More Montgomery County teachers and parents should be given control over how schools are run, according to a school system group that has studied an 18-month experiment in democratic management of schools.
The group is urging county education officials to double the number of schools allowed to try "site-based management," and to furnish the participants with more money, training, free time and other help.
But in a report released by the school system yesterday, the group also concludes that it is uncertain whether students get a better education at the nine schools that already are using the new management method.
"The processes required to reach even short-term goals are slower, more demanding and more time-consuming than . . . anticipated at the outset," the committee wrote. It noted that one school, Rosemary Hills Elementary in Silver Spring, voted this spring to relinquish its new-found freedom, restoring management control to the principal.
The 21-page report is the first hint at the future of the school system's flirtation with a management approach that seeks to make parents, teachers and other staff members equal partners with administrators in deciding what children should learn and how schools should operate.
The approach is gaining popularity around the country, but it represents a sharp change in thinking in Montgomery, a 102,000-student system traditionally considered top-heavy and bureaucratic.
Since the Montgomery school board approved the experiment two years ago, some teachers and parents have wondered whether the school system's top officials were supplying enough help to make the experiment work -- and how long it would continue.
In an interview yesterday, School Superintendent Harry Pitt said he essentially agreed with the committee's advice. "I do think we ought to try to expand it further," he said.
Pitt added, however, that he believed the school system should not extend the management method countywide because some schools might not want it. He said he was uncertain how many should be allowed to volunteer.
The superintendent said that, for financial reasons, he was reluctant to support two of the group's recommendations: to assign a senior administrator to work with the project, and to free teachers from some classroom duties so they would have more time to help run their school.
In its report, the group, the Pilot School Advisory Committee, concluded, "shared decision-making is difficult, time-consuming, frequently inefficient, and often frustrating -- but also possible and worth the effort."
Oakland Terrace Elementary, for instance, has started lessons in social skills. Somerset Elementary is designing a new geography curriculum and Twinbrook Elementary is trying a class that combines kindergarteners with first-graders.
The group did not specify in the report how much the project should be broadened, although one committee member said yesterday the group wanted at least to double the number of participating schools. Nor did it suggest how much money the school system should devote, other than recommending that each participating school receive $3,000 in each of its first two years.
But the report stated repeatedly that teachers and other staff members should be freed from some duties. "The single greatest frustration of those working in the pilots is the difficulty finding time to participate in the management of one's own school," the group wrote.