“Buildings don’t teach children. Teachers do.”
Remember where you heard that. It certainly wasn’t from Steve Schuh, the Tea Party Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County Executive.
Steve’s “big idea” to improve the quality of public education is to replace the county’s 12 larger, community high schools with 24 smaller, neighborhood high schools. (See Reason #5 NOT To Vote For Steve Schuh.) By his own admission, it’s a plan that will take decades to accomplish. For a guy a Master’s Degree in Education from Johns Hopkins, you’d think he could up with something that would actually help your children now, instead your children’s children later – much later, if then.
Here are three questions a candidate for County Executive needs to research and answer before he or she can propose a plan to invest more – or less, heaven forbid – in public education:
1. The overall quality question. Are county public schools as good as they need to be to educate your children and make them competitive for jobs and college admissions when they graduate, or is there need for improvement?
It’s a difficult question that I’m going to answer by using individual school scores on the Maryland (elementary and middle) School Assessment and High School Assessment tests administered annually by the state. Admittedly, no standardized test is perfect, but they’re the best measure we have. Based on these tests, the public schools in Maryland are ranked relative to scores by students at other schools around the state. It’s a 1 to 10 scale. A ranking of, let’s say, 8 indicates that the students at that particular school are scoring better than 79% of the students at other schools in the state.
See the three tables below by clicking on their links. They show rankings for elementary, middle and high schools in the county. Take a look. Find the schools where your kids go.
According to these scores, county elementary scores have an average ranking of 6.91 meaning that, on the average, students at 30.09% of the elementary schools in the state score better on the MSAT than students in Anne Arundel County. County middle schools listed in the second table have an average ranking of only 6.80. High schools listed in the third table have an average ranking of 7.31. 10 is the highest ranking.
The point is, there is room and the need for improvement.
2. The intra-county question. Does the quality of the education children receive vary significantly around the county? Does it, in other words, make any difference where you live in the county? To answer that question, go back to the three tables above and look at the small sub-table on the right that’s highlighted in yellow. Each of these highlighted sub-tables shows the number of schools with different rankings.
If, for instance, all the elementary schools in the county were equivalent with respect to how their students score on state tests, they’d all have the same ranking. Clearly they don’t. They’re not equal. Not even close. It really does make a difference where you live and where your kids go to school. In the interest of equality, these are differences the county needs to fix. Now.
3. Why? This is the money question. Do you improve the quality of public education by replacing your 12 community high schools with 24 neighborhood high schools over the next few decades as Steve Schuh recommends? Or is his opponent’s proposal – that the county make sure its teachers are competitively paid and that they have the classroom resources they need to teach your children more effectively – make more sense?
Once again, it’s a complicated question that requires serious study by education professionals. That said, take a look at the table below that you can access by clicking on the link. What you’ll see is a list of all 24 counties, including the city of Baltimore, showing average per-pupil expenditures on instruction – that is, for teachers and classroom resources.
Notice that Anne Arundel County is 9th in the state, behind Howard and Montgomery Counties that are ranked 2nd and 3rd. Behind Baltimore City that’s ranked 5th. Out of 24 counties, Anne Arundel isn’t even in the top third by per pupil expenditures for instruction. Congratulations.
So, do you think a lack of investment on the part of the county might have something to do with performance on standardized tests? Or do you like being in 9th place? Do you think Steve Schuh thought about any of these numbers before he suggested spending precious county tax revenues on replacing all 12 of the counties high schools with 24 new ones? Or when he suggested reducing the property tax rates by 3% which is an $18 million cut in county tax revenues?
I don’t think Steve did his homework and that’s not a good example to set for your children. What it is, is another reason not to vote for him.