Doing less with more is a succinct summation of retiring Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry Weast's tenure as head of the nation's 16th largest public school system. Education Week recently applauded MCPS for the highest graduation rate (83.1 percent) of the 50 largest school districts. But there's nothing to celebrate when nearly one out of five students attending a public school system touted as one of the best in the nation fails to earn a high school diploma. And of 24 school districts in Maryland, MCPS ranked seventh in the percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading and 12th in math on the 2010 Maryland State Assessments, even though Montgomery is by far the wealthiest county in the state.
Weast blames changing demographics to explain these disappointing results, the same excuse he used to double the school system's budget since 1999. How does the superintendent account for the fact that the best elementary school in Maryland, with a MSA pass rate of 100 percent, is located in a rural coal mining area of Garrett County? Or that 28 elementary and 16 middle schools in rich, urbanized Montgomery County failed to make annual yearly progress required under No Child Left Behind? The academic results produced by MCPS under Weast simply do not justify the additional billion dollars spent annually at his direction, mostly for staff salaries and benefits.
Then there is the issue of closing the academic achievement gap between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students. When he was hired 11 years ago, Weast promised to close a 228-point minority achievement gap between black and white students. In 2008, the gap was 274 points. A recent Washington Post editorial rightly gives Weast credit for increasing the number of minority students taking Advanced Placement exams, but ignores its own July 28, 2009, article that reported “even after a decade of effort, disparities remain. In some key areas, such as SAT scores and graduation rates, the gap has widened a bit. …”
Only in a region where government-at-all-levels is the biggest employer would spending more and achieving less be considered an accomplishment.
Worst of all, Weast's rocky relationship with parents and school board members has been variously described as “bullying” and “imperial.” And an Examiner editor dubbed his lamentable efforts to dismantle the district's gifted-students program as “Leave No Child Ahead.” Obviously, it was past time for Weast to move on.