Education Reform Coming to the Suburbs of Maryland

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As the school year finally gets under way, public school students across the state will be writing more often and learning to think differently in math class, as the state begins major education reforms that will change everything from the curriculum to the way teachers are evaluated.

While some of the changes ? which districts agreed to make in exchange for more federal funding ? have faced resistance from teachers, others have already been embraced in classrooms.

Baltimore City has tried a number of the most radical reforms as it attempted to turn around its perpetually poor-performing schools. Now suburban school systems that attract affluent parents seeking good schools for their children will be adopting some of those same approaches ? new, national standards, a new test in core subjects, and the use of student testing data to assess teacher performance.

The reforms, which will begin this fall and be completed by the 2014-2015 school year, are likely to represent some of the largest changes for public schools in the last decade, some educators say.

"It is a time of really significant change," said Anne Arundel County Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, adding that the coming changes are even more significant than those imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act.

Many of the new reforms are promoted by the U.S. Department of Education program called Race to the Top, which promised federal stimulus dollars in exchange for a promise of reforms. Maryland won $250 million in the competition.

While the promise of funding may be welcome at a time of strapped education budgets, certain districts benefit more than others and how well the changes are received is expected to vary across school systems. While Baltimore's CEO, Andr?s Alonso, pushed for the state's Race to the Top application, Montgomery County never signed it.

Some suburban counties are being asked to implement the reforms even though they are getting a lesser share of the federal funding than poorer districts such as Baltimore City and Prince George's County. "The amounts of money going to the other districts are quite small," said Laura Weeldreyer, former deputy chief of staff for Alonso, who is now the Mid-Atlantic director for Expeditionary Learning.

Moreover, the changes come amid high turnover among top administrators. The state currently has an interim state superintendent and at least a quarter of local superintendents are new to the job.

And some educators are questioning the process. "Are these reforms working? Should they be pursued or should they be abandoned?" are questions that will be asked, said Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the union representing teachers in Maryland who work outside the city.

The changes coming in the next four years touch every grade and would allow for student achievement to be compared across state lines.

They include new national standards, a new Maryland curriculum tied to those standards, and a new test in core subjects that will allow students in Maryland to be compared with students in California or New York. A state data system also is planned to track students from pre-kindergarten through college, who taught them and how those teachers were trained. And a new teacher evaluation system would take into account how well students do on tests and work assignments.

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