Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Report: Montgomery Co. efforts to close student achievement gaps ineffective

While more than half of Montgomery County, Maryland, students are black and Latino, many attend schools that lack in resources, according to a report released in December by the Office of Legislative Oversight.
The report also shows that many of those schools have a high percentage of students from impoverished families. The report states that the consensus among researchers is that higher-poverty schools tend to yield lower-levels of academic performance, especially among students of color and low-income students.
The findings highlight ineffective efforts to close achievement gaps since the last report was released in 2015...

Report: Montgomery County’s attempt to narrow student performance gap is ‘largely ineffective’

Despite attempts by Maryland’s largest school system to close achievement gaps between black and Latino children and their white and Asian peers, those differences have barely budged in recent years, a new report finds.
Montgomery County is one of the state’s most diverse districts, with more than half of its students identifying as black or Latino and nearly 30,000 children who are learning English. But those same students are concentrated in schools with large populations of children from impoverished families, according to the report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, which monitors local government-funded activities.

The school district has made scant progress since 2015 — the last time the oversight office published a study on achievement gaps — in ensuring equitable access to resources, officials say...
...However, the oversight office’s report called the county’s efforts “largely ineffective.” On several measures of academic performance, disparities between white and Asian students and black and Latino children remain unchanged. In several cases — particularly regarding SAT scores, English language arts and graduation rates — the performance gaps between Latinos and their white and Asian peers grew wider.
“These findings echo findings from prior [Office of Legislative Oversight] reports documenting persistent performance gaps by race and ethnicity in 2007, 2008, 2013 and 2014,” the report reads...


Monday, December 30, 2019

Pay would more than double for Montgomery County, Md., school board members under proposal

A commission formed to explore a pay increase for school board members in Montgomery County — Maryland's largest school system — is recommending their pay more than double.
The Board of Education Compensation Commission urged this month that the pay for elected school board members be raised to $60,000 annually and that the president of the board get a boost to $70,000.

Currently, board members receive $25,000, and the president earns $29,000.
The commission also recommended that the board’s student representative receive a scholarship that is either 80 percent of the board members’ salary or a $40,000 scholarship, whichever is greater. The student would also receive a 20 percent stipend. Currently, the student representative receives a $5,000 scholarship.
“The commission believes that the current salary level is not reflective of the time and effort needed for a board member to fulfill their duties and responsibilities, nor of the type of work that the board is called on to perform,” Jaye Espy, chairwoman of the commission, said in testimony Dec. 9 before the Montgomery County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The pay increase requires the General Assembly’s approval...
...“We have not supported increasing the stipend because we don’t see the effort on their part to participate in the administration of the school system,” said Janis Sartucci of the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, an advocacy organization focused on transparency and performance of Montgomery County’s public schools. “The board members do not do the hard work of running the school system. They are more figureheads.”
Sartucci said board members are not involved in writing the nuts and bolts of the operating budget or the capital budget and said her group is opposed to money being diverted from schools.
“Until our classrooms are getting all the education dollars they need, we do not see the urgency to increase the board member stipend,” she said...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Superintendent in Maryland school system seeks contract renewal

The superintendent of Maryland’s largest school system said Friday he would be seeking another four-year contract, a move that appears to all but assure his continued leadership in suburban Montgomery County.
Jack R. Smith, 62, in his fourth year as schools chief in the fast-growing system of more than 165,000 students, said in a letter to employees on the eve of their holiday break that he would request another contract from the Montgomery County Board of Education.
“We have made significant progress on behalf of students, but there is still more work to be done,” Smith wrote. “I am deeply committed to continuing this progress toward our shared vision for equity and student achievement.”
Six of the board’s eight members contacted Friday and Saturday by The Washington Post indicated they favored another term for Smith. Two members could not immediately be reached for comment...

Montgomery County Public Schools Boundary Analysis project scope revisions as of December 19, 2019

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Howard County special education teachers warn they and the system are reaching a breaking point

Howard County special education teachers warn they and the system are reaching a breaking point

At a Howard County Board of Education meeting Nov. 7, four special education staff members sounded an alarm, warning that special educators in public schools are reaching a breaking point because of understaffing and underfunding by the county.
At times with tears in their eyes, the special education staff members gave accounts of what they face each day, saying they spend most of their time running from one student crisis to the next.
“I’m a crisis interventionist all day; that’s really all I do. The days I actually just teach are far and in between,” said Lauren Williams, a fourth-year special education teacher at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, in a December interview.
“I started tracking the amount of [special education] service hours missed when a crisis happens and just today I counted 163 minutes missed.”..

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Andrea Chamblee: Zirkin’s conduct on gun bill showed he wasn’t a good legislator

I’m ashamed that my high school in Howard County, Glenelg High, was the place where Grace McComas was bullied until she saw no other way out than suicide. The law in her name, Grace’s law, was an important accomplishment, even it was too late for Grace.
State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Montgomery County, splashed that accomplishment all over a Facebook page that he would later claim was not related to his public position as a state senator when he started deleting polite requests from constituents for him to explain his position on another life-saving bill that he “slow-walked” through the Senate until the clock ran out last year: the bill that would make it illegal for already disqualified people to obtain rifles and shotguns at gun shows and other transfers.

Although Gov. Larry Hogan was publicly shamed and paid a fine for the same kind of deletions just before this, the constituents who were deleted had no such option. This is because Zirkin is so petty and vengeful that we knew other important bills would be slow-walked by him again...


Zirkin has a history of deletions:  

Monday, December 23, 2019

Who’s on top? Who’s at the bottom? Who cares. Give everybody a shot in the classroom.

...Consider achievement gaps. Education researchers spend much time examining them. Big gaps between rich children and poor ones are considered bad, and small gaps are good. But there are instances when shrinking achievement gaps can be deceiving: It could mean children who were doing well have stopped doing so well.

Low-income students’ scores can drop, while high-income students’ scores drop even more. Low-income scores can remain steady, while high-income scores drop. The gap is narrowed in those cases, but to what end? The difference gets smaller, but somebody is still losing ground.

Ex-Bethesda lacrosse coach arrested in bizarre murder, kidnapping plot

A former Bethesda, Maryland, high school lacrosse coach is under arrest in connection with an attempted murder and kidnapping case so bizarre that even federal prosecutors say it reads “like the script of a bad horror movie.”..

...According to the documents, Hayes convinced a Florida couple, Frank and Jennifer Amnott, to help her and Reburn kidnap five children from two Mennonite families living in rural Dayton, Virginia. Hayes had told the couple that three of the children were actually hers and had been stolen from her, prosecutors said...




Friday, December 20, 2019

'Running out of room': How old turf fields raise potential environmental, health concerns

As fields are replaced, billions of pounds of rubber and synthetic fiber are piling up because the U.S. has no plan for disposing of this product.

Candy Woodall, York Daily Record
Updated 9:13 a.m. EST Nov. 18, 2019

The hulking wall of rubber was first discovered by a borough maintenance crew.

About 6,000 rolled pieces were neatly stacked about 10 feet high, covering more than an acre of private land, according to the mayor of Cleona, Pennsylvania.

The green blades of artificial grass peeking through the coiled logs offered the first clue.

“This is what it looks like when someone gets rid of a dozen turf fields and there’s nowhere to send them,” said Mayor Larry Minnich.

A York Daily Record/York Sunday News investigation has found an unregulated industry that is growing exponentially and dumping several hundred old athletic fields across the U.S. every year.

Artificial turf and the projected mountains of waste...


What Changes at YouTube Mean For Kids, Creators, and the Rest of Us

The biggest lesson of this settlement and its aftermath? The way we make and think about media for children needs to change.

In 2018, CCFC, the Center for Digital Democracy and a coalition of 23 advocacy groups filed a complaint urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate YouTube and Google for massive, ongoing violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. We weren’t trying to catch anyone on a technicality – we were blowing the whistle on one of the most powerful companies in the world for knowingly and illegally profiting off of kids’ personal data.
Our complaint detailed how Google was, for years, intentionally violating COPPA by pretending obviously kid-directed channels like Little Baby Bum, ChuChuTV Nursery Rhymes, and Ryan Toys Review weren’t actually for kids. This was a huge money-maker for YouTube: at the same time Google falsely said in its TOS and to the FTC that YouTube wasn’t for kids, the company was charging premium prices for ads on child-directed content and bragging to advertisers that YouTube was the new Saturday morning cartoons. We asked the FTC to investigate YouTube and Google, not the channels of individual creators, because we believe that YouTube as a platform is ultimately responsible for making sure its data and ad policies follow the law. (And even when rumors of this settlement were first swirling, we urged the FTC not to shift the burden of compliance to creators.) We also focused only on channels that were obviously child-directed, because those are the channels where the audience is overwhelmingly the kids that COPPA was intended to protect.
Now that the FTC has investigated and found that Google and YouTube were violating the law, there are big changes underway on YouTube, including restrictions on data collection and advertising on child-directed content. Advocates, lawmakers, and child development experts recognize that this is a long overdue step to enforce COPPA — which has been the law for years — and end the insidious practice of collecting personal data from kids in order to target them with manipulative behavioral ads...

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Wootton High School: 380 ADA compliance violations present within building, grounds

...ADA evaluation
The county conducted ADA evaluations for 198 schools in 2017-2018 through a private firm. In February, retired teacher Randy Alton asked for the reports to be released and after a series of filings under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) procedures and several meetings, the reports were released for all the schools on Oct. 25 on the MCPS website.
This evaluation revealed Wootton’s 380 violations of the ADA. The athletic fields, stadium, school driveway, auditorium, and other major infrastructure compliance concerns did not meet the 1992 ADA provisions when major construction occurred for the Wootton expansion. “How do we go forward as a county, as a school system, as a government with all these ADA barriers?” Alton said.
Speech to Board of Education
On Nov. 7, junior Catherine Contreras spoke on behalf of the school’s special education program to the Board of Education about the need for renovations due to Wootton’s lack of ADA compliance. Contreras highlighted the ways the infrastructure causes the students in the special education program to be excluded from the student body and put in harm’s way.
For a fire drill their route consists of, instead of immediately getting a safe distance from the building, walking alongside the building and through the parking lot to the stadium, as this is the only wheelchair accessible route.
This lone wheelchair accessible exit empties out onto a relatively narrow strip of sidewalk above a steep hill of grass. Because of the lack of renovations at Wootton and a closer wheelchair accessible exit, the special education students would be forced to walk along a burning building in the case of a real fire emergency...

...The Montgomery County Government signed the settlement (mentioned earlier), but MCPS did not. It appears as though the county government is supposed to handle ADA compliance, but the ADA Compliance Team said it was the responsibility of the Board of Education. There is no one enforcing the ADA...

Roanoke County school board terminates cell tower agreement

The Roanoke County School Board voted Thursday to terminate an agreement with a company that planned to build cell towers at two county schools.
Milestone Communications entered into an agreement with the school board in February 2016, but just this year started on the planning phases of the projects. The company needed the school board’s initial blessing before meeting with Roanoke County planning and zoning staff to apply for a conditional use permit. The school board unanimously voted to allow Milestone to proceed with the project in October...

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

‘This case is shocking’: Fairfax Co. principal failed to report abuse of nonverbal special-needs children, police say

A Fairfax County Public Schools principal and two former employees have been charged after police said the two staff members assaulted several nonverbal children with special needs and the principal failed to report the abuse.
Cylmeera Gastav, 48, of Herndon, and Cecilia Maria Benavides, 59, of Alexandria, have both been indicted on felony child abuse charges as well as misdemeanor assault and battery charges stemming from the abuse of six children with intellectual disabilities at Freedom Hill Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia.
The two women, who have both left the school system, worked as instructional support staff in the school...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Is there an Off-Site Board of Education Retreat Today?

On the Board of Education's Dates to Remember list on the MCPS website is a RETREAT for today. The retreat is not shown on the Board's calendar, there is no agenda, and there is no location. Is there an off-site Board retreat today? [A Board retreat is typically an off-site meeting of the Board. The hope is no one from the public or press will show up. However, if someone does go they can record the meeting and provide valuable information on the plans of the Board.]

Monday, December 16, 2019

@mocoboe special education legal fees increasing. Why, @MCPS ?

Baltimore County Public Schools whistleblower has message for employees, asks others to speak out

A whistleblower, who recently blew the top off a concealed second-known shredding of financial documents at Baltimore County Public Schools last year, has a message for other employees of the school system: “Think about how much you have seen, and what you know.  Has your silence made any of it better?”
The source, who recently came forward to two media outlets under the condition of preserved anonymity, says others should also find a way to speak out. “The only thing silence buys is more corruption. The truth will set you free… tell someone; a reporter or [WBFF-TV] Project Baltimore…”
“I’ve seen taxpayer money wasted in the millions. I’ve watched as our peers are mistreated, wronged, even fired for defending themselves or asking a simple question. If you question them, the regime will make an example of you.  They think they are above the law. It’s a culture of fear and the closer you get to retirement, the more silent you become…”
After a school board directive prohibited certain employees from destroying documents last year, two high-level executive directors suddenly disassembled a file room containing financial documents during the first phase of an active procurement audit – a room which held years’ worth of records not previously disturbed, according to the whistleblower...

Friday, December 13, 2019

NY Department of Education has hired the firm WXY to direct the planning process. Queens Pols Rip City's Handling Of School Integration Process

Queens Pols Rip City's Handling Of School Integration Process

Elected officials in Queens are criticizing the city's handling of a plan to improve racial diversity in District 28 schools.

By Maya Kaufman, Patch Staff
..."For the record, none of the signatories of this letter are opposed to diversity and equity in our schools," the officials wrote. "However, it is our responsibility to report to you that the way this process has been introduced to our respective communities has been opaque, confusing, and inconsistent."..

..."It would be inappropriate for any of us to support a diversity plan created without meaningful conversation and engagement of our constituents," the officials wrote...

NY Former College Athletic Director: Artificial Turf is Not Best Option

I am Warwick resident and a former college level athletic director with training and experience in designing, and managing the construction of, athletic facilities. The proposed school budget includes over a million dollars for the replacement of the high school’s athletic field’s natural grass with artificial turf (plastic). This is a huge mistake for the following reasons:
     Artificial surfaces do not biodegrade the animal droppings that inevitably get deposited on the athletic fields, or the body fluids that result from field injuries. As a result the fields must be chemically sanitized on a regular if not daily basis.
     Artificial turf results in a higher rate of head and joint injuries due to less shock absorbency and increased likelihood of skin abrasions. A potential liability.
     Surface temperature of artificial turf is similar to asphalt pavement, about 20 to 50 degrees higher than natural turf. Another potential liability.
     Runoff from an artificial turf fields contain sloughed off plastic molecules that will enter the local streams and water table. Also, installing this type of unsustainable material gives the students the wrong message...

Thursday, December 12, 2019

9-Year-Old Girl Fatally Struck by School Bus in Maryland @mcps @mocoboe

Montgomery County Public Schools bus hits, critically injures young child in Bethesda


Don’t alienate students: keep SMOB nonpartisan

Montgomery County is considered one of the most liberal areas of the country. In the 2016 Presidential Election, Democrat Hilary Clinton received 74.7% of the vote in the County while Republican Donald Trump only received 19.1%. Democrats clearly outnumber Republicans in Montgomery County, but that doesn’t mean we should isolate Republicans in all facets of government. 
The 2019–2020 Student Member of the Board, Nate Tinbite, has done this. 
Tinbite is one of just a handful of SMOBs to publicly declare his political party: he’s a Democrat, and he vocally expresses his liberal views on social media. On Oct. 19, he posted on his Instagram that he intended to vote for a Democrat, either Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, in the 2020 Election. More recently, on Nov. 15, Tinbite posted an image of himself with Education Secretary Betsy Devos on his Twitter, captioning it, “only one of us supports public education.” Tinbite later tweeted that, “this tweet is an opinion of my own, not representative of my system or others.”
But Tinbite should follow past SMOBs and remain apolitical in order to create a more inclusive, non-partisan environment across MCPS. As a result of his partisan vocality, he’s isolated students who lean further right on the political spectrum, and he’s created unnecessary distractions from his goals for the school system...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Guest Post: OPEN MESSAGE TO WXY ARCHITECTURE + URBAN DESIGN "We are a smart county, we can handle the truth."

From FACEBOOK:  BY  Dave Moorhead 
Posted with permission
WXY Architecture + Urban Design: In the interest of trust and transparency it is imperative that you are forthcoming in your upcoming community engagement meetings about what you are specifically working on and what you are specifically delivering to MCPS for the Boundary Analysis project.

We don't care what you are "recommending" or "not recommending", what are you PRODUCING?

The MCPS Boundary Analysis RFP called for the winning consultant to "explore potential modifications to current school boundaries that comport to the four factors in Policy FAA, Educational Facilities Planning: student demographics, geography, stability of assignments over time, and facility utilization" (link is below).
You won the MCPS Boundary Analysis contract based on your very detailed and comprehensive Proposal and Work Plan that does exactly that (link is below).
Your Proposal explicitly states that you will deliver to MCPS three new Cluster Boundary options based on weighted Key Performance Indicator criteria that align to MCPS Policy FAA (with predominant weighting given to demographics), utilizing your "School Rezoning Model" and your "Algorithmic School Rezoning Tool". (WXY Proposal – Section 3.3, page 28 - TASK 3.3 CLUSTER SCENARIO ALTERNATIVES.)
Your Proposal Work Plan has you working on that task as we speak. (WXY Proposal – Section 3.3, Page 37 - 3.2 SCHEDULE OF SERVICES - "Cluster Alternatives" milestone.)
There is nothing about the Boundary Analysis RFP or your corresponding Proposal Work Plan that is just a "study" or is just "data gathering". The WXY Proposal Work Plan specifically produces three modified Cluster Boundaries, and delivers them to MCPS in the spring of 2020.
Now you are claiming in your community engagement meetings that you are only doing a "study" and just "data gathering". You state that you are not "recommending" any boundary options, trying to give the impression that you are not PRODUCING any boundary options.
This strains credibility.
If you are indeed not producing the Cluster Boundary options stated in the Boundary Analysis RFP and in your corresponding Proposal that won you the contract, then you are de-scoping a third of the Boundary Analysis project. You are removing a key deliverable that is your calling card, and that led to you winning this contract.
If the Boundary Analysis is now just a de-scoped "study" that is just "data gathering", then no responsible Contract Officer would allow you to collect your full $473,800 fee.
If the Boundary Analysis is now just a de-scoped "study" that is just "data gathering", then your level of staffing would need to be immediately reduced accordingly.
But of course, the more likely scenario is that you are indeed doing what the Boundary Analysis RFP and your Proposal Work Plan explicitly says you will do, but you are obfuscating that with evasive wording to make it look otherwise.
You are claiming that the Boundary analysis is just a "study" that is just "data gathering", and that you are not "recommending" boundary modifications . . . but you never actually say that the Boundary Analysis RFP and WXY Proposal Work Plan were officially de-scoped, to not produce and deliver the modified Cluster Boundary options they explicitly state are being done.
But why should anybody have to guess?
We are happy to be proven wrong. You can clear up any "misinformation" by immediately disclosing your current detailed contract Statement of Work, Project Plan, Milestones, Deliverables already submitted to MCPS, and Deliverables to be submitted to MCPS through the end of 2020.
We will certainly MPIA [Maryland Public Information Act] this information. The specifics will come out. There is no productive gain for anybody in obfuscating this information.
If it is revealed that the entire time you were parading around the county saying the Boundary Analysis was "just a study", you were also producing modified Cluster Boundary options and delivering them to MCPS . . . any level of trust left in you and MCPS will be completely burned to the ground.
The time for obfuscation and spin is over. The time to be transparent and forthcoming is now - starting at the upcoming December 11th Julius West MS community engagement meeting.
There is no point anymore in any kind of a smokescreen. We are a smart county, we can handle the truth.
MCPS Boundary Anaysis RFP Link:
WXY Boundary Anaysis Proposal and Work Plan:

Audit blasts Maryland 529 plans’ handling of documents, uncashed checks

The Maryland agency charged with overseeing the state’s college savings plans left hundreds of documents and millions of dollars unaccounted for and failed to properly document steps it took to investigate those problems, a critical legislative audit released Monday said.
The audit also called for a forensic investigation of Maryland 529’s handling of the Maryland Senator Edward J. Kasemeyer College Prepaid Trust, a plan that offers tuition contracts requiring scheduled payments for the future cost of tuition at universities. The trust has 32,900 tuition contracts for $1.2 billion, as of June 30, 2018.
Despite the problems found, the audit also noted that the prepaid trust is in a strong financial position, with a $432.5 million surplus as of June 30, 2018. The audit, conducted by the Office of Legislative Audits,  took place between November 2014 and June 2018...

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Over 4,700 Citizens Have Joined a Facebook Group to Respond to the Board of Education's Boundary Analysis

Today that group released a response to the Board of Education's boundary analysis and proposal process.


1994: SLIPPING TOWARDS SEGREGATION Local Control and Eroding Desegregation in Montgomery County, Maryland from Harvard Project on School Desegregation

Segregation in Montgomery County Public Schools was discussed in a Harvard University 1994 Report of a study of how MCPS was dealing with problems of separate and unequal education for minority students.  

Susan Eaton and Elizabeth Crutcher, Harvard University

Slipping Towards Segregation: Local Control and Eroding Desegregation in Montgomery County, Maryland

...“Segregation is a serious education issue. And the rapid growth of segregation for Latinos and African Americans In Montgomery County occurs both by race and poverty. This report shows that the share of African and American and Latino children in schools with relatively high levels of poverty was many times that of Whites and rapidly increasing in recent years as White exposure to proverty remained at relatively low levels. Since concentrated poverty is very strongly related to unequal achievement at the school level, this rapid growth of concentrated poverty conditions for minority students suggests growing inqeuality in educational experiences and the development of more schools suffering from the dual problems of racial and economic isolation. The county’s educational leaders are well aware of the link between concertrated poverty and education inequality but chose to attack it primarily through relatively small added resources for some the high poverty school rather than a plan to prevent the spread of such segregation.”..

WXY Studio does Diversity Plans. They do not primarily do boundary/capacity studies.

The Montgomery County Board of Education has hired a company called WXY Studio to do what they are calling a "boundary" analysis. However, WXY Studio has primarily done Diversity Plans and maybe one or two plans that actually dealt with overcrowding.

WXY Studio appears to have worked with school systems about 3-4 times to create DIVERSITY PLANS. Below is the current Diversity Plan that WXY is doing for District 28 in Queens, New York.  Here are the Process Goals for that project. Notice that capacity/overcrowding issues are not mentioned.


In addition to the overall goal of increasing school diversity in each of the districts, District 28 specifically hopes to achieve the following process goals: 
• Increase access to D28 middle schools for all D28 students.
• Position student voice at the center of our work.
• Find new opportunities for social emotional learning, community building, and equitable resources for students across the district.
• Foster more inclusive and integrated middle schools. 

Lancaster, PA: WXY Studio Data, Maps, Thought Exchange

Ensuring equitable opportunities for all

For the first time in more than 30 years, the School District of Lancaster [PA] is studying its school boundaries and transportation patterns. The goals of this comprehensive study are:

Ensure current district systems are meeting current district needs
Plan for the future effectively by projecting district trends and needs
Ensure equitable opportunities for SDoL students


Lancaster PA: School District of Lancaster considers 5 school boundary realignment options

A consultant has offered five starting points for a task force considering a major school boundary realignment in Lancaster.
WXY Studio presented the options this week at meetings of both the task force and the School District of Lancaster board.
School board members agreed in December to a 10-month redistricting study, to identify pockets of overcrowding and rebalance school populations while reducing student walking times...