What I Believe
Grading SystemThe Board of Education has been setting misguided policies ever since I can remember. When I was in high school, we had the 50% rule, where a student would automatically get half credit just by putting their name on the assignment. The teachers hated it. The students abused it. Nowadays, there are no midterms or finals. Our children are going off to colleges without having the opportunity to build strong study habits for college exams. Moreover, the MCPS grading system discourages hard work. Students who get an A in the first quarter or second quarter are guaranteed an A for the semester as long as they don't get a C or below the second quarter. I've had countless students tell me after getting an A in the first quarter that they don't really need to work as hard the next quarter. What kind of message does that send? At work, you can't just take it easy after lunch, but that's exactly the mindset the new grading policy is encouraging.
CurriculumAs someone who's been in the tutoring business for the better part of the last decade, it pains me to see how many students lack the most fundamental and essential of skills. For example, too many high school students don't know how to do basic fractions or how to follow basic grammar rules. In fact, grammar is rarely even taught in schools! The purpose of our education system is to prepare the future generation to take on the challenges of tomorrow, and that cannot be accomplished without the development of strong reading, writing and math skills. Let's bring academic rigor back to MCPS.
Classroom BehaviorHaving grown up in the MCPS school system, I can't tell you how many classes are out of control. In too many classrooms around the county, there is very little learning that takes place because the students are walking all over the teachers. As someone who teaches classes, I know that it just takes one student disrupting the class to bring the quality of classroom instruction down significantly. Moreover, studies comparing international educational systems consistently show that classroom behavior strongly correlated to academic performance. Setting the tone for proper classroom behavior starts at the top with the board. The board should make it clear that improper classroom behavior will not be tolerated, and teachers should be encouraged to take action when see someone disrupting a class. Instead, there is a growing trend nationally where teachers evacuate the class and allow the disrupting student to finish their tantrum before proceeding with the lesson plan. That only encourages future incidents and sends the wrong message to the rest of the class. The teachers need to know we have their back when it comes to maintaining classroom decorum. For many lower-income families, obtaining a quality education for their children is their best chance of improving their future. As a result, failure to consistently enforce classroom rules has a disproportionate impact on lower income families. Let's bring teacher respect back to MCPS.
Special Needs Testing & AccommodationsWhile the recent college admissions scandal at the University of Southern California highlights how far some parents are willing to go to get their children into top colleges, there is a much more prevalent practice at play that has not received the same attention. Specifically, in order to gain an unfair advantage in the form of extra time on college admission tests like the ACT or the SAT, parents are paying exorbitant fees to have their children privately tested for learning differences and then pressuring the schools to grant them accommodations in the hopes of getting extended time on college entrance exams. However, having students apply for such services ties up funding for the students who truly need them. Moreover, school administrators are becoming increasingly suspicious of students who apply for 504 plans or IEPs in high school, oftentimes rejecting students who genuinely need assistance. The impact of this practice is disproportionately affecting lower income and immigrant families who typically don't have the resources to navigate through this complex process of acquiring accommodations. I believe all children in MCPS should be tested for learning differences at a young age by neutral psychoeducational testing professionals, and students' eligibility should hinge upon need, not affluence.
Addressing Smartphone AddictionPhone addiction is real. Studies consistently show that a significant percent of our students demonstrate patterns of addiction when it comes to smartphone use. Moreover, research has a linked a plethora of issues associated with too much smartphone use, including difficulty focusing for prolonged periods of time, phone separation anxiety, sleep deprivation, and increased feelings of loneliness and depression. Instead of working to combat this very serious issue, the Board of Education's new curriculum is quickly reaching a point where students will soon be doing all of their homework on their phones. While there is certainly a time and place for technology in and outside the classroom, the biggest risk that our students face today is being unable to engage in deep level thinking because of an inability to concentrate for extended periods of time. Let's encourage our students to do their homework in a quiet place where they can develop good study habits, not on their phones with countless distractions.
Educating the ParentsIn my years of having worked with many different families across many different backgrounds, it is clear that parental involvement is key to students performing well academically. Research also consistently shows that parental support is key to academic success. However, based on my experience, many parents are not familiar with how our education system works. For example, many parents are not aware of how to calculate a student's weighted cumulative GPA, what classes will show up on school transcripts, how standardized testing works, how to get tested for learning differences, what resources to use to help their children with homework, etc. MCPS can do more to educate the parents, particularly immigrant parents, who may have come from very different educational systems abroad. For example, in some countries, grades in school do not play a role in college admission at all (only college entrance exams do). MCPS should start holding parental workshops to educate the parents on the ins and outs of our education system, including what it takes to get into college. College planning should really start in middle school, when some of the classes students take start to show up on high school transcripts. Making sure that parents and students know exactly what it will take for them to get into colleges of their dreams will go a long way towards helping parents realize that dream. This too will help bridge the achievement gap. Right now, the families with more resources can afford to hire college consultants who will help guide them through all four years of college, but far too often I see families with limited financials means find out too late that their students don't have a realistic chance of getting into a competitive college because of preventable mistakes early on in their education career.
RedistrictingHaving diversity in classrooms is an important aspect of education. Undoubtedly, students are better off when they have an opportunity to interact with other students of different backgrounds and socioeconomic status. There is also little doubt that there exists a significant performance disparity among schools in Montgomery County. Furthermore, it is also true that some overcrowded schools are adjacent to under-utilized schools. However, redistricting is not the answer. While redistricting should be done when new schools open and diversity should be considered when doing so, students should not be forced to switch schools. The answer to underperforming schools is not to change the students, but to change the way schools are run. Forcing students to change schools in the middle of their schooling will adversely affect their mental health. They'll be forced to leave friends and teachers they know behind because of their racial and socioeconomic status. Countless families, including many minority families, who used a substantial part of their life savings to have their children go to a better performing school, may find themselves financially underwater due to falling property prices. Some students may even be sent back to the exact schools their families deliberately moved away from. Not to mention, parents with multiple children will be forced to take off work earlier due to longer commutes, or will have to resort to leaving their children at home unsupervised, putting the children’s physical wellbeing at risk. Thus, shifting students around from school to school is not the answer to fixing underperforming schools. Instead, we should strengthen the incentive structure for the best teachers to teach at underperforming schools and fully support those teachers to make sure they continue teaching. More focus needs to be allocated to both preschool and after school programs to prepare children to learn, before they enter schools and to continue learning after school. Lastly, with poverty being the root cause of underperforming schools, any policies not aimed at poverty reduction are doomed to fail. The BOE should work closely with county and state legislators to address the effects of outsourcing that has depressed the incomes of many areas of Montgomery County.
Pavel’s ProposalWhile everything I said above still holds true, I also believe that the subject of redistricting has unnecessarily divided our communities and there is room for compromise that will take into account the concerns of both sides. While I am categorically against redistricting the way the current BOE has gone about it, I would not be against a boundary analysis being conducted by an independent commission every 13 year that takes into account a variety of factors including geography, diversity, proximity, utilization, and home prices. However, if any redistricting plans are approved, they should only take effect 13 years from the moment they are announced, which will allow all school aged children to finish school in their current school district, mitigate the sudden impact on home prices, and give families a reasonable amount of time to plan ahead without living in the fear of being redistricted. Moreover, during those 13 years, the neighborhoods that are going to be adversely affected will be given a substantial, if not complete, property tax cut to offset the adverse impact on home prices. Additionally, since the largest share of Montgomery County’s operating budget goes to MCPS, the school board will have to think carefully about which neighborhoods to redistrict, since any redistricting will necessarily mean a loss of revenue. Frankly, I doubt either side will be entirely happy with this proposal, with the pro-redistricting crowd likely to claim that it doesn’t happen soon enough and the anti-redistricting crowd likely to claim that this is too big of a concession, so I don’t necessarily think it helps my chances of being elected. However, hopefully this shows that we can find common ground as community and look beyond our differences.
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Hello, everyone! Just a bit about myself. I grew up in Montgomery County, attending schools in Gaithersburg and Rockville. After graduating from University of Maryland with a finance degree, I pursued a JD/MBA at George Washington University. While there, I started a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Makuyu Education Initiative, to help underprivileged children in Makuyu, Kenya, escape the cycle of poverty. Shortly after graduating, I co-founded a tutoring center, Potomac Oak Tutoring, which specializes in debate, academic tutoring, test-prep, and college admissions help. I currently reside in Rockville with my wife, Elisa, and daughter, Charlie. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, reading, and playing guitar.
Too many times politicians run for office with good intentions, but the prospect of winning warps their sense of what is right. I won’t compromise my values for political expediency.
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