Monday, April 9, 2018

MCPS Regulations… YAWN, Right? - Guest poster Cynthia Simonson - MCCPTA VP Educational Issues

MCPS Regulations… YAWN, Right?Cynthia Simonson, MCCPTA VP of Educational Issues
NO! Don’t yawn yet! This is a regulation change I think parents might find interesting!
Let’s start with a little background. MCPS is a behemoth of an organization. Nationally, we are the
biggest school system and we are governed by more regulations than I have the patience to
count! Don’t believe me? Check out this index --

 To give you an idea of the magnitude, there are ~70 regulations covering topics that begin with the letter “A.” So, it should come as no surprise, with this many regulations governing our school district, not every regulation change goes through a “public comment” process – especially if the changes are administrative in nature. (Check out the MCPS process through this link -- policies and regulations process.) One recent change -- MCPS updated the IKC-RA, Grade Point Averages (GPA) and Weighted Grade Point Averages (WPGA). Like most things in life (particularly in MoCo), over a
number of years it seems some advocated for a change to this regulation and just as many advocated for things to stay the same. MCPS managed to adjust this regulation so it changed for those that wanted change and stayed the same for those that wanted it to stay the same. To me, the advocacy involved in this regulation is an example of parents “paying it forward” for the benefit of future students who are years from recognizing the impact of this change!

What DIDN’T Change: Any high school course taken AND the grade earned (even if it is earned in
middle school) will be listed on the student’s high school transcript.

Most often, these courses include world language courses, math courses in the sequence
starting with Algebra 1, and for some, the Introduction to Engineering Design that some middle
schools offer that fulfills the “tech credit” necessary for graduation.

What DID Change: While the course and grade earned remains on the transcript, beginning with the students that will enter 6th grade in 2018-19 school year, there will be an option for these students and their parents/guardians to decide whether to include high school course grades earned in middle school in the high school GPA and WGPA calculation.
Who Does This Impact:Truth be told, for the student that takes one or possibly two high school credits while in middle school, this change might not make a big difference. But, for the students that take a number of high school courses in middle school (and there are actually A LOT of students doing this), this change can have an impact. What I like about the change is it gives parents/students the option! I have three daughters so I can use my own family as an example of why I like it:

For my third daughter who will enter high school with 10 semesters of credit (9 – As, 1—B), I
would have argued to keep the regulation the same -- she should get “credit” in her high school
GPA for those grades earned! She held a 4.0 many semesters of middle school and worked hard
to get those grades in the high school courses. She should see the full benefit of those points
factored into her GPA/WGPA.
(In this revised regulation, she gets to keep her points earned!)
For my older daughters who held at least a 3.71 every semester of middle school, most of their
“non-A” grades were in high school level courses. I would have argued that students should not
be penalized for stretching themselves and taking more challenging courses in middle school. I
would have argued to NOT include those points in their high school GPA/WGPA.
(In this revised
regulation, they could opt to exclude the points from the GPA/WGPA calculation!)

Real World Impact of this Change:Six years ago, little did I realize the impact those Bs and Cs in high school courses earned in middle
school would have later in high school. I admit, I was pretty “relaxed” about grades because I think
working 3 years above grade level is impressive in itself. “Who cares if they are getting Bs or an
occasional C in these higher level courses?” Colleges, so I learned later.
Knowing what I know now, if given the choice, it actually would have been in their best interest to
exclude their middle school grades from their high school GPA calculation. Here are a couple of impacts we have found by having those Bs/Cs included:

Impact 1: Middle school grades can lower overall GPAs and make students ineligible for the
various school honor societies (which starts to feel very important during the college application
o Each MCPS high school has different minimum requirements for the honor societies
(those requirements have a tremendous amount of latitude governed by another MCPS
regulation –
JIA-RA) so this impact is certainly not evenly felt across the entire county.
A point parents might also find interesting…o Honor societies are often important to high achieving students that are most likely to
carry a large number of credits earned in middle school.

The only way for current students to improve their GPA is to repeat courses taken in middle school to expunge the middle school grades and replace the grades.

Impact 2: As students near the end of their junior year, they realize many college opportunities
– including scholarships and fellowships require minimum
official unweighted GPAs to even be
considered for the awards.

o I have always believed (and still do) that colleges generally recalculate GPA based on
their own priorities. But the MCPS
official GPA of the student is STILL the official GPA of
the student, regardless of the college recalculation that occurs. My experience is that
sometimes, that official GPA matters!

Moving Forward!I believe the aim of this change in the regulation is to create a win-win for all students. I think MCPS
achieved it! I know not everyone will be happy about the change. (Of course, I ask, when has everyone in MoCo
ever been happy?) While I see the point of those that are critical of the change, I also see why MCPS made the change and think they did a fair job in examining the pros and cons to create a viable compromise to a concern that was raised years and years ago!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Let's FIX THE FUND - they told us Casino Revenues would AUGMENT education funding --- let's make it happen!! Tracie Potts - MCCPTA

YOU'VE Got the Power!

Parents and students are so frustrated with schools these days. Kids are struggling through classes. Homework's a nightmare. Classes are too hot or too cold. Buildings are old or too small and there's not enough money to fix them all. And lately incidents of violence have us wondering: are our kids even safe once we put them on the bus? 

MCPS, parents, students - we're all trying but results seems elusive. Or slow. To be honest, it's maddening. 

Sometimes better policies and enforcement helps. But more often than not, the fixes we need require more money. Where does it come from? Casinos! Remember all that casino money that was promised to schools that didn't quite happen? Now Governor Hogan and some lawmaker are proposing what education advocates have been asking for all along: a "lock box" on those funds to make sure they provide additional funding for schools, as promised. 

This kind of effort can easily become mired in politics. HOW to do it. WHEN to do it. Exceptions. What we need is a clear, prompt, focused effort to infuse MILLIONS more into our schools, so we can fix buildings, add staff (and pay them competitively), add and keep programs. Basically, a boost to significantly improve educational opportunities for our kids. How do we do that? FIX THE FUND!

MCCPTA is supporting the Maryland State Education Association's "Fix the Fund" rally on March 19 in Annapolis. We've been told, as recently as a few months ago, that lawmakers are tired of hearing from the same groups and lobbyists but they really do listen when "average Joe parent and their kid" take the time to testify, meet with lawmakers or - in this case - rally in support of education. We need to take full advantage of that and drive maximum participation to this event. 

 If just 5 people from every Montgomery County school joined the rally, that's 1,000 people marching through Annapolis urging our elected officials to "Fix the Fund." Can you get 5 people to go from your school? Plus: if every other Maryland county sent just a fraction of that, we're talking thousands of parents, teachers and students putting pressure on lawmakers to act. That's impressive. That kind of presence speaks volumes. And it makes a difference. 

As frustrating as it is when education gets caught up in politics, never forget - democracy always rises above.  YOU'VE GOT THE POWER! Sometimes we forget just how influential our collective voices can be when we come together to advocate for our kids. 

Last weekend I attended a PTA leadership meeting where a colleagues said her school's having a hard time engaging parents because they're so frustrated when they don't see change happening. They just give up. Stop coming to meetings. Stop speaking out. My heart dropped. I thought: that's exactly the opposite of what we need to do. Don't retreat - MARCH! Get those frustrated parents to hit the streets! It worked in Alabama. It worked for civil rights. It can work for our students in Montgomery County. 

 Marching is just the beginning, but it's an important start. It's not just symbolic. Elected officials know if 1,000 people take time after work on a Monday night to drive 45 minutes to Annapolis with their kids, THEY CARE. And they know when you care, you'll VOTE. That's important to them. Let's tell them what's important to us.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Career and Technology Education expansion in our traditional high schools - by Victoria Henley, MCCPTA representative to the CTE Task Force

There was a MCPS Career and Technology Education retreat held on Thursday, January 11, 2018, at the Thomas Edison HS of Technology, located next door to the newly renovated Wheaton High School in Wheaton, Maryland.

In December 2016, the Board of Education contracted with the Education Strategy Group (ESG), a Bethesda based consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive review of MCPS Career and Technology Education (CTE) Programs of Study (POS). Funding for this study was approved by the Board as part of its Fiscal Year 2017 Operating Budget.

The retreat I attended focused on reviewing the recommendations and collected feedback received by MCPS and Education Strategy Group (ESG), since the release of the initial report in September 2017. As participants, we were asked to prioritize the recommendations and suggest a multi-year timeline for implementing the recommendations. MCPS and ESG consulting would take our input into consideration as they prepare the final report.  This retreat did NOT discuss the future of Thomas Edison HS of Technology.

The Career and Technology Education retreat brought together Dr. Erick Lang, MCPS’ associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, AND representatives from the business community, current CTE students, former CTE students, MCPS relevant staff, and other stakeholders.  I represented MCCPTA. The retreat was facilitated by Kathleen Mathers, a Director at ESG consulting. Every participant brought to the retreat their energy, real-time data, thoughtful discussion points, and professional experiences. I was personally impressed by the wealth of knowledge and honest commitment to improving the CTE programming. 

Undoubtedly, MCPS has created a culture of high expectations in its schools. But, career preparation and vocational training “has been marginalized, sometimes being inaccurately perceived as the “direct opposite” of a college-prep education. After years of focusing on preparing students to enter four-year colleges, MCPS is planning to redesign and ramp up its career programs to keep pace with the changing world. MCPS Superintendent Smith spoke about the new exciting career programming during his proposed Operating Budget presentation.

Nationally, there has been a resurgence of interest in career readiness. For various reasons, not every high school graduate wants to, or will be able to attend a 4-year university. According to ESG consulting, MCPS is one of only a hand-full of large school districts around the country taking a serious look at Career Readiness to be ahead of the curve. That is a good thing!  However, among other large districts studied in the state of Maryland by ESG consulting, MCPS was the only one with a declining enrollment in career and technology education programs. During the 2015-2016 academic year, 29 percent of MCPS students were taking one or more career technical education courses, compared to 35 percent in Howard County and 50 percent in Baltimore County.

In general, the initial report from ESG recommends that MCPS bring leading employers together in an advisory council led by the superintendent, train staff about the regional labor market, and improve the quality and consistency of career programs across high schools. MCPS Career and technology (CTE) education should be redefined as offering rigorous academic coursework, 21st-century technical instruction and real-world experiences.

At the retreat, we were divided into 4 focus-area work groups. (CTE Vision, Employer Engagement, Program Rigor and Implementation, and Stakeholder Communication). I participated in the Stakeholder Communication work group.

We discussed the benefits of students becoming both college-ready and career-ready – that these two things can co-exist and should be promoted as such.  Vocational training should not be disregarded as a second-place finish. Yes, there are differences in Vocational Training and graduating from an Ivy League university-  and they will bring different results. So, as a priority, we needed to look at what motivates a person to choose a specific career path. Was it personal fulfillment, an opportunity to give back to a community, financial gain?  Determining these types of motivators would be key in reaching prospective students and increase excitement around CTE programming. The truth is that we all have a vocation (a job)- whether as a practicing attorney, a marketing manager, educator, writer, or scientist. It’s how much training and educational that we are personally want, and willing to commit to obtaining.  By definition, a vocation is, “a person's employment or main occupation, especially regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.) From a communication standpoint, the work group recommended that all stakeholders (students, parents, middle school counselors, the local government, and the business community) must be encouraged to think more strategically and creatively about what CAN and SHOULD be included within a high school experience. What opportunities exist and will exist to prepare a student for the future?

Career and technology education has widened in scope over the years, preparing students for jobs in health care and information technology as well as more traditional areas such as construction and automotive repair.

It became clear that developing a powerful marketing message is critical. Career readiness within MCPS is not just vocational training, but all training a student receives to prepare them for their future profession.

Collectively, we felt another priority and goal of career readiness programming should be to expose students to job options more broadly and the educational paths that lead to them. By communicating to stakeholders the successes for CTE programs, MCPS would become the desired destination for well-rounded experiences, career readiness and college preparation. We suggested that the messaging should clearly communicate that a MCPS student will be well-prepared and equipped to succeed, regardless of whether he or she decides to pursue a vocational certification, 2-year degree, or a 4-year degree. The value must be communicated well.

Why should a student who wants to become a biomedical engineer feel that taking a hospitality vocational course is not worth it?  And yes, you are correct, the hospitality course will probably have nothing to do with his or her advanced engineering studies, but it might assist them as they work to pay for college. Or, they might find the hospitality industry actually interesting, and the student might change their major to Electrical or Mechanical engineering in order to solve a hospitality industry problem. 

It was also discussed that the parents should play a role in the educational process. Middle school and high school counselors must work with students and their parents to create a plan that works for that student’s particular interests. At the end of high school, every graduate should leave MCPS with enough preparation and training to successfully go directly into a career or continue their educational studies in 2 or 4-year programs and beyond.

During the retreat, we noted that MCPS currently offers strong career and technology education, however access to these programs varies widely across the school system. That needs to be addressed for college and career readiness to be successful in the MCPS for ALL students.

In addition, we expressed that tailoring the stakeholders messaging to clearly communicate benefits and value will increase interest and credibility to the CTE programs. Benefits such as CTE programs helping students gain real-world experience in their fields of interest or earn college credit and industry-recognized credentials while they’re in high school. These great offerings are mostly unknown by stakeholders. School counselors (especially middle school counselors) must help to increase awareness of available programs and speak to parents about the opportunities that exist. 

As you might imagine, there was much more discussed. The other three focus area work groups were just as engaged in prioritizing recommendations and generating additional points to consider.

It’s anticipated that the group will reconvene sometime in March 2018.

I appreciated the opportunity to represent MCCPTA at this important meeting.

Thank you!

A sampling of bills of interest in Annapolis during the 2018 General Assembly - by Neal Orringer MCCPTA VP Advocacy

Casinos/Rally(!):  Last night, I emailed you about the Fix the Fund Rally in Annapolis (March 19).  This rally marks renewed momentum to ensure casino revenue is used to supplement not supplant dollars for public schools in the state's Education Trust Fund.  This must be done by constitutional amendment, to prevent future Governors or Legislatures from breaching the commitment made six years ago to increase Maryland's public schools.  If the General Assembly approves bills HB 1687 or SB 1122, voters will decide this Fall to make this promise a reality.  

90-Day Session:  The Maryland General Assembly meets in regular session for 90 calendar days each year beginning the 2nd Wednesday in January to act on 2,500+ bills and the State's annual capital and operating budgets.  Dozens of education-related bills have been filed and committee hearings/mark-ups are getting underway.  Legislation ranges from bills to issue reimbursement for AP, CTE, & IB exams (HB 197) to authorizing state agencies to compete with local health authorities to inspect school facilities (SB 469); from increases in test/standards for reading teachers (HB 493) to requirements that the State cover costs of breakfasts and lunches for students eligible for reduced-price meals (HB 315). Below are a couple of details on other bills of interest.   
  • School Calendar: HB 679 overturns the annual school end-date set by the Governor by executive order in August 2016.  It requires a public school to complete the school year on/before the 3rd Friday in June as opposed to the current limit of no later than June 15. After accounting for the 180-day school day minimum as well as mandatory State holidays and election days (for most counties), the bill will allow for a total of as few as 10 and as many as 15 days for local school systems to accommodate any additional holidays (including a spring break), teacher professional development days, and/or school closures due to weather and other exigencies within their respective school years. 
    • Details: Entitled: "Public Schools - School Year - Completion Date," Sponsored by Delegate Pena-Melnyk. Status: In the House - Hearing was held 2/22.

  • PARCC:  The Ways & Means Committee unfavorably reported on HB 723, which would have confined PARCC segments to 40min.  Delegates Ebersole withdrew the bill since it would not have actually allowed students time to simulate researching/writing.  (Most sections of the PARCC assessment in literacy involve sustained reading of two or more texts followed by a substantial writing piece. A longer test session over 40 minutes in duration is optimal for students; a limit of 40 minutes would drastically impact the type of questions/tasks students could complete in an uninterrupted session, particularly in literacy.  On the other hand, HB 366 had a hearing and is still being considered.  This bill allows students with disabilities to be exempt from taking the PARCC assessment unless the parent/guardian has agreed that the student may participate, and it is documented in the Individualized Education Program (IEP). The MCPS Board of Ed is opposed to the bill since it potentially release school systems from needing to provide evidence-based, differentiated instruction to students with disabilities and would adversely impact the imperative for school systems to narrow the achievement gap between students with disabilities and their typical peers. Failing to measure the student outcomes of the special education subgroup would undermine the goal of the MCPS strategic planning framework which assumes that every child can learn when given the proper supports and services.
    • Details: Entitled: "Education - PARCC Testing - Children With Disabilities (Ben's Rule)." Sponsored by Delegate Vogt, Status: In the House - Hearing held 2/2

  • Early Literacy: The General Assembly sometimes opposes meaningful legislation to address the achievement gap due to perceived funding constraints.  For example, the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee voted down  
    SB 485  which would have established an Early Literacy Program 
    to implement evidence-based literacy programs in Title I schools (to to meet literacy proficiency targets before 4th grade.  MCPS has 25 Title I schools with ~16,000 students enrolled in Title I schools, roughly half (8,100) are ESOL. Currently, there is not one position designated for providing targeted early literacy intervention. Identifying an interventionist would increase quality. of instruction. 
    • Details: Entitled: "Education - Maryland Early Literacy Initiative Program - Established." Sponsored by Senator Conway. Status: Reported unfavorably and withdrawn.
  • More Funding for Head Start: On the positive side, the Senate approved SB 373.  This bill will require the state to supplement federal Head Start funding with additional appropriations. Currently, funding from the Maryland legislature provides $113,000 to Montgomery County to provide the Head Start summer program for children who are not enrolled in Title 1 schools for kindergarten. Of this amount of $113,000, MCPS received $106,000 to serve 120 children in a 4- or 5-week extended year program. The additional funding described in this bill would be divided among all of the Head Start programs in Maryland both Head Start (serving children aged 3–5) and Early Head Start (serving pregnant women and children aged 0–3). Each year in MCPS, there are approximately 1,200 Head Start-eligible students and only 648 can be served in the Head Start program (approximately 70 three-year olds-and 578 four-year-olds). The other Head Start-eligible children are served in the part-day prekindergarten program. The total cost for all Head Start-eligible 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds in Montgomery County would be approximately $31,125,000. Additional funding to support these children is much needed and appreciated. 
    • Details: Entitled: "Education - Head Start Program - Annual Appropriation (The Ulysses Currie Act). Sponsored by Senator Currie.  Status: In the Senate - Third Reading Passed (45-0)
  • Guidelines for Dual Immersion Schools:  HB 642 requies the State Board of Ed to establish regulations/guidance for implementing Dual Immersion school programs.  There are currently three Dual Language Immersion Programs offered in MCPS. They are located at Brown Station, Kemp Mill, and Washington Grove elementary schools. All three programs meet the definition of “Dual Language Immersion Program” as provided in this bill, with one exception. The bill requires the use of two teachers, with one for each language. This is the expected model at MCPS; however, student enrollment at Brown Station Elementary School created the need for a fifth kindergarten classroom, and the odd numbered class is allocated only one teacher, who delivers the instruction in both languages. There are concerns that certain definitions/requirements in the legislation would hinder MCPS’ efforts in expanding Dual Immersion. As such, MCPS may be seeking amendments to support the intentions of this bill (but highlighting the importance of local control on the specifics of these programs).
    • Details: Entitled: "Education - Dual Language Immersion Program - Authorization." Sponsored by Delegate Gutierrez. Status: Hearing was held 2/16. Awaiting further Committee action.
KIRWAN COMMISSION BILL: I'm happy to report that the Early Literacy Program proposed under SB 485 has in fact  been integrated into a larger Education bill being advanced through the legislature on behalf of the Kirwan Commission.  This bill, HB 1415, is seeking to tackle a host of priorities, from addressing the achievement gap to boosting teacher training resources/standards; provisions include:
  • Establishing the Learning in Extended Academic Programs (LEAP) grant program to provide additional funding for schools in which at least 90% of students qualify for federal free/reduced priced meals 
  • Expanding eligibility requirements for the Teaching Fellows for Maryland scholarship program; 
  • Establishing grants for more schools to build innovative a Career and Technology Education programs; and 
  • (of course) extending the final report date for the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.
Of course, many many bills have been filed and are being considered.  If you hear of particular legislation and want more information, or would like us to advance priorities youre afraid are not being considered, please let me know.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

AP Advocacy - 5 Steps to a 5 --- Guest Blogger Cynthia Simonson, MCCPTA VP Educational Issues

IT’S HERE!  IT’S HERE!  Starting in mid-December, I start checking the MCPS Office of Shared Accountability daily… waiting and waiting for the annual report that gives us the results from last year’s Advanced Placement and IB tests.   This year, the report dropped in late January! 

I know not everyone geeks out on this particular report, but I LOVE IT; I simply love it!!  The first part of this report outlines how MCPS performed and, to our credit, year after year, we outperform the state of Maryland and the nation. That is certainly worth celebrating, for sure, but, I think like a swimmer -- “how did we do against ourselves?”  If you’ve ever lived with a competitive swimmer, you know about best times.  This “sport” isn’t so different.  I look at different things in the appendices (outlined below), I compare this year’s scores to how students did last year, and I look at my specific school stats to see if we are performing where I would expect in relation to the rest of the county.

What this report does, more than anything else, is it gives parents material to frame questions and helps identify areas of advocacy as we work toward being “better” than we were before.  As a school system, we put a lot of emphasis on AP courses as being a strong indicator of college readiness.  I think AP courses are an AWESOME entry point for students to experience the rigor of college courses.  But, it is important as we expand the pool of students accessing these courses, we expand the supports also so when a student commits a year to study a college level subject, they have every opportunity (and expectation) of passing the exam and possibly getting the college credit. 

It is my belief, students shouldn’t be shocked by the exam scores they receive in July.  If they have been taking a rigorous college level course all year, they should have plenty of indicators from their formatives how they will perform on the exam.  Sometimes things happen… but that should be the exception, not the rule!  

Below is an outline of the content within the report. Data can be powerful – use it well! 

·       Appendix A:  Starting on page 8 of the document, shows me how many AP courses (and IB courses) my high school offers in comparison to all the other county high schools.  The range of AP classes offered in 2016-17 goes from 9-33 (which mind you, isn’t as dramatic a range if low AP courses correlates with IB offerings).  But, maybe that would be something for a cluster coordinator to ask about.  Scrolling through Appendix A, I can see the last three years of participation for my high school by demographics.  Are we attracting more students?  Less students? What do I see in the trending of specific populations?  What does this tell me (and what questions do I have) about the accessibility of our courses to all students?  Do the numbers at my high school look similar to my benchmarking schools?  If not, why not?  Is there something we can learn from them?  Is there something they can learn from us? 

·       Appendix B:  This is where access and success intersect!   Page 22 shows not only who took the test, but who passed it (with a 3 or higher).  And again, I can scroll to my high school and see by demographics who is passing and not passing the APs.  And, I can look at my school in comparison… and I think about conversations I’ve overheard about programs that are in place in other parts of the county and ask questions at the next high school PTSA “has our school ever considered having…?”   AND, page 30 is a special treat because this gets to the detail of high school’s participation and whether the numbers represent 1000 kids taking 1 exam each or 200 kids taking 5 exams each.  

·       Appendix C:  THIS IS MY CANDY… this is where it becomes very personal because from pages 33-52, you can see each course and how the students performed by high school in the 20 most popular courses.  I look at the mean for the county for each class and how did my school perform against that mean?  I look to see what courses we didn’t offer and make note to ask more about that.  And, again, I look at my benchmarking schools – how are my “training partners” doing?  And, I really focus on schools that are posting “rock star-like numbers” and sometimes I reach out to those clusters and ask “what is happening over there” to gain more insight.  For the past year, I’ve been reaching out to my Principal on any courses I have questions about and I have been talking to other parents – does this seem right to you?  If there are courses that have been underperforming against the mean year after year – which I can see by looking back at this SAME report that is published each year here --   And, I ask parents in my community about their students’ experience in certain classes and go back to the Principal to ask what explains this?  Is it a preparation issue? Do we need to create more professional development opportunities?  Something else I have dared to ask “can I see the correlation data?”  I haven’t seen it yet, but, when many parents have similar stories of their children getting As in the course but, 2s on the exams, I have questions… To my way of thinking, if a big group of students are getting As in the class, I’m expecting – if the course is covering all the material with rigor -- most of those students will post 4s or 5s on the exam.  With our new data system being launched, that can help target support to teachers and students – giving every child their best chance at success.  (Watch for that in coming years!)