Baldrige in Action

For more than a decade, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has been on a mission to prepare every student for success in college and a career, regardless of his or her race, ethnicity, income level or special needs. That singular goal—shared by all 22,000 staff members—has been the driving force behind a comprehensive reform initiative and continuous improvement process that has solidified MCPS as one of the highest-performing school systems in the United States. MCPS has achieved this excellence even as the district saw its student population rapidly shift, making the school district one of the most ethnically, racially and socio-economically diverse large school systems in the nation.


To reach its goal of academic excellence for all students, MCPS designed and adopted a strategic plan that guides—every single day—the work of its teachers, principals, administrators, and support staff members in the system. Titled Our Call to Action: Pursuit of Excellence, the plan is based on high expectations for all staff and students, and embodies the tenet that all children can and will learn. MCPS leaders understood that it would take teamwork and buy-in from every employee in the system to provide a high-quality, world-class education to every student. Establishing a plan to maximize the performance level of employees—inside and outside the classroom—became the next critical step to ensure MCPS would deliver on that promise.

The Baldrige Journey Begins

Using the Malcolm Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, MCPS embarked on its now more than decade-long journey of continuous improvement that has produced the school system’s outstanding academic and operational results. Across every department, MCPS has formalized key processes designed to produce high levels of performance from each staff member. These processes were created through collaboration, making employees integral players in the design of the systems they use every day to perform their jobs.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Collecting, tracking and analyzing data to monitor progress and make decisions about what happens inside and outside the classroom is the anchor in the MCPS process of continuous improvement. Whether it’s a change in the mathematics curriculum or the creation of a new bus route, there are sound data to support those decisions.

Distributed Leadership, Collaboration and Respect

Likewise, a collaborative, shared leadership approach to how MCPS has planned, designed and pursued its systemwide reforms has not only produced continually rising test scores and academic achievement, but also has fostered a high degree of employee satisfaction and positive work culture. MCPS spends roughly $42 million a year on professional development for staff members—an investment that strengthens the quality of the workforce and demonstrates that the school system is committed to their professional growth. MCPS has extremely high workforce retention rates—the teacher turnover rate for 2009 was 12.2 percent below the national average.

Results: How Baldrige Pays Off

In 2010, MCPS had the highest graduation rate of any large public school system in the nation, according to a national report published by Education Week. The district also was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education for its track record in raising academic performance for all students while closing the achievement gap. A 2011 national study by the Center on American Progress, a non-partisan think tank, rated MCPS as one of a select number of school districts producing a strong return on taxpayers’ investment in public schools.