Howard County got a deserved pat on the back last week from Nancy Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, for its success in meeting education goals without breaking the bank.
Howard is one of only two counties that last year met all 13 state standards for student performance. Those standards, contained in the annual fall red-cover "report card," include achievements on the functional knowledge tests, as well as attendance and promotion percentages.
Howard knows how to "fund for success," the schools chief told a regional meeting of reading teachers. Along with Carroll and Frederick counties, it will serve as a model for the governor's commission on school funding that is looking to revise the state aid formula, she said.
The panel hopes to establish a per-pupil "adequacy" funding amount for all school districts, a base figure with a few add-ons for special needs.
Although its per-pupil spending is second highest in Maryland, the overall performance of Howard students was higher than that of Montgomery County, which spent an average of $7,400 per child, or $900 more than Howard.
The message is not that Howard is merely adequate or average in education, but that it can achieve results without spending the most money on its schools.
Looking at counties that get the most for their money is a good start for the commission. But it should not assume that the three Central Maryland counties cited by Dr. Grasmick have found a magic formula for pedagogical efficacy that can be easily adopted by more urban or more rural areas or areas of more socio-economic diversity. Other school districts face different costs that are not directly related to the number of pupils.
Dr. Grasmick warned that school systems must be more accountable for the results of their mounting budgets. The annual report card, and the new statewide student performance tests introduced two years ago, will help to quantify the results of these systems' efforts.
Howard should be proud of its accomplishments, while striving to work for continued improvement. Standards will surely rise in the future. But the county's schools have shown that money alone is not the key to better education.