Thursday, May 24, 2007

weast: "mandatory busing" is okay, if you're hampshire greens

In a week when it comes out that suspensions are skyrocketing at East County schools like Key Middle School, it's not surprising that some parents might want to send their pre-teens elsewhere. But when nearly three-fourths of suspensions in Montgomery County are handed out to black students, it becomes increasingly apparent why the school system may want to spread the "diversity" around, if you will.

Enter Hampshire Greens, the golf course neighborhood at New Hampshire and Norbeck where "mandatory busing" has become a beacon of hope for Key officials and a pain in the butt for residents. Key might be eight miles and a forty-five minute bus ride away (past three other middle schools) from Hampshire Greens, but that's okay for Superintendent Jerry Weast. "I . . . do not find the Hampshire Greens situation to be unique or unusually burdensome," writes Weast in his recommendation (warning! PDF file) to keep the middle school boundaries exactly as they are.

At a Board of Education meeting Monday night, Weast "recommended that Hampshire Greens continue its articulation" or assignment to Key, according to a report by Northeast Consortium representative Phil Kauffman. In addition, the PTAs of the three neighboring middle schools - White Oak, Briggs Chaney and Farquhar - supported Weast's recommendations.

Would either of those three schools have anything to lose from letting a few Hampshire Greens kids in - or five, to be exact? Not at all. Even Key, for whom those five kids singlehandedly lower the percentage of minority or low-income students at the school, won't see much of a difference no matter which way the district lines fall. Weast's own report shows that if Hampshire Greens was redistricted to any other East County middle school, the percentage of black students at Key Middle School would increase from 49.2 percent to 49.5. We can already see the suspension rates skyrocket as frustrated teachers try to discipline their students of color.

What a waste of time! There is a serious issue in Montgomery County Public Schools that needs to be resolved, and we're fighting over whether a handful of kids can go to a school in their own neighborhood. Why should we trying to engineer super-diverse schools when we can't even handle the populations that are already in these schools?

This fight is a loss for everybody: the Hampshire Greens kids who may still be trekking across town to school every day AND the at-risk youth of Key Middle School, whose entire organization - from the administration to the PTA seems more concerned about putting a high-income Band-Aid on a low-income problem.

Pictured: a map of the four East County middle school districts (Banneker, in Burtonsville, is excluded) and the location of Hampshire Greens, currently served by Key Middle School, eight miles away. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.


Anonymous said...

Busing is the wrong approach to boost underperforming schools. It will depress land values in Hampshire Greens without solving any of the acadmeic issues at Key. I believe that improving performance of the County's underperforming schools requires a new approach to discipline, starting with manadatory school uniforms. Suspension should be eliminated as a disciplinary measure becuase it just awards students for the bad things they do. I think they should assess monetary fines on parents for the actions of their kids and let the parents do most of the disciplining so that the county can avoid any racial discrimination lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

Not everyone is academic material. This truth cannot be glossed over.
Until this fact can be addressed no solution will be found.

Ginger said...

Interesting points, Dan. Funny how statements and reports from MCPS that argue one thing can often give more credibility to the opposing argument.

Schools across the nation are more segregated today than they were before Brown v. the Board, and certainly a related phenomenon can be seen in MCPS, meaning that the schools with higher percentages of poor and/or minority students are the lower-performing schools with fewer opportunities for AP, IB, etc.

However, with our county's freakishly large education budget and abundance of resources, there's no reason that Einstein can't be as good a school as Whitman.

Busing is not an effective solution--as your numbers show--and it only serves to punish kids by making them wake up earlier (which is bad for their health, since we all know that preadolescents need plenty of sleep) to go to an unfamiliar school that is farther away from home.

MCPS has a plethora of problems, but it's not 1970s Boston and shouldn't be handled as such.

Anonymous said...

What makes this situation even more stupid is that about 80% of the students from Hampshire Greens are minorities! They are essentially busing a small group of upper middle class mostly minority students 1/2 across the county to better diversify Key Middle School! How stupid is our highly paid Superintendent? How much is this costing taxpayers?

By the way, Key is not a bad school and is getting better, and keeping those few kids from Hampshire Greens there won't make any difference to their progress.

Anonymous said...

I've watched some of this battle on TV and yes I have to agree for many reasons this is stupid. How can so many people spend so much time opposing something this small that is obviously wrong.

From my little outside perspective, it appears that the Farquhar PTA folks don't want this small group of mostly minority kids going to their school, even though the school has plent of empty space and the students are not from poor homes.

Board member Steve Abrams may be right when he says we should look at all the assignments, but since that is not going to happen (cost, time, politics, emotions of parents), than we should at least correct the really bad assignments like Hampshire Greens. It appears that Board member Sharon Cox wants to penalize those mostly minority families for not being poor.

I also agree with C. Johnson that we should stop wasting our taxpayer dollars on this kind of busing.

Anonymous said...

It sure would be nice if someone actually considered what the children experience. Middle School can be tough on growing and changing adolescents. It is important for them to feel accepted and part of a group. They arise early and struggle with added responsiblity. It would be in their best interest to go to a neighborhood, elementary, middle and high school, close inproximity to where they live and surrounded by peers who are similar to them. If the board and the nearby schools would actually consider the impact this has on the children involved - put aside their own personal agendas and consider families with multiple children at multiple schools none of which are closeby maybe they would understand that this is about everyday survival. How do you pick a kid up from Springbrook, Key and Drew in a timely fashion or take them to after school programs that are so far away. It is not about winning or losing, it is simply about what is in the best interest of these kids and their parents!

I pass Cloverly everyday to take my kids to Drew--what sense does that make? Farquhar is ten minutes away from my house Key is twenty five--what sense does that make?
The Farquhar bus passes our neighborhood everyday--what a waste of taxpayers money to send a bus up here to pick up five kids!

Weast does not care about our kids!
If he did this would not be an issue--

Anonymous said...

Putting children on buses to fix problems adults can't or won't address is wrong. Making something look alright through busing without solving the real problems is a temporary solution,cause children to suffer and delays the real work which needs to occur. Roll up your sleeves M.C.P.S.! Get it done....right !!

Anonymous said...

What's funny is that a few weeks ago the school system was screaming that they needed every single dime in their massive budget or the sky would be falling. I bet you that they could find millions in saving is they just stopped doing dumb things like this.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that MCPS has much bigger fish to fry than changing the school lines for a neighborhood that doesn't like its middle school. MCPS time should be spent on the large number of kids at risk for HSA failure, an increasingly disrespectful student body, the limited number of quality principals in our secondary schools and the weaknesses in the special education and gifted-and-talented cirriculum.

Anonymous said...

Of course the previous commentor is correct, MCPS does have bigger fish to fry and should be spending their energy on those items vs. dedicating so much time to the Hampshire Greens issues. On the other hand, this issue is not just about a school preference, this is about correcting an obviously stupid situation and doing so without all the drama. MCPS wrongly isolated Hampshire Greens from all of its neighbors when it assigned it to distant school in 1997. While this assignment serves no purpose (too few students to impact anything), MCPS continues to fight to keep those children on those long bus rides, at an added expense to us taxpayers. If I was a resident of HG I would be furiuos. In regards to the middle school, this community travels further to their middle school than anyone else, past several other middles schools, when the two closes middle schools have plenty of capacity.

While MCPS does have bigger fish to fry, Dr. Weast, with silly recommendations like the one he just made, helps to ensures that this issue will continue to be worked. I know that if it were my children being impacted I would fight this issue until they at least graduate, and maybe even beyond.

Anonymous said...

I know many disagree with Weast on this but I think he has a higher principle in mind. The benefits of economic integration in public schools are widely accepted in academic and political circles. Weast probably feels that a move for Hampshire Greens would be the beginning of the end for economic integration in Montgomery County schools.

Anonymous said...

I would a agree with the previous comment except that there are so few students involved here that as Mr. Daisey said in the Gazette, this has to be considered a "Token" gesture at the expense of the children from Hampshire Greens. If Dr. Weast was serious about economic diversity at the schools, he would be calling for much larger actions.

Anonymous said...

I have to assume that Dr. Weast, Sharon Cox, Patricia O'Neill, and Steve Abrams are dedicated, intelligent public servants. So that makes it all more bizzare that they can defend such an indefensible position. Just because the PTA at Key would like for those kids to be bused all those miles for little benefit (for selfish reasons), why would a School Board member or Dr. Weast want to place such a burden on those few kids from Hampshire Greens. Regrettably, one has to either believe that they are too bueracratic to make what are obviously common sense decisions, or the relentless pursuit of change by the Hampshire Greens community has just "pissed them off". Either way, they are wrong, should support this change, and apologize for 10 years of stupidity regarding this assignment.

Anonymous said...

To Yolanda...I'll bet that the Board members you cited (and Weast) would defend their position by saying that there are dozens of subdivisions and neighborhoods like Hampshire Greens all over Mont County where kids travel longer distances than necessary when measured against their neighborhood school. Right or wrong, they probably have a problem changing your school assignment without addressing all of the other distant school assignments.

Anonymous said...

To the last anonymous

I completely disagree, those communities who feel that their school assignment is as stupid as Hampshire Greens (which is hard to imagine)should be supporting Hamsphire Greens instead of taking an immature "if mine is not perfect, than you should not improve yours" attitude. It is impossible (space, geometry) to assign everyone to their closest school, but if they are being bused far distances for no apparent reasons, than the Hampshire Grens case could truly be a win for them.

If there are other neighborhoods with assignments like Hampshire Greens, then a ruling in favor of Hampshire Greens would eventually help them to improve their situation too. However, I don't thank that there are more than a couple (if any), hence that is why I have not seen them work with Hampshire Greens on this.

Anonymous said...

The BOE just voted on Tuesday to Reassign Hampshire Greens (see Gazette)

Anonymous said...

The BOE did change Hampshire Greens middle school why is Hampshire Greens appealing the BOE's decision to the State Board of Education? I think I know. Dan, I think there is a story here!!!