The lack of real progress by the state’s largest school district was spotlighted in a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight. The report examined a variety of performance measures, including graduation rates, SAT scores and state exams, and concluded that gaps between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers had not changed appreciably despite the county’s efforts over the years. “Largely ineffective” was the verdict of the report, which alleged that money earmarked to help students at-risk or from impoverished families was not properly spent.
School officials challenged the accuracy of the analysis. They say the examination of student progress is too narrowly focused and doesn’t take into account the system’s efforts to expand access of minority and low-income students to advanced courses. Undisputed, though, is that disparities persist, with low-income students concentrated in schools where there are higher numbers of less experienced teachers.
Demographic changes in the schools in the past decade — more students, more from low-income families, more who are English-language learners — present new challenges for the district and might partly explain why there has been less success in closing the gap than there was during Mr. Weast’s tenure. That, though, doesn’t let the schools off the hook. Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack R. Smith has called the achievement gap a “crisis in our community” and has developed new reporting tools to hold schools accountable for student outcomes.
Clearly, though, there is a need for doubling down on programs that produce results, jettisoning those that are ineffective and developing new strategies. Should there be more investment in prekindergarten? Should the system attract more experienced teachers to the needier schools with higher pay? Should the system’s experiment with a longer school year be expanded? Should school boundaries be adjusted so that schools are more racially and socioeconomically diverse?
Montgomery County, which has always prided itself on being a leader in education, needs to start leading again in this critical area.