Montgomery new superintendent takes a different path

From the Washington Posst:
By Michael Alison Chandler

Montgomery schools superintendent Joshua Starr congratulated the school board Tuesday on standing firm against some of the turbulent reform efforts being embraced around the country.

He called their political posture, including the past decision not to support the state’s application for a federal Race to the Top Grant, “one of the reasons I was so thrilled to come here.”

Starr’s comments, which came during a board briefing on the roll-out ofsome key state and federal initiatives, bolstered his emerging role as a vocal and prominent critic of national policy trends.

He criticized what he called a reversion to an “industrial model” of public education. A hyper reliance on measurement and an embrace of quick, cure-all solutions means systems will be destined to repeat past failures, he said.

Montgomery County Public Schools was one of two districts out of 24 in Maryland that passed on federal funding by refusing to sign on to the state’s Race to the Top grant application in 2010.

School officials said they held out because of the competitive nature of the reform approach and, in particular, its provisions for a new teacher evaluation program that would challenge its existing, successful system.

During Tuesday’s meeting, school employees talked, in some times bewildered tones, about the uncertain status of current overhauls to state and federal policies. They highlighted the roll out of new common core standards, expected to be in place by 2014-2015, which still lack standardized tests or dedicated funding streams for implementation.

They reviewed the pending request for a waiver to be held harmless from some existing sanctions of the current federal accountability system as the new system is being developed. (Starr argued that there should be a “three-year moratorium on standardized tests while we figure all this out.”)

And they talked about the status of state reforms tied to Race to the Top, focusing on the emerging teacher evaluation system that is already being piloted in some districts, including Prince George’s County, and that is expected to link teacher pay or evaluations more closely to students’ performance on tests and other measures.

Starr critiqued the growth models and rubrics being developed as contradicting research on what motivates teachers. He said Montgomery’s current system, which mentors struggling teachers for a year before decisions about termination are made, is a “hill to die on.”

And he said that singling out teachers as the culprit for education failures and shaming them is the most “pernicious part of the national reform movement.”

Accountability for student success should rightly extend to “you, me, and the entire community,” he said.

But in the midst of all the flux and change, he struck a hopeful chord. He said the transition could give Montgomery a chance to carve a distinct path.

“As No Child Left Behind is dying its slow death, it’s an incredible opportunity to fill that void with what we believe we should do for kids,” he said

By Michael Alison Chandler  |  02:16 PM ET, 04/18/2012

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