Education policy Events Montgomery County School equity

Barclay calls for a “conversation” about MCPS achievement gap

MCPS Board of Education President Chris Barclay and County Councilmember George Leventhal led a discussion about education issues at the District 20 Breakfast Club in Silver Spring last month. Barclay said that Montgomery County must have a serious “conversation” about the achievement gap and allocating scarce resources to meet students’ growing needs. But is he, the school board, and the community as a whole ready to do it? One Montgomery’s Fred Stichnoth offers this recap of the meeting.


In his brief opening remarks, Mr. Barclay addressed growth and demographic change, resources and the achievement gap. The student population has grown rapidly, particularly the numbers of ESOL and FARMS students. Our challenge is how to focus on them. (Mr. Barclay made referred to old discussions of the “educational load at Blair.”) MCPS is not growing in resources. Mr. Barclay does not know of anyone who has solved the achievement gap problem. Solutions include quality and caring teachers. Mr. Barclay made an unconnected reference to “middle class white women.” (He made the same reference at the Paint Branch Legislative Forum. Leadership by middle class white women prompted him to become a “PTA crasher” and to assert that “my child is as valuable as your child.”)

Mr. Barclay referred to disproportionate suspension of students of color, and teachers’ lack of facility in controlling behavior through lesser means. Black students in AP classes may experience lack of teacher respect. There is no way that MCPS “can do this alone.” We must “redefine the conversation” so that all students can be successful. The Kennedy Cluster project, Linkages to Learning and wellness centers allow us to “deal with kids at a different level” – to deal with the whole person.

He referred to the Maintenance of Effort law and the “finite County pie”: we must figure out together, as a community, how to give students the resources they need to survive. We must have a “serious conversation” about how to fund the needs of FARMS students.

A questioner mentioned Superintendent Dr. Starr’s reference to “social justice” and asked how the Board of Education was acting on this. She also asked about the drop in the number of white students. Mr. Barclay said that the Board had struggled over its Core Values, in order to make success more attainable for all. (The particularly relevant Core Value commits MCPS to “distribute resources as necessary to provide extra supports and interventions so all students can achieve….”) We must put resources where they are needed; the Board had committed to this “more than 10 years ago” (an apparent reference to Policy ACD—Quality Integrated Education). As evidence of MCPS’ commitment, Mr. Barclay cited the Innovation Schools and Intervention Schools pilot programs. MCPS must improve its Alternative Schools program. Mr. Barclay acknowledged a “significant drop” in the number of white students, but said “I couldn’t tell you why—I am not a demographer.”

A questioner contended that the Board had failed to deal appropriately with the Brickyard Farms and Styrofoam tray issues. Mr. Barclay defended the Board’s decisions.

A questioner referred to the school-to-prison pipeline, and advocated Kennedy Cluster, truancy court and vocational education programs. Mr. Barclay responded that truancy courts had been implemented at several schools. He wondered how to “regionalize” vocational education. He stated that citizens favored it in general, but on a not-in-my-backyard basis; for example, parents at Wootton High School could be expected to resist placement of a vocational center at that school.

Councilmember Leventhal said that the County funds Linkages to Learning, wellness and pre-kindergarten programs. Referring to MOE, he said that no County department (other than MCPS) gets an “escalator.” Furthermore, the County cannot raise property taxes; further funding depends on regressive tax measures.

A questioner noted that not all students get into college; she advocated more vocational programming. Mr. Barclay said that the vocational education issue is “who makes the choice?” In the past, it has not been the student that made the choice (i.e., certain students were tracked into vocational education). MCPS owes college-readiness to all students; then they can choose whether to go to college.

A questioner noted the huge increase of FARMS and ESOL students — at Springbrook High School, for example. He inquired about the policies that cause this to happen. Mr. Barclay responded that, if they are here, we teach them. Families want to come to Montgomery County because of the opportunities it affords. Families must have a livable wage.

A questioner advocated using retirees as mentors. Mr. Barclay replied that this is impeded by coordination challenges and principal stress.

I agreed with Mr. Barclay’s insistence on a redefined, serious “conversation,” and said that this was a matter of politics at the retail level – voters and taxpayers, not behind closed doors — and required political leadership. Mr. Barclay responded that his leadership is demonstrated by his remarks at the District 20 Breakfast, and that he says the same things wherever he speaks. The reference to resources is not limited to funding; if we have leadership, then we’re ok.

My Reflections

I especially appreciated Mr. Barclay’s consistent focus on the achievement gap, resources and a redefined, serious “conversation.” His recollection of “educational load” and apparent reference to the Quality Integrated Education policy indicates that an earlier serious conversation has not been entirely forgotten.

Mr. Barclay and Councilmember Leventhal each emphasized the scarcity of resources. Notwithstanding scarcity, and in light of the greatly increased educational (ESOL and FARMS) load, we “must put resources where they are needed.” If the “pie” is not expanding, then the pie must be re-cut in accordance with our Core Values.

Innovation Schools (changing the way that the central office supports school leadership) and Intervention Schools (accelerating attention to struggling students) and leadership are necessary, but not sufficient, allocations of resources.

The Board should not get a pass for not knowing why the number of white students has declined precipitously—for not being demographers. The decline has occurred throughout MCPS schools, but not nearly at a uniform rate across schools: the decline is much greater in NEC and DCC schools. The Board must determine why this demographic group is exiting; it would reveal factors to which the students and families (of all demographic groups) left behind are subject. The reasons why whites in particular areas of the County exit must be part of Mr. Barclay’s “serious conversations;” otherwise they are not serious.

The serious conversations require political leadership. It is not sufficient to have occasional discussions, or even frequent mentions, of educational load and resource allocation. To meet the needs of MCPS students, schools and communities, and of the County as a whole, our political leaders of all levels must undertake a committed campaign to “redefine the conversation.” Our community must be enlisted by our political leaders to support MCPS’ Core Values, equity, and the success of all students. We must figure this out as a community.

By One Montgomery

We are committed to school equity as a means for creating a stronger community.

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