Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gazette Letter: "Why wait and deny voters its information?"

Gazette Letter: Gazette article should have been published sooner
I was disappointed to read the Sept. 15 article, "Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County members try their hands as candidates." I have no problems with the substance of the article, only the timing. I don't understand why this article would be published the day after the primary...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Press Release: Groups Call for End to MCPS School Vegetable Garden Ban

For Immediate Release September 23, 2010
Contact: Gordon Clark, 301-801-3406

List of Montgomery County Groups Calling For End to School Vegetable Garden Ban Grows
Elections, USDA Grants Highlight Importance of Issue

As the school year begins, an increasing number of community organizations are calling for an end to the Montgomery County Public School's ban on school vegetable gardens. More than 30 groups have joined the effort to overturn the ban and bring vegetable gardens to their county's public schools.

"Now that people have returned from the summer, we are seeing renewed interest in this issue," said Gordon Clark, Project Director of Montgomery Victory Gardens. "We predict this community pressure will only build until someone in the county government or the school system agrees to change this detrimental policy. Montgomery County Public Schools should not be allowed to lag behind the rest of the nation in this way."

The de facto ban first came to light at a briefing of the Montgomery County Council last December, and was put in writing by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast on February 26 of this year. The Montgomery County Master Gardeners Association and Montgomery Victory Gardens sent a public letter to Superintendent Weast on June 3 asking that the ban be lifted, a letter which has since been signed by over 30 county organizations and associations, including the Montgomery County Commission on Health. While MCPS officials have since begun discussions on possible community gardens, the ban remains in effect and schools that have actually requested gardens are not being considered as sites for them.

The issue has garnered considerable media attention, and has also entered the election year debate, as the League of Women Voters have made nutrition and school gardens one of the six questions they asked Board of Education candidates, with the answers reprinted in their widely read 2010 Voters' Guide.

Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture, through their People's Garden Program, is offering $1 million in grant money to build community gardens at low-income public schools.

"It's ridiculous that our low-income schools cannot access government funding because the very activity the federal government is trying to promote - food gardening - is banned by our school system," said Sheryl Freishtat, President of the Montgomery County Master Gardeners Association. "Whether your concern is children's nutrition, environmental education, or social and community development, school vegetable gardens are an inspired teaching tool, and there is no reason that Montgomery County Public Schools should continue to ban them."

# # #

To read the original open letter to Superintendent Weast, click

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

WTOP: Maintenance of Effort about half of projected $143 million shortfall

WTOP:  Montgomery County council examining layoff possibilities
Kate Ryan
ROCKVILLE, Md. - It's early in the budget process, but Montgomery County already sees a $143 million budget gap. And the county's Director of Budget and Management Joseph Beach tells WTOP layoffs are likely...
...Council members have already made it clear the school systems will be examined for budget solutions. Specifically, they are troubled by the steep cost of Maryland's "Maintenance of Effort," a funding formula that requires counties to maintain spending levels on education.
During Tuesday's hearing, councilmember Marc Elrich quizzed Beach about how much the Maintenance of Effort contributed to the projected $143 million shortfall. Beach told Elrich it made up about half of the deficit.
Last year, Montgomery County asked for a waiver of the Maintenance of Effort by the State Department of Education. That request was denied, and state legislative action reversed that decision.
This year, Montgomery County officials intend to get the law changed permanently...

Cost of Next Artificial Turf Field for a MCPS High School?

Is the next artificial turf field for a MCPS high school on it's way? 

If so, will this $1 million plus project be put out for a competitive bid? None of the other artificial turf football field projects in MCPS were put out for competitive bids, this would be the first. Is it time for MCPS to finally do some comparison shopping?

Silver Chips: Paint Branch to hold home football games at Blair for the next three years
...Paint Branch's new stadium is scheduled to include an enclosed turf stadium with a separate track and grass field, softball and baseball fields, batting cages, eight tennis courts and a practice field. "The athletic facility at the new Paint Branch looks like a mini college campus," Podosek said.

Monday, September 27, 2010

36 Security Cameras Installed at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda

Pyle, last MCPS middle school to receive security cameras

Independent contractors installed 36 cameras at Pyle this summer as part of the capitol improvement plan to assist employees. 
Some Pyle students said they think the cameras are intended to prevent  incidents, like last year’s sexting scandal, from occurring in the future. Seventh grade student Emma Wesley said she isn’t fully comfortable with the idea of having cameras throughout Pyle.
“Everyone feels a little uneasy, as if someone is always watching them and every move of theirs is being recorded,” Wesley said.
But principal Jennifer Webster said the cameras will be beneficial for the school.
“In every situation, you get multiple different versions of the truth from different people, and having the video helps sort out the fact,” Webster said. “They can help us solve even the smallest of problems, like retrieving students’ iPods and wallets that get stolen from classrooms.”

Note to readers: Did the Board of Education ever vote to install security cameras inside school buildings? Was this $23 million (+/-) purchase ever put out for a competitive bid?  
Answer to both questions is no

You can read more about this major purchase made without public input here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Montgomery tries to 'desegregate' poor schools with magnets | Washington Examiner

Montgomery tries to 'desegregate' poor schools with magnets | Washington Examiner
A Montgomery County deputy superintendent told parents that its plan to turn poor-performing schools into magnet schools was drafted specifically to draw affluent, white students.

"The purpose of the grant is to attract white students, or higher socioeconomic students, into schools with high minority enrollment," Eric Lang, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said at a meeting of the public school system's Special Education Advisory Committee.

Read more at the Washington Examiner.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open Letter: "many misstatements by Dr. Weast"

Open Letter to Board of Education and Montgomery County Council on Wheaton and Edison High School Grant Application:

Hello, Some of you know me and others do not. I have recently become deeply concerned over a federal grant proposal to merge Wheaton into Edison High School.

I am asking that you put a stop to this grant immediately--apparently it is unlikely to be received anyway--and make it known how the rehabilitation of Edison and Wheaton will proceed in the near future. They are in the queue for reconstruction and actions are required. I also ask that these be DELAYED until you have a new superintendent in place that is responsive to parents and can see the project through in the open. I also want a promise that this kind of thing will not happen again. Apparently there were no lessons learned after the Monocacy Elementary School fiasco--which at least had a vote when two schools were considered for consolidation. Why aren't we being shown the same respect of a vote?

Parents must be proactively contacted and encouraged to be involved. This sneakiness will not fly. Can you imagine if Dr. Weast had tried doing this to a school in Bethesda? Imagine the outrage. Well, he isn't getting away with this here, either.

This grant was never vetted or approved by the Board of Education, the Edison High School staff or principal, or the Montgomery County Council before it was submitted. This is outrageous as far as I can tell--never happens. You plan to close a school--you do it in the open, with a vote. Board of Education President Patricia O`Neill was quoted in the Gazette as saying no vote was necessary--I'm sorry, that's poppycock. That grant would set policy and close and remake schools.

I am also calling your attention to many misstatements by Dr. Weast in your recent joint meeting with County Council.

To be clear: this was not a planning grant or a feasibility grant. It was not a request for money to "think about" what to do with three schools. Please obtain a copy if you haven't already, including five separate packets of documents, and review it for yourself. (Please note the duplicative paragraphs in the "letters of support" and the absence of any that mention Edison High School or come from Edison High School staff. I also suggest you look into how Dr. Weast obtained the signatures of the Wheaton teachers. This is nothing short of shameful).

Nowhere will you read about how Edison High School functions today. You come away wondering, gee...what about automotive? What about cosmetology? What really is going on at Edison High School? Apparently nothing. I defy you to find the word "vocational" in that grant application.

When I met with Marty Creel of MCPS and asked him about the fate of these classes, he pointed me to a "box on page 49" that lists "Business Teams." He said "look under Small Business. That would include cosmetology. Look under Transportation. That would include autotechonology." Really? Who would have thought that? And more importantly, who would believe it?

The enrollment numbers at Edison High School are also misstated. Honestly, there are so many questionable "facts" about the grant they are too many to name.

I look forward to seeing Edison High School on your agenda in an open and public meeting. I am available anytime to meet.

Kind regards,
Theresa Defino

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gazette: Montgomery school board to consider new elementary curriculum

Framework for K-5 curriculum expected to receive preliminary approval Monday
by Andrew Ujifusa | Staff Writer

Members of the school board are expected to give preliminary approval to the "K-5 Curriculum Frameworks" on Sept. 27...
...The school board will consider final approval of the framework at a later date, probably in November or December...
...The school system is developing a new "integrated curriculum" for elementary schools that blends instruction in subjects such as science, social studies and art into core curriculum areas such as reading, writing and mathematics. The goal is to improve instruction across all areas and satisfy concerns that subjects outside core areas have not received enough attention, according to school officials.
The new curriculum is being developed in conjunction with a private, N.J.-based educational publishing company, Pearson Education, which will be able to market and sell the curriculum to school districts nationwide, while the county school system would receive royalties from any sales. The deal has attracted critics who say they are concerned about the collaboration between the school system and a private entity.
A Sept. 22 letter from Frederick Stichnoth, president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, which represents parents of gifted students, criticized the board's failure to solicit more community input before the Sept. 27 meeting.
He also said the integrated curriculum could lead to the watering-down of subjects such as science, and that it would create a "one-size-fit-all" curriculum inappropriate for some students.

High Tech High is FREE in California, MCPS? Sorry, pay up.

Superintendent Jerry Weast has applied for a Magnet School Assistance Grant to convert Edison High School and Wheaton High School into a "High Tech High" for Montgomery County. 

Superintendent Weast wants to pattern this new school after the High Tech High in San Diego, California. You can hear him talk to the County Council about his plan at the County Council and Board of Education "lunch" on September 21, 2010. Click here for exclusive video of the meeting.

When the MCPS High Tech High is open, however, there will be one BIG difference from the High Tech High in San Diego! 

San Diego High Tech High students attend for FREE. It is a FREE PUBLIC SCHOOL. 

There are NO COURSE FEES, NO SUPPLY FEES, AND NO FEES FOR SAFETY EQUIPMENT for students to attend High Tech High in San Diego like there are at Edison High School in Montgomery County.  Click here (go to pages 5-6) to see the list of fees that greet MCPS families when they apply to send their child to Edison High School. 

MCPS families may get a High Tech High in Montgomery County, but what is unknown is what it will cost to send your child there. Free public schools, a right under the Maryland Constitution, don't exist in Montgomery County, Maryland. 

So MCPS, what's it going to cost parents and guardians to send a child to the new MCPS High Tech High?

Blair HS English: Less textbook material

Silver Chips: English department releases new curriculum
Twelfth grade English curriculum to include different books and prepare students for college

by Eli Schwadron, Staff Writer

The English department launched their new curriculum for 12th grade regular, Honors and Advanced Placement (A.P.) English classes this school year, which consists of broader themes as well as units designed to prepare seniors for college. The curriculum change was intended to give students a larger worldview and focus less on strictly textbook material. Although it was piloted last spring, the curriculum did not take effect for all grade 12 English classes until this school year..
...The “Searching for Meaning” unit includes time spent on college essays, with the intention to prepare students for life after high school... 
...“Metamorphosis,” a novel by Franz Kafka, is a new addition to the Honors English curriculum and also serves as a guide for senior students. “Metamorphosis is important because it’s story about a man who hates his job,” Clay said...

NPR: Race to the Top: Teaching for Dollars - Pt. 4 | Learning Matters

Race to the Top: Teaching for Dollars - Pt. 4 | Learning Matter

Kensington Patch: Stressed Out About School

Kensington Patch: Parents are concerned that kids are so stressed out from school that it manifests physically, mentally and behaviorally.

I distinctly remember the day my then-second grader came home in tears over her math homework. "It's too hard, I can't do it," she cried. I happened to be at her school the next day and mentioned to her teacher that she was upset about the math homework...
...Up until now, this has been an issue that is addressed in hushed conversations outside of school walls. Teachers quietly admit it, parents struggle with how to help their kids, but officially, the subject is taboo.
But the tide may be turning. A group of parents at one local high school are organizing to bring the needs of their at-risk children to the community's attention. On Sept. 30, Walt Whitman High School is premiering the documentary Race to Nowhere, which explores the "pressures faced by American schoolchildren and their teachers in a system and culture obsessed with the illusion of achievement, competition and the pressure to perform." 
In Montgomery County, we will soon have the opportunity to make this a priority with the selection of a new school superintendent. Let's get this conversation out in the open and do something about it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Will Montgomery County replace Weast with Rhee? -

Will Montgomery County replace Weast with Rhee? -

Washington Co. Maryland wins $7.3 million for Teacher Reward pilot

Applicant NameBoard of Education of Washington County 
PR/Award #: S385A100080
State: MD
5-Year Amount: $7,351,028

Washington County Public School's (WCPS) pilot TIF program, Performance Outcomes with Effective Rewards (POWER), will be designed to reward effective teachers and school-based administrators at high-need schools who raise levels of and maintain high standards for student achievement. WCPS plans to use the 2010-11 school year as a planning year to develop and implement a performance-based compensation system (PBCS) for teachers and administrators at five of our high-need schools in Washington County, Maryland, in order to increase educator effectiveness and student achievement as measured by student growth. The pilot schools were selected based on their identification as a high-need school with 50 percent or more of its enrollment from low-income families, based on eligibility for the Free and Reduced Meals Program (FARM).

Maryland plans to pilot and implement a PBCS over the next two years, so WCPS must align the POWER program with the State department of education plan and Maryland law. Program goals and outcomes include the following:

POWER Program GoalsShort-term OutcomeIntermediate OutcomeLong-term Outcome
1) Increase teacher and administrator effectiveness, thereby improving student achievement, by offering extensive professional developmentDevelop a POWER professional development plan to address the specific needs of POWER teachers and administratorsProvide guidance, skills, and strategies to improve student learning and achievementDevelop, implement, and refine a comprehensive and sustainable teacher and administrator PBCS that uses a new evaluation system, resulting in improved student achievement at WCPS's high-need schools
2) Develop teacher and administrator performance-based compensation systems, so that teachers and administrators are rewarded for student growthDevelop a formula for providing monetary incentives based on pre- and post-assessment tools
3) Increase the number of effective teachers teaching low-income and disadvantaged students in high-need schools and hard-to-staff subjectsDevelop a staffing strategic plan designed to recruit and support effective teachers willing to work in high-need schools and in hard-to staff subjectsProvide pay incentives to teachers and administrators working and teaching in high-need schools and in hard-to staff subjectsAttract, develop, and retain high qualified effective teachers and administrators to improve student achievement in high need schools

Pat O'Neill's Superintendent Search Experience

At the League of Women Voters' Board of Education Forum in Rockville this past Monday night, Pat O'Neill, current president of the Board of Education, touted her experience as the only current Board of Education member who has selected a superintendent.

Well....yes. Here's what happened on her first try:

Massie Withdraws As School Candidate
Montgomery Board Searching Again
By Manuel Perez-Rivas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 1999; Page B01

Elfreda W. Massie bowed out yesterday as Montgomery County's leading candidate for school superintendent, just two days after revelations of her personal bankruptcy filings stunned school board members and threw her candidacy into a tailspin.

Massie, currently the number two school administrator in Baltimore County, was nominated Friday to succeed Montgomery Superintendent Paul L. Vance, whose term ends June 30. She was widely praised over the weekend as a well-qualified and enthusiastic educator who would ably lead Montgomery's school system, with its $1 billion budget, into the next century.

Civic, government and educational leaders anticipated meeting Massie in Rockville this week to learn about her educational vision.

But those meetings were canceled. Instead, Massie came to Montgomery to attend a private, late-night meeting Tuesday with the school board at the home of board President Reginald M. Felton (Northeastern County). During the meeting, Massie discussed the circumstances of her and her husband's two bankruptcy filings -- the most recent one last June -- and attempted to explain why she had not warned school board members before they endorsed her. It was not enough, however, to save her candidacy.

Eight weeks later, the Montgomery County Board of Education selected Jerry Weast.

So when Ms. O'Neill talks about her "experience" during a superintendent search, is she talking about the first, unsucessful, search process? or the second one, hastily embarked upon because of the failure of her first search? Is this the kind of "experience" we need?

Gazette: SAT participation among Mont Co 2010 minority graduates drops

Gazette: Gap persists between whites, minorities on test's benchmark for college readiness
School News | Andrew Ujifusa
...Meanwhile, a significant racial achievement gap exists in meeting the school system's SAT benchmark for college readiness. Only 17.8 percent of blacks and 22.6 percent of Hispanics in the 2010 class achieved a 1650 or higher, indicating they are ready for college with no remedial courses, the school system said. Among Asians, 64.1 percent achieved that score, and 64.7 percent of whites reached it.
The percentages of black and Hispanic students who met the 1650 benchmark were up from 2009 by 2.2 and 3.3 percent, respectively. But the percentage of Hispanics who met that score has declined by 1.8 percent since 2006, and the percentages for blacks in 2006 and 2009 are identical...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Video: Council & Board at Lunch!

The following topics were covered by the Montgomery County Council and the Board of Education at their catered lunch on Tuesday, September 21, 2010. (Please turn up the volume so that you can hear over the shuffling of papers and consumption of food. This video was made by a member of the public attending this meeting. The Council and Board do not record this event and do not produce transcripts of this meeting.)

1. Opening of Schools at minute 1:00
2. Edison High School Plans 7:50
3. Fiscal Plan for County 30:30
4. State Pension Plans
5. Superintendent Search 1:02:06
6. Race to the Top (MCPS giving up $12 million in funding)  1:03:34

Please let the video load. There seems to be a little hesitation in the first few minutes, but then the video plays correctly. 

Montgomery County Council - Board of Education Lunch September 21, 2010 from WSB on Vimeo.

GTA Protests Fast Tracked Pearson Curriculum

            “Curriculum is fundamental to what Montgomery County Public Schools is trying to accomplish.”  Policy IFA B.  It should specify “the Board of Education’s expectations of what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level and course.”  Policy IFA C.2(c).  It should reflect “the needs of learners, and the desires of the community….”  Policy IFA C.2(a).
            Neither parents nor Board members have had sufficient opportunity to consider the Frameworks;  the Pearson arrangement that is framing the Frameworks sets a mid-level Seven Keys trajectory ill-matched to the needs and abilities of gifted and talented students;  and the “integration” of Science and Social Studies into Mathematics and Reading seems to abandon robust, discrete, Science and Social Studies courses in  Elementary School education.

Full statement from the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, Inc.
GTA BOE K5 Curriculum 9.22.10

Voluntary Desegregation Plan: Wheaton/Edison and Watkins Mill

In applying for assistance pursuant to the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, MCPS was required to submit a "Desegregation Plan" as part of the required documentation. This plan could either be one that was being implemented pursuant to a final court order, or a "Voluntary" plan. A Voluntary plan is defined as "a plan to reduce, eliminate, or prevent minority group isolation that is being implemented, or would be implemented if assistance under the MSAP is made available." Required documentation includes a (1) copy of the plan, and (2) a copy of the school board resolution adopting and implementing the plan, or agreeing to adopt and implement the plan upon the award of assistance.
The undated, unsigned "Voluntary Plan" submitted with the application contains the following language:
"On April 22, 2010, the Superintendent informed the Board of Education that the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) was supporting the voluntary plan by applying for a grant to improve programs offered at the Wheaton and Watkins high schools and at the Thomas Edison School of Technology, which shares a campus with Wheaton High School. (...) The detailed rationale that the superintendent's notification contained fulfilled steps in the required procedures that apply to the development and implementation of new magnet programs."

According to today's Gazette, Board of Education President Pat O'Neill stated that Board members were "briefed" on the proposal. When did this "briefing" take place? Or is Pat O'Neill referring to the page-and-a-half memo from Jerry Weast, sent to the BOE and dated April 22, 2010 informing the BOE that MCPS had applied for this grant? Is there some reason why this proposal has not been discussed, pros and cons, at an open meeting of the Board of Education?
The grant application states that "MCPS believes that implementing magnet programs will assist the Wheaton, Watkins Mill, and Thomas Edison high schools in reducing the increasing socio-economic and racial isolation that students in these schools are now experiencing. (Voluntary plan, page 4)" How, exactly does MCPS propose to do so? By creating a program designed to attract higher-income, non-minority students? If so, let's hear the details in public at a full Board of Education meeting.

Montgomery County Council, school board spar over education spending | Washington Examiner

Montgomery County Council, school board spar over education spending | Washington Examiner
Montgomery County school officials, pointing to growing enrollment and a less affluent student body, said Tuesday it will cost even more next year to run one of the nation's largest school systems.

But County Council members, responsible for funding the schools, counter that more money is out of the question -- setting up a potentially volatile clash that could make the recent scrounging for education dollars look easy by comparison, county officials say.

Read more at the Washington Examiner.

What the Broad Prize means to MCPS

You may have heard lots of references to MCPS being a finalist for a "Broad Prize" this year. The MCPS public relations office and MCPS staff will tell you this is a "tremendous honor."   

But what do you know about The Broad Foundation? Are you aware of the agenda? 

Are you aware that there this is a new prize given to a limited list of schools? The winners are unable to win in subsequent years. Will all districts on the list eventually be "winners?"

Here's what a parent in Seattle, Washington has to say about the influence of The Broad Foundation on their school system. This is must see video for parents in Montgomery County:

The Broad Foundation vs Parents and Teachers in Seattle

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Environment to be added to state curriculum for high school

Environment to be added to state curriculum -

The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to make environmental education a part of every student's education, but put off making it a graduation requirement.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which had advocated for making environmental studies a part of the curriculum, had hoped for stronger requirements than what was passed by the board, but the nonprofit advocacy group said the board's action was a "partial victory."

Under the new regulation, high school students will not need to take any additional courses, but environmental education will be added into existing courses, such as biology. Every five years, school districts will have to report to the state on whether they have environmental subject matter in courses that every student must take...

Overcrowded Classes at Blair High School

Silver Chips Online: English department struggles with overcrowding
12th grade Honors English students exceed maximum class capacity

The English department is facing scheduling problems resulting from overcrowding in 12th grade Honors English classes. Administrators believe that the overcrowded classes are a result of three main causes: many seniors dropped their A.P. English Literature class, many moved from on-level to Honors English and a large number of new seniors enrolled this school year. 
Complications began in January and February of the 2009-2010 school year, when the English department decided to have four sections of A.P. Lit to accommodate for the 104 seniors that signed up for the class. Within the first week of school, however, only 79 students were still signed up for the A.P. Lit. Many students submitted a class change request over the summer and at the beginning of the school year, according to English resource teacher Vickie Adamson. "When an entire class of students disappears, it has a domino effect," she said... 
...The Montgomery county capacity for English classes is set at 29 students, but four 12th grade Honors English classes at Blair are overcrowded with 30 or 31 students...
...Blair administration is already planning to minimize problems next year by accepting fewer schedule changes. 

School Overcrowding in the Richard Montgomery Cluster

Rockville Central:  School Overcrowding In The Richard Montgomery Cluster
One point became very clear at the Public Hearing for Rockville’s Municipal Growth Element (MGE) last Monday, all of the schools in the Richard Montgomery Cluster are overcapacity. With the recent court decision for Beall’s Grant II requiring the City to use data beyond MCPS figures to determine if the City’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) is met regarding student overcrowding, many are questioning what will be done. Also this week, the Planning Commission denied the addition of  two portable classrooms at College Gardens also due to the APFO. What is the real situation at these schools and what is Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) doing about it? Is all residential and school development in Rockville stopped?...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Council & Board Off Camera Lunch Tues. Sept 21st

On Tuesday, September 21, 2010 the Montgomery County Board of Education will be meeting off camera with the Montgomery County Council. There will not be a video record or transcript made of this meeting.
The agenda for this lunch meeting is unknown as neither body has disclosed what will be discussed. The Board of Education doesn't even disclose that they will be attending the lunch meeting on their calendar. The only hint of the meeting is on the County Council's Agenda

The meeting is at noon on Tuesday on the 5th floor of the Montgomery County Council office building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. 

If lunch is catered, as it has been in the past, it is unclear who is paying. Is this a taxpayer funded joint lunch? No one has ever disclosed who pays for the spread at these events. 

Stop by and see what the two elected bodies chat about over sandwiches and sodas! 

See past video of County Council - Board of Education lunches: 

Double Checking a "Fact Check" from MCPS

I know this is getting hard to follow, but stick with me for a moment.

On September 8th, 2010, the MCPS Public Information Office issued a press release and fact check that stated; it "is neither valid nor fair to compare MCPS” to other Maryland counties.

Coming from the office of the official spokesperson of MCPS one might get the impression this is the official position of the school system. Policy, so to speak.

However, it does not pass without notice that just 8 days later, on September 16, 2010, in its report; “Update on Prekindergarten Special Education”, the conclusion of this 14 page analysis (at page 7) uses rankings of Maryland counties, stating MCPS; “ranking 18th out of 24 jurisdictions statewide.”

Apparently it was okay to talk about how MCPS ranks in relation to the rest of the state prior to September 8, 2010, and it was okay to use rankings again as of September 16. It just was not okay when such comparisons did not serve the immediate purposes and convenience of the MCPS Public Information Office.

Let's also recall that the MCPS “Fact Check” was to correct a typo which drove a calculation error from which the Parents Coalition improperly posted that MCPS ranked 13th in Maryland in Graduation rate. The correct ranking was 11th, and the Parents Coalition promptly issued a correction.

Eleventh of 24 Maryland Counties in something as important as the Graduation rate. Not very good in the opinions of many. Next, let's roll back the clock to the press release from MCPS on June 9, 2010 which stated; “MCPS is Number One in High School Graduation Rate." Number one Nationally. Grossly misleading headline as that was really just #1 among the 50 largest school districts in the country and the data was over two years old when published.

From a more constructive perspective I find this cherry picking of data revealing and if properly used could open a new line of discussion that could really benefit children. If #1 among large districts nationally is only good enough to be middle of the pack (11th) in Maryland, then perhaps we should re-evaluate the sizes to which we allow our Maryland school districts to become?

Bob Astrove

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Constitution Day

Well, I could not let this weekend pass without noting that this past Friday, September 17th, was Constitution Day.  And here is what our own Maryland Constitution has to say about public education in the free state:


SECTION 1. The General Assembly, at its First Session after the adoption of this Constitution, shall by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.

National Financial Capability Challenge

National Financial Capability Challenge
In the many years I have been active in the education community in this county, there have been numerous discussions at all levels of parent advocacy for a class or program on financial literacy for our children. With our latest bust in the nation’s boom-and-bust economy these discussions have increased among the parent community.

Now the Department of the Treasury has teamed up once again with the Department of Education to offer the ‘National Financial Capability Challenge.’ This is a FREE program for our children.

Please encourage your child's teachers to get involved in this program for the economic health of our nation and our children.  Homeschoolers, take note!

Here is the information from the Department of the Treasury, below


The National Financial Capability Challenge is an awards program designed to increase the financial knowledge and capability of high school aged youth across the United States so they can take control over their financial futures. It challenges high school teachers and other educators to teach the basics of personal finance to their students, and rewards students, educators, schools, and states for their participation and their success. Educators and top-scoring students will receive award certificates, and schools and states with the highest participation rates will earn special distinction.


The recent economic crisis and the increasing complexity of our financial system make it clear that strengthening the financial knowledge and skills of our young people is critical to their future success and to the future financial stability of our country. To better navigate their financial futures and be prepared to make smart choices, students need to learn more about earning and spending, saving and investing, using credit wisely, avoiding fraud, paying for college, and more.


All high school teachers and other educators working with U.S. high-school aged students (ages 13-19) are encouraged to register for the Challenge, download the Educator Toolkit, prepare their students, and administer the online exam. Educators who have been teaching students about personal finance for years as well as those who never have before are urged to join this national initiative.


This is a free program.

Registration: Educators are encouraged to go to to sign up.

Educator Toolkit: Educators will have access to a free Educator Toolkit that includes ready-to-use lesson plans (in PDF format) that cover all the core concepts students need to learn to take the Challenge. Educators are encouraged to use whichever modules they like, use other existing resources, or create their own innovative approaches to teaching these concepts in an effort to help students increase their financial capability.

Best Practices: Throughout the Challenge period and beyond, we encourage educators to share ideas and suggestions about effective ways that they have found to help increase their students' financial capability.

Challenge Exam: The Challenge online exam, which is designed to illustrate the relevance of financial topics to students, as well as to assess their learning, will be offered from March 7 - April 8, 2011. It took the average student less than 30 minutes to complete. Over 76,000 students participated in the spring of 2010.

Awards Program: The top two scorers at each school, plus all students scoring in the top 20%, will receive National Financial Capability Challenge Award Certificates. All participating educators will receive an official certificate, and educators from schools and states with the highest proportion of participating students will be recognized as well.

E-Learning is Big Business

This week's Washington Business Journal has an article on the business end of 'E-Learning.'  Journal reporter Bill Flook writes of a "...heightened interest from venture capitalists (VC) in companies that develop educational software..." and, "As big, for-profit companies capture some of the billions of dollars that the nation spends each year on education, venture capitalists are showing a bigger appetite for e-learning deals."

According to Tony Florence, a partner at NEA, one of the biggest VC companies on the planet, "It's an area where things are really accelerating..." and, says Roger Novak, a general partner at Novak Biddle Venture Partners in Bethesda, "I think what you see there is continuing instability, or chaos, surrounding the whole education area...Anytime you have that, I think there is an opportunity to make money."

Here are a few of the for-profit E-learning companies in our area: Blackboard, Inc. (DC); K-12, Inc. (Herndon); Strayer University (Arlington); Intelliworks, Inc. (Bethesda); ePals (Herndon); Latimer Education, Inc. (DC); Regent Education, Inc. (Frederick); and Moodlerooms, Inc. (Baltimore).

No wonder MCPS is takin' it private!  Taxpayers, we are all VCs now!

Police Announce New Program to Liaison with High Schools

Department of Police Media Services Division:

Montgomery County Police Begin SRO Program for 2010-2011 School Year

Beginning with this new school year, Montgomery County Police are initiating a program utilizing nine “School Resource Officers” to serve as liaisons with high schools in their police districts. School Resource Officers (SROs) reflects the name that is more commonly used nationwide for officers who regularly work with schools.

In this new program, SROs are expected to handle the following responsibilities:

• Assist school staff members to enhance safety within their assigned schools and serve as liaisons between the department and the school staff for police-related concerns and incidents.
• Respond to incidents occurring in and around their assigned schools during their shift hours.
• Set up regular meetings with parents, teachers, principals, other school administrators, and students to discuss issues of concern within the school.
• Act as a resource for and assist with emergency preparedness, as well as safety awareness education geared to high school students.
• Serve as a point of contact to deliver police department programs on such topics as conflict resolution and mediation, drug and alcohol awareness, violence prevention, gang awareness, and crime prevention.
• Assist with traffic safety and enforcement activities in and around their assigned school areas.
School Resource Officers will work out of their district stations. The nine officers are being assigned as follows:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

MACLEANS.CA: Third World America (Weast selling curriculum)

...Meanwhile, Montgomery County’s school system, banking on its reputation for high standards and test scores, took the unusual step of selling its curriculum to a private textbook publisher, Pearson, for US$2.3 million and royalties of up to three per cent on sales. As part of the deal, county classrooms can be used as “showrooms”—which critics said effectively turns students and teachers into salesmen for a corporation. But the superintendent, Jerry Weast, told the Washington Post, “I tend to look at this from the perspective that we are broke.”
These cuts in infrastructure and education are more than just a temporary belt-tightening in response to a recession. They threaten long-term damage to American’s economic foundation—a foundation that has long been eroding... 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Watkins Mill HS: Supporting Letters from the Community

See previous posts on MCPS Grant Application for Montgomery County High Tech High School:Part I, Part II and Part III and Letters from Community

Adventure Theatre, Producing Artistic Director (April 19, 2010):
(...) "Students who enroll in the new Watkins Mill International Baccalaureate magnet program, whether they choose the Diploma or Career-related Certificate route, will receive a well-rounded, art and design centered education that is global in perspective. Graduates of the new magnet school will develop 21st century aptitudes such as problem solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, and media and technology literacy, that will enable them to succeed in any future endeavors they choose, and be active, compassionate, and lifelong learners." (...)

Chair, Department of Art, Montgomery College-Rockville Campus (undated):
(...) "Students who enroll in the new Watkins Mill International Baccalaureate magnet program, whether they choose the Diploma or Career-related Certificate route, will receive a well-rounded art and design centered education that is global in perspective. Graduates of the new magnet school will develop 21st century aptitudes such as problem solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, and media and technology literacy that will enable them to succeed in any future endeavors they choose, and be active, compassionate, and lifelong learners." (...)

Director of Marketing & Program Services, Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County (April 29, 2010):
(...) "Students who enroll in the new Watkins Mill International Baccalaureate magnet program, whether they choose the Diploma or Career-related Certificate route, will receive a well-rounded, art and design centered education that is global in perspective. Graduates of the new magnet school will develop 21st century aptitudes such as problem solving and critical thinking skills, creativity, and media and technology literacy, that will enable them to succeed in any future endeavors they choose, and be active, compassionate, and lifelong learners." (...)

Supporting Letters from the Community for MCPS Grant Application

See previous posts on MCPS Grant Application for Montgomery County High Tech High School: Part I, Part II and Part III.

SIEMENS (April 16, 2010): (...) "Currently, the Washington, D.C. area has only two magnet science and technology public high schools that can serve only a fraction of the hundreds of students who apply to them each year. The creation of a high tech high school at Wheaton will, in effect, open more than 1,200 additional "seats" in state-of-the-art classrooms offering programs in advanced technology, biosciences, engineering, and business. Students will attend the school by choice, and innovative instructional practices, small class sizes, and use of hands-on methods of instruction will assure that the school's graduates have the best possible preparation for higher education and exciting, high-demand careers." (...)

GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER (27 April 2010): (...) "Currently, the Washington, D.C. area has only two magnet science and technology public high schools that can serve only a fraction of the hundreds of students who apply to them each year. The creation of a high tech high school at Wheaton will, in effect, open more than 1,200 additional "seats" in state-of-the-art classrooms offering programs in advanced technology, biosciences, engineering, and business. Students will attend the school by choice, and innovative instructional practices, small class sizes, and use of hands-on methods of instruction will assure that the school's graduates have the best possible preparation for higher education and exciting, high-demand careers." (...)

HOWARD UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF MEDICINE (April 22, 2010): (...) "Currently, the Washington, D.C. area has only two magnet science and technology public high schools that can serve only a fraction of the hundreds of students who apply to them each year. The creation of a high tech high school at Wheaton will, in effect, open more than 1,200 additional "seats" in state-of-the-art classrooms offering programs in advanced technology, biosciences, engineering, and business. Students will attend the school by choice, and innovative instructional practices, small class sizes, and use of hands-on methods of instruction will assure that the school's graduates have the best possible preparation for higher education and exciting, high-demand careers." (...)

III. Highlights from the Grant Application, continued

Page 3:
"The full cost of implementing this project will be $3.3 million, excluding the capital investments that will be made to renovate and re-equip Wheaton High School in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. MCPS will need approximately $3.3 million over the next 36 months to cover the costs of necessary equipment and materials, professional development, and supplies."

page 10-11:
"The decrease in overall enrollment and the increase in special education students with severe disabilities, ESOL students, and students performing at the basic level have required the schools to: offer more academic supports and changes to the academic schedule; reduce the number of sections of each course offered; and change the ways in which classroom spaces are used. To repurpose classroom space from high-end classes to support remedial classes, for example, a networking computer classroom had to be converted into an ESOL classroom. Classes formerly used for AP classes had to be turned into Special Education Life Skills classrooms and READ 180 classrooms."

As a special education advocate, I deeply resent the justification for the grant that MCPS is offering here: that students with disabilities who need the Fundamental Life Skills curriculum are somehow at fault for "taking up space" that would be otherwise used by AP students.

II. Breaking News Continued: Highlights from the Grant Application

page 46:
"Using MSAP funds, as well as the combined faculty and assets of Wheaton High School and the half-day Edison career and technology education program, MCPS will open the Montgomery County High Tech High School (MCHTHS), a magnet high school. The goal of MCHTHS will be to prepare all students for a rigorous college experience as well as the demands of the modern science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. (...)
"Currently, the comprehensive Wheaton High School and the systemwide half-day career and technology education program at Edison occupy the future site of MCHTHS. Using MSAP funds and scheduled full reconstruction of the building included in the MCPS Capital Improvements Program, MCPS will combine these programs into the comprehensive nontraditional Montgomery County High Tech High School."

Another question:
1. When did the Board of Education, when voting on the capital plan, vote to combine Edison and Wheaton HS into the MCHTHS?

I. Breaking News: Changes to Wheaton HS, Edison HS & Watkins Mill HS

The Parents' Coalition has obtained a copy of a federal grant application submitted by MCPS to transform three local schools: Watkins Mill HS, Edison HS of Technology, and Wheaton HS. According to the grant abstract:
"Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Maryland is requesting federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) funds to transform two of its lowest performing, highest poverty high schools-Wheaton and Watkins Mill-into whole school magnets. Wheaton High School and the collocated half-day Thomas Edison High School of Technology career and technology education program will be transformed into the comprehensive Montgomery County High Tech High School (MCHTHS). Watkins Mill High School will become the International Baccalaureate School of Engineering, Digital Design, and Performing Arts (IBEDPA) at Watkins Mill."
"The proposed program of study at each school have a proven ability to attract a diverse population of students. The high tech high school to be established at Wheaton High School will be based on the nationally known model from San Diego that features hands-on, inquiry- and project-based instruction that meets the needs of students with a variety of learning styles. (....)"
"Student will be admitted to both schools by a race-neutral lottery system."

The complete grant application is several hundred pages, and includes letters of business community support by Lockheed Martin and Siemens, and signatures of some of the faculty and teaching staff of both Watkins Mill HS and Wheaton HS.

Just a couple questions. Perhaps they could be answered by the Board of Education, instead of by the MCPS Public Relations office:

1. When did the Board of Education direct the superintendent to apply for this grant?
2. When did the Board of Education vote to transform Wheaton High School and Watkins Mill HS?
3. When did MCPS propose telling the parent community about the proposed changes?
4. What's going to happen to the cosmetology, plumbing, and masonry programs at Edison?
5. Why is admission to the programs going to be based on a lottery system?
6. What is the plan for ensuring that students with disabilities have access to both programs?
7. Do all the organizations that sent letters of support know that the parent community has not been informed of the proposed changes?
8. Is this a "fait accompli" and will the Board of Education rubber stamp the proposal if the grant is awarded?
9. Does the grant money have to be appropriated by the County Council before it is spent? Has the Education Committee been informed about these fundamental program changes?
10. Will a community event be scheduled to discuss these proposed fundamental program alterations?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Superintendent Search Process Starts Thursday!

Board members Christopher Barclay, Phil Kauffman and Patricia O'Neill have formed a committee to set up the Superintendent search process.

KPCC: ACLU lawsuit: Public school fees are unconstitutional

KPCC: Southern California Public Radio report. Listen to audio at this link: ACLU lawsuit: Public school fees are unconstitutional

The California constitution guarantees that public schools will provide a free education to students. The American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a lawsuit filed today that dozens of school districts violate this promise by creating a system of “Pay to Learn” schools.
A high school student and his mother told the ACLU in a videotaped interview about how his teacher belittled him when he purchased cheaper school supplies than those she’d assigned.
Mother: She didn’t like it because it wasn’t exactly the same even though he had all the dividers and such. I forgot about that, that she actually docked your grade. And then he had a few assignments he missed when he couldn’t purchase a compass last year.
The ACLU says the student - who attends a school in an affluent Orange County neighborhood - was afraid to give his name because he feared school employees would retaliate against him....
...The ACLU responds that budget cuts are no excuse for these fees. It has sued the State of California and the governor, lawyers say, to compel lawmakers to make sure the economy doesn’t make public education more unequal than it already is.