Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tray Chic - Bravo!

On Monday, July 27, 2009, I had the privilege of witnessing heartfelt advocacy at the Montgomery County Board of Education meeting.

The evening's public comment session and most of the energy came from the Young Activist Club, from Piney Branch Elementary School. As mentioned in an earlier post, these kids want to pilot reusable lunchroom trays at their school, and came to the BOE to request approval of their plan.

I never met these kids or their parents before, but their flyer caught my attention. I recalled my first public testimony before the Board of Education, and, although I am a trained advocate, I remembered how reassuring I found those folks who guided me that night, and I went thinking that perhaps I could see if the kids from Piney Branch needed anything.

I arrived at Carver, and saw the group assembled at the picnic benches, with their signs and prepared speeches. Elementary school kids can get restless, but these kids were ready to go. We talked a bit, and they impressed me with their organization and passion. This was from the kids, from their hearts, and all the adults, including several parents, were really just extras - this was the kids project.

We talked about who would be at the Board meeting, and I had them look at the cars in the assigned spaces to see who was present. They already knew that their Board member, Chris Barclay, was out of town, and they were nonplussed.

They also didn't seem fazed by the two security cars parked in front of the entrance to Carver. Someone commented, isn't it great that the BOE is concerned about the kids safety; I didn't want to tell them that the illegally parked security detail is a relatively new and prominent addition to the Carver landscape, and that in all my years of attending meetings at Carver, the first time I saw security personnel was at another student led demonstration in April 2008. I wondered silently, did the Carver folks think these kids were a risk?

The meeting, delayed from its usual starting time of 6 pm by a half hour, did not actually begin until well after 7 pm. The kids made good use of their time. Additional students signed up to testify. Several of the group spoke with a reporter from WAMU, while others spoke to the new Washington Post reporter. They came in to the Board room with more energy than the room has seen in a long time.

And, the Young Activists owned room. The usual administrators from MCPS were joined by students from other schools who wanted to support their efforts. The PB Young Activists also entranced the Joseph children, who were at the meeting to support their father who was promoted to a position in the Office of School Performance.

The testimony? You can see it for yourself right here. Its in three sections, because the PC Tech Team hasn't quite figured out how to make clips longer than 10 minutes. Nine kids and two adults testified, and did a great job of telling their story, staying on the facts, and dispelling the myths about the costs and benefits of their proposed project.
Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3 (includes BOE discussion)

The Board's reaction? Not quite silence, but almost. Even the Board members who usually ask good questions just smiled and said, good job kids - much like the parents who cheer on the soccer teams on weekends. Did they pay attention or even understand that this was not a purely academic exercise? Only Phil Kaufman followed up with meaningful questions on topic. This is not the first time the Board of Education has heard a request to get rid of styrofoam trays - just this past May 26, 2009, Aiden Chambers from Walt Whitman High School testified in support of her request to get rid of the trays at all schools in the county. Her testimony is on the BOE webpage - go to minute 15.55 of the meeting webcast to hear for yourself.

Thanks, Piney Branch Young Activists, for taking time out of your summer to come over to Rockville and show the folks in Carver what you have to offer. You've shown them the best of what our school system can do - but don't let the Carver folks off yet. Even as many of you move on to middle schools this fall, keep putting the pressure on the folks in the Central Office to implement your pilot. After all, we have a lot of elementary schools in the county, and we should be encouraging innovation and politically correct environmental lessons. Learning comes in all sorts of forms. Sometimes, we need to remind the adults that success is measured in more than multiple choice and short essay exams.

80 year old banned from MCPS school

The Gazette reports on an 80 year old neighbor that has been banned from stepping foot on the grounds of Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Apparently, Boardmember O'Neill's exclusion of PIA parents extends to neighbors as well.

...In March, fed up with students leaving litter in her English Orchard Court neighborhood in Silver Spring, Cook carried a bag of the garbage into the high school and unceremoniously dumped it in the lobby. She believed she was returning the contents to their their rightful owners.
Her neighborhood is used as a shortcut by students going to and from fast-food restaurants for lunch and between after-school activities.

"This had been a long-term problem for the past year," said Cook, who headed up the local homeowners association until July when her term expired. "I could never get anyone to respond to me."

...After the March incidents, the principal, Thomas Anderson, had a "no trespassing" order issued against Cook, which prevented her from serving as an election judge at the school during a special election. Cook had been an election judge for the past 20 years...

UPDATE: Gazette Editorial August 5, 2009:
...Cook's unconventional approach should teach the administrators and students at the high school a thing or two about being responsible neighbors...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

$4,651,000 Surplus in Textbook Fund!

In 2008, Superintendent Weast reported $6,607,000 in MCPS Textbook and Instructional Supplies funds surplus.

At the Monday, July 27, 2009, Board of Education meeting Superintendent Weast reported a $4,651,000 surplus in the Textbooks and Instructional Supplies fund for Montgomery County Public Schools.

$4,651,000 is about $33 per child that has been declared surplus. Surplus means that the funding was allocated to Textbooks and Instructional Supplies in the budget, but the funds were not spent on your child's textbook and instructional needs. For a classroom of 25 students that would work out to $825. Rumor has it that teachers only get around $200 per classroom to spend on instructional supplies. Can anyone verify that number? If so, please post in the comment section below.

While Superintendent Weast has stated that he will not provide all MCPS students with their constitutional right to a free public education, the reality is that he hasn't been spending all of the funding that is allotted in the MCPS budget for textbooks and instructional supplies.

WAMU: MD Child Activists Lobby Education Board

MD Child Activists Lobby Education Board

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Portable classrooms expanding in Montgomery | Washington Examiner

Portable classrooms expanding in Montgomery | Washington Examiner

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Another school year, and another year of overcrowded school facilities. Portables are still populating the Montgomery County Public School landscape. Will MCPS ever be able to accurately predict classroom needs?

Monday, July 27, 2009

MCPS Chief Tech spends $7.7 million without contracts or bids?

On Tuesday, July 14, 2009, the MCPS Board of Education approved a line item to spend $7,717,979 of your tax dollars on...well "hardware and services" by using the "extension of a bid" from the Maryland Education Enterprise Consortium (MEEC).

At the meeting, Board of Education member Phil Kauffman asked the following question,
"What process do we go through to ensure that this is actually the best way of acquiring these services, as compared to doing an RFP* or other acquisition vehicles, how do we know we are getting the best terms with this vehicle as opposed to other vehicles?"
This was a good question. I have made multiple Maryland Public Information Act Requests for the MEEC contracts but those requests have yielded no documentation from MCPS that these contracts even exist or that they are used for MCPS procurements.

The full response from MCPS Chief Technology Officer Sherwin Collette is shown in the video below. In that video you will hear Mr. Collette say:
...There is an expectation based on the volume of business that we do that we see some fairly specific cost savings...

...There is a bit of a misnomer, I must say in thinking, that when you do a RFP* that you naturally end up with the best price...

Apparently, Mr. Collette differs with Maryland State law that states a preference for Competitive Sealed Bidding in procurements over $25,000. You will also hear Mr. Collette explain that in fact, the MEEC contract does not obtain bids that are used to make purchases, rather MCPS negotiates directly with the vendor to obtain a price.

The explanation of the Board vote on July 14th that was given to Board of Education members on the Agenda, and in the summary provided by Superintendent Weast, does not align with the information given by the MCPS Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Collette. Both the Agenda and Superintendent Weast's summary refer to the "extension of bids". According to Mr. Collette, competitive bids are not used to make these MCPS purchases but instead, MCPS negotiates directly with one vendor.

Hear the MCPS Chief Technology Officer's full answer to Boardmember Phil Kauffman's question in the video below.

* RFP stands for Request for Proposal

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 2009

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
_______________________________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release July 24, 2009

ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT, 2009
- - - - - - -
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION
Today we celebrate the 19th anniversary of the enactment of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law on July 26, 1990, this landmark legislation established a clear mandate against discrimination on the basis of disability so that people with disabilities would have an equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.
Our Nation is once again poised to make history for people with disabilities. I am proud to announce that the United States will sign the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in New York on December 13, 2006. The Convention is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century adopted by the United Nations, and it represents a paradigm shift in protecting the human rights of 650 million people with disabilities worldwide. We proudly join the international community in further advancing the rights of people with disabilities.
As we reflect upon the past and look toward a brighter future, we recognize that our country has made great progress. More than ever before, Americans with disabilities enjoy greater access to technology and economic self-sufficiency. More communities are accessible, more children with disabilities learn alongside their peers, and more employers recognize the capabilities of people with disabilities.
Despite these achievements, much work remains to be done. People with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much likelier to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education.
My Administration has met these challenges head-on. We have launched the "Year of Community Living" to help people with disabilities live wherever they choose. We have nearly doubled the funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. I was proud to sign the groundbreaking Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act and the Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which provides health insurance to millions of additional children. I also lifted the ban on stem cell more research. These measures demonstrate our commitment to leveling the playing field for every person with a disability. My Administration will not rest on these accomplishments, and we will continue to focus on improving the lives of people with disabilities. I encourage States, localities, and communities across the country to cultivate an environment in which the 54 million Americans living with a disability are valued and respected.
Americans have repeatedly affirmed the importance of protecting the human rights and dignity of every member of this great country. Through the steps we have taken, we will continue to build on the ADA and demonstrate our ongoing commitment to promoting, protecting, and ensuring the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people with disabilities.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim July 26, 2009, as the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I call on Americans across our country to celebrate the progress we have made in protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities and to recognize the step forward we make with the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Inspired by the advances of the last 19 years, let us commit to greater achievements in the years ahead.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fourth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.
BARACK OBAMA

Friday, July 24, 2009

Live - from the MCPS BOE Policy Committee . . .

. . . a new policy on curricular fees.

Yes, curricular fees will make a return appearance in Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2009-2010 school year.

See for yourself the discussion from the July 21, 2009 BOE Policy Committee meeting.



According to Lori Christina Webb, Dr. Lacey's most capable assistant and policy guru, MCPS decided that the fees are still legal - and has trained everyone, including principals, fiscal assistants, administrative secretaries, business managers, and resource teachers, concerning the new definitions of curricular fees. MCPS has also drafted a new website where parents can get answers in English and five different languages concerning the fees that they may be charged.

Tons of training - but what exactly are the fees and when will we be informed? Silly parents, the lists aren't even drawn up yet. The lists were due to the Community Superintendents on July 22, and Lori Christina Webb expects that the process may take several weeks before the lists are finalized.

So what exactly did the training cover? The definition of what is a curricular fee?

Here is my training. One word. Illegal.

That's right, it doesn't matter what MCPS says, in Montgomery County we are entitled to a free public education. Its in the state Constitution, Article VIII. The Office of the Maryland Attorney General says so too.

So - why does the MCPS Board of Education continue to insist on charging for what the taxpayers of the state have already funded? More training isn't going to solve the problem. Neither will fancy letters in multiple languages.

To this writer, the school system - BOE, MCPS, Lori Christina Webb, and Frieda Lacey, should be concentrating on using public funds for the intended purpose - purchasing the materials our children need to ensure an appropriate education, instead of training staff how to violate the law.

Illegal is still illegal.

MCPS needs to take a page already developed by its grading and reporting gurus - when a student doesn't attain a concept, the mantra is to reteach and reassess. How many times do we need to reinforce that the school system cannot charge curricular fees?

Parents and students - don't be fooled this school year. If your school sends home a note requesting a fee that you believe is illegal, send a description of the violation to the Attorney General of Maryland at oag@oag.state.md.us or by postal mail to Office of the Attorney General, 200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21209.

Tray Chic: Students offer MCPS a Lesson about Leadership

For Immediate Release

Event: Monday, July 27th, 2009; 6:00pm

Photo & Interview Opportunity: Youth, Leadership & Climate Focus

Contact: Nadine Bloch or Brenda Platt pbesyaclub@gmail.com


Tray Chic: Students Offer MCPS

a Lesson about Leadership

in a Changing Climate

9—12 year olds to testify at Board of Education Meeting

Mini-Rally preceding

WHEN: Monday, July 27th, 2009; 6:00pm Mini Rally

6:30pm Public Comment Period

WHERE: Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Drive, Rockville, MD 20850

WHAT: The Young Activist Club at Piney Branch Elementary School will take the podium to testify in support of getting rid of styrofoam lunch trays and for installation of a dishwasher and reusable lunch trays and flatware.

WHO: Elementary School students, concerned and supportive citizens

The Young Activist Club (rising 4th, 5th, 6th graders from Piney Branch Elementary School)

Montgomery Council Board of Education Members

WHY:

H- (rising 6th grader): Our school uses styrofoam lunch trays that are terrible for the environment and are made from a neurotoxin, which is bad for our bodies. County school administrators think that we shouldn’t put a dishwasher into our school because it will cost money and there will be costs to pay someone to operate the dishwasher...But they already spend money to buy the toxic styrofoam lunch trays, drive them to the school, and for school workers to handle them and put them in the garbage, and then to ship them away to the incinerator, and burn them. We think the County should pay for workers not trash. Plus they have failed to realize that the Young Activist Club has raised more than $10,000 dollars, so we don’t need money from the County to help us in this pilot project. If we were in charge of economics lessons, we would always add the costs that the county isn’t including, like air pollution, water pollution, kid’s health and more.

J- (rising 6th grader): The County's estimate that the cost of installing a washer is $57,000 is nonsense. The young activists researched this, and the cost was not that much. According to our research the cost for a reconditioned washer is $2,000 to $5,000.

A- (rising 5th grader): Why do schools buy styrofoam trays? Not to save money. Or to save anything. It actually costs more to buy styrofoam than to buy 350 reusable trays and a dishwasher. Some people think paper trays are the solution. They are wrong. It is only a little friendlier to the earth. It would eat up trees and still be thrown out and not be reusable. .... So I ask you why? Why do we spend money on our own death?

C- (rising 6th grader): Our simple, quick and easy scheme to overthrow the mass destruction of unhealthy styrofoam trays is to replace them with hard plastic trays... At this point, we have the support of the Takoma Park City Council. We attended a hearing and spoke to the Mayor, sent letters to officials, and talked with one School Board Member. Will the County Council and School Board join the City Council in supporting the Young Activists' cries of protest for a change--possibly a better one?

Young Activist Club Members will be available for interviews at the Board meeting.

(please see spreadsheets below for specifics on cost analysis.)

YACvMCPSCostComparisonbpedits_2_

Thanks to the Young Activist Club for forwarding their Press Release and supporting cost analysis to the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland blog! (The names of the students have been redacted.)

Letter in support of Young Activists Club pilot project from Councilmember Valerie Ervin to Superintendent Weast and Board of Education President Brandman.

UPDATE July 27, 2009, Baltimore Sun: Saving the Environment with Plastic Lunch Trays

UPDATE July 28, 2009, WAMU: MD Child Activists Lobby Education Board

UPDATE July 29, 2009: Tray Chic, Bravo! with video of Young Activists Club public comment to MCPS Board of Education.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jerry's Kids: A look at their "gap"

The MCPS students who just finished 8th grade in the 2008-09 school year are "Jerry's kids." Those are the kids that started with Superintendent Jerry Weast's "reforms" that are now being lauded in a book, "Leading for Equity." The book was recently reviewed by Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews.

In the review, Mathews said, "Weast is the Indiana Jones of this wild suburban adventure."

Let's take a look at the "equity" that "Indiana Jones Weast" has achieved.

Pictures speak louder than words and this week the Maryland State Assessment (MSA) test results were released.

So let's check in with "Jerry's kids". Here are graphs showing 8th grade MSA reading scores broken out by race for the MCPS middle schools that are part of the middle school consortium or middle school magnet programs. That is, these are the middle schools that have been the recipients of additional funding to close the gap. Take a look and see how "Jerry's kids" have done.






















Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Md. suburban students score slightly higher | Washington Examiner

Md. suburban students score slightly higher | Washington Examiner

Students in the Maryland suburbs showed slight improvements on the most recent round of standardized tests, but persistent pockets of mediocre performance remained.
In Montgomery County, 91 percent of students in third through fifth grade scored "proficient" or "advanced" on the reading portion of the Maryland Standardized Assessment, commonly called the MSA. About 88 percent of the students scored proficient or higher on the math portion.
Those numbers are up significantly from 2003. But compared with 2007, fewer fourth-graders scored proficient in reading, and fewer fifth-graders scored proficient in math....
...Among third-graders, 77 percent of black students scored proficient or better in math, compared with 95 percent of Asian students. In eighth-grade reading, 78 percent of Hispanic students scored proficient or above, compared with 96 percent of white students...

Above the law? MCPS ignores ADA amendments

Gazette Letter to the Editor:

Schools must keep pace with ADA changes

The congressional debate on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 noted that: "Too many individuals with documented learning disabilities, including dyslexia, are denied access to easily administered and often low-cost accommodations that would make the critical difference in allowing them to demonstrate their knowledge. These amendments to the ADA do not provide any special treatment, but rather, ensure that each individual with a learning disability has every opportunity to apply for and receive a reasonable accommodation so he/she can move forward in his/her chosen educational and career paths."

The at explicitly recognizes that reading, concentrating, and communicating are major life activities; a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

The at directs that the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, use of assistive technology, or auxiliary aids and services.

Montgomery County Public Schools has yet to revise its regulations to conform to the at's significant changes which were effective Jan.1.

The school system's regulation on "Accommodations and Services to Students Qualifying Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973" specifically states that the use of mitigating measures must be considered in determining the student's eligibility under Section 504, and that if the student experiences no substantial limitation to life activities when using the mitigating measure, he or she is not eligible.

This is contrary to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights document on "Protecting Students with Disabilities" which advises that as of Jan. 1, school districts, in determining whether a student has a disability, must not consider the ameliorating effects of any mitigating measures that student is using.

Last September U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8th Dist.) remarked that the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was "long overdue." It's past time for schools Superintendent Jerry Weast to see that school regulations are revised and staff trained to comply with federal law protecting students with disabilities.

Kathleen Gilhooly, Bethesda

Update: Ms. Gilhooly's letter has been linked on the the WSANA blog.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MCPS excellence: Slip Slidin' Away

Ten years ago Jerry Weast took over what was widely recognized to be the finest school system in the state. Today, a decade into Jerry’s plan to "Raise the Bar and Close the Gap", Montgomery County Public Schools has slid to second tier status (2nd quartile) among the 24 school systems in the State of Maryland. You wouldn’t get that impression reading the school system's press releases. But the facts, in the form of results on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), tell the accurate and unbiased story.

The 2008-2009 school year results were released today. Overall MCPS ranked 8th out of the 24 school systems state wide. In Mathematics, MCPS ranked 10th , while Reading was 5th. Although MCPS leads the state in per pupil education spending, its educational results appear out of sync with that investment.

Take a look at the results for yourself. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that so many of our county teachers and administrators have chosen to raise their own children in Frederick and Howard County. Those folks in the know about quality schools are voting with their feet.
2009 Rank of School Systems on MSA

Middle School MSA Scores: Special Ed Testing to Blame, Weast Whines

July 21, 2009: Weast issues a press release with the following information:

"At the middle school level, 26 out of 38 schools met AYP—an overall success rate of 68 percent, compared with 86 percent in 2008. Three of the 12 schools not making AYP would have achieved it had the same process used in 2008 been used in 2009. The implementation of Modified Maryland School Assessments (Mod-MSAs) and the low pass rate (38.9 percent in reading and 23.1 percent in mathematics) on this new assessment likely contributed to the increased number of middle schools not meeting AYP in 2009."

Yet when the Report on the Phase-Out of the Secondary Learning Centers was finally released, earlier this year, it contained the following statements:

"Additionally, the Modified-Maryland School Assessment (Mod-MSA) which is designed for students whose regular coursework is modified significantly to address their disabilities, was not available from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE ) in the spring of 2008. The Mod-MSA will be administered for the first time in spring of 2009 for middle school students with disabilities. However, these students took the regular MSA which was not an appropriate assessment for reporting their outcomes."

So which is it? In case you haven't noticed, the special education students in the middle schools did extremely poorly on BOTH the MSA and the Mod-MSA.

Perhaps Jerry Weast would prefer that special education students not participate in any accountability testing at all!

The disability community can look specifically to SHIRLEY BRANDMAN, who voted to phase out the middle school secondary learning centers. You now see the fruits of her efforts. And, by the way, they are rotten.

Maryland schools post gains on standardized tests - baltimoresun.com

Maryland schools post gains on standardized tests - baltimoresun.com

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Word of the Day - Incentive

Today's word of the day is brought to you from the new MCPS Curricular Fees Guideline.


Yes, Virginia, public schools are still free under the Maryland Constitution and state law, although you would never know it from reading the new MCPS pages on school fees. Tons of verbage - how is any parent /guardian going to understand? MCPS thinks that simply translating the parent letter from English into Chinese, Vietnamese, French, Korean, and Spanish will be sufficient.


Aside from the still not in compliance nature of the policy and the illusive waiver provisions, several terms seems to be left off of the MCPS page on definitions. Lets start with my favorite omission.

INCENTIVE

According to MCPS, secondary school parents can still be charged for incentives.

From the secondary schools Frequently Asked Questions:

5. Can an activity fee be charged for incentives or school activities?

Response: Yes. Each principal may determine, in collaboration with the school and parent leadership committees, if noncourse-related fees for items such as incentives and school activities will be charged to students. The principal will communicate information about such fees and their purpose to all parents.

But what is an incentive? Here is the definition from MSN Encarta Dictionary. Now, tell me, isn't it the responsibility of schools, along with the parents and the community, to motivate our students? If so, why is this now something subject to an additional constituent or user fee?

After all, if its public school and its part of the curriculum, shouldn't it be free?

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

incentive





in·cen·tive [ in séntiv ]

noun (plural in·cen·tives)

Definition:

something that encourages somebody to action: something that encourages or motivates somebody to do something

adjective

Definition:

encouraging or motivating: serving to encourage or motivate somebody

[Early 17th century. <> incentivum "something that sets the tune" < incinere "to sound" < canere "sing"]

in·cen·tive·ly adverb


Curricular Fees are Alive and Well in MCPS

Do we have a free public education offered by MCPS? Apparently, the answer is no.

Check out the new website from MCPS - everything MCPS wants you to think is true about course fees.

Remember, in Maryland curricular fees are illegal. So what is up with this propaganda?

Guidelines for Secondary Course-Related Fees

General Guidelines Regarding Course-related Fees

  • Every school provides without charge the textbooks, supplementary readers, audio/visual aids, stationery, and materials of instruction necessary to teach the curriculum or needed by the students to demonstrate mastery of the curriculum.
  • A definition of these terms has been established and used to determine whether or not a fee may be charged. These terms were drawn from legal, policy, and regulatory mandates.
  • A waiver is available for any student fee.
  • Each principal will determine, in collaboration with the school leadership, if allowable fees will be charged and set the amount of the fee at that school (up to the allowable maximum). No school is required to charge students allowable fees nor are school required to charge a set amount, as long as the identified fee is below the allowable maximum.
  • Any allowable fee must be for the cost of the item (rounded to the nearest dollar for ease of accounting)—no overcharge may be assessed to paying students to offset the costs absorbed by the school for students who are unable to pay.
  • If a student damages or loses an assigned item, the student incurs a financial obligation for repair or replacement costs.
  • Students may be charged transportation and associated fees for a field trip but not in advance as a course fee. The amount charged should be the expense (bus, admission, chaperones, substitutes—if required, etc.) divided by the number of students expected to attend. Although the final student cost may be rounded to the nearest dollar for ease of collection, no overcharge may be assessed to paying students to offset the costs absorbed by the school for students who are unable to pay. Please note the following for music students:
    • A music festival is considered a field trip and students may be charged transportation and other associated fees but not in advance as a course fee.
    • Students cannot be required to go to festivals.
    • If a performance before an audience is needed to assess mastery, a concert should be held at the school.
  • Fees may be charged by outside organizations for their services. Examples of these are as follows:
    • International Baccalaureate
    • Advanced Placement
    • Academy and industry certifications

Textbooks and Supplementary Readers

  • Textbooks and supplementary readers are defined as the primary or secondary source or sources directly used in instruction.
  • It is the school’s responsibility to provide textbooks and/or supplementary readers without cost to the student.
    • Examples of supplementary readers are as follows:
      • Atlas if required for instruction and mastery
      • Core novel
      • Anthology
      • Dictionary
  • Workbooks that are necessary to teach the curriculum and/or which students need to master the curriculum are considered as textbooks. (See Policy IIB, Evaluation and Selection, and Regulation IIB-RA, Evaluation and Selection of Instructional Materials and Library Books.)
    • The approval process requires five signatures, including the program supervisor, on Form 365-25, Record of Evaluation for Instructional Materials.
    • Schools deciding to require the use of an allowable workbook may not charge a fee for the workbook.
    • Students may choose to purchase suggested workbooks that are not used for classwork, homework, or practice tests in school. If a purchase option is available, teachers must emphasize that purchasing the workbook is an option, not an expectation or requirement.Examples include the following:
      • AP Prep Workbook (in the AP course)
      • SAT Prep Workbook (in SAT prep course)

Audio/Visual Aids

  • Audio/visual aids are defined as equipment used by a teacher to deliver the curriculum.
  • It is the school’s responsibility to provide audio/visual aids without cost to the student.
    • An example of an audio/visual aid is head phones

Stationery

  • Stationery is defined as paper and writing utensils not commonly found in the home and required for the student to demonstrate mastery of course objectives.
  • It is the school’s responsibility to provide stationery not commonly found in the home and required for the student to demonstrate mastery of course objectives without cost to the student.
  • Examples of stationery are as follows:
    • Highlighters
    • Pencils, colored
    • Post-it notes
  • Students may be asked to bring paper and writing utensils commonly found in the home to school as personal supplies.

School Supplies

  • School supplies are defined as building or office materials needed to operate schools.
  • It is the school’s responsibility to provide school supplies.
    • Examples of school supplies are as follows:
      • Dry erase markers
      • Facial tissue
      • Paper towels
      • Pencil sharpener
      • Three-hold punch
      • Toilet paper

Materials of Instruction

  • Materials of instruction are defined as items needed by the educator to teach the course content and/or items needed by the student to demonstrate mastery of the course content
  • Students may not be charged for materials of instruction unless, as noted below:
    • The materials are used to create a product eaten by the student
    • The materials are used to create a product that becomes the property of the student
    • The materials become the personal property of the student for reasons of personal hygiene or industry requirements
  • Examples of materials of instruction for which a fee may not be charged are as follows:
    • Cooking utensils
    • General art supplies
    • Hammers, saws
    • Jump drive/ memory stick
    • Photography chemicals
    • Science lab materials
    • Sheet music
  • Examples of materials of instruction for which a fee may be charged are as follows:
    • Art frames and canvas
    • Balsa wood kit
    • Cooking ingredients
    • Sculpting clay
    • Textiles and textile kits
    • Trades kit
  • Some items may be materials of instruction for in-class work but also provided by the parent for homework or individual use. These items are commonly found at home or available in many stores. For example, if students are using scissors or a simple compass or protractor for an in-class lesson, the items are materials of instruction and must be provided by the school for in-class use. If a student is using scissors or a simple compass or protractor to complete a homework assignment—those are personal supplies provided by the parent to support his/her child’s learning.
  • Specific materials of instruction for which fees were previously allowed have been examined according to the current definitions and changes to standard operating procedures may be required.
    • Graphing Calculators—Students should be encouraged to purchase their own graphing calculator for their academic career.
      • If a student cannot purchase a graphing calculator, one will be loaned to the student for the duration of the course.
      • Students may be required to make a 50 percent deposit fee on a graphing calculator for use during the course.
      • The deposit will be returned to the student at the end of the course as long as the calculator is returned in proper working condition.
      • As an alternative, schools may loan the calculator without charge, but assess an obligation (for the cost of the calculator only) if the calculator is lost or damaged.
    • Music Groups’ Clothing—Band uniforms and/or show choir robes/outfits will be loaned to students.
      • A fee for dry cleaning may be charged in advance.
      • A charge for repairs may be assessed after review of the condition of the item when it is returned.
      • Whenever possible, schools should be encouraged to require informal concert attire that individual students have or can easily acquire, such as black pants or skirts and white shirts or blouses.
      • Schools will be provided money on a cycle for purchase of band uniforms.
    • Musical Instruments—Schools should have a reasonable selection of musical instruments on hand for student use free of charge.
      • If a student’s preferred instrument is unavailable, a student has the option of renting the preferred instrument from a music store.
    • Physical Education Locker Room Locks—Physical education locker room locks are provided by MCPS for security reasons.
      • Students will be assigned a lock for use during the school year. If a student does not return the lock at the end of the course, the student incurs a financial obligation.
    • Physical Education Towel Fee—A towel fee may not be charged.
      • Schools are not required to provide towels.
      • A student may bring a towel if desired.

Individual Student Organizational Tools and Personal Supplies

Parents remain the most important partner a classroom teacher has for preparing a student to learn. Parents equip students with important organizational tools for success in class.
  • Students may be expected to bring individual organizational tools and personal supplies from home.
  • Each school may decide the items recommended for students to bring from home.
    • Examples of individual organizational tools and personal supplies that may be supplied by the parents are as follows:
      • Eraser tops of #2 pencils
      • Hole punch, for notebook
      • Jump drive/ memory stick
      • Notebook dividers
      • Pencil pouch, zippered
      • Pencils, #2
      • Pens, ballpoint
      • Personal binders/notebooks
      • Personal Spiral/ Composition Book
      • Pocket folders
  • Some items may be provided by the parent for homework or individual use but also provided in class sets by the school for in-class work. These items are commonly found at home or available in many stores.
  • Student Planners—If a planner is used in the school’s procedures as a hall pass, it must be provided without charge. Grades may not be given for student planner checks.

Waiver of Fees Form

Students and parents are not required to provide documentation to justify a waiver.
  • Teachers have a role and responsibility to advocate for a student through the waiver process.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Will MoCo Follow NYC Steps to Ensure Free Public Education?


A few weeks back on this blog, I wrote about my disappointment with the NYC school Chancellor Joel Klein who apparently let parents and PTSAs fund additional teacher aides in the classroom. The net impact of this practice was that school communities that could afford to pay for extra staff could bypass the Unions, the budget process, the screening and training requirements, and bring in whoever they wanted. Some schools advertised these positions on Craigslist.

NYC has now had a change of heart - after a complaint by the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers union that has, in the past, exercised its great powers to bring the city school system to its knees. Anyone else out there remember the 1968 teachers strike when Al Shanker and his troops kept schools closed until almost Thanksgiving?

Today, the NY Times reveals that Mayor Bloomberg directed an end to this practice. According to the Times:
Principals have been told that any such aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education, their positions included in official school budgets. . .
Supplemental fund-raising from parent groups has long raised questions of fairness. While the ability to provide extras — teaching assistants, books, computers and art supplies, enrichment programs — has helped keep middle-class families in urban public schools, it also can make it more difficult for schools in poor neighborhoods to compete.
And education officials and union leaders say that the informal system of hiring teaching assistants that has sprouted up over the past decade raised security concerns because it was not necessarily subject to the city’s screening process. “It’s hurting our union members, and to some extent it could be hurting kids because we don’t know how qualified they are,” said Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, which filed a grievance in October about the hiring.
On July 21, 2009, the Montgomery County Board of Education's Policy Committee meets to discuss the issue of curricular fees in Montgomery County Public Schools. Despite the state law that, like the law in NYC, guarantees a free public education for students, here in MoCo we have been subject to a policy that allows those who can pay supplement their children's education. Thanks to MCCPTA (look for course related fees items) we already have a preview of what the policy may look like. For example, in high schools:
5. Will fees be the same throughout the county?
Response: Designated courses will have a maximum fee amount that may be charged (not to exceed the actual cost of the item). Schools will have the option of not charging any fee or charging up to the maximum fee amount allowed for a designated course. This enables school administrators and school leadership the autonomy to align their resources based on individual instructional programs and needs of each school.
And, more importantly, the Policy Committee agenda only provides 20 minutes for discussion of this item. And of course, the materials are not linked to the meeting agenda.

Can taxpayers in MoCo count on its school leadership to follow NYC's example and take a stand in favor of free public education?


Check back here for my next post - after the meeting.

Exclusive: Board Retreat Minutes

Board of Education President Nancy Navarro in the Gazette in May of 2007;
School board President Nancy Navarro (Dist. 5) of Silver Spring will propose the board ``finally" have an in-depth discussion at its May 31 retreat about the disproportionate suspension numbers and the persistent achievement gap.
However, it may be too tough for the school board to do something about suspensions, she said. ``You want to give the principals the autonomy to run their own schools," Navarro said. ``We really need to focus on the staff development."
So, did she do that, did the Board "finally" have an in-depth discussion about suspensions and the achievement gap? We never knew because after the Board Retreat on May 31, 2007, President Navarro didn't release the minutes of that meeting and Board Retreats aren't televised for public viewing.

But now, for the first time in TWO years, the public can read the Draft Retreat minutes of the May 31, 2007 Board of Education Retreat. These minutes have never been approved by the Board or made public on the MCPS Board of Education website.

Board of Education Draft Minutes from Retreats held during 2007, 2008 and 2009 have been obtained by the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland via a Maryland Public Information Act request. These never before seen documents are now available on our website, giving the public their first glimpse of the school policy decisions that are being made on Board retreats.

Did Board of Education President Nancy Navarro get the Board to "finally" have an in-depth discussion on suspensions and the achievement gap at the May 31, 2007 Board of Education Retreat...?

Read the Draft Minutes of the May 31, 2007 Board Retreat below and find out for yourself.
May 31, 2007 Draft Board Retreat Minutes

Sunday, July 19, 2009

NY Times: Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In

The New York Times explores expensive college admissions counseling services in Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In Before College, Costly Advice Just on Getting In.

From the article:
The free fashion show at a Greenwich, Conn., boutique in June was billed as a crash course in dressing for a college admissions interview.

Yet the proposed “looks” — a young man in seersucker shorts, a young woman in a blue blazer over a low-cut blouse and short madras skirt — appeared better suited for a nearby yacht club. After Jennifer Delahunty, dean of admissions at Kenyon College, was shown photos of those outfits, she rendered her review.

“I burst out laughing,” she said.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fact or Fiction: Report Cards "are never withheld"


On September 22, 2008, MCPS "staff" told the Board of Education Fiscal Management Committee the following during a discussion of illegal curricular fees that are charged to MCPS students:
"The committee was told that some unpaid fees that are written up as obligations but was assured that transcripts and student records are never withheld for any unpaid obligations."
But, MCPS' own regulation allows report cards to be withheld:
"Principals may withhold the sending of report cards or other records if the student has an outstanding obligation to the school."
And parents have received notices and letters from their schools stating that report cards are being held. Montgomery Blair's Parents Handbook makes the practice very clear:
School; diplomas and/or transcripts will be held until all financial obligations are met. In addition, seniors who have not cleared alloutstanding obligations will not be permitted to participate in the prom.
Blair's Financial office was quoted in Silver Chips as saying,
"Withholding a diploma for obligations does happen..."
And this blog has posted a demand letter from Magruder High School detailing that if a curricular fee is not paid the student's diploma will be withheld.

It is a FACT, MCPS administrators do withhold report cards, transcripts and diplomas from students who have not paid illegal curricular fees.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What does "college readiness" mean?

SAT Scores for admission to popular colleges and universities

This is in response to the MCPS 7 Keys to College Readiness which culminates in a goal of SAT 1650, which is a 60th percentile score nationally. College Readiness as defined by MCPS merely means "no remediation" during the freshman year of college. Achieving the MCPS minimally "college ready" benchmarks does not mark you as a particularly distinguished student applicant.

Below is a series of charts showing SAT scores for the middle 50% of students accepted at the named schools, and you can see for yourself that the MCPS "college readiness" goal of SAT 1650 is not within any realistic range for admission to many of these schools. You might want to set your sights higher than SAT 1650 for your child to have a competitive score, depending upon where he/she wants to go to school.

This is a list of SAT scores achieved by the middle 50% of students accepted (25% to 75%) for 2007-08.

If you want to attend one of the private schools and you want to know what a reasonable, on-target SAT score is for admission, aim for a range of: 1900-2370.

If you want to attend one of the public schools, aim for a range of: 1790-2100 (aim at the higher end if the public school you want to attend is out of state; preference is generally given to in-state applicants).

SAT scores are only part of your application. Grades, for example, are weighted significantly. But this is a comparison of the MCPS SAT benchmark of 1650 with the expectations of colleges for their successful applicants.

Compare MCPS expectations for college readiness to what the college of your choice looks for in students actually admitted to the school. 1650 is within the range at highlighted schools below, but at the low end of the range for many of these schools. There are many schools which accept students with lower SAT scores. But if you want to attend a competitive school, aim higher than 1650.
College Readiness

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Helium Hands - Part 3

Don't believe everything you hear at Board of Education meetings.

As the third installment to my helium hands series, here is the latest update.

Recall my prediction that the Board of Education would collectively approve the renewal of the American Express Purchase card program without discussion.

OK, so I was wrong - they had a little tiny bit of discussion - but it was inaccurate.

At the July 14, 2009 meeting, Mr. Barclay, Board of Education meeting expert on audit, and Chair of the Fiscal Management/Audit committee said he was "comfortable" with the information he received concerning the program and says he remembers discussing the American Express Purchase Card options.

I couldn't find any documentation, and I now can add the minutes of the May 13, 2009 Fiscal Management/Audit committee meeting as another example of a meeting where this item was not discussed.

Honestly, I don't know what gives Mr. Barclay his sense of comfort, but whatever it is its not in the public domain and hasn't been publicly discussed.

If Mr. Barclay has information, he needs to share it with the public now, not just state that he is comfortable.

Just wishing for something to be true doesn't make it true.

Thanks Laura Berthiaume for asking the tough questions. Now lets get some responsive answers and hope that the rest of the folks around the BOE table demand real facts, and not just accept what makes Mr. Barclay "comfortable."

Breaking news: 800 removed from MCPS dependent rolls!

In January 2009, the Maryland General Assembly, Office of Legislative Audits released their Fiscal Management Practices Audit Report for Montgomery County Public Schools.

One of the recommendations of the State Audit was:
MCPS should enhance its procedures to verify health care costs by ensuring the eligibility of program participants and the propriety of paid claims.
Here is why the State Audit made that recommendation:
Although MCPS had implemented certain practices designed to control health care cost (such as procuring medical and prescription services under cooperative arrangements), it had not taken certain substantive actions to control costs. Specifically, MCPS did not verify the eligibility of program participants and their listed dependents or audit the propriety of claims paid by program administrators. MCPS provides health benefit coverage to active and retired employees through a program self-insured by the Employee Benefit Plan Trust Fund (in conjunction with Montgomery County and several other local government units). MCPS paid approximately $175.8 million in claim payments for 57,000 employees, retirees, and their dependents during fiscal year 2007.
Buried in the minutes of the recently released May 13, 2009, MCPS Board of Education committee meeting (off camera meeting - usually no press or public in attendance) we learn that MCPS has initiated a Dependent Eligibility Audit in response to the State recommendation. And look at what they have found, 800 people who were listed as dependents of MCPS staff that did not actually qualify as dependents!

From the Board Committee minutes:
The dependent eligibility audit will be completed by the end of Fiscal Year 2009. So far 800 inappropriate dependents have been dropped off and termination letters will be sent out. MCPS staff will continue to update the committee on these issues.
Thanks to the Maryland General Assembly for initiating and funding the Audits of local school districts. Without their initiative, the MCPS Dependent Eligibility Audit might never have been initiated by local staff. The next question is how much was the failure of MCPS to utilize best practice accounting procedures costing taxpayers?

UPDATE:
Board of Education minutes from December 9, 2008, show that the Board hired a company called Secova, Inc. at a cost of $213,238 plus direct postage costs to verify the "authenticity of the dependents of the eligible employees participating in Montgomery County Public Schools benefit pool." The Board stated that such a review had not been conducted "in a number of years."

What MCPS deletes, we provide...

In multiple posts on this blog we have directed readers to the MCPS Procurement Manual online link as we discussed the failure of MCPS to follow state law in procuring technology and equipment.

So what's a Tech-Savvy school system to do? Take the Procurement Manual link off the MCPS website, of course! So now when you go to the link for the MCPS Procurement Manual here is what you see...



But you may have heard the saying "You can't put the Genie back in the bottle?" And so readers of this blog, what MCPS deletes, the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland provides.

Here for your procurement education is the MCPS Procurement Manual as it appeared on the MCPS website just a few months ago, with all of the important references to State procurement law.
MCPS Feb 2007 Procurement Manual