HYATTSVILLE, Md. — Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Kevin M. Maxwell proposed a fiscal 2017 operating budget Thursday night that calls for expanded prekindergarten programs and more literacy and math coaches.
He says these things are needed to strengthen a school system that, in years past, has struggled with sagging enrollment and high teacher turnover.
Recent results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers show widespread inconsistencies across the board: 32 percent of county third-graders did not meet basic performance levels on the English Language Arts exam.
Conversely, 6 percent of the county’s 10th-graders — or 417 students — exceeded expectations on the English Language Arts test.
Thirty-seven percent of Prince George’s County’s eighth-graders failed to meet basic expectations on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) math exam.
“I don’t necessarily see a lot of surprise. Everybody knew the test was harder. Everybody knows that the curriculum is more challenging,” Maxwell tells WTOP.
Adopted in 2013, the PARCC exams have replaced the Maryland School Assessments in elementary and middle schools, and the High School Assessments in English and Algebra.
The PARCC exams are said to be more rigorous than the MSAs and HSAs, which were criticized for being too easy. School leaders want students in tougher classes to prepare them for university coursework and challenging careers.
“It’s important for our kids to really get a high-quality education,” Maxwell says.
“I think there are some hopeful signs, but no one can look at the scores and not acknowledge that we have a tremendous amount of work to do.”
Throughout the system, school leaders have placed a strict emphasis on reading: If students can comprehend complex text, they’ll be able to understand the test questions.
Shawn Joseph, the county system’s Deputy Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, says administrators are looking over the curriculum to make sure it’s aligned with the state’s new Common Core focus.
“Maryland’s standards are much higher than they’ve been, and we have work to do to reach those standards. They’re much more demanding than what our students are used to being tested on,” Joseph says.
Historically, the Prince George’s County school system has ranked near the bottom on standardized test scores. Just two years ago, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III took control of the struggling district after years of superintendent turnover and drama from the school board. In August, member Lynnette Mundy resigned after allegedly falsifying documents to qualify her child for free and reduced-price meals.
Maxwell was hired in 2013 after then-Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr. left Prince George’s County for the schools chief job in Philadelphia. In 2009, Hite was hired to replace John E. Deasy, who abruptly left the county to work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Andre J. Hornsby resigned as county superintendent in 2005 after he allegedly steered school system contracts to his girlfriend and received kickbacks from a business associate. In 2002, the Maryland General Assembly approved a bill that stripped the county school board of its power after firing then-Superintendent Iris T. Metts following two years of public battles.
Observers say those instances led parents to distrust the school system and opt for other places to educate their children. With roughly 125,100 students, Prince George’s is the state’s second largest school system behind Montgomery County. Enrollment dipped dramatically in 2012, but now seems on the upward swing.
Graduation rates are climbing and dropout rates are declining, Maxwell says.
“We feel like we have more families that we wish were enrolling their kids in the public schools here,” Maxwell says.
“We want to make it clear that we’re a school system for our whole community.”
Thursday night at Charlie H. Flowers High School in Springdale, Maxwell called for a $2 billion budget for the 2017 fiscal year. In additional to calling for the tools to increase test scores, Maxwell said his plan will bring $43 million in salary enhancements for teachers and staff in the school system.
“School year after school year, they seek out other districts because we can’t compete with the salaries of neighboring school districts,” Maxwell said.
He also said the money will allow the system to reduce class sizes for students in kindergarten through second grade. The funds will also pay for a “parent university” program which aims to help parents become more involved in their children’s educations.
“Our education system will not improve to the place we want it without funding,” Maxwell said.
The budget will now receive the attention of the Board of Education and other county leaders.
“It’s not extraordinary when you look at the most successful school districts in the country. We don’t believe there is any reason why we shouldn’t be one of them,” said Board Chair Segun Eubanks after hearing the CEO’s price tag.
County Executive Rushern Baker says it comes down to the people of the county deciding if they will support funding the school system at the level where it should be.
“What do you think of your education? How much are you willing to invest in it? And how much do you believe that we can actually have the number one education system in the nation? If you believe in that, you pay for it,” Baker said.
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