Montgomery County Schools
Photo Illustration Gives a Misleading Picture
Friday, August 15, 2008
It seemed, at first, like the toughest kind of tough love. A PowerPoint presentation from the Montgomery County school system, posted on the Internet, showed 18 teenagers' pictures under the words "These students need our help in passing the Algebra so they can graduate from high school."
But yesterday, county school officials said the image wasn't what it seemed.
The students, from Quince Orchard High School, weren't being given a public shaming for their struggles with math. Instead, officials said their images were chosen at random from an old set of yearbook photos, and used to illustrate a presentation given at Harvard University.
"These are not really kids who are failing algebra," said Brian Edwards, the school system chief of staff. "They were being used to illustrate a point."
Yesterday, county school officials said they had removed the slide from the online version of the presentation.
They said the presentation was given during a June conference, and the photos were used in a slide that described how the school's teachers target students who need extra help. "The Algebra" is school-system shorthand for a high-school assessment test on the subject.
Officials say this targeted attention, along with other tactics, has allowed the Gaithersburg high school to narrow the achievement gap between white students and African American and Hispanic students.
The presentation was posted on Harvard's Web site, where the students' pictures caught the eye of a parent from another school. He alerted the school system. The article was first reported yesterday in the Washington Examiner.
Edwards said the photos were from a disk of yearbook photos taken three years ago, so the students featured are likely no longer in the school system. He did not release their names. Edwards said no student privacy rights were violated, because the photos are in the public domain, he said.
"What is a bigger problem is students using student images" on Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace, Edwards said.
Edwards said he has not received any other complaints about the photos' use. Gerard Jackson, president of the Quince Orchard High PTSA, said he has not either.
"No data, no names, no report cards. Just photos," said Jackson, whose two daughters are students at the school. "The yearbook goes out to the public with a lot more information."