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.

 


Sebastian Johnson for Board of Education at-large

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 30, 2016

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

One Montgomery endorses Sebastian Johnson for the Montgomery County, Maryland Board of Education at-large seat in the April 26 primary election.

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.

As a recent MCPS student, a former student member of the Board, and a former teacher in a high-needs school, Sebastian brings new, much-needed perspective and dedication to the Board of Education. His story illustrates how strong schools can help close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students and help them excel. He has a keen understanding of the challenges our school system faces. He is willing to work with all parties, from parents to Board colleagues and MCPS leaders to the County Council and state leaders, to make sure that MCPS is equipped and accountable to help every student, regardless of background or zip code.

Candidates endorsed by One Montgomery have records of community and political activism that prove their commitment to closing the achievement gap. This endorsement was made based on candidate questionnaires, interviews, and public statements.

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 between schools in the Northeast and Downcounty consortia and the Upcounty and schools in the more affluent western side of the county. 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 implement programs for high-needs schools to ensure high-performance by schools in all parts of the county. We endorse Sebastian Johnson because he understands these needs and can be expected to hold MCPS accountable to address them. 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 two years.

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.


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


Join One Montgomery at upcoming events around East County

Summer is coming, but One Montgomery isn’t taking a vacation. We hope to use the next few months as an opportunity to continue our conversation about the state of Montgomery County’s public schools and how we can ensure stronger, more equitable schools for everyone. Here’s what we have going on:

Tonight, we are cosponsoring a County Council District 5 candidates forum hosted by the Coalition of East County Citizens. Hear the candidates talk about their plans for education in District 5, which includes Burtonsville, White Oak, Silver Spring, and Takoma Park. That event will be at 7pm at the East County Regional Services Center, located at 3300 Briggs Chaney Road.

– On Saturday, we’ll be at IMPACT Silver Spring’s East County Family Reunion, a free event with food, games, a live DJ, and a basketball tournament. We’ll have a table and would love to meet you and hear your thoughts on Montgomery County schools. Join us from 11am to 3pm at the East County Community Center, located at 3310 Gateshead Manor Way.

-Help us elect candidates who are committed to school equity! We’re looking for volunteers to help pass out sample ballots at early voting centers. Early voting runs from June 12 to June 19 and we’d like to have people at the Silver Spring Civic Building and Fairland Recreation Center on weekday evenings and weekend mornings. Please email us at onemontschools at gmail dot com if you’re interested in helping.

– We won’t be having another community workshop until the fall, but until then, we’re interested in having smaller house meetings where we can get to know the people who are active in local school communities and talk about the issues facing our public schools. Would you be interested in attending or hosting one? Send an email to onemontschools at gmail dot com and let us know.


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


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.