Money isn't everything MSPAP: Some of the greatest improvement on statewide test are in schools you might not expect.

December 11, 1998

MONEY ISN'T ALL that matters. That's the most promising message of the recently released results of the statewide school performance tests.

When the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program was launched earlier this decade, it seemed easy to chalk up the scores to demographics. Schools in rich neighborhoods did well. Schools in poor ones didn't. The rationalization could have deflated educators: If the die is cast before we can reach these kids, why bother?

But the results released this week show more faults in that reasoning. Yes, Baltimore, where poverty is greatest, stands far below other systems, and wealthy Howard County again tops the heap. But a closer look reveals some schools, even whole systems, performing better than their circumstances might suggest.

One is Harford County, which scored second behind Howard, despite the fact that its spending per pupil is in the bottom third of the state's 24 jurisdictions. Moreover, some schools driving Harford's gains are not in its newest subdivisions, but in less wealthy settings. Joppatowne and Magnolia elementaries in the hard-pressed U.S. 40 corridor, for example, jumped about 15 percentage points last year.

In Baltimore County, which also continued to improve, Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger offered a hand to build on the gains. His proposal to encourage county government employees to help in the schools on paid time is a creative approach that doesn't rely on money alone for improvement. The county and schools will need a plan for how to use these volunteers: A legion of helping hands can't hurt, but a focus is essential.

And focus is what MSPAP brings to education. Fire-ready-aim wasn't working well. This program is starting to show that giving schools concrete targets can produce dramatic results, even in places you might not expect.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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