Montgomery, Frederick counties decline to run in federal Race to the Top
While two school systems left out of money split, officials remain unconcerned
As most of Maryland's jurisdictions this week celebrate the state's victorious bid for federal Race to the Top education money, Montgomery and Frederick counties look more like wallflowers.
The two counties, which share a geographical border, also share the distinction of being left out of the quarter-million-dollar pot coming Maryland's way. That's because Montgomery and Frederick declined to sign on to the Race to the Top application.
Frederick County Public Schools will lose out on the $800,000 over the four-year life of the Race to the Top program, a federal initiative designed to turn around underperforming schools, recruit top teachers and administrators for those schools, and use more quantitative assessments in evaluating teachers. Montgomery County Public Schools stood to receive $12 million over four years if it had signed on to the state's application.
The other 22 public school systems participated in the state's application, which won approval Tuesday for up to $250 million in federal funds.
But Montgomery and Frederick officials stated their intention to stay out of Race to the Top and believe their teacher evaluation procedures and academic performance do not need to be changed.
"There was concern about a lack of detail regarding how Race to the Top would be implemented, what some of the expectations would be and also the concern about funding adequacy," said Marita Loose, a spokeswoman for Frederick County Public Schools.
In a written statement Thursday, Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the school system's lack of support for Race to the Top centered on how teacher evaluations might differ from what the county uses and the nature of the tests that would be administered to students.
"We are not willing to undo that simply to chase money that will amount to less than 0.3 percent of our budget, much of which cannot be used for direct instructional costs," Tofig wrote.
In its application, Maryland noted that Montgomery County would only join the state's application if it were allowed to keep its teacher evaluation system.
"Maryland determined that the Montgomery County's evaluation system does not calculate student growth, and therefore would not be aligned with the statewide system," a quote from page 16 of the application read, referring to student academic progress.
Montgomery County teachers union President Doug Prouty said he and Superintendent of Schools Jerry D. Weast decided together that the school system's teacher evaluation system already met the standards outlined in the state's Education Reform Act, which passed this year. The legislation requires that teacher pay be based in part on student test scores, and it increases the number of years a teacher must work to achieve tenure from two to three years.
Prouty said he and Weast never received a clear explanation of why the school system's evaluation system was deemed inadequate, but did note that the county relied less on quantitative methods, such as student test scores, and more on factors such as classroom observation.
"We think that we actually get a more complete picture," Prouty said.
The application states on the same page that "local control" was the main concern for Frederick County that led it to decline to participate.
Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County teacher's union, said he doesn't see the Race to the Top standards producing effective, multifaceted student tests. Instead, he said, the state might end up expanding its High School Assessments model of multiple-choice tests to satisfy Race to the Top requirements. Brennan said officials in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore simply should not be given so much control over the Frederick school system.
Frederick County schools revamped their teacher evaluation system about two years ago.
"I think people have no idea how this is going to change public education in Maryland, this system of evaluation," Brennan said.
One reviewer from the U.S. Department of Education praised Maryland's efforts to get all 24 public school systems on board. But the reviewer awarded only "medium" points (35 out of 45) to Maryland, in part, because the agreement between the school systems and the unions was loosely defined.
A different reviewer who rated Maryland's application higher (458 points) wrote, "The list of supporters (of the application) was very long and impressive," while noting the lack of majority teacher union support.
In an April 26 newsletter to parents announcing that Howard County Public School System's Board of Education had signed onto the state's Race to the Top application, Superintendent Sydney Cousin noted that while the school system would receive up to $700,000 through Race to the Top, the dollars weren't the most important issue.
"These standards are going to be enforced whether Howard County signs on or not, and whether Maryland is awarded federal funding or not," Cousin said, referring to the Education Reform Act.