Mapping Suburban School Reform

By Naomi Dillon

You’d be hard-pressed to find another school district that has been studied as much as Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools. Over the last decade, the state’s biggest school district -- the 16th largest in the country -- has been the subject of case studies, analyses, and public scrutiny for the myriad reform efforts it has undertaken. Those efforts include early learning initiatives, advanced middle school math, and a community engagement strategy.

Each endeavor is important in its own right, but what’s often missed by onlookers eager to replicate Montgomery’s success is what underscores and binds all of these ventures: process. The district has taken a systematic, coherent, data-driven approach and attitude toward achieving results.

It goes without saying that Montgomery’s results have put the district on the map -- 87 percent of third-graders test at proficient or advanced levels in reading and math, nearly 80 percent of high school students take at least one honors, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, and 77 percent of seniors enroll in college.

Results are only half of the story. Unfortunately, it’s the only half many districts and policymakers focus on, says Jack Grayson, founder and CEO of the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), a Houston-based nonprofit that initially was formed to help the business, government, and health care sectors improve operations. APQC began collaborating with K-12 districts a decade ago to transfer those same models of thinking and doing business.

“Public education has a critical flaw ... a weakness of which it is unaware yet could have grave consequences, a weakness that has blocked wave after wave of reform from achieving transformative change, despite well-intentioned attempts and billions of dollars in funding,” Grayson wrote in a 2009 report, The Achilles Heel of Education and How to Fix It.

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.