Dear Mr. Smilko:
The Aegis reported recently that you made the statement that “the dropout rate is decreasing”. In fact, the dropout rate for the Harford County Public Schools for 2007 is the second highest dropout rate out of the past five years. The rates in 2003, 2004, and 2005 were all lower than the rate for 2007. The trend for the dropout rate over the past 8 years does not indicate a consistent, year to year decline.
Please consider the graduation rate as a more appropriate measure of school system success. The graduation rate for 2007 is the third highest in the past decade and started showing sustained improvement in 2003.
A disappointing fact about both the dropout rate and the graduation rate is that they are worse for special education students, for students who qualify for free and reduced meals, and for African American and Hispanic students than for students who are not in those categories. In fact, the dropout rate has been two to three times higher for special education students and poor students than for regular education students. Typically about 3 out of 4 of these students graduate, compared to nearly 90% of other students.
The Board of Education heard a report recently about the number of failing grades earned by students in the third quarter this year compared with last year. While there was an impressive reduction in the total number of failing grades from 2007 to 2008, the difference between 2006 and 2008 was much less dramatic. This difference was not explained in the exhibit made available to the public.
Nonetheless, one-third of our public high school students failed at least one course in the third quarter this year. This seems to me to be an unacceptable level of failure. The data raise more questions than they answer. For example:
Is this trend the same in all high schools? What subjects are students failing most often? Are the failures related to subjects in which students must take High School Assessments? What is the pattern related to grades other than failing grades? Has this information changed over the past several years?
These questions demonstrate the value of collecting data that is available through the school system’s database. When board members and the public can see the trends in student achievement over several years, it is possible to describe and agree on the areas of success and on the areas of need. Unfortunately, the Board, the Superintendent, and her staff seem to be highly resistant to collecting such data and to making it available to the public.
In the same meeting where you referenced the dropout rate incorrectly, you stated that my previous comments regarding the high school reform program were “obstructionist”. In an effort intended to be more supportive, I want to offer to the Board once again my help in collecting and assembling data to allow Board members and the public to track changes in the progress of high school students.
William M. Ekey
– Mr. John Smilko
Board of Education of Harford County
102 South Hickory Avenue
Bel Air, MD 21014
– Members of the Board of Education
Bill Ekey, thanks for sharing a great letter. I would be curious to know if you get a response from Mr. Smilko, especially to your offers of assistance. I do not understand how sharing your expertise and volunteering your time could fairly be viewed as obstructionist.
Barry Anderson says
I think the best indicator of a successful public school system is neither the dropout rate nor the graduation rate, but rather how students do after graduation.
What does Harford County Public Schools do to track that?
How do they define “good” school?
Do they follow college graduations of the students who attend college?
What percetnage of our kids who go to college graduate?
How many of the graduates that attend college drop out in year 1, year 2, year 3, etc?
How many of our graduates go on to graduate school or professional school? etc.
How many of those go on to become or whatever; you know where i am going with this..
How does that performance compare with other school systems in the state?
My son went to school in Montgomery County, Woodrow Wilson High School to be specific.
They have five high schools in Newsweek’s top 100 high schools of which Wilson was one.
Harford County has none. That may be a way to measure a good system.
Do they track how their graduates who do not attend college are doing 5, 10 , 20 years out?
Seems to me that might be an interesting statistical measure of how well our schools are doing.
The bottom line is that educators in public school systems say accountability and measurement of success are elusive.
I say if you can’t define or measure success how can you manage the process to produce success?
It is clear to me, public education, managed by educators who have never been made by the public to define success, be accountable and are not required to measure and manage outcomes will continue to fail us.
Harford County Schools are simply one more part of a failed paradigm!
It is time for a new model for public education or maybe we should consider a full blown commtiment to measurable private education for all. Or, maybe New York City’s new model should be considered?
Who knows, there maybe a business opportunity there.
Whatever is done, I think we all can agree the dialogue must be expanded beyond the closed circle it has been limited to heretofore.
Very valid points, indeed. I dare say that this will fall on deaf ears, as with most constructive critisizm. I still marvel at how the CSSRP survey recommendations had some areas which should be explored, namely dropping LICW and going to 60 min. vs 90 min classes has not been given any crediblility and meets only with silence. Maybe silence means something is getting done, given the communication breakdown between HCPS, the Board and the public and we just aren’t hearing about it. I just hope it is not hopelessly built into
“another study” which is manipulated by the Super.
Can the raw data needed for the the evaluations that Mr. Ekey suggested be obtained from HCPS through a freedom of information request or is this information not being collected by the school at all? Also to Barry Anderson, several years ago a MD state study was published that followed high school graduates who go onto attend a community college. The study found that only 1/4 of those entering a community college in MD complete an associates degree or transfer to a 4 year college. These are sad statistics. FYI.
Barry Anderson says
And this is the sad state of public education today.
Why as customers do we tolerate this?
Why do we sell our kids short when it comes to their education but we scramble to get big screen TVs, four wheelers and enroll them soccer and lacrosse programs.
We are willing to drive them to hell and back so they can participate in sports but we are unwilling to deal with this critical problem.
We think we are being good parents but we have somehow forgotten that the future is them and they are not being prepared for it.
We are now in a global competition and we are falling behinder and behinder.
What is to be done?
Do we just rant on these blogs or do we crank up the volume on the Harford County Schools? It seems to me there is no choice if we really care about the kids and the future of this country.
Or am i being way too dramatic?
Competitive schooling…..what a deal….competing for students…who offers the best education for the dollar….
This is it, take it or leave it….your gonna pay for it anyways’s !
GO DAGGER ! ! !
Do you need help being dramitic…I can help !
Go – Dagger !
vietnam vet says
I suggest some heat be directed at the parent’s. as you said all play’ and no home work assignment’s are being completed.
junior is far too busy texing messages & you tube, to be concerned about education.
when he or she slip’s a grade it’s the teacher ! it’s the board. it’s every body’s fault but mommy & daddy’s.
The Dagger can inform and provide the forum to exchange ideas, but I agree with Barry Anderson that we also need to take action. Come to a board of education meeting and express your concerns, advocate for laws that expand access to a quality education, volunteer in a school, honor a deserving teacher and encourage all of the children you know to work hard and embrace the opportunity that education can provide.
Barry Anderson says
In New York City, it took Mayor Blumberg appointing Chancellor Klein (not an educator) to turn the poor City schools around. They kicked out the educators administering the system; brought in MBAs and managers who are used to managing large successful operationsand producing successful results; fired poorly performing Adminstrators and Principals to show they meant business; put the poorly performing teachers in a warehouse pending dismissal action
(which, by the way, because of the union, is more difficult than raising the dead) and changed the definitions of success both for the system and the students.
Even old time liberal, avidly union teachers I know agree that most things are better and the students are definitely doing much better. Parents now have to be involved with the students, so that is helping alot.
Klein and his MBAs have defined success as something more than just to graduate or keep students from killing themselves or their teachers.
They have instituted a school and student performance data system and database to measure the new definitions of student, teacher and school success.
They have installed a culture of good management
They have standardized the manner in which the Principals are managing their schools; no longer can each Principal manage their school any way they wish. They are held accountable every single week, every month of the school year for the successful performance of their teachers and students. School teahcer/student management data is valued and examined to determine who is doing well and who is not and why. Poor performering Principals are removed from their positions of leadership, retarained if possible and/or replaced based on merit and demonstrated management and leadership skills.
Principals are trained how manage, how to look at the data; how to function as leaders and how to make critical decisions assuring success of the teachers and the students. Poor performing teachers are immediately removed from the classroom, given a desk in the warehouse where they await their fate.
Overhead has been radically cut and dollars put in the classroom where the belong!
I just learned that there is a ‘system” of measurement in Harford County Schools.
But apparently they aren’t measuring the right things.
Neither the local politicians nor the state leaders have shown the guts to buck the union fearing that they will lose teachers votes. Oh yes, teachers have one of the most powerful lobbies in our state.
Our own County Executive is a product of this failed system having been a teacher and Assistant Principal in a middle school. As smart a politician as I know him to be, I doubt he is willing to take on this system alone without the backing of the State elected officials and the Governor appointed state Supt.
A few years back the current HCPS Supt Haas approached the business community and asked “What do we in the School system need to do better to create a better workforce in our County”?
As usual a committee was formed. It included educators and businessmen and women. After research and deliberation, suprise, the committee said “Students need to do better in Math and Reading and English”.
Where are we today after several years since Ms Haas and her merry band of educators have known the answer to this very pithy question?
Do our students/graduates read better? Do better in math? Write better? Read better?
How can we find out? What is the best, cheapest and easiest measure of this?
Here is something to think about:
1. Many of our students go to Harford Community College instead of or in anticipation of going to a four year college or a university.
2. Since HCC is a Harford County funded institution, why don’t we ask them and/or the Harford County School system (Ms Haas are you listening?) to tell us how many of our Harford County Public School graduates have to take remedial math and/or english/reading upon enrolling in HCC?
Seems to me it would be a very interesting data set and would give us something solid against which we could compare other counties in the state.
If Harford County graduates compare favorably, then HCPS are doing well; if not they are not. AND, if not, why not?
Maslow said in his pyramid that self-actualization is the highest form of….oh well you know.
Marcel Proust said (me poorly paraphrasing), “Don’t look to explore new lands, look at the things we know with new eyes”.
We need new eyes on the public schools in Harford County, both from the public and the politicians, not to mention the educators.
Isn’t insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Blumberg chose to do something different. He and Klein are embarking on a journey using a wholly new paradigm and it seems to be working.
Perhaps, and only perhaps, we here need to consider trying something different.
The worst we can do is get the same result. The best we can do is provide our future students with a future. Maybe at least the insanity will begin to abate.
Barry uses a key word…”culture”….a culture of good management. A culture becomes the norm and a norm of high standards in a school system management policey cannot be a bad thing.
Dave Yensan says
Great input Barry. We should also include in our thinking, that what we have is not an “education system” but rather an “education industry.” In the Army we referred to the culture of self perpetuity as the “West Point Protective Society” or WPPA. The NEA, or HCEA is an industry of self protection. It is incredibly difficult to attack or cause any action against a truly lousy teacher. When you get a chance to look at essays being used for scholarship applications, you get a pretty good idea of how badly the industry has failed. I begin to think that our schools are a lot like Soviet era industries; lots of people employed but very little useful product at the other end.
I would love to see us develop the intestinal fortitude to do what Blumberg did in NYC. Any politicians out there willing to sign up? Gosh, I didn’t think so. Maybe gutless is the right word.
While considering the competence or lack thereof with the HCPS try this for size:
My grandson has just completed his freshman year at Aberdeen High. He was a champion wrestler and had hopes of going back next year to play football and to wrestle again. I have monitored his grades and progress pretty closely. All indications according to Edline were that he was pulling A B and C grades in all subjects. The report card came on Thursday and he failed the fourth quarter English course rendering him ineligible for sports for the entire first quarter (both football and wrestling are in that quarter.) Mr Jourdan, the English teacher told him, during the last week that he was pulling a B. I called the school twice only to learn that no so called management people were around. this morning a new edline report shows up from th English class reflecting the E. Interestingly to me, all other English edline reports have been moved. The school and/or the teacher are now involved in a cover up for this guy’s incompetence.
What the hell is going on in the Harford County schools? Is Mr. Klein willing to relocate?
Barry speaks what we all already know….
This is Md, Har co inparticuler, and specificly HdG. A place where the right and wrong are not always cared about unless its at YOUR doorstep and affecting you.
The second major hurdle is the one sidded and incompetent press….rubbing adgendas.
archetypical hero says
Could you imagine if principals were held accountable? And the measurement of success and requirements for promotions went beyond this good old boy network? The amount of power these men have and the decisions they make that are never even questioned is absurd. Woe to the person that questions the principal.