A Montgomery County school board member once told me, “There are no bad schools in Montgomery County.” This is sort of true, but so stellar a reputation often distracts people from the real problems Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) faces, such as a persistent achievement gap, de facto segregation by class and race, and suggestions of middle-class flight.
To tackle these difficult problems, families, community leaders, and school administrators need to face a hard truth: MCPS just isn’t so great anymore.
In the past 20 years, MCPS has gone from being a predominantly white, middle-class system to one that’s majority-minority and much more disadvantaged. Today, there are more Montgomery students who receive free or reduced-price lunches than there are students in the D.C. Public Schools.
But these changes have not been distributed equally through the county. Minority and low-income students are increasingly concentrated in Montgomery’s east and north. Meanwhile, its vaunted “W high schools” — Wootton, Whitman, Walter Johnson, and Winston Churchill — have experienced little change or, in some cases, have become whiter and richer.
As a result, MCPS is increasingly segregated by class, race, and academic performance. There remains a substantial achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and white and Asian students. Many of the county’s high school students failed their final math exams last year, but few of those failures occurred at the “W schools.” Instead, they were concentrated at schools such as Gaithersburg, Springbrook, or Wheaton, which face problems akin to those in urban schools and lag far behind their wealthier counterparts.
Continue reading my first op-ed in the Washington Post! I’m glad to be contributing to their All Opinions Are Local section, and you can find this column in the paper’s print edition on Sunday.