Brandon Rippeon for MCPS School Board
By Mark Uncapher
This past week Montgomery County’s Board of Education unanimously voted to sue the state to challenge the state’s mandate to begin future school years after Labor Day. Despite overwhelming public support for the state’s calendar change, the Board’s action came as no surprise, given their lock-step adherence to teacher union demands.
If only deciding when to start the school year was actually the biggest challenge facing the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system.
Montgomery County residents have long seen our public school system as a “crown jewel,” setting us apart from other communities. For decades, real estate agents have touted the quality of Montgomery County Public Schools to prospective buyers. Given the direction the schools are taking, home salespersons need to find other selling points as a different reality is settles in.
According to Maryland State Department of Education data, our students are failing to earn “college-ready” scores on statewide tests. Only 44.3 percent of students who took the Algebra 1 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test or PARCC for short got a score of 4 or 5. In simpler terms, the test results show the majority of Montgomery County public school students were not ready for college.
Given the deficient preparation of many MCPS graduates, most students at Montgomery College are required to complete one or more developmental/remedial courses before they can enroll in college-level courses required for a degree. In fact its “Reading 095” includes students who read at approximately the 6th through the 9th grade reading levels.
Among the state’s counties, Montgomery’s PARCC performance placed third, behind Howard and Frederick counties. Within the Montgomery County results were significant divergences among Asian, white, black and Hispanic students.
Such disastrous results in any other organization would have triggered a searching reappraisal. Much closer scrutiny of MCPS’s performance is essential in order to better track progress and shortcomings, among other strategies. When students are failing, one would expect educators would want to carefully monitor gaps in teaching and curriculum that might account for the testing deficiencies.
Instead of addressing these challenges, MCPS board members have been more intent on enjoying the perks of office. For example, member Rebecca Smondrowski was the subject of a media expose when she spent $885 on her school-issued credit card for a three-night stay at the Washington Hilton to attend a conference in the District. She also expensed a series of lunch meetings, at the Wine Harvest wine bar in Gaithersburg, the Greene Turtle sports bar and almost a dozen Starbucks trips.
The School Board has even been considering proposals made by an outside consultant to introduce thinly veiled “quotas” to reduce the percentage of Asian and white students admitted to the public schools’ magnet programs. In a remarkable piece of bureaucratic double talk, the consultant recommended modifying the admissions process to focus on “selecting equitably” from applicants. Bluntly put, this proposal involves making selections not based on merit, but in a manner specifically intended to reduce the percentage of Asian-American students in the programs.
Voters frustrated with the Montgomery County School Board have an opportunity to change its composition in the upcoming election. For example, “credit card” member board Rebecca Smondrowski is being challenged by Brandon Rippeon. (While Brandon is competing for the “District 2” seat, all county voters can participate in every contest under the peculiar election rules, even those in the districts they do not live in.)
Alone among the candidates running for the non-partisan position, the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee chose to recommend Brandon on its sample ballot. Given his business experience and the fact that he is a member of the Montgomery County Library Board, Brandon is well suited to bring a breath of fresh air to the Board of Education.