It’s time to make MCPS choice programs more equitable, too

As Montgomery County’s schools resegregate by race and class, special “choice programs” (including magnets, language immersion programs, and the Northeast and Downcounty consortia) designed to create advanced learning opportunities and integrate schools aren’t working. That’s the message from a report MCPS released earlier this year, and it’s time for school officials to start making our choice programs more equitable. Here’s our full response:

One Montgomery encourages MCPS’ ongoing evaluation of its gifted and talented, consortia, and language immersion programs and their conformity with the school system’s Core Values. These programs are afflicted with access and equity problems, as noted in the MCPS Choice study report.

Montgomery County citizens have tolerated a system that exacerbates the achievement gap by offering to only some of our County students extraordinary programs and an excellent K-12 education. The remaining students, segregated by MCPS’ residence-based school assignment policy, are left with a separate and unequal education. Not only are those segregated students, families and neighborhoods injured, but the whole County suffers.

The County’s future is impaired when the public school system fails to prepare all County students to be productive members of our community. Instead of launching these students, college- and career-ready, to higher education or skilled careers to eventually participate as County taxpayers with stable, thriving families, too many of our students are consigned by failed MCPS education to struggle to find gainful employment or to pay for remedial classes to learn what they should have mastered in the public education system.

The data and analyses contained in the MCPS Choice Study make clear that MCPS is not serving all students equitably. The programs are too limited, information is available preferentially to parents who know how to go find it, and application processes are cumbersome, set up—whether intentional or not—to leave certain students out. As a result, students have very different educational opportunities and experiences within the same school system, and sometimes within the same school.

MCPS gives white and high SES students priority access to these special academic programs and minority and underserved students are left out. We ask: what child would not benefit from

  1. engaging, inquiry-based curricula
  2. mastery of a second language beginning in kindergarten
  3. highly-trained teaching staff
  4. exploration via high-impact field trips, and
  5. participating in regional and national competitions?

Why are these outstanding opportunities only available to a small segment of the student population?

One of the reasons for this disparity is that politics drive decision-making about education, which rewards the “squeaky wheels” of politically-savvy, well-connected and often affluent parents- those families whose children already have distinct education advantages. We intend to add another voice to the conversation, perhaps one that has not been heard from . One Montgomery supports MCPS’ professed Vision, “We inspire learning by providing the greatest public education to each and every student.” We are committed to holding the Board of Education and MCPS leadership accountable to deliver on this promise.

It is incumbent upon the community and public services, including MCPS, to make up for various disadvantages faced by students, and that this is the only way to truly address the achievement gap.  In accord with the Metis Report findings, One Montgomery Leadership Team member Will Jawando, recently filed a civil action with the Office for Civil Rights charging that “MCPS has violated and continues to violate Title VI with respect to the manner in which it administers recruitment and selection of students for admission to its highly-popular, language immersion programs at the elementary school level.” He specifically argues that his child and other children of color are excluded from MCPS special programs. This civil rights charge makes clear that it is time for MCPS to take action on the MCPS Choice Study findings.

MCPS needs to expand the capacity of choice programs, both to meet growth in enrollment and demand, and to improve outreach to underserved communities. Our school system is the cornerstone of our county’s success, and it only works when all students have access to a high-quality education regardless of race or background.

 

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Join us and MCEF for a community forum on the superintendent search

mcef flyer

As Montgomery County Public Schools seeks a new superintendent, how can we ensure that high-needs schools will have the leadership they need? Join us and the Montgomery County Education Forum for “What the Next Superintendent Must Deliver,” a community forum on how the next superintendent of MCPS can best meet the needs of a growing and diverse school population. We’ll have speakers including both education experts and MCPS students and take a detailed look at our 13 questions that the Board of Education should consider in finding a new superintendent.

The meeting’s next Thursday, March 19 from 7 to 9:30pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at One Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring. For more information or to RSVP, check out our Facebook event page.


Give feedback on the superintendent search, and meet your Board of Education members in Burtonsville

People discussed issues affecting Montgomery County schools in breakout sessions. Photo by Adrienne Lees.

A community meeting in East County. Photo by Adrienne Lees.

Next week, you’ll have a chance to give feedback on MCPS’ new superintendent in Gaithersburg, and meet your Board of Education members in Burtonsville.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ search for a new superintendent is underway, and to collect community feedback, they’re holding a series of public forums around the county. Parents, students, staff, and community members will be able to talk to representatives from the executive search firm MCPS is using to find a new superintendent and discuss their hopes and wishes for the school system’s new leader.

The next one is this Tuesday, March 10 at 7pm at Gaithersburg High School, located at 101 Education Boulevard in Gaithersburg. Unfortunately, there won’t be another forum in East County; there were meetings at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring and Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda in last week, but a scheduled forum at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville was cancelled due to snow. If you’d like more information, or can’t attend the meeting in Gaithersburg and want to share your thoughts with the decision-makers who’ll hire the next superintendent, visit the MCPS website.

However, the Board of Education will be coming to Paint Branch on Thursday for a cluster meeting, the first one in four years. You’ll be able to talk to board members about issues affecting East County schools, including the superintendent search, the school system’s persistent achievement gap, next year’s budget, and other concerns. That meeting will be on Thursday, March 12 from 7 to 9pm at Paint Branch High School, located at 14121 Old Columbia Pike in Burtonsville. For more info, contact Larry Edmonds, Paint Branch cluster coordinator, at 240/381-3984 or by email at larrye14 at verizon dot net.


Six principles for school equity in next year’s MCPS operating budget

Each spring, the Board of Education crafts its operating budget for the following school year, which is then submitted to the County Council for approval in May. Here’s our testimony for the 2015-2016 operating budget, which One Montgomery’s Dan Reed delivered to the Board of Education last month:

Good evening. My name is Dan Reed and I live in Silver Spring. I’m a 2005 graduate of James Hubert Blake High School and my brother is a current student at Paint Branch High School. I’m here on behalf of One Montgomery, a new organization of parents, community members, and educators coming together to better understand, support and improve Montgomery County
Public Schools.

We are deeply concerned about the growing inequality of our school system, which is turning MCPS into a system of haves- and have-nots. While I’m a proud product of MCPS, I’ve seen both firsthand and through the experiences of my brother that not all students in this school system are receiving what they need to excel, particularly minority, immigrant, or low-income students. A strong, equitable school system is the foundation of Montgomery County’s success, and school quality, whether real or perceived, effects everything from student performance to property values and the strength of our county’s economy.

As a new, volunteer organization, we don’t have the resources to give this budget the careful review and inspection it deserves. But we have outlined a set of six principles for closing the achievement gap that we urge you to consider as you develop the budget. For us, the issue is less about increasing the budget than it is ensuring that MCPS has the correct priorities and delivers the resources to where the needs are greatest, not simply to the people with the loudest voices.

These principles are:

EQUITY. Allocate resources according to educational load to ensure that each child receives instruction and supports according to her needs in order to receive a world-class education.

LEADERSHIP. Competent and effective leadership at all levels, with commitment to accountability, transparency and results.

ACCESS. Ensure that all students are able to access the excellent opportunities MCPS has to offer, according to ability and desire, and are actively recruited and encouraged to achieve.

DIVERSITY. Promote hiring practices so that professional staffing reflects student population.

COMMUNITY. Stimulate (support) use of school facilities as a center of community activities.

PARTNERSHIP. Actively seek to establish and maintain partnerships with businesses and non-profits for the benefit of students.

We urge you to consider these principles as you craft the budget. For many families, including my own, Montgomery County Public Schools have long offered the promise of a better future for our kids and for our county. It’s time that we ensure that this promise is delivered to everyone in Montgomery County. Thank you for your time.


A Tale of Two Montgomerys

As Montgomery County Public Schools become more diverse, our school system is becoming a place of haves and have-nots. But what does that look like from a student’s perspective? We’re excited to share the following essay from Michael Robinson, a 2011 Springbrook graduate and a senior at Yale.

Also, don’t forget to join us for Thursday’s panel discussion on “Leadership and the Achievement Gap” with County Councilmember Craig Rice, Sonja Santelises from the Education Trust, and Dr. Maria Navarro, MCPS Chief Academic Officer. We’ll be at the Silver Spring Civic Building from 7 to 9pm with a meet-and-greet at 6:30pm. For more information, click here.

A Tale of Two Montgomerys
written by Michael Robinson

Springbrook High Sign

As I prepare to graduate from Yale University this spring, there is one peculiar thing that has stood out to me during my time here. Whenever I talk to my fellow graduates from Montgomery County Public Schools, there seem to be two competing views of what the school system is.

Some of my peers have described MCPS as comparable, if not better, to a private school education. I have heard these students talk about how their schools are full of resources, happy teachers, eager students, and an engaged community. Many of these same individuals attended the renowned “W” schools, such as Whitman or Winston Churchill, on the wealthier side of Montgomery County or the magnet program at Blair High School.

My experience with Montgomery County Schools has been, to say the least, slightly different. MCPS gave me the platform and the school environment, coming from a lower socioeconomic background, to have the credentials to get into a college like Yale. But for too many of my similar classmates at Springbrook High School and schools like it, this has not been the case.

Whereas some schools have test scores outpacing the national average, Springbrook struggles to meet these numbers. Whereas some schools have state-of-the-art facilities, my school seemed to be the last to get needed funds for facilities. Whereas some schools in MCPS seek to groom their students into the leaders of tomorrow, others have accepted what one MCPS employee in the Northeast Consortium described to me as the “Baltimorization” of certain schools. One need only revisit the problematic Washington Post article on the Springbrook football program (of which I was a two-year varsity starter) and its acceptance of the use of the ‘n-word’ to understand this point.

In short, many have accepted that the issues at high-needs schools, both academic and behavioral, are unsolvable.

These two opposing viewpoints are both very accurate. For some students in MCPS, schools offer a world-class education, a path for social mobility, or a way to succeed in life. But for other students, the schools are failing to educate them and to aid their success in life. For some, the schools reinforce socioeconomic and racial statistical predictions that they will fail.

How can citizens of our county accept these Two Montgomerys? The business of our schools is to supply educated and prepared students, regardless of race, income, or where they came from. As a first-generation Black American from a low socioeconomic background, I stand in the achievement gap between black and Latino and white and Asian students, and between the rich and the poor. And as this gap grows, my future – the county’s future – is at risk.

There has been much work on the achievement gap, but when is this problem actually going to be solved? Some may say that this is a matter of parents and student personal responsibility. They will point to my academic success and others like me as vindication of their viewpoint. But if one accepts that students from different races or economic statuses were born equal, there can be no disagreement that imbalances in academic achievement are caused by factors outside the individual.

Therefore, it is incumbent on the schools and our public officials to do more to remove these academic barriers—to remove skin color and residential areas as helpful predictors of whether you will pass an AP test, go to college, or simply graduate from high school.

Even if these matters do not invoke you to demand change and bold action, one must consider the economic outcome. If we fail to fix some of the problems in the ‘other’ MCPS, those problems will ripple into other parts of the county. House values may plummet, county budgets may unnecessarily skyrocket causing cuts in other programs, and the whole county may feel the effect. One way or another, these Two Montgomerys will become one.

There are two paths before us. One involves the continued failure of our school system to deal with the economic imperative of doing more for our underserved schools and communities, bringing the whole county down. The other path involves bold action by our system’s leaders and community members to deal with our difficult problems. We need to bring our underserved schools up to par with the entire system and accept nothing less. If MCPS employees, from the school level to the Board of Education level cannot deliver this, we must instate those that can.

The educational experience for a rich white child at Churchill High School should be no different than the experience for a poor black or Latino child at Springbrook High School. If we achieve this, then maybe, when kids from these schools convene at a college like Yale they will no longer tell a tale of Two Montgomerys, but One Montgomery.


Join One Montgomery for a panel discussion on “Leadership and the Achievement Gap”

UPDATE: Please note our time change! Join us at 6:30pm for a meet-and-greet with refreshments, followed by the meeting itself from 7 to 9pm.

While Montgomery County Public Schools remains one of the nation’s top-ranked school systems, it faces new challenges, such as a growing population, an increasingly diverse student body with varied needs, and a persistent achievement gap across race and socioeconomic levels. These issues are especially significant in our local East County schools, affecting not only student performance but neighborhood stability and economic development.

To stay strong, our schools need strong leaders. But where will that leadership come from?

Join One Montgomery next month at the Silver Spring Civic Building for a community workshop on “Leadership and the Achievement Gap.” We’ll look at the issues facing the school system and have a panel discussion with:

  • Craig Rice, county councilmember and chair of the council’s education committee
  • Sonja Santelises, Education Trust Vice President for K-12 Policy and Practice
  • Dr. Maria Navarro, MCPS Chief Academic Officer

The meeting will be held Thursday, January 22 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at One Veterans Place (intersection of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street). Doors will open at 6:30pm and the meeting will run from 7 to 9pm. Parking is free if you stay after 8pm. Click here for a printable flyer.

 

january workshop flyer january workshop flyer2


MCPS talks the talk about school equity, but do they walk the walk?

Montgomery County Public Schools prides itself on a commitment to “social justice,” working to ensure that disadvantaged students in the school system have the resources they need. But a new report and mapping tool from the Fordham Institute reveals that MCPS spends less on low-income students than other DC-area school systems.

Per-pupil spending at Springbrook High School. Image from the Fordham Institute EdExcellence mapping tool.

Per-pupil spending at Springbrook High School. Image from the Metro DC School Spending Explorer mapping tool.

MCPS spends an average of $13,613 per student at its high-poverty schools (defined as schools where more than 75% of students are on free or reduced lunch) compared to $13,821 in Fairfax County, $14,497 in DC, and $18,216 in Arlington. When low-poverty schools are compared to high-poverty schools, MCPS spends an average of 32% more per student at its high-poverty schools, compared to 34% in Fairfax and 81% in Arlington.

Researcher (and MCPS parent) Michael Petrilli says these figures speak volumes about the school system’s priorities. “These findings are more than a little embarrassing for Montgomery County, which prides itself on its commitment to “social justice,” and has an explicit policy of sending extra resources to its highest poverty schools. Yet it is bested by Fairfax County (by a little) and Arlington (by a lot),” he writes. “If Superintendent Josh Starr is an “equity warrior,” what does that make the folks across the river?”

Most of the county’s high-poverty students are concentrated at schools in East County. That’s one of the major contributors of school system’s persistent achievement gap between low- and high-income students, as schools tasked with educating students with the greatest needs don’t always have the resources they need. School spending isn’t a direct indicator of a student’s performance, but it determines everything from teacher compensation to the quality and availability of educational materials in the classroom. And if our schools aren’t getting the resources they need, they can’t prepare our students for success later in life.

Getting our students ready for the workforce is the theme of a summit Councilmember Nancy Navarro’s organizing tomorrow in White Oak called Ready for Tomorrow, with speakers including Dr. Starr and Casey Anderson, chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board. The event runs from 9 am to 2 pm at the White Oak Community Recreation Center, located at 1710 April Lane. To sign up or for more information, visit the event’s website.

The strength of our communities and our economy depends on having well-educated students. MCPS talks the talk, but can they walk the walk? That’s one question we hope to get the answer to tomorrow.