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.

 


Montgomery County schools are segregating, but Starr won’t admit it

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.

Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville. A new study says that Montgomery County schools are becoming segregated by class and race.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


East County and Downcounty students took fewer AP exams in 2013

Students in Montgomery County Public Schools made some gains on the Advanced Placement exams last year, which allow students to earn college credit. But in East County and Downcounty schools, test participation and scores have fallen, in some cases dramatically.

Northeast and Downcounty consortia students are taking fewer Advanced Placement exams.

Northeast and Downcounty consortia students are taking fewer Advanced Placement exams.

Last week, the College Board released its Advanced Placement test scores for 2013. In a memo to the Board of Education, Superintendent Joshua Starr said that the Class of 2013 “continued to maintain the high rates of participation and performance” on AP exams and claimed that “MCPS high schools continued to support AP exam participation and performance of minority graduates,” noting that many schools saw increased numbers of black and Hispanic students taking the exams.

But the actual data isn’t as encouraging. Across MCPS, 66% of the class of 2013 took AP exams, a small decrease from the previous year, when 67.3% of graduates took the exams. Meanwhile, the percentage of black and Hispanic students taking AP exams fell. 39.6% of black students and 51.6% of Hispanic students sat for the exams in 2013, compared to 43% and 54.2%, respectively.

AP participation rates decreased at all three Northeast Consortium high schools, Blake, Paint Branch, and Springbrook, and four out of the five Downcounty Consortium high schools, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood, and Wheaton. At Einstein, the percentage of students taking AP exams fell from 61.2% to 50%, a difference of 11 points. At Wheaton, it fell from 66.7% to 58.9%, a difference of 9 points. 57.8% of graduates took the exams at Blair High School, an increase of one point from the previous year.

Students at consortia schools also aren’t performing as well. The percentage of students scoring 3 or more on AP exams fell at every Northeast and Downcounty consortia high school except for Blair. (AP exams are graded on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the highest score.) At Springbrook, it fell 7 points, from 28.7% in 2012 to 21.7% in 2012.

Participation among black and Hispanic students has fallen as well. The percentage of black students sitting for the AP exam fell from 50.7% to 32.9% at Einstein, a difference of 18 points. At Northwood, it fell 12 points from 52.4% to 40.2%, and at Paint Branch, it fell from 49.5% to 40.7%. Meanwhile, the rate increased 4 points at Springbrook, from 33.7% to 37.3%, and 1 point at Blake, from 35.4% to 36.6%. And the percentage of Hispanic students taking the exams fell 10 points at Springbrook, 8 points at Blake, Einstein, and Wheaton, and 7 points at Kennedy.

White students are also taking fewer AP exams across the consortia. The percentage fell 13 points at Wheaton, 9 points at Northwood, 8 points at Kennedy, and 3 points at Blake. But the rate of white students sitting for AP exams did increase 17 points at Paint Branch.

Meanwhile, schools on the western side of the county are doing better than ever. Black and Hispanic students took more tests, and received more high scores, at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Poolesville high schools.

Later this month, the College Board will release data for the state of Maryland and the nation as a whole, allowing us to see how our students compete on a state and national level. AP scores are just one measurement of student performance, and not always the best one. But they do indicate a growing achievement gap within Montgomery County Public Schools, which is not only hurting our students, but our communities as well.


Join us for a discussion on community engagement at Springbrook

Our public schools have a huge impact on our neighborhoods and our local economy. But how do we get people who are affected by our schools engaged in education issues, even if they don’t have kids?

Springbrook High SignNext week, join us for a discussion about community engagement, hosted by the Northeast Consortium PTA. We’ll give a presentation about the state of East County’s schools and how we can get our community members more involved.

Then, we’ll have a group discussion alongside the Greater Colesville Citizens Association and Hope Restored about the struggle to promote academic excellence and social-emotional learning in our schools, two of the three competencies MCPS officials say students need to be successful in the 21st century. The results will be sent to the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations (MCCPTA), MCPS, and the Board of Education.

The meeting will be next Monday, January 13 from 6:30 to 9pm at Springbrook High School, located at 201 Valley Brook Drive in Silver Spring. You don’t have to be a PTA member or live in the Northeast Consortium area to attend. Here’s a description of the event from Ann Coletti and Christina McWilson, Springbrook Cluster coordinators:

As citizens, we have a vested interest in improving our schools, which are an integral part of our community. Not only do our young citizens need a good education to become the new leaders, the success in our schools has a direct impact on our property values and the decisions of businesses to locate in our neighborhoods.

Our schools need your help in addressing the persistent achievement gap, which is evidenced by low scores on county, state and national tests. We need your input to harness our collective ideas and knowledge to better advocate for our common needs with the Montgomery County Council Parent Teacher Association (MCCPTA), the Board of Education, the Montgomery County Council and the State of Maryland.

The state of the schools reflects the state of the community, which is why it is important to pull together as a community to find our inspiration and strength to affect change in our schools.

We hope to see you on the 13th at Springbrook High School! Details are below.

Monday, January 13, 2014
Meet and Greet 6:30pm
Meeting 7-9pm
Springbrook High School Media Center
201 Valley Brook Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20904


Letter to East County representatives

Springbrook High Sign In anticipation of tomorrow night’s legislative forum at Paint Branch, we’re sending a letter to East County elected officials to raise our concerns about the Northeast and Downcounty consortia schools. The letter follows:

  • To: Senator Karen S. Montgomery
  • Delegate Anne R. Kaiser
  • Delegate Eric Luedtke
  • Delegate Craig Zucker
  • Councilmember Valerie Ervin
  • Board of Education member Michael A. Durso

Re: Paint Branch Legislative Forum, November 19

East County representatives:

We look forward to tomorrow evening’s discussion of the stabilization and development of East County, particularly its schools.

One Montgomery is a new and growing coalition of concerned parents and local citizens coming together to better understand, support and improve our schools, especially those that are failing to meet the high academic standards for which Montgomery County has traditionally been well known. These schools are disproportionately situated in the East County (see the Addendum). Underperforming schools shortchange our children and undermine our neighborhood quality of life. Schools and neighborhoods interact in a cycle—in our case a vicious one.

The trends are clear, and the seeming inability of MCPS to resolve issues in our schools and effectively address the achievement gap in the East County is troubling, Finding solutions requires first a commitment to transparency and openness in honestly discussing the problem, and then making appropriate policy changes and applying needed resources to follow-through until the MCPS mission “Every student will have the academic, creative problem solving, and social emotional skills to be successful in college and career” is achieved. We believe that the mission cannot be achieved without engaging the community as a true partner.

We look to you to raise East County schools on the political priority list.

Councilmember Ervin has made a strong beginning by calling for an Office of Legislative Oversight report on the Northeast and Downcounty Consortia high schools, now scheduled for mid-January release. This study will show comparatively poor academic outcomes and East-West demographic bifurcation. Consortia have not worked; much more must be done.

MCPS has responded with its Innovation School pilot initiative. Smarter central office-school interaction might make a marginal difference, but not the difference we need. There has been minimal input from the stakeholders involved—students, teachers, parents— whose buy-in is critical in gaining any appreciable and sustainable impact from the program. The Board must raise East County schools on the political priority list.

Addressing school inequities will require more funding for underperforming schools (i.e., smaller class sizes above Grade 2 and in on-level high school classes, more after-school and community school programs, expansion of pre-K) and placement and retention in East County schools of experienced teachers with a record of results. Funding should be allocated by school FARMS load, in the manner and at the level contemplated by both the Thornton Commission and Board policy. MCPS’ operating budget must be detailed and transparent as to the “subsidy” for high-FARMS schools.

Other needed policy changes do not necessarily carry any additional costs, but could have a significant and immediate impact on our students’ educational experience. Some examples include more thoughtful class placement, active recruiting of minority students to register for higher level courses (currently in many cases, minority students are discouraged or outright refused entry to more challenging classes based on an assumption that they will not be “successful”), and requiring demonstrated cultural competency in hiring decisions.

Only if the Board of Education raises East County schools on the political priority list should the County Council and the State raise Montgomery County schools on the budgetary priority list.

Development that ignores its effect on NEC academic performance and concentrated poverty, as does the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan, is not smart–it’s self-defeating. Smart development, which would prioritize support for school academic performance, would complement serious structural changes in MCPS’ East County school support.

It is One Montgomery’s mission to help support our high-poverty, underperforming schools. We look forward to working with our local schools, MCPS staff, legislative bodies, concerned community members, and other like-minded groups to achieve this goal.

ONE MONTGOMERY

Adrienne Lees
Ed Wetzlar
Marva Deskins Hamilton
Dan Reed
Kathleen Indart
Fred Stichnoth

cc: Larry Edmunds, MCCPTA NEC Area Vice President

Addendum: NEC High School Underperformance

Data point NEC High School mean Non-OLO High School mean
FARMS % 2013 37.9 17.1
SAT mean 2013 1464 1710
AP 3+% 2013 36.5 65.0
SAT 1650+% 2013 26.9 66.9
Graduation % 2013 85.9 91.4
Dropout % 2013 8.6 4.7

What does “Non-OLO” mean? The County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight is working a report about the performance of the consortia comparing the three NEC high schools and five DCC high schools to three “like” schools elsewhere in the county, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley, and Watkins Mill. “Non-OLO” schools refer to the other 14 MCPS high schools.