don’t even attempt to answer "constructed response" questions still get 50% on Achievement Series tests and exams), makes it very clear that teachers better not "fail" too many students and then turns around and claims that they aren't lowering the bar.
3. Set up a pilot but don't provide the necessary resources and don't make provisions for evaluating it. I give you the "no labels" pilots, Burning Tree and Georgian Forest. Burning Tree teachers did get some significant training in differentiation the first year but then were on their own; Georgian Forest teachers got none. And there were (and are) no provisions for evaluating the results. Outside of anecdotal evidence, we don't know what the effect of these "pilots" has been.
My point here is that what MCPS is doing is NOT detracking at all. It's reacting to the very real criticism that it is failing many of its students (particularly in minority and less affluent areas of the county) by pretending to focus on "raising the bar" and "closing the gap" while manipulating the data to demonstrate how successful it is. This is extremely frustrating to teachers (and many in mid-level administration positions) who are advocating for real change.
MYTHS AND QUESTIONS ABOUT DETRACKING
1. Advocates of detracking are opposed to rigorous educational standards. If that were true, you could count me out! My son received the benefits of innovative and enriched instruction in MCPS (and there definitely were benefits, although I also believe that his education could have been better). What nags me constantly is the question: If that was good for him, why wouldn't it be good for all the students? I know the answer that I will get from many people is that "They aren't prepared (or able) to take advantage of it." OK, but why? And what can we do to prepare them for it? And shouldn't that be what we are doing, preparing them, encouraging them, expecting more of them and giving them a stool so they can reach higher? And which provides the better climate to accomplish that? Segregating out those who are prepared to perform at a higher level? Both logic and experience seem to argue against that.
2. Advocates of detracking believe that "one size fits all". Not true. The key to genuinely detracked education is differentiation. Students learn in different ways and at different paces, but they can all learn. "Effective differentiation requires the use of flexible grouping patterns so that students consistently work in a variety of groups based on readiness, interest, learning preference, random assignment, teacher choice and student choice". (Tomlinson, The Differentiated School) This is the antithesis of "one size fits all".
3. Advocates of detracking believe that all students can achieve at the same level. No, they can't, but if we set limits (and that's what tracking does for the non GT students) we will never know just what they can achieve. If we say that the goal for every student is that he or she should complete at least a year of calculus before graduating high school, does that mean every student will? No. Will some students exceed that goal? Yes, but not at the expense of other students' lowered expectations. (Note: It is my experience, both as a parent and as an educator, that setting higher goals for high achieving students is not necessary – they set the higher goals for themselves). And along the way, maybe the students will all have learned an important lesson - that education doesn't have to be a zero sum game, but rather that they can all win.
4. Detracking means teaching to the middle, lowering the bar, dumbing down the curriculum. Once more, you could count me out if this were true. What detracked education looks like is taking the best that we have to offer and offering it to everyone. It means that we need to provide support for those who need it (this can take many different forms), but it does not mean we have to hold back those who are ready to fly.
5. Detracking would eliminate all homogeneous grouping. No. There are certainly situations when homogeneous grouping is appropriate. Differentiation can take many forms and limited, flexible homogeneous grouping is definitely one of them.
OBJECTIONS TO DETRACKING
I imagine in the next couple of weeks, I'll become much more familiar with the objections, but I wanted to address a couple that I am already familiar with.
1. Teachers don't have the resources to deal with students at all different levels at the same time. As a teacher, I can assure you that this is a logical and reasonable objection, but not an insurmountable one. First, there are resources that are indispensable to success - among them are initial and on-going training in differentiation; a developed and flexible "GT" curriculum; supports for students who may need extra help in attaining a particular objective (longer school day, longer school year, lunch time programs, etc.); more planning and collaboration time for teachers; etc. To implement quality detracked education will require the commitment of resources, but so does the implementation of quality tracked education.
I would argue that there is one resource that detracked education creates on its own. The vast majority of teachers go into teaching because they want students to succeed; genuine differentiated instruction, I believe, will create that very important resource by itself - teacher enthusiasm! If there is any doubt about that, check with the staffs at the “no labels pilots” (Burning Tree and Georgian Forest), where very minor efforts at detracking seem to have produced that effect.
2. Research shows that, for students identified as GT, tracking results in higher levels of academic attainment and therefore detracking will "hold back" gifted students (and deprive society of their gifts). Actually, research shows conflicting results of tracking on those identified as GT. And most of the research on tracking is limited in what it measures and in its criteria for "success." Admittedly, there is not enough research into the effects of detracking, but, what there is, seems to support the position that with detracking, those who would have previously been identified for GT programs do as well, or better, than they would have in homogeneous settings. For those interested, there is a school system in Rockville Center, NY that has been detracking throughout the system (starting in the elementary grades) for the past 15 years. Information on the results is available in a recently published book, Detracking for Excellence and Equity, by Burris and Garrity. (An excellent resource for more information is on the web is Education Resources Information Center, http://eric.ed.gov/, search "detracking").
3. Equity in education (or "radical egalitarianism") should not be a goal of public education. In other words, the schools are not a place for "social engineering". I would argue that the schools have two functions, to educate our children in the 3Rs and to prepare them as good citizens in a democratic society. Public schools are (and have historically been) the place where society inculcates the next generation with the broader values of our society. The rapid growth of public education in the US over the last 100+ years has been predicated on the need to provide every member of society with an understanding and appreciation of our social, economic and political systems. Can we possibly accomplish that unless we promote equity in education? I don't think so.
A FINAL NOTE
It is my strong belief that we all share a sincere desire to improve public education - for our children and for all children. I think that can best be accomplished with a spirited debate that includes all perspectives, and it is my goal to promote such a debate. To the extent that I can, I will respond to postings (although my job right now is keeping me very busy and I hope much of the discussion can go on, even when I can't).
I also apologize for the length of this posting. As any of my former students, who have had the misfortune of asking me a question in class, can attest, lengthy responses are my modus operandi.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Crumb rubber, also known as ground tire rubber, or GTR , is made from ground-up shredded tires. Here is a photo of the crumb rubber that was shaken out of a coach’s shoes after being on the field during one game. As a coach, not a player. The crumb rubber and artificial 'blades' are in a ~6-1/2-inch-wide baggie. This person coaches children, age about 11-13.
~6-1/2-inch-wide clear plastic bag containing 1. crumb rubber (the small black objects that are scattered to the right and left within the bag); and 2. artificial 'grass blades' stitched together and held together by a black strip of artificial material, in the center of the bag
Remember how I told you that the artificial turf industry worked so hard, and paid lobbyists tens of thousands of dollars to make sure artificial turf is not categorized as a ‘children’s product?’ This is why. Because any amount of lead is dangerous. And if a product is classified by the U.S. government as a ‘child’s product,’ it must be tested and its lead level revealed. Gee, why wouldn’t manufacturers of such a safe product want their product tested? Hmm…maybe because it’s not so safe after all.
So, here goes folks, in another of those discussions about, what is it made of really?
According to a private manufacturer of tire shredders,
“Crumb Rubber is the name given to any material resulting from granulating scrap tires or other rubber into uniform granules with the steel, fiber, dust, glass, and rock removed.FieldTurfTarkett states on its website that the method used by their shredders is cryogenic.
Crumb rubber production is accomplished by grinding techniques generally known as ambient or cryogenic. Ambient means grinding at room temperature. Cryogenic means grinding at very low temperatures. Other methods exist such as proprietary wet-grinding.”
Shredded scrap tire is placed in liquid nitrogen and is frozen and becomes brittle. Next, it is shattered and sorted by size. And voila! 'cryogenic' crumb rubber.
And here's what the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has to say about artificial turf and crumb rubber. Oh, and lead. (bold color text my own)
Q: What chemicals can be found in the synthetic turf crumb rubber?
A: The crumb rubber used in synthetic turf is mainly composed of recycled tires, which contain man-made and natural rubber. Based on the review of research studies and reports, certain chemicals have been identified in crumb rubber. These include small amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals such as zinc, iron, manganese and lead.
Q: Can people be exposed to the chemicals found in crumb rubber?
A: Although the potential for significant exposure to the chemicals in crumb rubber is very low, there are three possible ways for people to have contact with these chemicals on artificial turf fields:
Accidentally ingesting small amounts of crumb rubber by putting fingers in the mouth or not washing hands before eating after playing on the fields.
Breathing in dust and vapors while playing on the fields. Crumb rubber may become dust as it wears and the rubber may give off some vapors.
Direct skin contact with the crumb rubber.
But not to worry, folks! Our elected officials at the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public School Board of Education, led by Shirley Brandman; and Phil Andrews, Valerie Ervin and the other county council members who enthusiastically voted 'YES!' when it comes to having your children play on these artificial fields, aren't worried, so why should you be? Just remember to make sure your child follows the simple directions as above:
- Don't breath.
- Don't have skin contact with the field.
- Always wash hands after you play on the fields, before you eat.
How much crumb rubber is in a football field? This link helps you figure out how many pounds of crumb rubber you need for a football field. Try it! It's fun! Unfortunately there is no comparable site out there that tells you how many pounds will be washed into the Chesapeake Bay. Too bad.
Surely you remember that old ‘rule’; 3 ways to buy a car - pay cash, take out a loan, or lease it. Every expert on the planet will tell you that Leasing is the most expensive way to drive a car, unless you are a corporation and there is some tax advantage (MCPS is not such an entity). Want to save money? Pay cash! Simple and true.
For example, in a recent board action we see that via these leases we, the taxpayers of Montgomery County, are effectively paying 3.5% interest on our technology leases and 3.8% on our vehicle leases. But the yield curve for Montgomery County municipal bonds going out five years is approximately 2.5%. Bottom line is Jerry Weast and our Board of Education are saddling us with an interest rate at least 1% higher for these items than we need to pay.
Beyond the millions of dollars wasted, Weast and the MCPS Board of Education are using this process to sidestep Maryland laws covering fiscal responsibility, in that they are making these purchases without the approval of the Montgomery County fiscal authority (by law – our County Council). They are spending money, $13 million in the case of the Promethean Boards, without an approved appropriation. The facts are that they are leasing them, leaving us to pay for this over five years, and paying 1% higher interest rate then necessary.
Thanks MCPS, really appreciate your help in these difficult financial times.