MCPS Consultants Recommend Converting Edison High Into Full-Time School
Private firm grades school system on career readiness programs, suggests changes
A group of education consultants has advised reinventing the Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring as part of a broader push to prepare students for careers, not just for college.
The recommendation to convert Edison – which teaches students skills ranging from auto body repair to graphic design – into a full-time school appeared in a 75-page report presented Tuesday to Montgomery County school board members.
Montgomery County Public Schools hired the Education Strategy Group of Chevy Chase for about $75,000 to evaluate the district’s efforts to equip students for the job market. The report also pinpointed areas for improvement.
The consultants found that MCPS’ culture of high expectations for students has overemphasized four-year university attendance and downplayed vocational training and other career readiness programs.
“We’re already in year 17 of the 21st century, but we are still operating with a 20th-century mindset, and it was focused on college,” school board member Patricia O’Neill said. “College is not a career.”
The report’s authors found that MCPS lags behind peer school districts in enrollment in career preparatory programs.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, 29 percent of MCPS students were taking one or more career technical education courses, compared to 35 percent in Howard County and 50 percent in Baltimore County. Moreover, the number of MCPS students signed up for these classes has been falling in recent years, while other jurisdictions have seen increasing enrollment, the report stated.
The consultants suggested that school officials consider a marketing campaign to educate parents and students about career readiness opportunities and dispel the stigma around some of these programs. They noted that MCPS offers some strong career technology education, but access to these programs varies widely across the school system.
“You’ve got some great pieces in place,” consultant Kathleen Mathers said. “The challenge is in organizing those a little bit more cohesively and ensuring they are deployed more systematically.”
These programs should help students gain real-world experience in their fields of interest or earn college credit and industry-recognized credentials while they’re in high school, the consultants said.
The report offered several approaches to overhauling Edison High, such as turning it into a career academy where students could “major” in a certain skill. Under another model, MCPS officials could combine Edison with Wheaton High School, which stands next door.
School board member Rebecca Smondrowski welcomed the idea of expanding Edison High, which is attended by more than 575 students.
“It’s such an amazing, unique opportunity, and it’s so fractured. I’m so thrilled we might actually take steps to fix that up,” she said.
Erick Lang, the associate superintendent of curriculum and instructional programs, said MCPS staff in the next few weeks will form a project team to review the report and chart a path forward. Part of the recommendation might involve state legislative changes or budgetary decisions, while other changes could be executed more quickly, he said.
Lang said MCPS leaders several years ago considered combining Edison and Wheaton high schools but decided against it.