Thursday, October 7, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education Response- Martha Schaerr

A second response has rolled into my inbox for a set of questions I posed to the candidates running for the Montgomery County Board of Education.   Martha Schaerr is running in district 5 against incumbent Michael Durso.  Her responses:

1. What would you consider the biggest weakness of the current teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County? What should be done to address this weakness?

Besides the seniority system I see a problem with the lack of recognition either monetarily or otherwise for teachers who perform beyond the minimum requirements or who take on tough teaching assignments.
As I understand it MCPS teachers either “meet standard” or “do not meet standard”. There is no further breakdown in their evaluations. No one can reasonably argue that all teachers who meet standards are equally effective, and yet there is no recognition for teachers who are more effective or who take on challenging assignments.
I would reward teachers by adding at least one additional rating—superior—for teachers to achieve. What constitutes “superior” can be defined by either the union, administration, by a group of teachers outside the union, or a group of educators and parents together. I would reward teachers who take on tough class assignments with a “challenging assignment bonus” . This would give the best teachers an incentive beyond basic professionalism to take tough classes.
I also believe that allowing underperforming teachers three years to improve is too long. I believe two years is long enough. We need to be serious about improving the way EVERY day is spent in school, and great effort should be made speed up improvement.

2. Pay for MCPS teachers is currently decided by a seniority system. If consensus could be reached on a new evaluation system, would you support a merit based pay scale to reward the highest performing teachers?

Yes. While the value of classroom experience is great and should be included in the evaluation system, teachers who work hard, are more effective, and taken on tough assignments should be compensated accordingly. We should do everything we can to improve the quality of classroom instruction.

3. What are your reflections on Michelle Rhee? Should the search committee consider interviewing her for the Superintendent position?
I admire Michelle Rhee’s courage and effectiveness at getting rid of low-performing teachers and in focusing on improving classroom instruction. I’m not sure she’s the right person for MCPS, however. I worry that Ms. Rhee would not be able to get the union to cooperate with her, and the current budget crisis will require that.


  1. Perhaps Ms. Schaerr might like to explain why, as a member of the Board of Directors of the Family Leader Network (of which her husband is chair), she participated in frivolous litigation against MCPS in 2007, seeking to halt implementation of a curriculum unit for 8th and 10th grade health education classes entitled Respect for Differences in Human Sexuality. This unit was developed by MCPS in conjunction with a panel of physicians selected by the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is based on the teachings of the mainstream American medical and mental health care professional associations. Students may only take the unit if their parents opt-them in. Her case was roundly rejected by the State Superintendent of Education, the State Board of Education, and the Montgomery County Circuit Court -- but not before MCPS had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend against it.

    That the curriculum is not really controversial in our community is shown by the fact that nearly 100% of parents have chosen to opt their children into the unit during the three years it has been in effect. Indeed, it is likely that the curriculum has helped spare our community of the gay teen suicides we have seen recently in other parts of the country.

    Yet, Ms. Schaerr apparently felt so strongly that the message of acceptance of people who are not heterosexual was so awful that she sought to subvert the political process by trying to get the State BOE and then the courts to stop it. Why won't she talk about this either in campaign forums or on her website?

    For more information, see and

    David S. Fishback

  2. Thanks, David. My focus has been on a different set of issues here but I appreciate you providing very relevant and important information for voters seeking to make informed decisions about whom to vote for in Montgomery County.

  3. More on this issue from Mr. Fishback and Ms. Schaerr in the Gazette: