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.


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.


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