Two Types of Educational Reform: Montgomery County MD versus Washington DC

Excellent short article. Here is an excerpt:

Anyone who has followed reform efforts in D.C. knows that student achievement over the past five years, as measured by test scores, has been unimpressive under strategies begun by Rhee and continued by her successor, Kaya Henderson. There have been slight ups and downs in test scores, but little that’s statistically significant. The achievement gap based on race and poverty has actually widened significantly. Additionally, a system-wide cheating scandal in 2009 under Rhee, that has yet to be investigated, has thrown a pall on all the data.

In D.C., however, what has been stunning and undisputed is the change in the teacher turnover rate. For a district that used to have a relatively low turnover rate compared with the national average, now 50 percent of teachers don’t make it beyond two years, 80 percent don’t make it beyond six years. For principals, approximately 25 percent lose their jobs every year. It’s not unusual for schools to have a new principal every year. So in the name of “reform,” we now have churn. It can be said that teaching is no longer a career in D.C. What has been accomplished as a result of the conscious policies of the current and immediate past chancellor is the creation of a teaching force of short timers. Gordon MacInnes summarized Rhee’s mistakes for The Century Foundation here.

A recent Washington Post article about the rift between Democratic mayors and teachers’ unions pointed to Montgomery County’s teachers union as the exception, nationwide. The Post was half right. The union’s shoulder to the wheel, collaboration with the district to make schools better has been exemplary. But this is not exceptional. There are lots of examples of attempts at that kind of collaboration all across the country. What makes Montgomery County an exception is that the politicians and school administration have not blindly adopted the corporate reform ideology. They haven’t adopted mayoral control. They don’t worship at the altar of student test scores. They recognize that reform led by educators will be more likely to succeed. The union is made a partner. Teacher longevity and commitment to the school and its community is valued. And respecting the complexity of the craft of teaching is considered a better approach than trying to improve education by making war on educators.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nailed it! It is about building a community with a shared commitment to children and with people knowledgeable about the children and their community. Great schools and districts do exist where yes all children make progress and succeed and understanding how children learn and achieve and learning is not equated with rote memorization.

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  2. Maybe DC and Montgomery Council aren’t comparable cases? How would you control for income and demographic differences, before we even consider differences in institutionalization. DC didn’t do so well with a former MoCo schools leader. Nonetheless, DC churn is troubling to me as I prepare to try to get certified to teach in DC.

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    • Paul Vance – the former MoCo leader you mentioned – appears to have just been trying to earn a bunch of money in DC for doing nothing.
      However, when you compare the educational DEforms being promoted by Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and so on, on the one hand, and what Finland and Montgomery County are actually doing on the other hand, you see that their methods are diametrically opposed. No country or state or nation has worked its way to educational excellence with heavy reliance on testing, bonuses, and firing. It doesn’t work. Anywhere.

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