- What’s wrong with the current setup of Montgomery County Public Schools? The current school boundaries are outdated and often illogical. They have led to wasteful spending to expand schools, often in the wealthiest areas of the county, while forcing older schools to wait many years for renovation or replacement.The last countywide boundary change happened in the 1980s, when MCPS closed more than 60 schools as enrollment dropped to about 90,000 and the county population was about 600,000. Today, the population is 1.2 million and growing. School enrollment has surged to more than 165,000, while boundaries remain largely unchanged.
- Why shouldn’t we just spend money to fix aging schools? Our resources are not infinite. A school system with a growing population and serious crowding issues should not simultaneously have schools operating at well below capacity. But in recent years, boundaries have only been changed when new schools opened. As a result, some schools are at more than 150 percent of capacity with up to 14 portable classrooms at a single school, even when there is space at nearby schools. Check out this interactive map to see for yourself.
- Why would we want to put more kids on buses? The status quo does not do a good job of providing walkable schools for our children. It results in many families being farther away from their children’s schools than they should be: Among non-magnet students, 37% of elementary students, 45% of middle school students and 38% of high school students do not attend the closest school, according to MCPS data.
- Isn’t it expensive to make big changes to the system? A systematic boundary assessment is fiscally responsible. We simply do not have the wherewithal to avoid this study, as the impact of avoiding a system-wide boundary assessment for more than 30 years has been a poor use of taxpayer dollars. MCPS houses 10,000 students in more than 400 portables, at a cost of $5 million per year. At the same time, MCPS has a $790 million backlog of systemwide repair and maintenance needs. Other school districts, such as neighboring Howard County, Fairfax County, and Baltimore County have performed boundary analyses as a matter of fiscal responsibility. School officials have proposed $1.82 billion in capital improvements without a clear plan to raise the money. While the state has promised a big funding increase, any increase will need to be matched by Montgomery County. That means we need to use our money wisely.
- How big is this problem? Our schools are overcrowded by nearly 11,000 students in about half the schools and face under-enrollment of more than 9,300 in the other half. The mismatch at the school level has been persistent for years. In some parts of the county, overcrowded schools have caused county planners to put a temporary hold on approving much-needed new housing, which puts further pressure on an already expensive and tight housing market.
- Why should we consider racial and socioeconomic diversity? Our schools are becoming more racially and socioeconomically segregated. Even when a school is integrated, programming, courses, and activities tend to be racially and socioeconomically segregated.
By Sunil Dasgupta
(Originally posted at Maryland Matters)
The prospect of school redistricting is roiling politics in two major Maryland counties.
Against tough opposition, the Howard County Board of Education just passed a plan to move over 5,000 students to ease overcrowding and diversify its schools. This was a compromise from Superintendent Michael J. Martirano’s original proposal to move more than 7,000, or about 12% of the county public school students.
In Montgomery County, the school board has commissioned a boundary analysis. Superintendent Jack Smith and other county leaders have called this effort a study of options rather than actual recommendations for change.
School redistricting proposals face strident opposition from residents who see the possibility of long school bus rides and social engineering for the sake of diversity, and at the cost of education quality. Opponents also are apprehensive about neighborhood stability and loss of home values if they are reassigned.
School boundaries may be the third rail of local politics, but they are key to creating education policy that is fiscally, morally and pedagogically responsible. The redistricting efforts in Howard and Montgomery counties accept the inescapable need to use resources efficiently and improve equity, but their proposals emphasize outcomes — which students will go where — and thereby help coalesce the opposition while dissipating potential supporters.
Historically, this mismatch in forces has ensured that school systems change boundaries only when carving out attendance areas for new schools. Despite significant shifts in population and demographics, Howard and Montgomery have not made comprehensive changes to their school boundaries for decades.
The last time Montgomery County undertook systemwide redistricting was in the mid-1980s, when it closed more than 60 schools because of low enrollment. The population was 600,000. Today, the county has 1.2 million residents.
There is opposition even to the possibility of redistricting.
David Moon, a Montgomery County state delegate, faces resistance to a bill he introduced that would add a clause to real estate closing documents alerting new homebuyers that they are not guaranteed a particular school assignment.
Matching school capacity and student enrollment is difficult because population shifts and real-estate markets are hard to predict. Despite the best efforts of the MCPS and the Montgomery County Planning Board, the mismatch between student enrollment and school capacity has persisted for more than a decade according to data gathered by parent activists. For school year 2019-20, MCPS is reporting 10,860 students as overcapacity in one half of its schools and 9357 open seats in the other half of its schools. This is a distribution problem.
Yet MCPS Superintendent Smith recently unveiled a $1.82 billion capital improvement plan. It is unclear where the money will come from. State legislative leaders have promised $2 billion for statewide school construction. Montgomery will get a large share of it, but it will also have to issue new bonds. For $100 million in bonds, annual debt servicing will be $8 million. This money could go instead toward hiring more teachers and reducing class size.
Moving students from overcrowded to under-enrolled schools would not only save money but also enable equitable access to education opportunities. Superintendent Martirano’s pitch for redistricting Howard County is rooted in equity. A 2019 MCPS-commissioned report found that black and Latino students were assigned more often to novice teachers and tracked into less rigorous coursework. Many under-enrolled schools are majority-minority and face staffing and programming cuts.
In response to the opposition, school boards should pursue three process steps that will promote a new and fair policy of school redistricting that seeks the greatest general welfare.
First, rely on an independent school boundary commission to review and adjust school boundaries periodically, based on utilization, diversity, transportation and student-assignment stability. A periodic review would allow the school system to adjust to population and housing development shifts, make continual corrections and create a system of incremental change, thereby avoiding the need for a 40-year overhaul.
Second, consider making the independent school boundary commission’s findings and recommendations for redistricting binding. This will help insulate redistricting from the politics faced by elected school board members and inject long-term planning and rationality into the redistricting process.
Third, implement new boundaries with a time-lag to promote predictability. When a child is in kindergarten, her family should know what middle school she will attend. Similarly, sixth-graders should know what high school they will attend. There may be some issues with separated siblings, but in the mix of competing priorities, lagging can provide stability for student cohorts.
Revamping the school redistricting process to foster predictability, incremental changes and corrections by appointing an independent body to insulate the redistricting process from political buffeting could create an enduring fix to an elusive problem.
The writer teaches political science at UMBC at the Universities at Shady Grove and is a Montgomery County parent. He tweets @sunildasgupta4.
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
- engaging, inquiry-based curricula
- mastery of a second language beginning in kindergarten
- highly-trained teaching staff
- exploration via high-impact field trips, and
- 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.
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.
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.
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.”