The study, commissioned by the school system, also says many students of color are less likely to have access to the most rigorous curriculum in Montgomery County, with fewer enrolled in advanced math even when they have the same state test scores.
Advocates say the research and other data come at an important inflection point as they launch a broader organization, the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, to leverage their combined strength.
“We realize that, alone, we have not been effective in bending the curve,” said Diego Uriburu, a longtime Latino leader and executive director of Identity Inc., which advocates for Latino youth in Montgomery. “Our communities are desperate after decades of the needle not moving, or not moving sufficiently.”
Black and Hispanic students represent more than half of students in Montgomery’s 208 schools, and the county has grappled for years with persistent gaps in achievement that have left students of color lagging behind.
“The report shows how deeply rooted these inequities are,” Uriburu said.
Byron Johns, education chair of the Montgomery County branch of the NAACP, who joined with Uriburu to form the coalition, called it a milestone that comes as state and county leaders focus on equity and the school system’s union contracts are under negotiation.
“We have for years tried to do this individually, with little progress to show,” Johns said. “It’s time to really exercise the kind of community activism that is in our interest.”
The coalition seeks changes that include new incentives to recruit the strongest teachers and principals to the schools most affected by poverty, and greater support for those educators.
Its leaders have called for an expansion of advanced courses, particularly in schools with the most students of color and low-income students. They say all students who meet criteria for advanced courses should be automatically enrolled, with the choice of opting out if students or families desire.
They are pressing for a regular collaboration with the school board and school system so that goals are set and progress is monitored.
Two dozen other organizations have signed on as members, including the county’s council of PTAs and groups that typically focus on health issues, politics and business.
“I’ve never seen this concerted effort,” said Laura Stewart, a vice president of the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations
. “Getting the data has spurred a call to action. Just to see the numbers in black and white, you can’t not take action.”
The coalition is expected to gather Tuesday at Gaithersburg High School with elected officials, advocates and community members.
“The same issues have been on the table for 40, 50 years, and somehow there’s been little meaningful progress,” Johns said. “Business as usual can’t continue. It’ll be a disaster for this county.”
Montgomery’s fast-growing school system is about 31 percent Hispanic, 28 percent white, 22 percent black, 14 percent Asian and 5 percent multiracial. Enrollment has climbed year after year for more than a decade, including a jump to 165,380 for the 2019-2020 school year, according to preliminary figures.
Johns said the school system and union leaders have been supportive of the organization and its efforts.
He and others say timing is important, pointing to equity initiatives on the state and county levels, including release of school-by-school data on achievement gaps, as tracked by race, poverty, and a combination of race and poverty.
School system spokesman Derek Turner said the study was commissioned so the district could look beyond aggregated data and “pull back the curtain.”
“To understand where we want to go, we have to really explore where we are now, and this data helps us do that,” he said.
Turner said the school system appreciates the advocacy efforts. “We want to work with people in our community to make sure every student has the resources and opportunities to meet their full potential,” he said.