The reverberations from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to echo through our world, in ways great and small, obvious and obscure.
The news this week that nearly a third of the schools in Frederick County received fewer stars in recent state ratings than they received before the pandemic was one more reminder that we as a community and as a nation will be dealing with the aftereffects of the pandemic for a long, long time.
Inflation, economic instability, disruptions in the workplace, children underperforming in school, revolution in entertainment and media — these changes and many others all can be traced directly or indirectly to the pandemic.
Everywhere you turn, you can see the scars.
More people working from home? Downtown business districts are suffering.
Most folks streaming movies on their televisions? Movie theaters are dark.
Pandemic relief kept families afloat? Another spur to inflation.
Now, the Federal Reserve is aggressively raising interest rates, to slow and cool the economy, but that turns out to be a blow to the banking industry.
In this environment, the state’s school systems, including Frederick County Public Schools, are dealing with the effects of the hard decisions made in the dark days of the pandemic to protect children and school staff members from the disease.
Schools were closed for months. Parents and children tried to keep up as best they could by watching lessons on computers. The resulting falloff in achievement was probably inevitable.
In retrospect, some measures like remote learning may have been kept in place too long.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but at the time those decisions were made, everyone was trying to adapt to a truly unprecedented situation. If district leaders made mistakes, they made them with the best of intentions, with the highest priority to protect the health and safety of the children and the staff.
But now we must cope with the aftermath. When the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) released its “report cards” last week, the marks were almost uniformly disappointing.
More than 1,400 public schools across the state were rated on a scale of one to five stars, based on test scores, student progress, graduation rates, survey results and other factors.
All Frederick County schools received three stars or higher for their performance during the 2021-2022 school year, as did more than 75% of schools statewide. But the ratings for 19 FCPS schools decreased from the 2018-19 school year.
The ratings are not a comprehensive measure of school quality. But they include thousands of data points on the performance of specific student groups, and school leaders said they will be an important tool in addressing the long-term impacts of the pandemic.
“The data collected from the 2022 Report Card is the starting point for us to shape local education agency policy and work toward implementing evidence-based, best-in-class work to drive student outcomes,” State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said in a statement. “That work is more urgent now than ever.”
Overall, 15 FCPS schools received three stars, 38 received four stars, and 10 received five stars.
The numbers were grim across the board. At the elementary and middle school levels, FCPS students did not meet their annual targets for “academic achievement,” a score that takes into account overall proficiency ratings on standardized tests.
While no group of high school students met their annual targets for math proficiency or showed improvement from the previous year, high schoolers did show improvement in English proficiency. But the county did not meet its annual target on that measure, either.
Our school system, like all schools in Maryland and across the country, is under even more pressure to bring our children up to the standards of learning that we expect. But the damage done in the disruptions of the last three years will linger for a long time, we fear.
And remember that COVID is still out there infecting people. I continue to mask in public buildings and purchase thru Amazon if I can. I am fully vaccinated. I have only been in a restaurant wo a mask 3 times, including last week. I was very surprised to test positive for COVID over the weekend. This is a horrible virus and I feel horrible, tho not enough to call 911. So still be careful and continue to prevent the spread of this disease.
Radical…..maybe. But I still believe that Public School kids should have repeated the grade they missed or else they will be a year, or more, behind their education for the rest of their K-12 education. Repeating the grade at this age will do little harm, that’s what kids used to do if they failed in my universe.
To investigate any subject, you need to do two things that Americans rarely do.
1) Comparison over time--and not a cherry-picked time (for example crime is up compared to last year, but not compared to high crime rates historically).
2) Comparison outside the political boundaries of your own issue. In other words, examining Frederick County, even in historical perspective, is meaningless without comparing it to other counties in the state, other counties in the US, and other countries. It would be misleading, for example, to say "Frederick County's doing better than it ever has in education!" Sounds good. But if Frederick County ranks towards the bottom in the state, nation, or internationally it changes the picture.
Canada, as I pointed out recently, ranks #2 in reading among all the countries in the latest PISA tests. And it's #5 in both math and science. The US is nowhere close. And it has nothing to do with immigrants--the US has about 14% foreign born, Canada has about 25%.
So you should wonder: What's happening up North?
1) Canadian children rank a whole year ahead of US children right out of the gate. Why? Pre-K education is available and either free or subsidized. This "year ahead" advantage continues throughout the educational life of the student. I was in charge of a large (30,000 students a year) professional education program for a national trade association. Canadian students consistently scored 15% higher on average than US students.)
2) Teacher retention and pay scales. The typical US pay scale has 25 steps. The typical Canadian pay scale has 9 steps. Canada has a much higher rate of teacher retention. Why? One reason is that with only 9 steps, in the early years of teaching you get a substantial ($5,000 +/-) raise each year. In a 25-step system, your raise is more in the order of $1,000 a year. It's easier to walk away from $1,000 than $5,000. And everyone agree that, on average, more experience teachers are better teachers. And it's extremely expensive to hire a new teacher.
3) Teacher certification and education. In the US, many states (including Maryland) have detailed, often state-specific, requirements. The result is that if you are a teacher in another state, it's hard to get certified in another state. So you automatically make it harder for a good teacher to transfer to your state.
More importantly, in the US you get a degree in "education". In Canada, you get a degree in a specific subject (math, chemistry, economics, English....) just like everyone else. And THEN, if you want to become a teacher you take an additional year to get a B.Ed. IN ADDITION TO your BA or BS. In other words, you have math majors teaching math, not someone who has a degree in "education" and may have little or no math background.
4) Unions and administration. Teachers' unions in Canada are respected, and one of their main goals is to improve education. They often research issues on their own or in partnership with the province. They often set the curriculum for each subject with provincial approval.
The superintendent of Frederick County makes almost twice as much as the superintendent of Middlesex County in Ontario. And Middlesex County has more schools and more students. I suspect salaries of other administrators are also bloated in comparison with their Canadian counterparts.
5) Sports. Sure, Canadian high schools have the usual lineup of sports. But the coaches are teachers--not outsiders--and they are not paid extra. It's expected that teachers volunteer to sponsor / coach student groups / teams. And this attitude filters down to the students: Sure it's fun to be on the football team, but it's not your focus as a student. It's fun. It's a game. You're an amateur, not a professional in training. How well do these amateurs do internationally? Take a look at Olympic medals. They do just fine, thank you.
Now if I were on the school board (thank God I'm not), I would take a little road trip to the Frozen North and talk to administrators, teachers, and students and sit in on some classes.
I'm reminded of Stew Leonard's Dairy in "In Search of Excellence" c. 1982. Every month Stew would take his employees on a road trip to visit another grocery store. Each employee had to write a report. But it was forbidden to mention anything Stew Leonard's store did better--they could only write about things the store they were visiting did better. So Stew had a constant list of good ideas. Did it matter? Stew's store sold several times more per square foot than any of his competitors. Yes, it mattered.
Maryland teacher turnover rate: 12%
Ontario teacher turnover rate: 3-4%. Am I the only one asking why?
“But the damage done in the disruptions of the last three years will linger for a long time, we fear.” The damage is everywhere, which normalizes the field. Fear is in no way helpful. Buck up.
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