Montgomery County and Maryland need to learn to work together on school efforts

Thursday, September 23, 2010

SO IMPRESSED is an educational publishing company with Montgomery County's efforts in education that it has agreed to give county schools millions of dollars to help develop and then market its curriculum. One would think the effort would be hailed as an innovation in education reform. Instead, Maryland state education officials have taken a dim view of the arrangement in what is yet another example of the unsettling rift between Maryland and its premier school system.

At issue is a $4.5 million contract between the Montgomery Board of Education and Pearson Education Inc. to craft a curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade that integrates reading and math with other subjects. County officials had already been working on a new curriculum, but entering into the public-private partnership will allow them to speed the process and save taxpayer dollars. Pearson said it was attracted to Montgomery because of its national reputation for quality and new approaches to learning. State officials got involved when a county parent objected to the unusual agreement and petitioned the state board to intercede.

The state board refused to overturn the contract, but in a ruling last month it criticized Montgomery for duplicating the state's efforts, wasting resources and balkanizing Montgomery from the state's reform efforts. Never mind that Montgomery was well ahead of the state with its curriculum work or that its plan got an important endorsement from federal education officials -- who awarded the project, which will conform to new common core standards, a special grant.

What is sticking in the state's craw is Montgomery's penchant to go its own way. Proud of its status as the state's top-performing school system, the county sees itself as aiming higher than the rest of the state. Montgomery, for example, was highly critical of what it saw as the low standards in the state's high school assessments and more recently refused to sign on to Maryland's application for Race to the Top funds. Part of the issue is the two strong personalities of Montgomery Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast and State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. Surely, though, both sides should see they have more to gain by working together than being at cross purposes. Montgomery, for example, could have had a share of the Race to the Top money, while the rest of the state surely can benefit from practices that Montgomery is pioneering and that have worked well for its students.

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