Education Secretary Arne Duncan just appeared at a forum on how to redo the law known as No Child Left Behind and he got a gift from Montgomery County Public Schools Chancellor Jerry Weast.

It wasn’t a traditional gift, but rather, a gift of omission.

The forumon Wednesday was held at John F. Kennedy High School, where about 75 county officials, students, parents and others gathered for a session that is part of a tour around the country Duncan is taking to talk about reauthorizing NCLB, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The idea was for Duncan and U.S. Chris Van Hollen, who was also in attendance, to hear what students and parents and teachers have to say about how NCLB should be changed by Congress.

There wasn’t time for them to say much, as it happened; there were several questions from the audience, most of them open-ended queries, and Duncan gave his tried and true responses, talking about “raising the bar” in terms of setting high expectations for students because in the past we have demanded “too little.”

But what was most striking about the session was what only came up in passing -- Duncan’s controversial signature education initiative, Race to the Top, and what Weast did not say about it.

The superintendent, who is retiring in June after 12 exceptional years leading one of the best school systems in the country, repeatedly praised Duncan for quickly pushing states to adopt extensive education reforms.

But he never noted -- nor did anybody else -- that he had refused to sign on to Race to the Top even though the state of Maryland last year won $250 million over four years in the competition’s second round.

Why didn’t Weast, who over a dozen years instituted a broad array of largely successful reforms designed to provide more resources to needy schools, want Race to the Top Money?

Because he and the members of the Montgomery County School Board liked the professional growth evaluation systems they already used, and because they weren’t sure that the changes in the teacher evaluation systems that the state put forward to win Race to the Top funds would be effective.

What does Montgomery County do differently than proponents of Race to the Top want?

To evaluate teachers, Montgomery County relies on a range of factors that include classroom observation rather than student standardized test scores, which many assessment experts say shouldn’t be used to evaluate teachers.

Beyond classroom evaluation, factors also include student wok samples and portflios, unit or long-term lesson plans, communications to students and parents, grading policies and practices, goal setting, and much much more.

You’ve got to figure that if Montgomery County public schools can evaluate their teachers without standardized test scores, other districts can too.


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