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6 Lessons From Montgomery County Public Schools That Mostly Missed the Point

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There is some of that in the book. Chapter 7 notes Weast's decision to divide the county into an affluent Green Zone and a low-income Red Zone and move more resources into the latter. That worked, in part because the Red Zone had "staff development teachers in every school and technological supports that freed up teachers from administrative tasks and helped them better diagnose student learning needs so that they could spend more time on instructional activities that were likely to improve learning."

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Also vital, and surprising, was the skill and maturity that led Weast and the Montgomery Education Association, the main teachers union, to resolve their differences and cooperate on a number of innovative measures. The union gave up a 5 percent pay raise at a crucial moment, demonstrating not only the political bravery of its leaders but also the intelligence of its members, which we also saw a lot of in the classroom.

Toward the end of Chapter 7, some pushy educators, my favorite kind, appear.

Deputy Superintendent Frieda Lacey "appeared in principals' offices with a list of names of qualified African American students in their buildings who were not in AP courses, and talked with students themselves about why they were not enrolling," according to the book. People like Lacey helped the county follow what the authors called its North Star, a commitment to prepare all students for college and work.

Of course, as I warned you, Weast is the Indiana Jones of this wild suburban adventure. When affluent parents were complaining about the Green Zone being shortchanged, a father asked at a tense school board meeting, "Why can't my child have full-day kindergarten?"

Weast replied: "He can if you move to the Red Zone."

That's a good answer. The six lessons don't come close to it for clarity and power. But that might be my anti-management, pro-teacher bias talking. If the authors will write a book about how Weast managed to hire and promote all of the great people in his district who made his ideas work, I might even buy it with my own money.

E-mail: mathewsj@washpost.com


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