Category Archives: Teachers & Administrators

Diversifying the MCPS Teaching Staff

The Montgomery County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) recently released a report that showed a “demographic mismatch” between the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students and teachers. According to the report, which compared the race and ethnicity of students to faculty, the county’s teaching staff is disproportionately white relative to its student body. The MCPS student body is 33 percent white, 27 percent Latino, 21 percent Black, and 14 percent Asian, while the MCPS teaching staff is 76 percent white, 5 percent Latino, 13 percent Black and 5 percent Asian.

This “mismatch” is not unique to MCPS. A recent state-by-state analysis of student-teacher demographics by the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that there is a significant “diversity gap” between teachers and students in every state in the nation. Using a “parity index” similar to the one used in the OLO report, the study calculated how close each state was to a demographic match (zero equaling a perfect teacher-student match and 100 equaling a perfect mismatch). California had the biggest mismatch, with an index of 44, but Maryland wasn’t far behind with an index of 40.

Using the CAP index, which subtracted the percentage of teachers of color from the percentage of students of color, MCPS would be a 43. Notably, the states that are furthest from parity are also among the most racially diverse (e.g. California), compared to racially homogeneous Vermont, which had the smallest mismatch with an index of 4.  States like California and Maryland, and districts like MCPS, have Latino, African-American, Asian-American and other student populations that are fast out-pacing the relatively static and disproportionately white teacher populations, and a lot of work to do to balance out the teacher-student demographics. The parity index used by OLO is different in its calculation and level of detail (by subgroup, for example), but offered the same conclusion:  the teaching staff does not reflect the great diversity of its students and the county should do more to diversify its teaching ranks.

Waiting for the teaching staff to “catch up” to the students is not the answer. While racial/ethnic diversity in teaching has increased over the last couple decades, according to a recent analysis of federal School and Staffing Survey data, this increase pales in comparison to the explosive growth of student diversity. In fact, the CAP study found that the diversity gap had grown worse since 2011. Unfortunately, the recent OLO study doesn’t show any trend data to see how the MCPS teaching population has changed over time. Curious, I decided to look at some rough numbers from my own alma mater, Springbrook high school, to see how things might have changed in twenty five years. Back in 1989, roughly 55 percent of Blue Devils were white, 30 percent African American, 9 percent Asian and 6 percent Latino. Today, the demographics have shifted but it remains an incredibly diverse mix of students, with 42 percent African American, 34 percent Latino, 12 percent Asian and 9 percent white. In terms of race and ethnicity, the student body is more of a melting pot than it was twenty-five years ago. This is heartening to know, since I believe that the experience of going to a school like Springbrook forced me and my peers to confront, understand and value racial, ethnic and cultural diversity more than most.

Interestingly, I attribute this experience to the diversity of the students, not the faculty, which is far more diverse now than it was in 1989. Then, Springbrook’s faculty was only about 5 percent “non-white” (a handful of African American, Hispanic and Asian-American teachers). Today, the number of non-white teachers has jumped to 40 percent. Still, in terms of parity, Springbrook doesn’t look good, given that 90+ percent of its students are not white.

Superintendent Starr has said he plans to aggressively tackle the issue of staff diversity but it’s not yet clear how that will happen. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Diversify for need’s sake, not diversity’s sake. We tend to include everything under the tent of diversity, which makes defining and executing a clear recruitment and development strategy nearly impossible. The goal is not merely to balance the racial and ethnic make-up of the student and staff populations (step into an MCPS school and you’ll see how impossible this would even be). It’s to diversify the staff so we can better address the needs of MCPS students. So, do we want more African American teachers to benefit the large number of African American students who are disproportionately struggling academically? Should this recruitment goal target certain areas (the MCPS study included a helpful breakdown by MCPS clusters)? Specifically, do we want more African American male teachers, since African American boys in particular are over-represented in discipline counts and in placement for special education? (Gender, notably, was not part of the OLO study but is a huge consideration given that teaching is becoming more, not less, female-dominated). Relatedly, Dr. Starr has said he wants to recruit for “cultural competency” and not necessarily race and ethnicity. “Cultural competence” is more difficult to measure but, unlike race or ethnicity, it is also a skill set that can be gained over time (e.g., knowledge of different cultures and customs, the ability to effectively teach students from a variety of cultures). While we may want it all—a well-prepared teaching staff that is culturally competent, balanced by race/ethnicity and gender and whatever else—it is careless and presumptuous to tackle this as one issue. Some of the best bilingual teachers are white and native English speakers, and there are plenty of Latino and Asian and African-Americans who only speak English and are not “culturally competent” just because of their race/ethnicity.


  1. Prioritize language skills. One important but unmet goal of the OLO study was to explore gaps in linguistic diversity between staff and students. Lacking data on staff language skills, the study wasn’t able to conclude much on this. But improving the language skills of MCPS teaching staff should be among the most important goals of the system, especially given the rapidly increasing non-English speaking immigrant communities in MCPS. Collecting and tracking data on staff language skills and recruiting for bilingual and multi-lingual teachers are goals that would be widely supported not only by non-English speaking communities but also by the English-speaking population, which continues to actively lobby for more language immersion school options in the county. Partnerships like those that MCPS has recently formed with institutions like the dual-language Ana G. Mendez University System would ostensibly bring many more bilingual teachers into the system. The linguistic diversity of Montgomery County is a strength, and building on this should be a priority.


  1. Grow our own. Another long-term strategy for MCPS, and perhaps its best, is to develop our own student-to-teacher pipeline. If MCPS can clarify what skills and characteristics it really needs, its graduates should be able to return to its classrooms as teachers. This would require the availability of more high-quality teacher education programs in the state, which is not within the district’s control (but is certainly something MCPS and the broader community can and should push for). But there’s no doubt that a stronger pipeline can be built, and beyond a few partnerships or a scholarship here and there. Why not build a teacher residency program like its neighbors PG and DC, and others across the nation? Or consider the model of Educators Rising, a spin-off of Future Teachers of America that is starting with high school classes (Intro to Teaching) aimed at engaging and training young students for teaching careers. Given that more than 60 percent of teachers in the nation teach within twenty miles of where they went to high school, this seems like a good bet for MCPS. We have the population for a strong pipeline of high-quality teachers that reflect the demographics of the county. We just need to cultivate it.



Cultural Competency: Responsibility, Research, and Results (plus Ron Edmonds still relevant after all these years)

Today, the MCPS Board of Education will be discussing efforts MCPS is making to address cultural challenges (ex, race, language, home settings) the system faces with implications for reducing the stubborn achievement gap the system finds itself challenged by.  Some of the editorial team members of the MoCoEdBlog have looked at this issue and some of the briefing documents MCPS is using and have a few comments to add to the discussion.  This post is a synthesis of email conversations among some members of the MoCoEdBlog, specifically Joe Hawkins, Mike Petrilli, and Phil Piety who authors this post.


There is general agreement that this is an important issue for MCPS.  How well schools serve the needs of all students is a critical issue and the role of educators’ attitudes and school culture have long been known to be keys to addressing these issues.  One of the documents shared with BOE to prepare them for this discussion focused on helping educators to not blame children and their parents for school failures, but to look for what they can do to take responsibility. This reminds me of an educational equity scholar, Ron Edmonds, who in 1982 made a famous declaration about effective schools:

“It seems to me, therefore, that what is left of this discussion are three declarative statements: (a) We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; (b) We already know more than we need to do that; and (c) Whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.”

Edmonds was not saying poverty and home circumstances do not matter.  How could he or anyone suggest that?  What he was saying was that the solution lie not in focusing on those issues as determinants of results, but adults taking the responsibility for success in spite of those realities. Edmonds went on to provide six core recommendations for schools in achieving these ends.

  1. Strong administrative leadership.
  2. High expectations.
  3. An orderly atmosphere.
  4. Basic skills acquisition as the school’s primary purpose.
  5. Capacity to divert school energy and resources from other activities to advance the school’s basic purpose.
  6. Frequent monitoring of pupil progress.

In Edmonds framing, the culture is evidenced by actions, by deliberate things that include high expectations and strong instructionally focused school leaders.


Several readers of the MCPS briefing document noted the powerful rhetoric including this statement:

“In building upon the cultural synchronicity, demographic parity, and humanistic commitment dispositions, OHRD increased its recruitment effort with an emphasis on colleges and universities as the major recruitment source for new teachers.”

This kind of statement is rich with intention and inference.  For the general public and for those intending to carry out this mission, what does it mean?  MoCoEdBlog is not sure.

These kinds of statements are a reminder that it is all too easy to use the language of equity, but that this may not be the same as the actions.  While a teacher or a school leadership team may profess commitments to universal success, this isn’t the same as actually doing it.  Despite the many problems with accountability and oversight, the unfortunate truth is it is needed in many cases as not all educators do the right things on their own.


Part of the plan MCPS is previewing involves finding teachers (ex: African American males) who are more like the kinds of students that are traditionally harder for school systems to reach.  What does the research say about the selection of culturally connected teachers?  Mike Petrilli points to a piece in EducationNext from 2004 that suggests that this is an area that can make a difference. This important paper highlights the many challenges to studying these populations, including student mobility.  Incidentally, student mobility is much higher in higher needs populations and this complicates efforts to evaluate educators serving these students as well.  The paper also provides a caution by saying:

“[The] results clearly support the conventional assumption that recruiting minority teachers can generate important achievement gains among minority students. However, they also suggest that a typically overlooked cost of such efforts may be a meaningful reduction in the achievement of nonminority students.”


A challenge for MCPS going forward is how will it know whether these efforts are actually yielding results.  How will the system’s leadership know that workshops are leading to actual changes in schools or just more opportunities for school leaders to find a new set of jargon to use while still treating students the same?  As the MCPS Chief Community Engagement Officer has noted, communities with greater needs are also ones where family participation is difficult for many reasons.  If a privileged family believes there is an educational problem in their school they are more likely to advocate within the system and raise red flags for school system leadership. In disadvantaged communities there are both practical issues to parent advocacy as many parents are working hard at survival and even more cultural barriers that make family advocacy not assured.

In raising a few questions about these efforts, MoCoEdBlog recognizes this is not a trivial exercise.  It is not a trivial issue.  MCPS’ efforts are not trivial and deserve attention and discussion.  We invite additional commentary from MCPS and from others in the community to address these important challenges.

Peer Assistance and Review by Mark Simon

Teacher, administrator, and support staff evaluation is not a one-size-fits-all system in MCPS. When problems are identified, intensive support and intervention are provided through “peer assistance and review.” The system was designed and implemented starting in 2000 by MCPS and the employee organizations representing teachers, principals, and support staff. The theory is that the work of teaching and making schools effective is complex. When there are problems, intensive work with under-performing educators is needed to bring about substantial improvement or removal. In general, teachers and others seem to feel the Peer Assistance and Review system is fair and helpful. Thousands have improved their practice, and after almost 15 years, hundreds of teachers are no longer teaching because it wasn’t a good fit. It seems to be working. It’s admired nationally. But with anything this ambitious, there are bound to be problems and room for improvement. We’re going to be looking for the skinny on how its working, 15 years later.