MCPS needs to face up to demographic realities

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.

This week, the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight released its findings on the achievement gap in Montgomery County Pubic Schools. Researchers note that low-income, black and Latino students are still lagging 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: the Northeast Consortium, with Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook; the Downcounty Consortium, with Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton; and three upcounty schools, Gaithersburg, Seneca Valley and Watkins Mill. Meanwhile, higher-income students, as well as 80 percent of the school system’s white students and 67 percent of its Asian students, are now clustered at schools on the western side of the county, including the vaunted “W schools” in or near Bethesda.

The result is an “achievement gap … between [high-poverty] high schools and [low-poverty] high schools,” in which all students perform worse, noted Dr. Elaine Bonner-Tompkins, who produced the report. Students in one of the 11 “high-poverty” schools are less likely to graduate on time, to maintain grades high enough to participate in extracurricular activities and to earn high scores on AP exams or the SAT. Meanwhile, they’re nearly twice as likely to drop out of high school or get suspended.

Whether the problems are real or perceived, the performance of high-poverty schools in East County may be leading to white flight. Dr. Bonner-Tompkins notes that the share of white and Asian families at high-poverty schools is falling faster than the rest of the school system, suggesting that they’re fleeing for low-poverty schools with better reputations.

The study, which then-Council member Valerie Ervin commissioned, is a follow-up to a 2009 report about the Northeast and Downcounty consortia, which gave students a choice of several different high schools as a way to promote racial and economic integration, which studies show can improve academic performance. Both reports conclude that MCPS policies designed to reduce segregation “have not worked as intended.”

[Continue reading Dan Reed’s post here at Just Up the Pike.]

Dan Reed blogs at Just Up the Pike. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

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Dan Malouff · April 11, 2014

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