Candidate Survey: Pavel Sukhobok for Montgomery County Board of Education
BS in Finance from College Park, JD/MBA from GWU.
Co-Founder of Local Tutoring Center
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Co-Founder of Local Tutoring Center. Founder of Makuyu Education Initiative, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to help children escape the vicious cycle of poverty in Makuyu, Kenya.
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Why are you running for office?
I am running for office because I am tired of the BOE playing politics with our education system. The curriculum the board has implemented has too many of our students graduating without proper reading, writing and math skills. In math, we don’t ask students to know any formulas or do much practice (the hallmark of having strong math skills) so is it any wonder that the majority of students are graduating without be able to do basic math, such as multiplying or dividing fractions? Learning dates and the names of historical figures is apparently too boring, so is it any wonder that most students can’t tell you what century the Civil War was or what the Brown v. Board of Education holds? Students don’t learn grammar in any comprehensive way nowadays, so the vast majority of students’ writing is littered grammar errors. But, what has the Board done? It instituted a grading system where students are discouraged from putting in the effort in the second quarter as long as they did well enough the first quarter. They eliminated midterm and final exams thereby shortchanging our students when they go to college, where the bulk of grades are based on midterms and finals. Too many of the classes are out of control because students are disrupting the class and disrespecting the teachers. Too many parents are pressuring the teachers to give out good grades causing runaway grade inflation. Let’s get politics out of education and bring common sense back in.
Who do you consider your political role model, and why?
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus for giving up and not abusing his power.
What is your favorite book about politics and policy, and why?
I generally don’t read books about politics, but if I had to pick one: Freakonomics.
What is your favorite book about education, and why?
I don’t have a favorite book about education, but I have a favorite study that examined different education systems in the world to find out what works and what doesn’t. Educational Policy and Country Outcomes in International Cognitive Competence Studies suggests that while funding is important to a point, just throwing money at education isn’t the answer (something MCPS is intent on doing, despite the MCPS budget exceeding the GDP of some small nations). On the other hand, school appropriate behavior, such as showing up to class on time and respecting the teacher, does have a strong correlation to academic success.
What will be your top priority on the Board of Education?
To bring academic rigor back to MCPS, which is severely lacking and continues to be eroded. Let’s strengthen our curriculum, give teachers the power to control their classes while insulating them from unreasonable parental demands, and fix the broken down grading system.
What is the biggest issue facing your county schools?
The biggest issue is that Board of Education that is too busy pandering to voters by watering down the education system. They’ve eliminated midterms and finals because students (and some parents) don’t like them. I’ve heard students who’ve gone on to college tell me directly that they are not sure how to prepare for college exams because they never got the opportunity in high school to build strong study habits. They’ve made it easier than ever for students to do their homework on their phones despite an epidemic of smartphone addiction. Is it any wonder that many students have a hard time focusing? Now, when it becomes patently obvious that MCPS schools are not meeting the needs of students, the board wants to change what students go to what schools, instead of the way the schools are run.
What is your position on the Kirwan Commission recommendations?
I support some of the recommendations, such as free pre-k for lower income families. Studies consistently show that when students start education earlier, they are much more likely to go farther in their educational careers. However, the price tag is too high to implement all recommendations and will end up raising taxes in one form or another on the middle class . As a result, we should implement the recommendations in a cost-effective way. For example, we should expand free pre-K to just lower income families.
What are the three biggest issues facing Maryland schools?
1. The Board of Education watering down the curriculum.
2. The lack of respect teachers get in the classroom.
3. The Board playing politics with education with redistricting
Have you read your county schools curriculum? If so, which parts do you like and which parts do you dislike?
Curriculum 2.0 directly states that more emphasis should be placed on other classes, such as Physical Education. Too many graduating seniors don’t know how to split their essays into paragraphs or even what a complete sentence is. Too many middle school students can’t add negative numbers. But, we need to focus more on PE? Physical well being is undoubtedly important, but let’s focus on improving our reading, writing and math skills.
The new additions to the curriculum will soon allow students to complete all their homework on their smartphones. Our students are having trouble focusing for a prolonged period of time because of the constant screen time, but we want to make it easier for them to do homework on their phones? We should encourage students to complete their homework in quiet study area to foster good study habits, instead of on their phones with constant distractions.
By eliminating midterms and finals and instituting a new grading system, students are now virtually guaranteed an A for the semester as long as they get an A in one quarter. Many students have told me that they are planning on taking it easy the rest of the semester after doing well enough the first quarter. What kind of message does that send? At work, will just working hard before lunch and then mailing it in after lunch be enough to be successful? We need to revamp the curriculum and focus on what has a proven track record of success.
What is your position on school spending?
I support school spending when it is done in a smart and effective way. Paying teachers more to make sure we attract and retain the best talent is the right approach. MCPS is fortunate to have some of the best teachers in the country, and we need to hold on to them. Financially incentivizing the most experienced teachers to teach at under-performing schools is another smart investment. The current incentives aren’t working and the under-perfoming schools often have the least experienced teachers teaching in the most challenging of circumstances. Lastly, investing in after-school programs in order keep students engaged in extracurricular activities and out of harm’s reach is another effective way of use of funds. Upgrading complicated technological gadgets every couple of years, as well as other high tech equipment that breaks often and no one knows how to use anyway, is not.
Please identify the three areas which you believe should be prioritized when it comes to school funding
What is your position on teacher tenure?
If offering teacher tenure is what it takes to retain the best teachers, then I support it. However, only the most qualified teachers should be eligible. The willingness to teach at lower-performing schools should be taken into account in determining tenure eligibility, although by no means am I suggesting that great teachers at higher-performing schools should be ineligible.
What is your position on standardized testing?
I support standardized testing a way of tracking school and student performance. However, under no circumstances should testing be tied to funding. Cutting funding to schools that don’t do well on tests will end up punishing under-performing schools for some factors that are outside of their control (poverty), while increasing funding to schools that do well may encourage cheating, as we’ve seen in many school districts who tied funding to test performance. Also, too many students don’t take these tests seriously because they know it doesn’t affect their grades which skews the statistics. Let’s find a way to encourage all students to try without putting undue pressure on them.
What is your position on classroom size?
Studies consistently show that smaller class sizes lead to better academic performance.
Do you believe the Board of Education should have taxation authority?