The official Troup’s Corner stance on the State of Maryland’s maintenance of effort (MOE) mandate is that it is flawed, for two primary reasons. The first reason is that it historically granted counties little flexibility in handling budget shocks. With the regular session of the General Assembly that adjourned in April, it afforded even less flexibility. Fear not, if County Commissioners were feeling just a bit too comfortable in their budget box, the special session may just shove teacher pensions to the county level, further making it difficult to comply with the mandate.
The other flaw in the MOE standard is that it is quintessential government-speak. By cloaking mere baseline budgeting under the hood of “effort,” it becomes hard to argue against it. Who could ever find fault with something called “The Jobs Act,” or something called “The Affordable Care Act”? Call something “effort” and it takes on a qualitative meaning as opposed to the quantitative “spend more than you did the year before.” Perhaps Social Security recipients could have seen COLAs in 2009 had they been called “Senior Citizen and Retiree Enhancement Disbursements.”
As previously chronicled, Kent County finds itself in the midst of a controversy over how to proceed with this mandate hanging over its head. There really is no greater testcase to expose the flaws of MOE than Kent County. It really is a shame that the Superintendent,the County Board of Education, the County Commissioners, and the State Board of Education have maneuvered into some type of circular firing squad, with teachers and students somewhere in the picture.
Looking for effort? Kent County High School boasts a planetarium, radio station, greenhouse,and culinary program. Your columnist attended high school in the sainted Howard County system, and these assets were unavailable. KCHS was recently provided with a $10 million capital improvement. In terms of extracurriculars, the basketball team was a game away from playing in the Comcast Center and the band went to the Gator Bowl. All of this in an era of educational austerity that would make some countries’ Protestants self-immolate, yet none of this counts as effort in the eyes of the law.
Lost in all of the edubabble and electioneering is a look at actual results. Nobody could suggest that cutting funding is a strategy towards achieving better schools. It is more a matter of “spreading the pain” as a County Commissioner put it. On the other hand, is there a positive correlation between exceeding the MOE standard and excellent performance?
Looking at the Maryland Report Card for Kent County yields mixed results. Kent County third graders in 2010 met or exceeded reading standards at a rate of 77.7 percent. Students across Maryland in 2010 met the same standard at a rate of 84 percent. In 2011,Fourth graders in Kent County met or exceeded reading standards at a rate of84.7 percent. Students across Maryland in 2011 met the same standard at a rate of 88.7 percent. What does this selected statistic tell us? Using the same children as a benchmark, state students outperform county students; however, the gap closed(in an austere year).
A similar analysis in mathematics yields a similar result. 2010’s County third graders were at or above the standard at a rate of 82.7 percent versus the state rate of 86percent. 2011’s Kent County fourth graders were at or above the standard at a rate of 87.7 percent versus a state rate of 90.3 percent.
Something interesting is happening with Kent County’s current crop of fifth graders. They outperform the rest of the state in reading and math, and did the same last year in the fourth grade. Moreover, the gap is widening. That said, it is more a function of state students leveling off, then it is of Kent County students taking off.
Where Kent County sees the most scattered results are in the middle school grades. The difficulty level seems to ratchet up in the seventh grade as county and state students see more students slip into basic levels (below standard) in mathematics. Kent County middle-schoolers outperform state students in reading, but are virtually equal by eighth grade. Regarding mathematics, by the eighth grade,county and state students are pretty well stratified into thirds using the basic, proficient, and advanced criteria.
So how vital is the MOE mandate, if students gravitate to the mean anyway? Does it mean that there should be NO bedrock protections for education funding? Surely not, yet the MOE standard as currently constructed, may not be as necessary as its proponents would have us believe.
Across the region: Maybe the income tax hike yields results in school performance (seriously, the new MOE standard holds counties harmless who raised their income tax to the max. And MOE = results, right?). Queen Anne’s students outperform state students across the board. In fact, Queen Anne’s County goes toe to toe with Howard County’s performance.
Talbot County students perform along the lines of state students. What is interesting is that Talbot County’s middle-schoolers seem to be impacted slightly less by the middle school regression that seems to happen across the State of Maryland. That said, half of Talbot County’s tenth graders have passed all four high school assessments, compared to Howard County tenth graders. By graduation, Talbot County’s students catch up to the standard.
Caroline County’s students get off to a slightly slow start. Performance in fourth and fifth grade improves. What’s interesting here is that Caroline County’s middle schools outperform the state and are totally immune to the statewide regression. 82.1percent of Caroline County eighth graders are at or above the mathematics standard, compared to 66.1 percent across the state.
Dorchester County is a different story, and is the evidence that MOE proponents would use, since they were noncompliant. Unfortunately, Dorchester students in grades 3-8 do not outperform state students on either math or reading examinations. Moreover, Dorchester students seem hardest hit in the region by the “middle school regression.” All of this begs the question,is it the standard or is there something structurally deficient in middle school education? If we didn’t see these issues across the state, I would say that it may be a strain on the average middle-schooler to get to a centrally located school that houses a large student body. But again, it seems to happen across the board, and private school students make the trek each day.
Finally: What leaps out at me is on page two of the various report cards. The statistics for Howard County’s alternative and special education populations are complete. Also, they are not included in the standard MSA data.
A scan of the statistics for the midshore region reveals almost nothing. The data is incomplete because the sample is either too small, or systems are not seeking out the children in need of an IEP (or maybe don’t have the resources available for a small sample).
If it is the latter (heck if it’s either), then the State can do the region a great service, or shall we say “exert greater effort,”by assisting the counties with a regional special education program. This would allow students to be compared against truer indicators of their abilities. It would also prevent some of the wild swings in the standard MSA results seen county by county.
KCBR Update: The Chestertown Elks (minor) recently took two games from the Millington Big Dogs. Unfortunately, one was an exhibition for Millington’s Little League Day.
The Elks also dropped a pair of games. One against the Galena Lions. This game turned the Elks into a walking infirmary. The Elks also stepped out of league action and lost to the Queen Annes Yankees.
The All-Star game was May 19th. To those in the community who stopped by, cheered on the kids, and bought raffle tickets, thank you.