By Steffi Lewis
In the next decade, I want to see flying cars, world peace, and the systematic removal of billionaires -- the whole nine yards. But, with pragmatism in mind, my hopes and desires for what’s coming ahead are fueled by something more local and feasible: The MCPS Boundary Study. The road to this change starts with me, you, and the MCPS community.
The MCPS Boundary Study is an in-depth review of our county’s educational disparities to see if the current boundaries support or impede the effective and equal allocation of resources and facilities. The goal of the study is to create a more integrated, socio-economically equal, and culturally responsive community, ensuring each student in the Montgomery County school system is receiving an equitable and successful education. Regardless of the physical redrawing of lines, the school board hopes to address all the different findings of the study, such as ways to put more resources in schools and improve academic performance.
“The goal of the district-wide boundary analysis is to help MCPS better understand the impact existing boundaries have on school overcrowding, student diversity and proximity to school. The analysis will result in an interactive online tool and a final report to the school system in June 2020. The interactive tool will help the community better understand the complexities and challenges of school assignments,” said Karla Silvestre, a member of the County Board of Education at-large.
I want to see the implementation of the boundary study’s findings. Hopefully, the study will unearth new ways to foster equitable education throughout the county, resulting in a more equal socioeconomic school system where everyone receives the same level of resources and opportunities. From up -county to down-county, we see ill-designed boundary lines and inadequate resources, creating a deep divide and contrast of concentrations and clusters of factors such as race, students in the FARMs program, and drop out rates, within the schools.
Here are the facts:
In the 2017 - 2018 school year, B-CC’s student population, of over 2,000 students, was the majority, around 60%, white. Albert Einstein HS, with roughly the same student body size, had an almost 50% majority of Hispanic students. B-CC had 11% of students in FARMs and Einstein had almost 40% of their student body in FARMs. Driving from B-CC to Einstein takes 15 minutes. 15 minutes divide what is supposed to be considered such a diverse, equal community. 15 minutes should not elicit such different responses from both schools.
Further, B-CC’s average SAT scores are almost 200 points higher. The percentage of students at B-CC scoring a 3 or higher on AP and a 4 or higher on IB exams is almost 30% higher than our counterpart. B-CC has seen multiple million-dollar renovations in the last year. Einstein has not had a renovation since the 1990s.
The current boundaries essentially hinder equity. These differences in equity create a cycle of disparity, even resulting in long-lasting effects, such as where these students end up going to college. The lack of resources and opportunities mixed with the exorbitant amount of money poured into already affluent schools develops a system of inherent unfairness and the inability to reverse such boundaries, and even further, reverse pre-disadvantaged futures. Truthfully, the entire Montgomery County community is put at a disadvantage when we ignore the benefits of utilizing our diverse demographics to its fullest.
There is a strong case for school diversity. Learning in these diverse settings across the board help with building successful communities. Students learn from other students. When those students share in their different backgrounds, creeds, and experiences, they are able to establish an academic intervention apart from external funding in order to create their own success. This diversity builds leadership skills, decreases dropout rates, closes achievement gaps, reduces racial and socioeconomic biases, and allows for truly effective and accessible education. Truthfully, innovation, creativity, success, and every aspect of a successful student stems from their education.
Outside the scope of redistricting, the school board continues to work towards closing the achievement gap and addressing overcrowding and the factors of which a student succeeds. The goal of the Boundary Study goes beyond redistricting, but rather, evaluating the extent of MCPS’s social, cultural, and socioeconomic demographics. This effort in evaluation has created initiatives outside of the study, within which they hope to directly impact students affected by poverty. To name a few, these initiatives include, “Multiple local dual-language schools, expanded access to AP/IB coursework, provided free SAT, ACT or licensure to all students, investment in academic support/college pathway programs (Minority Scholars/ACES), mandatory cultural proficiency training for all educators,” added Silvestre.
The actual boundary study was the first step towards change. But, the study does not guarantee these boundaries will change. At B-CC, it is important to start meaningful conversations about the current boundaries, the resulting boundary study, and what we can do to close these gaps in inequality. “The boundary study consultant will be doing focus groups for students in the coming months. Students should try to participate. Get informed of the results in June and write the Board of Ed or come testify on your thoughts,” said Silvestre. Whether it be through engaging the student body to create these discussions, emailing the Board of Education, or attending boundary study forums, we can use our privilege to address this problem. Simply stated, it needs to change.