School superintendents speak out on key education issues

September 22, 2013

Have Washington area school systems been hurt by federal budget cuts? Are students being bombarded with too many standardized tests? How are schools handling the implementation of the Common Core State Standards?

We asked superintendents around the Washington region to answer these and other questions about key education issues as the 2013-14 school year gears up, to try to get a sense of their views and approaches to leadership.

Five superintendents responded: Joshua P. Starr in Montgomery County, Karen Garza in Fairfax County, Patrick K. Murphy in Arlington County, Edgar B. Hatrick III in Loudoun County and Kevin M. Maxwell in Prince George’s County. D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson declined to participate, Steven L. Walts in Prince William County said he was too busy opening schools, and Morton Sherman departed abruptly as Alexandria superintendent just before the school year began.

Among such subjects as budgets, teacher evaluation, testing and charter schools, there was universal agreement on standardized testing: They all agreed that students are being tested too much.

Murphy, for example, said that, over the summer, Arlington staff identified several major tests that will be eliminated. Starr said that if he had his way, students wouldn’t be tested every year, only at “critical moments in a student’s educational journey — third grade, fifth grade, eighth grade, ninth grade and in certain classes in high school.”

The superintendents all also agreed that charter schools are not a panacea to the problems of troubled schools but could be part of a range of solutions. Hatrick noted that when charters were first introduced, they were supposed to be experiments with strategies that traditional schools could then replicate. Instead, he said, “I’m afraid in some cases they have become a parallel offering with limited accountability.”

On other issues:

●Some of the districts were affected by the federal “sequestration” process that reduced federal funds to states, while others weren’t.

●The three Virginia superintendents — Hatrick, Murphy and Garza — all said they supported the decision by Virginia state officials not to sign on to the Common Core State Standards. The two school chiefs in Maryland, where the standards are being implemented, said they believe the Common Core is high quality and that teaching and learning will change as a result, in some areas significantly.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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