Carroll County got a deserved pat on the back last week from Nancy Grasmick, the state schools superintendent, for its success in meeting education goals at a moderate cost.
Carroll's per-pupil cost for education is $600 less than the statewide average of $5,800. Yet Carroll is one of only two counties that last year met all 13 state standards for student performance. Those standards, contained in the annual fall "report card," include achievements on the functional knowledge tests, as well as attendance and promotion percentages.
Carroll knows how to "fund for success," the schools chief told teachers in Westminster. Along with Howard 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. The panel hopes to establish a per-pupil "adequacy" funding amount for all school districts, with a few add-ons for special needs.
The message is not that Carroll is merely adequate or average in education, but that it can achieve results without spending the most money on its schools. Montgomery spends the most, about $7,300 last year, and did not do as well on the state report card, although excelling in other areas not considered in the state performance assessment.
Looking at counties that get the most for their money is a good start for the commission, whose work is nowhere near completion. But it should not assume that the three Central Maryland counties that Dr. Grasmick singled out 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 not directly related to the number of pupils.
Dr. Grasmick also had praise for the Carroll Reading Council and its efforts to improve students' language skills, calling it a "state of the art" program. This is one example that other counties can copy to improve instruction in the essential art of expression.
Carroll should be proud of its accomplishments, while working for continued improvement. Tougher statewide tests introduced two years ago will raise the standards. But the county's school system has already shown that money alone is not the key to better education.