ROCKVILLE -- USING an overhead, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast displays three Montgomery County maps. The first shows student dropout rates, the second the distribution of students with limited English, the third the concentration of poverty.
The maps are almost identical. Montgomery's central corridor, running from the District of Columbia line to the farmlands of the northwest, has been urbanizing for more than a decade. The result: crowded classrooms, rising dropout rates and a persistent gap in student performance by race and ethnicity.
Reputations take a long time to change, but Montgomery's rose is losing some of its bloom. In the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, the county looks up at Howard and Kent counties, though it still spends more money than any Maryland district, has the best high schools in the state and parents who demand quality.
Weast, 52, arrived last summer from a North Carolina district half Montgomery's size. He calls himself a "change agent," and he's been living up to it. In November, he issued a "call to action" that seeks to close the racial and ethnic performance gaps while raising standards.
Tonight, the school board is expected to approve still another major Weast proposal: a sophisticated plan of "shared accountability." Among other things, the plan calls for a new way to evaluate teachers that takes into account much more than test scores and includes "peer" evaluations.
When the plan is in full flower, Montgomery educators will have at their keyboarded fingertips data that should answer almost any question they have regarding student and school performance.
Montgomery plans to build a "data warehouse" to assess performance.
The new plan, says Weast, will allow the educators to "look deeply" at the data to determine what went wrong with ninth-grade algebra or why two teachers with identical credentials get different results from similar groups of children.
Snow, holidays, meetings cut into school calendar
A sophomore we know happily reported over the weekend that Catonsville High School in Baltimore County has had but one full week of operation since the Christmas break.
She's taking into account the six snow days of January and February, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the time out for teacher training and Monday's Presidents' Day holiday (when Howard County kids were in school).
She's delighted there's more to come: the six-day spring break in April (including Good Friday and Easter Monday), the April 27 countywide professional development day and, of course, Election Day, March 7, when there's too much traffic to give children a lesson in civics.
Baltimore County built seven weather days into its calendar and has used eight. A spokesman said yesterday that Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione will see if it snows again before deciding whether to apply for a waiver of a day from the required 180-day school year.
Charter-school option returns, worth a look
Had Maryland a charter school law, the state could have used it to turn the three failing Baltimore City schools into community-oriented charters -- and used federal funds to do it.
Instead, the schools will be taken over by out-of-state profit-making companies with no advice from local parents, teachers or administrators.
Charter schools, publicly financed but independently operated, are the fastest-growing segment of American education, enrolling some 350,000 children. States with charter laws can share in a $100 million federal kitty.
Charter legislation failed last year when senators and delegates couldn't compromise. It's back again in 2000.