One of the nation’s foremost experts on education, Richard Kahlenberg, lives right here in Montgomery County and has children in public school. In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, he weighs in on the school system’s growing achievement gap and argues that racially and socioeconomically integrated schools are the best way to improve the education of all students:
A half-century of research, however, suggests that pouring extra funds into high-poverty schools is not the most important thing policymakers can do for poor kids. Giving them access to high-quality middle-class schools is far more effective. Money matters in education, but other things matter more.
The “resources” a school provides include not only funds but also academically engaged peers who encourage achievement among classmates, a cadre of parents who volunteer in class and know how to pull the levers of power when things go wrong and teachers who have high expectations for students. All of these ingredients for success are much more likely to be found in schools with a majority of middle-class students than in high-poverty schools.
Kahlenberg, who lives in Bethesda and whose children attend public schools here, cites past research about MCPS that says low-income students do better in low-poverty schools than in high-poverty schools. He also notes that despite efforts here and elsewhere to improve schools were most students are disadvantaged, socioeconomically diverse schools are 22 times more likely to perform better.
He also suggests ways to promote integration in the school system and suggests that higher-income families stand to gain from more diverse schools as well:
Moreover, there is no widespread effort to allow low-income students to transfer to wealthier schools, a practice in other jurisdictions. This omission is a major drawback of Montgomery’s integration efforts. More-advantaged children would benefit immensely from greater levels of school integration. My children have received terrific academic preparation in the Pyle-Whitman cluster in Bethesda, for instance, but they miss out on the benefits of learning alongside those with different life experiences rooted in race and income…
Middle-class parents understandably do not want to send their children to schools with overwhelming poverty, but Columbia University researchers Allison Roda and Amy Stuart Wells have found that many white, advantaged parents see racial and ethnic diversity as a plus in preparing children for a 21st-century workforce. Schools that offer bilingual Spanish and English programs are particularly popular and highlight the ways in which diversity bolsters learning, as native Spanish speakers can help English speakers learn a new language, and vice versa.
You can read Kahlenberg’s full article in the Washington Post.
Next month, he will give a talk about how to close the achievement gap along with Elaine Bonner-Tompkins, the county researcher who recently released a report about segregation and academic performance in MCPS. The meeting, hosted by the Montgomery County Civic Federation, will be Monday, May 12 at 7:45pm in the Council Office Building’s first floor auditorium, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. For more information, visit the Civic Fed’s website.
He’ll also be giving a talk about his research
Several hundred students, teachers and school administrators, parents, and local officials marched on Rockville yesterday in a call to close the growing achievement gap between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students in Montgomery County Public Schools.
The Minority Scholars Program, a student-driven initiative to close the achievement gap, began organizing the march several months ago. The group began at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda eight years ago as a way to reach out to minority students, and has since expanded to 10 other high schools in the county, including Northwood, Springbrook, and Wheaton. Organizers say the program has “data to support its success” in increasing the academic eligibility and honor roll placement of minority students.
About 400 people marched from the Carver Center, once the county’s black high school under segregation and now the MCPS central office, down Rockville Pike and North Washington Street. Students chanted and held signs with slogans like “Close the Gap,” as drivers honked their horns in approval. The march ended at Courthouse Square for a festive rally on the steps of the county courthouse with music and dancing.
Organizers hope the march will raise awareness about the achievement gap and spur the community to action. “For years, we have been watching and waiting and hoping and wishing for something to change,” said Mike Williams, a teacher at Walter Johnson who helped start the Minority Scholars Program.
Several MCPS and Montgomery County officials participated in the march and subsequent rally, including school board president Phil Kauffman and superintendent Joshua Starr, who tweeted selfies with the crowd and even briefly danced with MSP members on stage. “We care about you and we love you,” he said. “Everything we are doing is about how we can work harder to close the gap.”
Speakers during the rally made repeated comparisons to other youth movements in history, from the East Los Angeles Walkouts in 1968 to the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. Tim Warner, Chief Engagement and Partnership Officer for MCPS, urged the students to offer their input and ideas. “You are the solution…you are what Montgomery County looks like today and you are our leaders,” he said. “You all need to tell us what to do.”
Student leader Gabi Bianchi called the march “the beginning of a revolution to close the achievement gap,” adding, “We have been heard.” She said the Minority Scholars Program will advocate for “institutional changes” at the federal, state, and county levels to give students and schools the resources they need to succeed.
That will be a challenge for the organization. School officials acknowledge that minority students are lagging their peers, and MCPS does have many good programs in place to help close the gap. But the achievement gap continues to grow and appears to be a direct result of de facto racial and socioeconomic segregation in MCPS.
Yet in recent months, Dr. Starr has both rejected a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight about the achievement gap, while Starr and Kauffman both threatened to cut funding for additional programs to close the gap if the school system didn’t get a raise in their budget from the county. These actions really raise questions about the school system’s commitment.
Yesterday’s march was a great day for the Minority Scholars Project and for all of the hard-working students and staff who made it happen. But we all have to hold MCPS leaders accountable for their promises to listen to the community’s concerns and make the school system more equitable for all students.
Check out this slideshow of the march.
Fed up with the growing gap in performance among minority students in Montgomery County Public Schools, members of the Minority Students Program, a student-driven initiative to close the achievement gap, will march in Rockville next Sunday. From their press release:
In a groundbreaking and historic move, on Sunday, April 27, members of MCPS’s Minority Scholars Program will march from MCPS headquarters to the steps of the Montgomery County District Court building in Rockville to raise awareness about the academic achievement gap among Black and Hispanic students that plagues our nation’s school systems.
Student leaders from the Minority Scholars Program have decided that the time is now to step up and truly address this most pressing issue,” said Michael Williams, one of the founders of MSP and history teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda. “The march also will highlight the efforts and successes of MSP and garner support from citizens, businesses, politicians and other stakeholders.”
According to the Education Commission of the States—a non-partisan, non-advocacy organization, “Black and Hispanic students are much more likely than white students to fall behind in school and drop out, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living.” The Commission attributes the disparity in academic achievement to “students’ racial and/or economic background, their parents’ education level, their access to high-quality preschool instruction, school funding, peer influences, teachers’ expectations, and curricular and instructional quality.”
MSP members, along with students, teachers, parents, community members and stakeholders from all over Montgomery County will take to the streets of Rockville on Sunday, April 27, from 1 to 3 p.m., to “March to Close the Gap.” The march will originate at the Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Drive and proceed south along Rockville Pike until Downtown Rockville. The march will culminate at 27 Courthouse Square. Among invited guests are Dr. Joshua Starr, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools; Mr. Isiah Leggett, Montgomery County Executive; and various County Council members. The culminating rally will feature Student leaders addressing the achievement gap at their schools and various student artistic performances.
The Minority Scholars Program was launched eight years ago as a student-driven initiative whose primary objective is to bring an end to the academic achievement gap among minority students in Montgomery County. MSP has chapters at 10 high schools and membership continues to expand to additional schools.
It’s exciting that student leaders in MCPS are taking charge and pushing for a more equitable school system that can prepare all students, regardless of race or background, for success. For more information, visit the Minority Scholars Program’s website.
Last week, the Office of Legislative Oversight issued a report that Montgomery County Public Schools are increasingly becoming a system of haves and have-nots. In response, the Washington Post editorial board called on school officials and superintendent Joshua Starr to get serious about the achievement gap and make programs for disadvantaged students a priority:
The entrenchment of a two-tier system of have and have-not schools is troubling. Without a doubt, some demographic forces are beyond the control of school officials, and some demographic changes occurred faster than expected. And the achievement gap is neither new nor unique to Montgomery. But given the promising progress made in previous years in attacking the gap, particularly under the sustained focus of former superintendent Jerry Weast, the stagnation now is alarming.
Joshua P. Starr, who took over as superintendent from Mr. Weast in 2011, seems to have directed his efforts elsewhere — deemphasizing standardized tests, for example, and urging more “hopefulness” and innovation in education. He acknowledged to us that the system’s efforts in attacking the achievement gap have been akin to “treading water” in recent years, but he said that is not for lack of commitment or interest…
We hope Mr. Starr will recommit the system to this cause.
You can read the rest of the editorial here.
A new report says that Montgomery County schools are becoming segregated by income, race, and ethnicity and that “white flight” is occurring in the system’s lowest-performing schools. But officials deny that it’s even happening.
This week, the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight released their findings on the achievement gap in Montgomery County Pubic Schools. Researchers note that low-income, black, and Latino students are still trailing their more affluent, white, and Asian peers, but even more so now that both groups are increasingly concentrated in different parts of the school system.
While MCPS as a whole is a majority-minority school system and has been for over a decade, most low-income, black, and Latino students attend one of 11 high schools, mostly in Silver Spring, Wheaton, and Gaithersburg. Meanwhile, higher-income students, as well as 80% of the school system’s white students and 67% of its Asian students, now cluster at schools on the western side of the county.