Wednesday, February 11, 2015

World Class Whatsits

The Howard County Public School System touts its desire to be a world-class educational system. My daughter goes to a "World Class Elementary Education Pilot School." When I Googled "world class HCPSS," I got more than five pages of results.

I do not question that our American educational system pales in comparison to other developed countries. Some people disregard these tests and metrics, but I believe them, because I feel them in many areas as I interact with people. Try asking your friends how they would feel if Russia invaded Georgia and see what the result is.

A large part of the problem is the vast amount of school districts the US has - more than 13,000 in 2002. The lack of uniformity amongst those districts - size, taxing authority, curriculum, etc. - does not help matters. Which is one reason I'm generally in favor of Common Core - college freshmen should have a similar preparation regardless of state. (And for the record, I think the Department of Education is not quite constitutional.) Teachers in HCPSS have told me before that a kid coming from Texas is more than a year behind their cohort here. That's sad.

So, on the face of it, I agree - we should aim for an education that is competitive with other developed, wealthy countries.

But I don't always see that as part of our reason for having that as a goal.

Call me cynical. But I wonder if it's something else. More in the Gordon Gekko "Greed is Good" vein.

Is the purpose of HCPSS to educate our kids or to increase our property values?

We've all heard stories of people who move in with family members, crowding into townhomes and apartments, in order to get a Howard County education.

Ducketts Lane Elementary is a brand new school - not even two years old. Have you driven the Route 1 corridor of Elkridge lately? Do so before spring comes. Because you can see the explosion of housing over there without the leaves on the trees. Ducketts is forecast to be one-third over capacity next year, which has led the county to end the RECC program there to make space.

Given these increased student forecasts, but no analogous staffing increase, how do we continue to make our schools world-class?

Our property values may be high now, based on our historically school system performance. But sustaining them? Call me a pessimist on that one. And educating ALL of our kids to make it in the "real world"? Call me Eeyore:

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."
The House at Pooh Corner

(Full disclosure: I am a part of the Citizens Operating Budget Review Committee for the FY2016 Howard County Public School System. You can find more information here. My views here are my own.)

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