'There are a lot of things we can do better,' says school board hopeful

'There are a lot of things we can do better,' says school board hopeful

Robert Miller taught band in Howard County for 34 years until his retirement this spring. Now he is pursuing another role in the county's schools as a member of the Board of Education.

"I hope to be able to make an impact, hopefully by getting on the board," he said. "But even if I don't get on the board, I'm hoping that at least I can bring up some issues that will get people thinking from a teacher's point of view, as well as a parent's point of view."


Three positions on the school board will be open during the 2016 election cycle as the four-year terms of Board Chairwoman Janet Siddiqui, Vice Chairwoman Ann De Lacy and member Ellen Flynn Giles come to an end.

Miller, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology and bachelor's and master's degrees in music education from the University of Maryland College Park, moved to Howard County for his first teaching job in 1981. Both of his children went to schools in the county.

He said that the school system overall is a great one, but that "there are a lot of things that we can do better.

"Lately there have been so many things that have been getting in the way of teachers teaching students and students learning," said Miller, 58.

Two of these obstacles, he said, are standardized testing and teacher evaluations.

"There's so much time being spent dealing with standardized testing, both in terms of taking the test and preparation for the test," said Miller, , who has taught band at Hammond Elementary, Hammond Middle and Howard High schools. "Let's give this time back to teachers."

The amount of classroom time taken up by standardized tests is currently at the center of a nationwide education policy debate. In October, President Barack Obama recommended limiting standardized testing to 2 percent or less of instructional time and Gov. Larry Hogan announced his appointments to a state commission that will examine assessments in Maryland schools.

"When schools and teachers are forced to overemphasize standardized tests in the classroom, they deprive students of the kind of quality education they deserve," Hogan said in a press release. "It is clear to most Marylanders that we are over-testing our students and the process needs to be greatly improved."

Miller questions the value of test scores in improving a student's education and also in evaluating educators and schools.

"I want every student to maximize their educational potential, but measuring and comparing schools is not the way to do it," he said. "If you want to know the socioeconomic status of a community, look at its schools' test scores."

Time could also be given back to teachers, Miller said, by changing how teachers are evaluated.

Under the current state-mandated teacher evaluation system implemented in the 2013 to 2014 school year, teachers set out student learning objectives at the beginning of the year and evaluate whether these objectives have been met at the end of the year with tests that teachers create and grade.

"If you want to show growth, because your evaluation is tied to that, you don't want to challenge students too much," Miller said. "And this increases mediocrity."

The essential problem with any teacher evaluation system, Miller said, is that it cannot account for all of the variables that affect a teacher's success.


Instead, Miller proposed, teachers should be evaluated by their superiors, as is done in non-educational organizations.

"The administrators and instructional facilitators should observe teachers and intercede when they're having trouble and support the success of teachers," he said. "Give administrators time back to walk the halls and observe classrooms and take a more individual approach to evaluating teachers."