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Everyone deserves credit for county schools' performance

September 30, 2009

In one sense, the greatest problem that education has had in Washington County is the concept of education itself.

A history of heavy industry and unionized shops made education seem not just superfluous, but a hindrance to wealth. In the five years it might have taken to finish high school and earn a traditional advanced degree, a high school dropout who went straight to the assembly line floor after his junior year might have accumulated a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of paychecks.

Needless to say, no student currently in the Washington County school system remembers those days. But the key is that enough time has passed that few parents remember them either. Hence, there are fewer father figures arguing against education because they themselves were able to do quite nicely without a degree.

Now, a series of data from Washington County schools released over the past couple of weeks demonstrates that students are taking education more seriously and competing successfully when they do.

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At the beginning of the decade, Washington County's dropout rate was 1.65 percent higher than in the state of Maryland as a whole. From there, the state's dropout rate has edged down, but Washington County's has fallen off a cliff. From a 5.55 percent dropout rate in 2000, we now stand at 1.56 percent.

Facing the ongoing battle of teenage pregnancy and the lure of the streets, keeping students in the classroom is critical because -- at the very least -- it gives them a chance. The truth can be brutal, and the fact is the lack of a high school degree all too often leads to a sentence in prison or a life of government assistance where opportunities simply do not present themselves.

Of course, staying in school today is the bare minimum. And again, the numbers show that Washington County students demonstrate significant increases in achieving Adequate Yearly Progress and signing up for advanced, college-prep exams.

These are the three rungs of the ladder: Attend classes, meet expectations and, finally, exceed those expectations. In these areas, Washington County has caught up to, and is now beating, state averages.

Administrators note this hasn't been easy, and has demanded hard work from targeted, educational SWAT teams that identify a student's risk or potential and provide the necessary inspiration to take that next step upward.

As Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan says, "This hasn't happened by accident. I have to commend the teachers, principals and students."

And the administration deserves praise as well, for taking an adequate school system and ratcheting up the expectations through initiatives that, while not universally popular, are unquestionably delivering results for the students of Washington County.

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