Monday, April 28, 2014

students protest MCPS achievement gap in march on rockville

Several hundred students, teachers and school administrators, parents, and local officials marched on Rockville yesterday in a call to close the growing achievement gap between white and Asian and black and Hispanic students in Montgomery County Public Schools.

March to Close the Gap Rally in Courthouse Square
Several hundred people came to march in protest of the achievement gap in Rockville yesterday.

The Minority Scholars Program, a student-driven initiative to close the achievement gap, began organizing the march several months ago. The group began at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda eight years ago as a way to reach out to minority students, and has since expanded to 10 other high schools in the county, including Northwood, Springbrook, and Wheaton. Organizers say the program has “data to support its success” in increasing the academic eligibility and honor roll placement of minority students.

About 400 people marched from the Carver Center, once the county’s black high school under segregation and now the MCPS central office, down Rockville Pike and North Washington Street. Students chanted and held signs with slogans like “Close the Gap,” as drivers honked their horns in approval. The march ended at Courthouse Square for a festive rally on the steps of the county courthouse with music and dancing.

Organizers hope the march will raise awareness about the achievement gap and spur the community to action. “For years, we have been watching and waiting and hoping and wishing for something to change,” said Mike Williams, a teacher at Walter Johnson who helped start the Minority Scholars Program.

Starr Takes a Photo of the March
Marchers on Rockville Pike as Dr. Starr (left) takes a photo.

Several MCPS and Montgomery County officials participated in the march and subsequent rally, including school board president Phil Kauffman and superintendent Joshua Starr, who tweeted selfies with the crowd and even briefly danced with MSP members on stage. “We care about you and we love you,” he said. “Everything we are doing is about how we can work harder to close the gap.”

Speakers during the rally made repeated comparisons to other youth movements in history, from the East Los Angeles Walkouts in 1968 to the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa. Tim Warner, Chief Engagement and Partnership Officer for MCPS, urged the students to offer their input and ideas. “You are the solution…you are what Montgomery County looks like today and you are our leaders,” he said. “You all need to tell us what to do.”

Student leader Gabi Bianchi called the march “the beginning of a revolution to close the achievement gap,” adding, “We have been heard.” She said the Minority Scholars Program will advocate for “institutional changes” at the federal, state, and county levels to give students and schools the resources they need to succeed.

That will be a challenge for the organization. School officials acknowledge that minority students are lagging their peers, and MCPS does have many good programs in place to help close the gap. But the achievement gap continues to grow and appears to be a direct result of de facto racial and socioeconomic segregation in MCPS.

Yet in recent months, Dr. Starr has both rejected a recent report from the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight about the achievement gap, while Starr and Kauffman both threatened to cut funding for additional programs to close the gap if the school system didn’t get a raise in their budget from the county. These actions really raise questions about the school system's commitment.

Yesterday’s march was a great day for the Minority Scholars Project and for all of the hard-working students and staff who made it happen. But we all have to hold MCPS leaders accountable for their promises to listen to the community's concerns and make the school system more equitable for all students.

Check out this slideshow of the march.


Unknown said...

Joshua Starr sure is good at dancing. He dances with protestors, and he dances around the true issues plaguing MoCo schools. Let's draw new, more inclusive boundaries to open up MoCo's privileged schools.

I wouldn't advocate for anything drastic. Monumental changes will send affluent folks into panic mode and they will likely move to Howard or send their kids to private schools. Instead, a few incremental changes in policy and school catchments can at least make a dent and help provide opportunity for folks in the East.

ilse said...
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beerman said...

What do you propose MoCo do to shrink the "gap"?

There is a reason for the gap. It's not mentioned in this article, nor do the protesters mention it. It comes down to the parents. The parents of this kids on the lower end of the "gap" are not motivating their children. Basically, they do not care. My wife works for MCPS in a low income area, and she has seen this first hand. The parent's simply do not motivate their children or hold them accountable.

But, I digress, it is easier to blame MoCo and "demand action." What do they want MoCo to do? Give minorities extra points? Lower standards? Please, enlighten me, Dan, since you seem to support this theory that the gap is MoCo's fault.

Anonymous said...

Inequality can be solved easily, by depressing student performance in top schools.

Of course, inequality is not the problem. Poor performance in low-income schools is the problem, and solutions should be directed to improving academic opportunity and learning in those schools.

Targeting "inequality" is at best a diversion, and at worst a detriment to improving learning.

- Zinzindor

Unknown said...

I think beerman and Zinzindor have neglected to think about the fact that often folks in disadvantaged communities work long or bizarre hours and lack the social capital to pay for things like tutoring or high quality childcare.

I used to work for DCPS, and then went to teach in a high-performing school in MA. Anecdotally, there isn't much difference in the motivation levels of students in high and low performing schools. In any class, there are going to be kids who really care, and then there are going to be a few students who don't. Motivation may impact achievement, but there are an enormous amount of other variables at play. What about word acquisition? Studies show that children of affluent parents have a natural advantage in vocabulary, just based on everyday speech patterns, not intentional "reading time". If students are surrounded by like individuals with the same levels of speech performance, they won't be exposed to new words. Homogeneity exacerbates inequality.

Zinizindor's point is certainly defensible. In fact, it's the argument that people have been making in this country since the 1960s. Yet, from a macro perspective, nothing has changed. Sure, there are a few stand out schools, but more often than not schools with poor students perform poorly. Charters and magnets who weed out students, often right before test time, should not be pointed at as models of success. Even without weeding, these schools are examples of self-selection biases, where motivated parents have taken action for their children.

Zinzindor suggests that poorly performing schools don't focus on learning. I think s/he is implying that the teachers aren't doing a good job. I don't know about MCPS, but DCPS outspends most districts as far as professional development is concerned. When I arrived in MA at the top performing school, I was surprised about how lackluster the teaching methods of my colleagues were. In addition, in just one year I became the school's model teacher. Old-timers were coming to me for tips. I can't take credit for that success--I owe it to DCPS.

The point I'm trying to make is that good teaching and motivation can't make up for inherent injustice. And even if you want to blame a parent for being unmotivated and not investing in his or her child (which I suspect is rare), I wonder if it's fair to disadvantage a child based on his or her parents. Beerman's comments suggest that this is fine. I think it's wrong, but that's just me...

Sheryl said...

If we really want to close the achievement gap for poor and minority children, then the schools or some other publicly-funded program have to replicate what affluent and highly educated parents do for their children. 1) Read and interact verbally on a one-on-one basis with a child from birth. 2) Know what a child has to learn and by what grade. Make sure that happens no matter what a teacher says is going well. 3) Game the system to search for and find the right school for each child. 4) Make learning, reading, and knowing what your child is doing a daily and loving task. 5) Start doing college test prep and searching for colleges in the beginning of junior year in high school. Children need to know they are expected to achieve. My father used to ask what happened to the other two points if I got a 98 on a test. He said it without harshness, but seriously.

I volunteered for years in MoCo elementary schools. There is not a smartness gap; there is an achievement gap. Frankly, it's heartbreaking.