Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is the largest public school system in the state of Maryland and one of the largest in the nation. It serves a county that is home to many federal employees and large federal institutions, among them the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), etc.
The district also benefits from being located in the area where The Washington Post, now owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is distributed in print, and is home to many of the Post’s employees. Children of a number of officials serving in the United States Department of Education also call the school system home.
With all the advantages any public school system would want, not to mention a significant number of students with well-educated parents, the district highlights everything that is wrong with public education today.
Consider the perfect storm of problems facing MCPS today.
Earlier this year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) parted ways with its superintendent, Joshua Starr, before his contract was up. A local TV station, NBC4, reported that according to sources, the superintendent “found it hard to do his job as news reports circulated that the board [of Education] may have lost confidence in the job he was doing.” A search for a replacement led to the naming of a “preferred candidate” who then abruptly withdrew his name from consideration for the post. The school board promptly suspended the search and appointed long time Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers as the interim superintendent. In October, the school board resumed the search.
A few years ago reports surfaced that MCPS students were failing math exam finals in droves. According to the news report, “62 percent of high school students failed their final exams in geometry and 57 percent failed Algebra 2.” Exams for math classes are usually developed by the instructor, and the sole exception is the final exam, which is written by the central office. The failure rate was high for the exams the instructor didn’t have a hand in producing.
The next year, 2014, the Washington Post reported, that the district decided “to add 15 percentage points to all test grades” because the failure rates in the June final exam in Algebra 1 were too steep.
The news didn’t get any better this year, with the Post reporting that “students lost ground in algebra and showed no improvement or lagged slightly on five other key measures of math and reading performance, with racial and ethnic achievement gaps remaining wide.”
On September 8, 2015 the Post reported that the Board of Education voted to scrap high school final exams beginning the next school year, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of teachers who participated in a survey voted against the practice.
The same district faced questions last year when reports of credit card misuse by members of the Board of Education came to light.
Just this week, the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County highlighted what is thought to be unsafe Radon levels in district schools.
The district has also blurred the line between public schools and private enterprise. For example, MCPS joined with publishing giant Pearson to sell its curriculum. Gallup, an organization known for public opinion polling, has been receiving $300,000 annually beginning in 2013 “to measure employee and student engagement, and to use the results to help guide the school system’s improvement efforts.”
The $300,000, investment in Gallup doesn’t seem to have resulted in good news for the district. In 2014, the district reported that 53% of the students were “hopeful,” 51% were “engaged,” and 65% were “thriving.”
If nothing else, with 53% of its students “hopeful,” the multi-billion dollar school system seems to have proved Alexander Pope was at least half right when he penned that Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home,/ Rests and expatiates in a life to come.