The future strength of our county depends upon how effectively we educate our children for the jobs of tomorrow. Anne Arundel County is blessed with dedicated and caring teachers and strong schools, and test scores have been steadily improving.
We must not be complacent, however. In recent years, we have delayed making the investments necessary to achieve excellence. There is now more than a one billion dollar backlog in school repairs, partly owing to the fact that many of our schools exceed the forty-year typical lifespan of a school and require expensive repairs to their roofs, heating and air conditioning, and other structural systems. In addition, there have been serious personal safety incidents at some of our schools such as Annapolis High.
The biggest concern, however, is that the achievement of our students is falling behind that of students in neighboring Howard County. While the students have similar scores on the Maryland School Assessment tests in third grade, Anne Arundel students fall further behind those of Howard County with each passing year.
Source: 2009 Maryland School Assessment (MSA) results
There are several factors that could be influencing this. First, Howard invests $11,940 per student per year, 10% more than Anne Arundel’s per pupil spending of $10,846. Howard County provides smaller class sizes and smaller schools, both factors shown to improve student performance.
These trends continue into high school, where higher percentages of Howard County students are judged proficient or advanced in Algebra, English and Biology. Howard County’s average high school teacher to student ratio is 15.6, well below the 18.0 average in Anne Arundel County. And the average Howard County high school teaches 1300 students, far below the average of 1930 students per high school in Anne Arundel County. We haven’t built a new high school in our county since 1982, despite the fact that our population grew by 34% during this period.
This matters so much for two reasons. First, Anne Arundel County is in the process of becoming the center of defense-related cyber-security in the country. In order to maximize this opportunity, businesses considering moving here need to know they can count on a well-educated workforce. Secondly, more than 20,000 jobs will be added in the Fort Meade and BWI areas over the next six years. If these employees choose to move to Anne Arundel County instead of commuting in, housing values will rise, area small businesses will be strengthened, and the county’s tax base will increase. But one of the most important factors families take into account when deciding where to live is the strength of the school system. Will they choose for their children to go to Meade Senior High School, where 82.5% of students are rated as proficient or advanced in algebra, English and biology, or will they drive 11 miles further up Route 175 to Howard’s Long Reach High School system, where 92.0% of students achieve proficiency?
Fortunately, there is some exciting progress being made in Meade area schools. Meade Senior High School now offers both the International Baccalaureate program and a Homeland Security Signature Program, and a new Imagine elementary school is opening in 2011.
As County Executive, Joanna plans to partner with Superintendant Kevin Maxwell and the School Board to find innovative ways to strengthen our school system, with particular emphasis on schools that are under-performing. Assuming Joanna is able to earn and keep the trust of county residents, by the end of eight years in office, she wants our school system to be second to none, with test scores matching (if not exceeding) those in all other counties in the state. Achieving this excellence will require progress on several fronts:
Since they share the same objectives, Joanna intends to stop the public bickering and work in concert with the School Board and Superintendant Maxwell to develop operating and capital budgets that strengthen our schools for the future. Both our children and the long-term economic vitality of the county require it.