Improving AAC Public Schools

Improving AAC Public Schools


This column ran on April 20, 2014 in the Capital Gazette
and on April 21, 2014 in the Maryland Gazette




Following a nationwide search for the next Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), the Board of Education has narrowed the field to three candidates, two of whom are long-time employees of the school system.  The Board appears to believe that our schools are on the right track and that consistency is more important than bringing in someone with fresh ideas to improve our schools. 

This would be a mistake.  While data indicates that our elementary schools are providing a top-notch education, the same cannot be said for our middle and high schools.  Rather than continuing the status quo, we need to bring in a data-oriented superintendent who will ask the tough questions and recommend substantial changes to improve our schools.

Maryland School Assessment (MSA) data shows that Anne Arundel County students leave elementary school with reading and math abilities that are among the best in the state and, potentially, the country.  Unfortunately, by the end of eighth grade, the MSA math performance of our students has dropped far below that of students in the other top-performing school systems in the state, Howard and Montgomery Counties, and even below the average for all students in the state of Maryland.  

While it would be comforting to believe that these poor results are an anomaly of inaccurate MSA testing, our students are also not excelling by other measures.  Despite the high potential our students demonstrate in elementary school, the average SAT score of Anne Arundel County students last year was identical to the national average of 1,498.  This is in sharp contrast to Montgomery and Howard Counties, whose students score comparably to ours in elementary school but whose soon-to-be graduates have average SAT scores of 1,648 and 1,653, respectively.

There are several factors that could be playing a role in these poor results: 

  • Something seems to be wrong with the way we’re teaching middle school math.  While it is concerning that the biggest test score decline occurred last year after Anne Arundel County led the way in implementing the new middle school math Common Core curriculum, it is important to note that the math scores of our students were also weak prior to this.
  • The achievement gap widens substantially during middle school, and there has been no progress in closing the gap during the last four years despite the tremendous attention given to the problem.
  • We are pushing too many middle school and high school students into advanced classes beyond their abilities, causing some of them to fail.
  • There is too much variation in educational outcomes between the twelve high school feeder systems, potentially misleading students at weaker schools as to their level of mastery of a subject.

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Unfortunately, these disturbing statistics are not serving as wake-up calls to improve our schools.  While well-run businesses have been utilizing data to continuously improve their operations for decades, AACPS administrators have a tendency to discredit or ignore data that shows the need for improvement.

There is a better way.  Large school systems around the country are implementing strong data-driven cultures where decisions are based on hard data showing what works and what doesn’t.  All three of the large school districts that won the coveted Broad Foundation prize in recent years for dramatically improving academic performance and reducing their achievement gaps attribute a large part of their success to strong real-time, performance-focused data systems that give teachers and administrators the tools to improve their effectiveness.

The choice of Anne Arundel County’s next Superintendent will have a substantial impact on the future educational achievement of our children.  I ask the Board of Education to choose a candidate who commits to bringing our school system into the 21st century by relying on the analysis of hard data to help all of our students fulfill their full potential.


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