Categories
Boundaries Education policy Montgomery County Uncategorized

Why should Montgomery County consider changes to school boundaries?

Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville.
  1. 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 The current school boundaries are outdated and often illogical.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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
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Categories
Boundaries Education policy Montgomery County School equity

Focus on Process to Get School Redistricting Right

 

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.

Categories
Achievement gap Education policy Events Montgomery County School equity

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.

Categories
Achievement gap Montgomery County School equity

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.

Categories
Achievement gap Economic development Education policy Montgomery County School equity

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

Categories
2014 Elections Events Montgomery County

Meet your Board of Education candidates at events this fall

While the primary election feels like a distant memory, the general election is less than six weeks away! Because Board of Education races are non-partisan, there are still competitive races for all four seats on the ballot (Districts 1, 3, 5, and At-Large) this year.

You’ve seen our endorsements for Board of Education, and now here’s your chance to meet the candidates. This page will be updated throughout the fall with debates and candidate events as we hear about them.

Don’t forget: Election Day is Tuesday, November 4 from 7am to 8pm. Early voting runs from October 23 through October 30 at polling places around Montgomery County. And you’ve got until October 14 to register to vote.

Upcoming Board of Education Candidate Events

Saturday, October 11th: 8:45 – 11:00 a.m.,
Carver Educational Services Center, 850 Hungerford Dr. Rockville
Sponsored by NAACP Parents Council

Tuesday, October 14th: 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.,
Silver Spring Civic Center, One Veterans Plaza, Silver Spring
Sponsored by the Montgomery County Education Forum (MCEF)

Wednesday, October 15th: 7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
River Falls Club House 7915 Horseshoe Lane, Potomac, MD.
Sponsored by the Whitman High School Cluster

Tuesday, October 21: 7:30 – 9:00 p.m.,
Long Branch Community Center, 8700 Piney Branch Road, Silver Spring
Sponsored by Safe Silver Spring and MCCPTA

Passed Events

Monday, September 29: The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County and Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations are hosting a candidate forum with both incumbents and challengers. The event starts at 6:30pm at the Carver Educational Services Center, located at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville.

Tuesday, September 30: The Montgomery County Taxpayers League, Montgomery County Civic Federation, and Parents Coalition of Montgomery County host a forum for challengers only. That event starts at 7:00pm at the Rockville Library, located at 21 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.

Saturday, October 5th: 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.,
Garrett Park Town Hall, 10814 Kenilworth Avenue, Garrett Park
Sponsored by Start School Later, Inc.

Wednesday, October 8th:7:30 – 9:00 p.m.,
Aspen Hill Library, 4407 Aspen Hill Road, Rockville
Sponsored by The Library Advisory Committee and the Strathmore-Bel Pre Civic Association

Categories
2014 Elections Montgomery County School equity

One Montgomery announces endorsements for the 2014 primary election

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 21, 2014

Contact: Dan Reed
ph: 202/256-7238
onemontschools@gmail.com

One Montgomery announces candidate endorsements for 2014 primary elections in Montgomery County, Maryland.

One Montgomery endorses the following local candidates for the June 24th primary elections in Montgomery County:

one montgomery stickerOrganized in 2013, One Montgomery is a grassroots organization of parents, teachers, and community members in Montgomery County that is dedicated to public school improvement as a means for creating a stronger community. The group seeks a school system committed to school equity, transparency, collaboration, and accountability.

A recent report on school performance by Montgomery County’s Office of Legislative Oversight shows that the achievement gap in county schools has grown in recent years, particularly within the Northeast and Downcounty consortia. Because geographical boundaries almost always determine school assignments, school quality is closely tied to neighborhood stability and the health of our local economy.

As a result, Montgomery County Public Schools needs to dedicate adequate staffing and programs for high-needs schools to ensure high-performing schools in all parts of the county. One Montgomery has produced a set of recommendations for ways MCPS can do that, using feedback from community workshops and education forums it has organized or participated in over the past year.

Candidates endorsed by One Montgomery have records of community and political activism that prove their commitment to closing the achievement gap. Legislative and council endorsements were made based on candidate questionnaires, interviews, and public statements. For school board endorsements, One Montgomery teamed with a Takoma Park education group to interview candidates.

For further information on One Montgomery, visit its website or Facebook page. Follow One Montgomery on Twitter @onemontschools, or join One Montgomery’s listserv. One Montgomery can be contacted at onemontschools@gmail.com.

See our sample ballot below. Click here or on the ballot for a printable copy.

one montgomery ballot_front

Categories
Achievement gap Events Montgomery County

Two chances to hear about the MCPS achievement gap report next week

Not Blake, Closing Time Next week, hear from education expert Rick Kahlenberg on how to close the achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools and discuss the performance of East County high schools at two meetings around the area.

On Monday, Kahlenberg will speak at the Montgomery County Civic Federation’s monthly meeting, Kahlenberg recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post arguing that integrated, diverse schools are the best way to improve the performance of all students. He’ll be speaking alongside Dr. Elaine Bonner-Tompkins of the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight, who wrote a newly-released report about the achievement gap and growing segregation in Montgomery County high schools, and at-large County Councilmember Hans Riemer.

The meeting will be held this Monday at 7:45pm in the first-floor auditorium of the Council Office Building, located at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. For more information, visit the Civic Federation’s website.

And on Wednesday, the East County Citizens Advisory Board will host a presentation about Office of Legislative Oversight report, focusing on changing demographics and drops in student performance in East County schools. The Board is made up of local community members who are appointed by County Executive Ike Leggett to represent and speak for East County residents. That meeting will be at 7:00pm at the East County Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road in Silver Spring.

We hope to see you at one of the meetings this week! It’s great to see that community leaders are interested in talking about the issues facing East County schools and how we can all work together to make them stronger.

Categories
Achievement gap Events Montgomery County School equity

Education expert Kahlenberg weighs in on the MCPS achievement gap

Image from Kahlenberg’s website.

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

Categories
Achievement gap Events Montgomery County School equity

Students protest MCPS achievement gap in march on Rockville

March to Close the Gap Rally in Courthouse Square
Several hundred people came to march in protest of the achievement gap in Rockville yesterday.

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.

Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.
Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.

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.