Marian on her Efforts
Speech, September 21, 1982
I ran for the Board in 1976 because I had long believed that our schools were under a spell of permissiveness, which was leading to mediocre performance by our students. And this was not just a local problem; it was a national problem too. I wanted to do something about it.
During my years on the Board I believe I have helped to turn education away from permissiveness and toward a solid traditional education for our children. I am most proud of that…
[M]y pride in these accomplishments determines my response to [recent criticism of me]? Many of these efforts, when first proposed, were ridiculed by the advocates of the old permissive ways. None could have become policy without the votes of other likeminded Board members with whom I have enjoyed working. Judge for yourself if my guiding principles make sense.
1. Students should be in class to learn, enrolled in as many classes as possible. We had had rampant cutting, weak attendance rules and seniors taking only one course when they should be preparing most intensively for college. The solution: Instead of allowing students to cut up to 10 times per semester and still obtain course credit, unexcused absences (hooky) were reduced to 5. (I believe it is still too high.) In addition we now require students to be in school all day.
2. Students should be taught in as small a class as fiscally possible. We limited class sizes in the elementary schools and in academic subjects in the secondary schools. Before 1978, the average class size was 26.7. Last year it was 25.2! In addition we have reduced the number of large classes. In 1978 there were 3,000 overly large classes. Last year the number of academic classes with over 34 students was under 20, not 3,000!
3. We should employ the best staff. We had a fine, educated staff in 1977-78; 44% of our teachers had a master’s or doctor’s degree, quite respectable compared with the rest of Maryland at 26%. Now it is 85%. That’s almost double in four years! I know of no other school district in the United States with such an experienced staff.
4. Our students must have textbooks. Before 1978, funds for texts were $8 per student per year, far below the national average. There were simply not enough books for each student to take his books home. In one year we doubled the funds to $16; that must be continued.
5. All students should do homework regularly. As part of the old permissive attitude, it was rationalized that homework was not essential and could be done in class! Now children are assigned homework 3 to 5 times a week.
6. Student performance should be monitored with final exams. During the permissive era, students could finish the semester’s work by making a poster instead of taking a final exam. We have required departmental final exams to ensure that all students within a school were learning the curriculum, and we are trying county-wide finals in English and Math to ensure that all schools maintain the same high county standards. So students must review the entire course and demonstrate mastery of the curriculum. The Washington Post stated the case for uniform final exams well in their editorial of January 5, 1980.
7. Students should be promoted based on their achievement, not solely on their age. We ended social promotion and established remedial programs so students who are several years behind can catch up.
8. Our schools must be drug and alcohol-free. In November, 1979, I worked with a citizen’s group to show how easy it was to buy drug paraphernalia in bong shops near schools. This led to passage of a state law which closed down the bong shops. In our schools, we now have special programs for students with drug problems. In addition we have a strong drug educational program to prevent abuse and building monitors to help with supervision.
9. Reading is the most important skill. In 1977, as the only conservative on the Board, I still was able to spearhead the effort to have 1977-78 declared the “Year of Emphasis on Reading”‘ with a requirement that every student, all 120,000, read silently 15 minutes every day. The practice continues in elementary schools to this day. I am especially proud of this.
10. An excellent education must be made available to students of all races and economic groups. We have worked for equal opportunity for all students, spending $14,947,603 in 1981 on Quality Integrated Education, Human Relations, Bilingual Education, Compensatory Education, and other programs and services. This is in addition to our normal expenditures. Unfortunately the perception of what has been done is just the opposite. This is one of my biggest disappointments. The improvement in black test scores is heartening to me, but more work must be done. We must do a better job of explaining that our push for traditional education and excellence is intended for all of Montgomery County’s children.
The preceding focused on the educational changes. There have also been significant administrative and financial changes. Recognizing that too much money was spent on administrators and under-utilized school buildings, the Board bit the bullet and made some tough decisions. We reduced the number of administrators by closing two of the five area offices. Before 1978 we had five administrative offices. In 1982 we have three.
The most graphic proof of the cut in administrators is the comparison with Prince Georges County. PG has a severe budget crunch. Their response? Fire hundreds of teachers. Not here. We trimmed the administrators in 1979 and ‘80 and ‘81 and closed schools in ‘81 and ‘82, so we could increase the number of teachers (relative to the number of students). So we now have small classes and are restoring the seven-period day.
We closed schools. In 1972 we had 126,311 students. In 1982 we have 92,765. The percentage of schools closed is virtually the same as the percentage drop in enrollment.
Was this all worthwhile? As a result of these policies to ensure basic skills, ceilings on class size, doubling textbook funding, crackdown on hooky, shifting budget priorities from administration and unneeded buildings to classroom, requiring homework and final exams, good discipline, ending social promotion, we have concrete results. Test scores are rising again. Our students are learning and achieving.
For example, the National Merit semi-finalists have just been announced. Montgomery County public school students won 60% of the awards won in Maryland public schools (133), while students in the rest of the state’s 23 school districts won 40%. The 133 winners represent an increase from 115 and 117 in the last two years.
For example, national SAT scores are stabilizing at a low level, whereas MCPS scores bottomed out in 1979 and have improved since then. They remain well above the na-tional average. MCPS verbal scores are 458 (424 nationally); math scores are 503 (466 nationally). The upturns are not as high as we would like, but when everything in the rest of the country is still declining, it is good news nevertheless…
The(re) are concrete examples of how we have shifted this school system; as a result one can feel a different atmosphere and tone in the schools. Contrary to what the local papers report, the U.S. News and World Report found a lot of good when it highlighted one of our schools as an example of the end of permissiveness. Here is an excerpt from their article…
Rockville High School is a very different place these days from what it was 10 years ago when permissiveness held sway in classrooms, schoolyards and students’ homes. Discipline, student attitudes and behavior, academic standards all have changed.
Today, order prevails. Skipping classes used to be common, with no real policy governing attendance. Now says Rockville’s principal, Joseph Good, “if a student has five unexcused absences from a class, he or she loses credit in the subject.”
Rules on marijuana and other drugs have stiffened as well. If a student is found with any drugs on school property, officials immediately call the police, then the student’s parents and the student is suspended for five days . . .
The more responsible attitudes and behavior at Rockville High extend to studies. “Before,” says Good, “you rarely saw kids get on the bus with a book. We had lowered our standards. They never had any homework. Now, you rarely see a student get on the bus without a book…”
[T]he facts presented here? convince me my time is well spent.