Failure in Montgomery County’s Schools

Montgomery County has the biggest school district in Maryland.  It is comprised of 202 public schools with a $2.3 Billion operating budget for 2015 that serves 153,852 students.  In 2016, the county will increase the budget 4.1% to $2.39 billion.   With this budget, one could conclude that perhaps Montgomery County students must be some of the most successful in the country.  However, that is not the case.  In 2013, 71 percent of high school students failed final exams in Geometry and 68 percent failed the Algebra 1 final exam.   In addition, 37 percent to 50 percent of students failed high school level Biology, English and History exams.

The 2012-2013 school year was not aberration.  In 2014, 82 percent of students failed Algebra 1 exam.  So, the Board of Education decided to curve the final exams that year on a massive scale by adding 15 percentage point to all grades. In 2015, 74 percent – in other words three out four of students – failed the Algebra 1 final exam.

Interestingly, despite the fact that the fact that a majority of high school students failed the final exams on basic Algebra 1 the high school graduation rate increased.  For example, 2009 to 2010 was 86.1 percent in 2012-2013 the rate increased to 88.3 percent despite 71 percent failed Geometry final exam and 68 percent failed Algebra 1.

This summer the President of the Board Of Education, Patricia O’Neill was not sure how to solve the problem of failed math final exams.  “A lot of effort and analysis has gone into it,” she said. “It’s still a nagging problem. I don’t know totally what the solution is.”  In November, the Board of Education figured out how to solve the problem – cancel the tests. 

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Despite concerns expressed by a majority of teachers, the Montgomery County Board of Education has decided to eliminate the high school final exams and replace them with class projects, essays, papers and quarterly assessments.  The county is teaching students a valuable lesson in bureaucracy – If you can’t solve the problem, cook the books.

This sad state of affairs was not always so.  Bethesda magazine noted in 2011 that Montgomery County had “more high schools in Newsweek’s Top 100 “Best High Schools” ranking than any other school system in America.”   What has changed over the last four years in one of the nations’ largest school districts with a budget of over $2 billion that a majority of high school students are not able to even pass the basic Algebra 1 final exam?

The county has since implemented fewer standardized tests and technology in classroom and has been a big supporter of the Common Core.  Montgomery County has begun to implement Curriculum 2.0, the Common Core with Montgomery County flair.

To add insult to injury, the Montgomery County Council has used the school budget as its own piggy bank and raided it to fund its operating budget.  In 2014 the Council raided the budget for $22 million and took an additional $23.3 million in 2015.  Unfortunately, the County Council has not replaced the $45.3 million that they took way from our kids, retirees and school staff.

Not only did the County Council raid the school fund but members also accused Governor Hogan of hurting schoolchildren to score political points. Despite the fact that Governor Hogan (R) approved a record amount of money for schools, Democrats across Maryland including Councilman Craig Rice (D) from Montgomery County are now pressing for release even more state money due to the Governor’s success in reversing O’Malley’s deficit to a projected surplus of $500 million in the state’s budget.

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