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With all the sturm und drang about education reform from various elites (e.g., Gates), and self-appointed apostles of dubious approaches with even more dubious results (Rhee, Duncan), it was thrilling to see an antithetical approach to educational reform described, one that works.

I am talking about an interview with Jerry Weast, the retiring superintendant of Montgomery County, MD schools, that is in this week's WaPo Magazine.

Disclaimer: I live in Montgomery County and have a 10 year old in elementary school.  I have been unfailingly impressed with the caliber of everyone involved in that school, from the teachers to the custodial staff who keep it such a bright, clean, cheery place to be.  

Jerry Weast makes some outstanding points about education, reform, and relationships with unions:

On funding:

[To help economically and academically disadvanted students it takes] Just a couple thousand dollars a student. It’s a 10 to 15 percent difference. If I’ve got to pay 10 to 15 percent extra and get a similar or close-to-similar outcome, I’d keep investing.

snip

Quality has gone up when historically the demographics that would cause white flight have increased: poverty, the number of kids that don’t speak English as their first language.

We set the highest scores in the history of the district. The highest SAT scores. The highest graduation rates. The highest college attendance and college graduation rates — and we have the evidence to prove that.

In fact, we’re now 2 1/2 percent of United States children who check the box that they are African American and are able to get a 3 [out of 5] on an Advanced Placement test. And nearly 1 percent of all of the Latinos in the United States of America who scored a 3 on an AP test came from this system.

On "reform":

We've worked years to get where we are.  We weren't going to [switch] what we were doing to something that wasn't built, had no curriculum, and was going to offer us $3 million [in costs] in a $2 million budget...That's the problem with a lot of the reform agendais that it is a whole bunch of theory and not a whole lot of action.

And perhaps most of all, on working with unions:

I have close relations with people who work in the school business.  They happen to be unionized, and I find that good, because it's easier to actually visit with them because they have an organized structure.

Is there a downsize to working with unions?  None.

snip

You see, we're in this together...When I look at the good companies, they want to be the place where everyone wants to go to work.   They want to be the place where people feel engaged...But yet, when we go over to schools, we want to work just the opposite.

And the ultimate takeaway?

The hardest lesson to learn is patience.  I mean, everybody wants everything right now.  It's America.  And it's hard, hard to hold people steady for a 10-to-12 year period of time....

snip

We came up with a phrase:  raise the bar and close the gap.

We will miss you Jerry, and hopefully we can keep what you have built going strong for the next generation as well.

Originally posted to Wintermute on Sun Apr 10, 2011 at 08:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos.

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