Here we are. After months and months and MONTHS of campaigning the voting season is in it’s final weeks.I’m sure everyone involved will breathe a huge sigh of relief come November 5th. I have to be honest with you. I tuned out of all this election stuff around the first week of September. This election season is far too long and I suffered from a bit of message fatigue as I’m sure most voters do. But I have tuned back in to examine one particular issue: education.
I am a mother of two children (one in HCPSS middle school and one in a non-public school for Autistic children) and I am 18-year veteran teacher. So education is extremely critical to me. I’ve been looking at the county executive’s race between Courtney Watson and Allan Kittleman and how it will affect the future of education in Howard County. I truly believe that both candidates want the best for our children. After all they are both parents. They both have been involved in the school system in some capacity in their former lives. And let’s face it, an excellent school system is one of the many ways to keep Howard County in the top five places to live. So, of course, I expect them both to be very involved in keeping HCPSS # 1.
All that said, let’s get down to bizness. Here’s what I observe from the not-so-cheap seats over here in Ellicott City. These are my personal observations about Mr. Kittleman and Mrs. Watson.
What I liked about Allan Kittleman’s plan
The achievement gap is one of the many issues that comes up continuously in debates. From what I understand Allan said he wanted to have a one stop shop for low income residents to get support services. NICE!!! There are many services available to families that need them in this county but going from place to place to place can wear any working parent out. After a while I can see why they would give up. I can totally understand how having a case manager that helps you streamline your social services and educational needs all in one would be beneficial to a family. (I wonder if that already exists and maybe Allan forgot about it. I’ve never had to seek that kind of service so I wouldn’t know.) He also said that he co-sponsored of the Pre-K expansion bill and voted for over billion dollars in education funding in Maryland. Again, NICE!!! Glad to see he was forward thinking when the buzz first started about expanding Pre-K. I never got to experience the Pre-K services as a mother (I’m still salty about that) but as a teacher I know that Pre-K is crucial for so many children that are at-risk.
What I didn’t like about Allan Kittleman’s plan
He opposed statewide education funding for seven years in a row. SEVEN. DAMN. YEARS. Are you kidding me? I can see opposing it one year to make a point. Two years…ehh…I see you’re trying to be a bad ass but stop it. Three years and beyond?? You’re being a total dick at this point. Yeah I said it. How can you justify repeatedly opposing funding for education while your children attend the very same schools that benefit from this funding? I’m not surprised though. Republicans will oppose anything that doesn’t suit their tastes and they don’t care who gets shortchanged in the process. They won’t even vote for equal pay for their adult daughters for goodness sake.
And part of that funding that Mr. Kittleman opposed goes to school construction. OH MY GEEZERS!!! Lemme tell you why school construction is critical from a teacher’s point of view. I just finished a 13-year stint at a Maryland public elementary school that was built in the 1970s. I loved that school!! However, it was made for class sizes that were 12-15 kids per classroom with a total school population of about 250 kids. Fast forward that to 2013 when we were bursting at the seams with 25-32 kids in one classroom and a total school population of 450 kids. And we’re not talking small children here. I’m talking BIG steroid-infused meat eating kids. With BIG backpacks because we require them to have a lot of materials. Now factor in technology devices such as computers and projectors which are crucial because the push from Common Core Standards is to make these kids “College and Career ready”. There’s no room for all of this in these old buildings. School construction funding is long overdue for a surplus, man.
Kittleman opposed the budget year after year because he claims it wasn’t a balanced budget. What does that mean exactly? Does he mean that there was too much funding going into one pot and not enough into other pots? Or does he mean that the funding wasn’t going into the pot that HE wanted it to go into? I dunno.
And he wants to “Re-institute the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Task Force”. I’m not real proficient in this area but doesn’t that kinda mess with the Planning and Zoning Commission’s authority? Why is he causing more stress by reinventing the wheel? And he has former Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick on his side. That chick right there…..gives me the willies. And his website says “When it comes to educating our children, being #1 isn’t good enough in Howard County.” What the hell is better than number 1 dude? (ok that’s very minor but it bugs me)
What I liked about Courtney Watson’s plan
She has a very clear and thorough vision for the future of education for Ho Co students. She’s been advised well and I hope she keeps those folks around her when she’s elected. I specifically like the open classrooms idea, the partnerships that she wants to start or continue with local community folks like the community college and technology companies and the mental health first aid. Her plan sounds quite balanced and touches on almost all of the issues I worry about as an educator and mom. I’m not just looking out for my own child when it comes to these schools but I also want to be sure that other students in my children’s classes are afforded the same opportunities.
Courtney wants to start the International Baccalaureate Program at several schools. Interesting. This is my first year teaching at an IB school in another county. I must say as that it is a wonderful program. Really it is. UB approved!!! The IB program really helps kids to think deeper about the content of their classes and how learning makes them a more well rounded person and more prepared to take their place in the global community. It’s a world renowned program. I wish my kids could benefit from it. This is the type of program that goes beyond your average q&a.
What I didn’t like about Courtney Watson’s plan
As a mom of an Autistic son, I am rather unimpressed by her vision for special education. Her website says “Expand educational support and services to help ensure students with disabilities maximize their learning, training, housing opportunities and career readiness.” I guess I shouldn’t say that I don’t like it but I can say that it needs some work. What does “expand educational support” mean? What does it look like? My son is in a great school with lots of support because his Autism is in the moderate range. I don’t necessarily think he’s been appropriately placed but there are limited choices for us in HCPSS. It’s ok. I deal with it. But I am in contact now with a lot of parents with Special Ed kids and I have heard some of the most horrifying stories about issues with transportation, shortage of classroom aides, students being derailed from the high school diploma track and teachers who are simply not trained well enough to handle a child with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in their classroom. Those IEP meetings are serious business. I weep for the SpEd kids in the upper grades. If these parents get enough ammo they could present a pretty hefty class action law suit. So what’s the specific plan for addressing these issues?
Special Ed frequently gets brushed to the side a lot but lemme tell you something, you need SpEd to be on their game for two reasons. 1. There’s the lawsuit thing as an IEP is a legally binding document. 2. Although SpEd is a minority group, they are an affective minority group. Meaning they can make or break a school’s test scores. In my 18 years of teaching, I have sat through countless data meetings where we review what went wrong with our test scores. It always and I mean ALWAYS leads back to three groups: Limited English Proficient kids (LEP), Free And Reduced Meals kids (FARM) and SpEd. For those of you who aren’t in education be mindful that these mandated, state-wide tests are not adjusted or scored with the SpEd kids in mind. These subgroups are expected to take the same test as everyone else with the same high end vocabulary, extensive texts and multiple-step directions with very little accommodations. You cannot alter the directions. You cannot paraphrase something. You cannot give the poor kid any kind of help unless it is documented months in advance. And even then there are limits to the kind of help you can give. So if you have a plan for education, it needs to include some very specific details about how to support those kids.
As a tax payer, I was a little concerned about how Courtney plans to fund the IB program in these schools. They are great but they are not cheap. If you factor in training, materials, an on-site coordinator and other odds and ends, it adds up. I emailed her my question about the funding but didn’t get a response. So I did a little bit of digging and found that the cost is about $100,000 per school for this program. However, I did read an article in the printed version of the Flier that she plans to fund this endeavor by using a $2 million dollar savings from a reduction in broadband costs to the county. Ok. That sounds fiscally responsible.
Where they both fall short
What about the parents? Neither candidate has mentioned what they envision for parental support. I’m not saying or even implying that parents aren’t involved here. Of course, many parents are very involved. But what about the parents of at-risk kids? As a teacher, I get so sick of being blamed for a child’s shortcomings in education and parents are sent on their merry way with no accountability. The schools are not the only ones to blame for the achievement gap. Seriously, we can only do but so much for these kids during school hours. What about the parents? There is tons and tons of research that show that when a parent is highly involved in the education process, the students perform better. What’s the plan for helping parents of under-performing kids support their children better at home? If they want to help the achievement gap, parental support is where the magic really happens.
JEEZ!!! This is a long freaking post for me. If you read every word until the end, treat yourself to a specialty drink today. LOL!!!! Listen, I cannot speak on the other issues in this race because I simply haven’t made the time to research them. But when it comes to education I know who’s the right choice for Howard County. In my opinion, Watson wins.
I highly encourage you to check out their websites and make an informed decision. Allan Kittleman. Courtney Watson. Early voting begins this Thursday, October 23rd so get out there and VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!!