Tuesday, July 23, 2013

MCPS and the audacity of hopefulness

Citing studies that show a connection between happiness and student performance, Montgomery County Public Schools are surveying students and staff on how hopeful and engaged they are. But it may not be a good measure of a school's quality.

This year's Gallup Student Polls for Montgomery County. All images by the author unless noted.

MCPS hired national polling firm Gallup to administer the surveys, which cost $900,000 for 3 years of work and can be found online. Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr feels the school system shouldn't only measure success by test scores, but by the social and emotional health of its students and employees.

The surveys ask students and teachers to respond to statements like "I have a best friend at school", "I can energetically pursue my goals", and "Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?" Respondents rank their feelings on a scale of 1 to 5, which are then compiled for the entire school and compared to averages for MCPS and for the United States as a whole.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

to get anywhere with BRT, we have to think big

Over the past 5 years, Montgomery County has envisioned building a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, making it a model for communities around the country. But transit advocates worry that the latest proposal takes another step back from the original vision.

Orange Line Platform, North Hollywood
The Orange Line in Los Angeles, an example of "gold-standard" BRT. Most of Montgomery's BRT system won't look like this.

Last November, planners proposed a 92-mile system where buses had their own lanes, whether in the median or in repurposed car lanes, on all or part of each of the 10 routes. But some residents and the Montgomery County Department of Transportation resisted calls to take away street space from cars.

The latest draft of the plan, which now has 79 miles of routes, has backed away from that recommendation. Under the current proposal, the only places that would get "gold-standard" BRT with dedicated lanes are Route 355 and portions of Route 29 and New Hampshire Avenue that have wide medians.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

debate over preservation, progress at long branch hearing

The Flower Theatre in Long Branch. Photo courtesy of Chip Py.

The County Council auditorium in Rockville was mostly empty last night as residents, community leaders and business owners offered comments on the Long Branch Sector Plan, which would encourage new housing and commercial development in the neighborhood's beleaguered business district in anticipation of the Purple Line, which could serve the area starting in 2020. Here's a Storify recap of what happened, followed by my testimony.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

new mapping tool shows spread of poverty in MoCo

As Montgomery County has become more diverse, it also faces new challenges with poverty. A new mapping tool shows just how much the county's changed over the past 30 years.

Poverty in Montgomery County
Where poverty is in Montgomery County. Each dot represents 20 people. Blue dots are whites; yellow dots are blacks, green dots are Hispanics, and red dots are Asians.

The Urban Institute, a DC-based think tank that looks at social and economic issues, made this awesome mapping tool that shows where very low-income people lived between 1980 to 2010. The Atlantic Cities notes that the maps show dramatic demographic shifts across the country, notably the suburbanization of poverty.

That's especially evident here in Montgomery County. 30 years ago, the county's only significant concentration of poverty was around close-in Langley Park and Long Branch, which had established themselves as immigrant gateways by the late 1970's.

But today, you can also find clusters of poverty throughout East County and the Upcounty, in Wheaton and Aspen Hill, in White Oak and Briggs Chaney, and even along I-270 in Gaithersburg and Germantown. Many of them have only emerged within the past decade.

Meanwhile, communities that have historically been affluent, like Bethesda or Olney, appear to have stayed the same. The area along Rockville Pike between Rockville Town Center and White Flint, where a considerable amount of new, high-end development is happening, seems to have actually become less poor.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

integrated schools will keep MCPS competitive

Last in a series on segregation and academic equity in MCPS. Check out part ONE | part TWO | part THREE

Over the past week, we've looked at how demographic changes and flight are making Montgomery County Public Schools a segregated system. Today, let's talk about ways to fix it.

Kid Falls Off Board, Everyone Laughs
Montgomery County's schools should look Montgomery County's residents. Photo by the author.

I started working on this series last year, when my brother began looking at Northeast Consortium high schools to attend this fall. I'm a proud product of MCPS and Blake High School, but it's clear to me that both the school system and the county need to change if they want to remain competitive regionally, nationally and globally.

The de facto segregation of MCPS has been an issue for decades. But school and county officials have often ignored it or responded with weak or ineffective solutions. We can't keep isolating our low-income and minority students in the system's worst-ranked schools. And we must ensure that middle- and upper-middle class families see every school, not just a privileged handful of campuses, as a valid choice for their children.

Monday, July 1, 2013

MCPS superintendent tries closing achievement gap

Third in a series on segregation and academic equity in MCPS. Check out part ONE | part TWO | part FOUR

UPDATE: This post was corrected to say that MCPS has named Watkins Mill High School, not Wheaton, an Innovation School.

Last week, we talked about how de facto segregation has made Montgomery County Public Schools a system of haves and have-nots, and at how watered-down attempts at integration made it worse. But for superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr, the real answer is making teachers better at teaching and students better at learning.

In Front of Wheaton High School
Dr. Starr wants to make Wheaton High School a model of "project-based learning."

"I could come up with ways of mixing and matching kids from different backgrounds and different races and different stripes in schools," says Starr, "but unless you actually change what teachers do with kids every day, you're not going to get a different result."

I met Starr in his ground floor office at the Carver Center in Rockville, a former black high school that's now MCPS headquarters. 50 years after the end of official segregation, an "achievement gap" persists between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. Starr calls it a "moral and economic imperative." His official Twitter account says he's "committed to public ed for social justice."