Category Archives: About MoCo

Sudden Departure of Dr. Starr

The sudden departure of Dr. Joshua Starr from MCPS has been a difficult process to watch for many in the MoCoEdBlog community for several reasons.  One of the most significant of them is that as a collection of education professionals we considered Josh Starr a colleague and have appreciated his openness and his ideas, which many of us found to be well reasoned and good for the educational system.  We are a collection of individuals with different backgrounds and views and we do not speak with one voice, but rather have come together to create a forum for discussion about serious issues affecting Montgomery County’s educational challenges and opportunities.  We have refrained from commenting during the Board’s deliberations.  We are not elected officials with any official role, but rather professionals who come together to share our knowledge of MCPS and the national educational world.  We were not close to the discussions between Dr. Starr and the Board and we don’t know what they know.  We do, however, have a lot of questions.


In the coming weeks, we plan to discuss some issues we believe are important for the Montgomery County education community, including the process by which Dr. Starr was let go and what kind of superintendent MCPS should have in the future.  Having exercised this authority the Board now can and should take responsibility for setting a clear direction for the system.  The days of having the superintendent dictate policy to them (Weast would say openly “The Board works for me”) are over.  Now our Board of Education needs to articulate a vision and explain their thinking.  We at MoCoEdBlog are ready to support whoever is responsible for leading our schools.  It is with great sadness for us that it will not be Josh Starr whose open style, big ideas, and vision for change we admired.

Burnie Bond
Stephanie Halloran
Joe Hawkins
Rick Kahlenberg
Phil Piety
Elena Silva
Mark Simon
Elaine Weiss


Jerry and Jody’s Kids: Where are They Now?

This past October, the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) renamed Broad Acres Elementary School after its former principal Jody Leleck, who died of cancer in 2012.  The school now is named the Jody Leleck Elementary School at Board Acres.[i]  Leleck is credited with raising the academic achievement levels of Board Acres students over a five-year period between 1999 and 2004.[ii]

Leleck’s friends agree that renaming Broad Acres after her was a noble way to honor her legacy.  I did not know Leleck, and yet on the surface, I also agree with the renaming.  But recently, when I posted a comment about the renaming on a Leleck friend’s Facebook page, asking, “Where are the Leleck kids now?,” you would have thought I had called for a Spanish-Inquisition of the Leleck legacy.

Perhaps the friend thought I was questioning the Leleck Broad Acres legacy.  Honestly, all I think I was asking was if is there was any real interest in knowing what became of the Leleck kids.  After all, isn’t knowing how these students turned out later in middle school or high school or later as adults the point to having a legacy?


The origins of Jerry’s Kids

As Leleck was settling into her new chores at Broad Acres Elementary school, Jerry Weast was settling into his first school year as the new MCPS superintendent.  During that first year, Weast kicked off a major early childhood initiative that poured additional resources into elementary schools located mostly in low-income Montgomery County neighborhoods, including the Broad Acres community.  The Weast initiative, officially referred to as the Early Success Performance Plan (the Plan), included “ … a series of interwoven early education inititiaves, including reduced class size, full-kindergarten, revised curriculum assessments aligned with curriculum, professional development, and increased family/school communication.”[iii]  For the first year alone, experts documented the initial price tag of the Plan at $100 million.[iv]  MCPS was indeed investing a lot of resources into bettering the lives of its poor students.


MCPS students exposed to the Plan soon became known as Jerry’s kids.  One might catch a Board of Education meeting on cable TV, and when discussing the Plan and how it was moving along, it was common to hear a Board member ask, “How are Jerry’s kids doing?”  Researchers focused on documenting the Plan, and its impacts, also referred to the various cohorts of students exposed to the Plan as Jerry’s kids.[v]


Over the years, I’ve raised the same question about the Weast legacy as I did earlier about the Leleck legacy.  Frequently, I have asked friends, experts, and researchers familiar with MCPS and the Plan, “Where are Jerry’s kids?”


That first cohort of Jerry’s kids should be college sophomores now


One can easily do the math.  The first cohort of Jerry’s kids entered MCPS as kindergarteners during the 1999-2000 school year.  And so, 15 years later, assuming college was a goal—and that is a typical goal for most MCPS graduates, the vast majority of Jerry’s kids (Class of 2013) should be college sophomores. The second cohort should be college freshmen (Class of 2014), the third should be MCPS high school seniors (Class of 2015), and on and on.  A typical MCPS class is roughly 10,000 students, and a typical cohort of Jerry’s kids is roughly 1,000 students.[vi]


Keep in mind that Jerry’s kids (various cohorts) are narrowly defined here as those MCPS students, especially the students of color, exposed to the Plan starting in 1999, although there have been attempts to broaden the group beyond these specific cohorts.  For example, in 2010, a Pew report[vii] made the claim that the Plan produced impacts across all grade levels, and that the Plan also resulted in more MCPS seniors enrolling in college. But in 2010, that very first cohort of Jerry’s kids sat in the 9th grade.  The notion that the Plan already had impacted college enrollments for MCPS students exposed to the Plan logically was not possible.  If college enrollments were increasing, and they were (this is well documented by MCPS), that outcome was not caused the Plan.


Unfortunately Leading for Equity does not tell us where Jerry’s kids are


To date, there have been a few organized attempts to document the Plan and its impacts.[viii]  The best, and perhaps the most exhaustive attempt at documenting the Plan, is the 2009 book Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools.  For free, one can find a great deal of the book’s content at: .


Leading for Equity documents the various moving parts under the Plan, as well as how they fit together.  There is an entire chapter devoted to how MCPS unions partnered with MCPS management and the Board of Education to support and implement the Plan.  There is another chapter devoted solely to discussing the data systems MCPS put in place to monitor the Plan.  The book concludes with a chapter that prescribes a step-by-step blueprint for replicating the Plan outside of MCPS.  But what’s missing from Leading for Equity is any specific data that allow readers to figure out what happened to Jerry’s kids.


There are a few sweeping bulleted data points in an early chapter of Leading for Equity; however, it is clear that what’s presented does not at all represent data tied to specific cohorts of Jerry’s kids.  For example, one data point is: “In 1999, 36 percent of all students enrolled in algebra by eight grade, including 17 percent of African American students and 14 percent of Hispanic students. In 2008, 60 percent of all students, including 38 percent of African American and 39 percent of Hispanic students, enrolled in algebra by eighth grade.”


This change in a single data point is impressive.  But unfortunately, the first cohort of Jerry’s kids were 7th graders during the 2007-08 school year (2008), and so the change reported says little about the impact of the Plan.  But even if the first cohort of Jerry’s kids had been 8th graders, this Algebra data point, is not how one would show and track change if the goal was to demonstrate the Plan’s impact.  What we want to see would be comparisons of Algebra enrollment rates between cohorts of non-Jerry’s kids and Jerry’s kids.  A table such as the one below might sufficient.  Such a table would trend Algebra enrollment rates across various senior classes from 2006 (Class of 2010) through 2011 (Class of 2015).  If the Plan was impacting outcomes in a positive way, one would expect to see steady enrollment rate increases across the classes.  And further, we really must see tables that isolate and focus just on Jerry’s kids.  Simply, throwing out a data point that says, “Black kids increased AP enrollments” says practically nothing specific about Jerry’s kids.


Note to readers:  The table below is a suggested template.  The table is intentionally blank.


8th grade Algebra enrollment rate (% enrolled)
Cohort Jerry’s kids Total Whites Asians Blacks Hispanics
Class of 2010 (06) no
Class of 2011 (07) no
Class of 2012 (08) no
Class of 2013 (09) yes
Class of 2014 (10) yes
Class of 2015 (11) yes


At the middle level, one also could compare Jerry’s kids to kids demographically similar.  As a typical MCPS class snakes it way through the grades, we know that kids come and go.  By middle school, especially by the time 8th grade Algebra rolls around, we could probably muster up a fairly large group of kids that look like Jerry’s kids demographically, but missed the benefits of the Plan because they entered MCPS at later grades.  These groups of Jerry-like kids make for ideal comparison groups.


Did Jerry’s kids really close the gap?


Jerry Weast retired from MCPS in 2011.  When he retired most MCPS-watchers[ix] concluded that Jerry’s kids were wonder students who had not only narrowed significant long-standing achievement gaps—test scores, graduation rates—but had closed them.  In fact, in early 2010, Weast testifying to a U.S. congressional subcommittee stated with clarity that MCPS had closed its achievement gap.  He told the subcommittee The district (MCPS) is proud of its accomplishments during the last decade in improving the level of student achievement and closing the gap between white and Asian American students and African American and Hispanic students.”[x]


In fact, MCPS discovered shortly after Weast’s departure that gaps really had not closed at all.  MCPS’s new superintendent, Joshua Starr, found himself embarking on a new journey to accomplish what Weast had not accomplished—narrow and close significant long-standing achievement gaps.[xi]


And so the work of raising the achievement levels of non-whites—mostly black and Latino students—remains a MCPS priority.  And it should remain a priority because the work is not done.  But what amazingly has never been a priority is answering the simple question: Where are Jerry’s kids?  Perhaps Jerry’s kids did close some gaps. Jerry’s kids are generally compared to MCPS whites (and Asians), with those comparisons revealing gaps never closed.  But what if we compared Jerry’s kids only to their peers—those who never benefited from the Plan’s investments but are demographically similar. Shouldn’t we want to know what such comparisons reveal?  Shouldn’t we know if Jerry’s kids outperformed their peers?


A long list of questions without answers


Let me be more specific here about thing we might want to know.  And so 15-16 years after implementing the Plan, and spending more money than most public school districts can ever hope to spend, the public has no answers to a long list of critically important questions about Jerry’s kids.  Questions such as:


  • How many of Jerry’s kids avoided special education?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids exited ESOL language services earlier than expected?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids avoided being suspended?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids exited the 5th grade reading on grade level?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids repeated a grade; never repeated a grade?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids departed MCPS as they snaked their way through MCPS?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids entered high school with Algebra 1 completed in a prior grade?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids were still enrolled in MCPS by the time they hit high school?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids dropped out of high school?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids became involved and active high school students; participated in extracurricular activities?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids enrolled in an Advanced Placement course?
  • How many of Jerry’s kids enrolled in college?


Take, for example, the special education question.  The Plan and its investments might have resulted in Jerry’s kids being better prepared academically as they advanced through the MCPS grades.  One could hypothesize, for example, that the Plan resulted in more of Jerry’s kids reading better and performing math at higher skill levels.  These academic gains would then have had a serious impact on reducing the need for Jerry’s kids to receive special education services.  In turn, these reductions in special education placements would have a positive impact on MCPS budget expenditures, perhaps demonstrating that the Plan eventually provides special education cost savings—a win-win, right?  And yet, 15 years later, we find ourselves not knowing much at all about what the Plan impacted.


Is it too late to track Jerry’s kids?


In a perfect world, MCPS planners should have put resources on the table upfront to track Jerry’s kids from their first day of kindergarten through high school and into adulthood.  MCPS has done some tracking of Jerry’s kids through the primary grades, but one cannot find any references to research reports tracking various cohorts of Jerry’s kids through the middle school grades, into high schools, and then beyond on the MCPS Office of Shared Accountability’s website.  As noted above, the first cohort of Jerry’s kids are college sophomores this year, assuming college was a goal.


The suggestion to track Jerry’s kids from their first day of kindergarten, through the grades, and then beyond high school graduation into adulthood, typically is referred to in research circles as longitudinal research.  A well-executed longitudinal study of Jerry’s kids would document and track all of Jerry’s kids, even those exiting MCPS across the grades (e.g., those who might depart MCPS because their family moves out of state).  At the high school level, tracking also would include following those who dropped out or those who exited high school successfully but decided not to attend college (e.g, tracking even those who entered the miliary).  To gauge the true impacts of the Plan requires that we know what the outcomes were for all of Jerry’s kids.


Longitudinal research studies are fairly common and often are funded by the federal government.  Some studies are extremely ambious in scope and nature.  Take, for example, the National Children’s Study, a federally funded longitudinal study managed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Eventually, it will end up following 100,000 U.S. children from before birth through age 21.  The goal of the research is to determine what impacts children’s health and well-being.[xii]


The federal government has a fairly solid history of tracking the development of young children. For example, the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study program includes three longitudinal studies that examine child development, school readiness, and early school experiences.[xiii]  Over time, these studies have generated a wealth of knowledge about what impacts school outcomes in the elementary grades.  We know, for example, that mothers who consistently read to their young children end up with better and more developed readers.


One also finds universities engaged in longitudinal studies.  Princeton and Columbia Universities are partnering to conduct the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.[xiv]  This longitudinal study is following a cohort of almost 5,000 children, most of whom are born to unmarried parents.


Perhaps one of the best known longitudinal study is the HighScope Perry Preschool Study.[xv]  This study has been tracking a cohort of youngsters who experienced Head Start-like preschool experiences in the early 1960s.  The study successfully has tracked 97% of the orginal cohort members through adulthood.  There is a fascinating video available that takes a brief look at outcomes for the cohort members who reached age 40.  Click here to view the video: .  The outcomes are extremely impressive, and they underscore the long-term and lasting impacts of exposing poor youngsters to high-quality preschool experiences.  Shouldn’t we want the same for Jerry’s kids?  And how about Jody’s kids?


And so, perhaps back to the future is in order


In 1999, a wise MCPS would have pre-planned a longitudinal study to track Jerry’s kids.  Going back in time now and recreating complete student records for a cohort of Jerry’s kids might prove to be cost prohibitive, especially, tracking down the records of Jerry’s kids who left MCPS.  Tracking is fairly inexpensive when it is planned, but finding hundreds of Jerry’s kids who are now “to the winds” would be an expensive endeavor.  It always is less expensive to gather data moving forward than it is to gather data moving backwards.


Going back, however, is possible and it has been successfully executed by MCPS in the past.   In 1985, a MCPS researcher conducted a study of Head Start graduates and uncovered positive, long-lasting impacts.[xvi]  This 1985 study was a historical review of MCPS academic records.  So, perhaps back to the future is once again in order for MCPS.  MCPS could pick the Class of 2015, the third official Jerry’s kids cohort, and back track to uncover everything we need to determine where Jerry’s kids are, including those that departed MCPS early.  And while MCPS researchers are at it they also could figure out what happened to Jody’s kids.  Not knowing these legacies is not just a shame but also an embarrassing misstep that prevents us from knowing if the Plan really worked.


Postscript comment on Jody’s kids versus Jerry’s kids


I’m sure some will argue that Jody’s kids and Jerry’s kids are not part of the same conversation.  I completely disagree, and believe they are critically linked.  Jody’s kids were exposed to additional resources beyond Weast’s original Plan.[xvii]  Nonetheless, much of what took place at Broad Acres Elementary School was the Plan.  Regardless, I think it would be a fascinating undertaking (study) to figure out the answers to both questions, where are Jody’s kids and where are Jerry’s kids?  And I would hypothesize that Jody’s kids ought to be achieving a levels slightly above Jerry’s kids.  In fact, one way to view Jody’s kids is to simply see them as kids exposed to the Plan on steoroids.

[i] .


[ii]It is important to point out that in some documents, the time period contributed to the Leleck years is 1999 to 2004. In other documents, the time period is shorter and documents successes, for example, over a two-year period, 2003-04. See, for example, , written by Mark Simon.


[iii],  p.1.


[iv]The authors of the 2009 book Leading for Equity frequently cite the Plan’s first year price tag as $100 million.




[vi],  p.13.




[viii]One can find MCPS reports at this website: .




[x]Testimony of Dr. Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools.

Hearing of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies. January 21, 2010.















Which Washington-area system does best at funding its neediest schools?

(re-posted from The Fordham Institute)

In the era of No Child Left Behind—and at a time of growing concern about income inequality—virtually every school system in the country claims to be working to narrow its student achievement gaps. But are they putting their money where their mouth is?

The data in our brand new D.C. Metro Area School Spending Explorer website allow us to answer this question for school districts inside the Beltway. Specifically, we can determine whether and to what degree they are spending additional dollars on their neediest schools.

To be sure, ever since the Coleman Report, it’s been hard to find a direct relationship between school spending and educational outcomes. Still, basic fairness requires that systems spend at least as much on educating poor students as affluent ones, and investments that might make a difference in narrowing achievement gaps (such as hiring more effective, experienced teachers and providing intensive tutoring to struggling students) do require big bucks.

There are lots of wonky ways to compute the fairness of education spending, but we’re going to use a measure that makes sense to us. Namely: How much extra does a district spend on each low-income student a school serves? Compared to what districts spend on behalf of non-poor students? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Fifty percent?

Read the methodology section below for details on how we got to these numbers (they are estimates, and apply only to elementary schools), but here are our conclusions.

School System Extra spending for low-income students Over a floor of…
Arlington County Public Schools 80.5% $11,817
Fairfax County Public Schools 34.1% $10,669
Montgomery County Public Schools 31.7% $11,464
District of Columbia Public Schools 21.2% $13,514
Alexandria City Public Schools 14.4% $13,120
D.C. Public Charter Schools 5.9% $15,243
Prince George’s County Public Schools 1.9% $10,385

For example, in Arlington County, the district spends close to $12,000 per student at its low-poverty schools (those with very few poor children). But it spends north of $21,000, or 81 percent more, for each student who is eligible for a free or reduced price lunch—significantly boosting the resources of its highest-poverty schools.

Let us be clear that school systems aren’t necessarily achieving these spending outcomes by design. As we explain in the “Drivers of School Spending” section of our D.C. Metro Area School Spending Explorer website, they may not even have been aware of these differences. That’s because individual schools in a given district don’t actually have “budgets” of their own; they are generally given a certain number of staff positions (driven by the number of students they serve) and might be eligible for extra programs or resources depending on need.

Nor is it likely that poverty rates are the only things driving these differences. Larger schools, for example, tend to spend less per-pupil than smaller schools (costs for staff like nurses can be spread over more students); districts might also be providing extra resources to schools with large numbers of special education students or English language learners. So we know that our analysis is oversimplifying what’s causing these patterns.

With those caveats in mind, what to make of these results? The outliers are fascinating. Arlington—with its sky-high tax base and gentrifying population—definitely goes the distance for its high-poverty schools. On the other hand, poverty-stricken Prince George’s County appears to be doing practically nothing to spend what little money it has on its toughest schools. (It makes us wonder how it meets federal “supplement, not supplant” requirements.)

And these findings are more than a little embarrassing for Montgomery County, which prides itself on its commitment to “social justice,” and has an explicit policy of sending extra resources to its highest poverty schools. Yet it is bested by Fairfax County (by a little) and Arlington (by a lot).

Per-pupil spending on high-poverty schools

Let’s look at this question through another lens: Specifically, the perspective of low-income students and parents in the Washington area. What they experience in school is not relative spending but real dollars: How much money does a particular school have to devote to teacher salaries, extra programs, etc.?

So: How much do high-poverty schools in the Washington area spend per pupil, and how does that vary by school system? (Again, we only used data for elementary schools.)

Here’s what we found:

School System
Average spending for high poverty schools* Range of spending for high poverty schools* Number of high poverty schools*
Arlington County  $18,216  $17,604 – 18,827 2
D.C. Charter Schools  $16,136  $13,145 – 19,847 18
Alexandria City  $14,501  $12,734 – 17,272 3
D.C. Public Schools  $14,497  $13,095 – 16,391 10
Fairfax County  $13,821  $12,225 – 17,548 7
Montgomery County  $13,613  $11,862 – 15,698 10
Prince George’s County  $10,607  $7,981 – 16,493 50

* 75% or more Free or Reduced Price Lunch enrollment, primary schools only (i.e., no K-8 schools included)

Arlington again earns plaudits for its generosity towards its high-poverty schools, though by our count there are only two of them. High-poverty charter schools in Washington are well funded too, though it’s important to note that they tend to be extremely high-poverty; more than two-thirds of the eighteen charter schools in our analysis top the 85 percent poverty mark. To the extent that low-income students bring extra resources along with them (including federal Title I dollars), the results for Washington’s charter schools make sense. (And note: These numbers are for operational costs only; they don’t include facilities funding, which is where DC’s charters are at a huge funding disadvantage compared to DCPS.)

Note the numbers (again) for Fairfax and Montgomery County. If Superintendent Josh Starr is an “equity warrior,” what does that make the folks across the river?

The big story here, though, is Prince George’s County and its shockingly low spending for its fifty (!) high-poverty elementary schools. The averages are bad enough—spending that is almost 30 percent lower than for DCPS high-poverty schools and almost a quarter less than Montgomery County spends on similar schools. But looking at specific schools makes the picture even more devastating.

Consider District Heights Elementary, which spends just $7,981 per student, although 77 percent of its pupils qualify for subsidized lunches. Compare that to Moten Elementary in the District, which spends $14,723 for each of its students (76 percent eligible for a free or reduced price lunch)—or almost twice as much. The schools are less than seven miles apart.

Therefore, if a low-income mom moves from the District of Columbia to Prince George’s County, and her child attends high-poverty public schools in both locales, her child’s new school will have dramatically lower-paid (and/or less experienced) teachers, fewer special programs, fewer specialists, larger class sizes, or all of the above.

It’s hard not to conclude that Washington’s rapid gentrification—which is pushing many needy families from the District to Prince George’s County—is leading to a very inequitable outcome, at least in terms of school spending.

As Marguerite Roza has argued for years, school systems ought to live their values. If doubling-down on the education of poor children is something these systems (and their residents) support, they need at least to know whether their dollars are reaching the neediest children. Now we know that some of the Washington-area school districts could be doing a whole lot more for their low-income students. And the state of Maryland almost certainly could and should be doing more for Prince George’s County. Who will act to fix these problems?


To find out how we estimated the per-pupil spending of each school in the Washington, D.C. area, see the methodology section of our D.C. Metro Area School Spending Explorer website; once we had those numbers, the next challenge was to understand the relationship between schools’ poverty rates and their spending. The first step was to estimate the “floor” of per-pupil expenditures (PPE) for each district, and then figure out how much extra they spend on low-income students. Elementary, middle, and high schools tend to have dissimilar spending patterns, so we only included elementary schools when calculating estimates. (There are lots more elementary schools than middle or high schools.)

To make our estimates for each district, we regressed school-level PPE against the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL). The spending floor was derived from the result’s constant coefficient. The extra dollars allocated to low-income students were set equal to the FRPL coefficient. (More simply, we scatter-plotted FRPL (x-axis) and PPE (y-axis) for each district. We then calculated the lines of best fit: the y-intercept is the spending floor and the slope is extra spending.)

From there, it was a simple matter of dividing extra spending by the spending floor to find the extra spent on low-income students. It’s a rough estimate, of course, since we didn’t include any controls and we assume a linear relationship. But minus Prince George’s County, Alexandria, and D.C. Charters, FRPL confidence levels were greater than 99 percent. R-squared values were also large, with Montgomery County at the low end (.24) and Arlington at the high (.85). Because of this analysis’ descriptive nature, the lack of significance and the low R-squared values for the other three districts is not a problem. The numbers are low because none have a strong pattern of progressive expenditures, school-to-school. With a coefficient of 192.6 and an r-squared of -.008, Prince George’s County’s pattern isn’t just weak—it’s nearly non-existent.

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.

The Lesson DC Schools Could Teach Montgomery County: A Response to Chris Barclay on School Integration

As Montgomery County schools consider ways to reduce the achievement and opportunity gaps by race and income, it might take a page from the Washington, D.C. public schools — not often thought of as a model for Montgomery.

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has approved a new school boundary policy that includes an important equity provision to give at-risk students a chance to attend more affluent schools.  As the Washington Post noted in an article Friday:

“The plan sets aside at least 10 percent of seats in every elementary school for out-of-boundary students, along with 15 percent of middle school seats and 20 percent of high school seats.  The plan says that at risk students should have a preference in the lottery for 25 percent of all out-of-boundary seats in any given year in more affluent schools.”

“At risk” students are defined as those who are “in foster care, homeless, in families receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), in families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), or are high school students who are more than one year over-age for their grade.”

(D.C. Mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser says she has concerns that the overall plan does not do enough to promote educational equality and reform.  In an article outlining her concerns, there was no mention of the set aside plan).

As I argued in an earlier blog post, there is compelling evidence that policies of socioeconomic integration can produce better outcomes for low-income students, and that middle-class students can benefit as well from being in a diverse environment.

Longtime Montgomery County School Board member Chris Barclay, in a thoughtful response to my post, suggested, with important caveats, that he agrees with the thrust of the objective.  “Economic diversity is a laudable goal for our schools, and eliminating economic isolation will be good for all students,” he writes.  He later notes that there is “evidence that low-income students in lower-poverty schools do better than low-income students in high-poverty schools.  No arguments there.”

But Mr. Barclay emphatically suggests that socioeconomic integration programs, and education policies in general, must recognize “the impact of race on ourselves and the way we see the world.”  He suggests, “Racism is a factor in education that cannot be eradicated by a silver bullet or putting our heads in the sands.”  When we talk about the results of a  2010 Century Foundation study of Montgomery County schools by Heather Schwartz on the benefits of economically disadvantaged students attending affluent schools, he says, we must recognize that “the high-poverty students in low-poverty schools are almost definitely Black and Hispanic going to predominantly White and Asian schools.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Barclay on the continuing significance race in American society.   One need look no farther than housing patterns.  Researchers find that even middle-income African Americans live in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates than low-income whites.   As a result, minority students are much more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white students, as the Economic Policy Institute’s Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss find.  While only 5 percent of white kindergartners attend high-poverty elementary schools, 57% of black kindergartners do.  Likewise, in Heather Schwartz’s Century Foundation study of Montgomery County schools, 72% of students from families in public housing were African American.

I also agree with Mr. Barclay that we need to focus on “changing behaviors and actions of the adults.”  Integration doesn’t work just by plunking kids of different backgrounds together.  Adults need professional development to help them capitalize on racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in the classroom to allow all children to reach their potential.

So why do I nevertheless emphasize integration by socioeconomic status?  First, the social science evidence suggests that a socioeconomic mix is the key to raising academic achievement.  Evidence suggests that a school that is beautifully integrated by race but is 100% poor is likely to struggle.  Second, as a matter of constitutional law, integration plans that emphasize socioeconomic are far less legally vulnerable than plans assigning students by race.

Mr. Barclay concludes by arguing that poverty concentrations should be addressed through housing policy rather than schooling.  “Changing the dynamic of the geographic concentrations of poverty in Montgomery County is not a function that the school system can address,” he argues.  I agree that housing policies – like Montgomery’s inclusionary zoning plans – are critical.  But today one-quarter of students attend schools other than the closest public school, so there is a great deal school districts can do to promote integration through public school choice.

Montgomery County prides itself on having the best schools in in the Washington D.C. area.  To preserve that place, however, the County must grapple with rising economic segregation, as Mayor Gray is beginning to in D.C.  The achievement gap by race and class is not inevitable; it is the product of inequalities of opportunity.  And a part of the solution involves giving more low-income students a chance to attend high-quality, middle-class schools.

Race Matters. A Response to Rick Kahlenberg on Integration

Why did I tell the Washington Post reporter Bill Turque that I do not believe in white supremacy when asked about school boundaries and integration as a strategy for addressing the achievement gap?  Because, I strongly believe that until we all confront the impact of race on ourselves and the way we see the world, children of color will not benefit honestly and equally from any so-called educational reforms.

I am sure that many things that I will write will make some people uncomfortable, but that is okay.  I hope that our discomfort will lead to honest, meaningful dialogue and growth ― for us all.  Economic diversity is a laudable goal for our schools, and eliminating economic isolation will be good for all students; but before we can get to that, we cannot ignore the real impact that race plays.  Just look at the issue of dis-proportionality in suspensions and special education.  Racism is a factor in education that cannot be eradicated by a silver bullet or putting our heads in the sand.

While Mr. Kahlenberg recognizes my very real concerns with the issue of school integration, he simply substitutes class for race.  Racial integration is replaced by economic integration.  Unfortunately, Mr. Kahlenberg still misses the fundamental issue that must be addressed and the issue I deal with daily both as a parent of three Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) graduates and a school board member ― Race matters.   We still live in a country, state, and county where all children are not equally valued.  In the discussion to look at school boundaries as a way to address the achievement gap, the assumption is that by lowering poverty levels in some schools there could be room to increase achievement for lower-income students.  In my eyes that construct is the subtle foundation of the problem.

I agree with Mr. Kahlenberg when he states that “low income students of all races benefit from being in a middle class school setting – in which students are, on average, more academically engaged, parents are more likely to volunteer in class and participate in school affairs and stronger teachers are found.”  Here is my problem, two of those three factors that make for “good schools”  are fundamental to any school system, especially one as wealthy as MCPS.  Strengthening curriculum and constantly improving teacher quality will have a significant impact, but that is not enough. We have to address the issue of who are the children in our classrooms and what do we expect of them. Two things have happened that I believe Mr. Kahlenberg knows, but is not acknowledging.  The majority of our school enrollment is now Black and Hispanic, and our poverty rate (we use Free and Reduced-price Meals System services – FARMS as the proxy) has risen above 30 percent.  In my eyes, that means you cannot ignore the intersection of race and class or put them on the back burner.

Mr. Kahlenberg further supports his reform strategy by quoting from the 2010 Century Foundation study conducted by Heather Schwartz.  Again, more evidence that low-income students in lower- poverty schools do better than low-income students in high-poverty schools.  No arguments there. What I am not sure gets highlighted in the study is what is the racial compositions of the low-poverty schools.  If you are talking about high schools with FARMS rates below 10 percent, all of them have a combined White and Asian student enrollment between 69 and 82 percent.  The racial compositions of those schools helps define their academic culture.  In Montgomery County, no high school exists that could be considered low poverty (FARMS below 20 percent) where Black and Hispanic students are the majority of the enrollment.  So again, it is hard for me to decouple race and class.  The high-poverty students in low-poverty schools are almost definitely Black or Hispanic going to predominately White and Asian schools.

When Mr. Kahlenberg mentioned choice programs as a tool for alleviating economic segregation, I shuttered because what I believe underlies that strategy is the expectation that middle class families will be involved and demand excellence from those schools.  What then happens in those situations where low income kids are in schools far outside of their home neighborhoods? How do families get and stay involved in the PTA?  How do they stay engaged with the school during the day?  While that model may work for parents with transportation, flexibility in their schedule and means, it may not be as simple for those without.

Looking at the numbers and the economic geography of the county, there is no way to avoid the need to move large numbers of high- and low-poverty students far distances to create the economic diversity Mr. Kahlenberg wants to promote. Changing the dynamic of the geographic concentrations of poverty in Montgomery County is not a function that the school system can address.  We can work with the County Council and the Planning Board, but housing decisions are not in our wheelhouse, nor should they be.

In this formula based on my read of Mr. Kahlenbergs arguments, low-income children will benefit from being in lower-poverty schools because those schools will have students who are more engaged, parents who are more involved, and better teachers.  (For arguments’ sake, I have reduced his argument to these three main points.)  My argument is, if you want to see those three factors strengthened in our schools, you have to tackle the biggest elephant in the room and that is RACE and RACISM.

Karin Chenoweth wrote eloquently about high-performing, high-poverty schools in her book, Getting It Done.  In writing about principals and school leadership, Chenoweth says “…the role is the same or at least the responsibilities are, but that there are additional challenges and barriers about which the principal needs to take immediate and strategic action.”  Many of those challenges and barriers in fact are critical to students feeling a sense of empowerment or agency.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to address the issue of race with the staff in our schools.  That work gets to the root cause of so many important issues from teacher expectations to student discipline.

Until we understand who is in our classrooms and learn to value them equally, changes in the demographics of schools based on socio-economics will not bare the academic achievement fruit we all want.

So, how does all of this relate to the issue of the achievement gap?  When we talk about gaps we speak in terms of how students are performing instead of looking at how we, the adults, are doing at providing the skills students need to be successful.  Over and over students tell me that they hear the message that Black and Latino students, low-income students, and students receiving Special Education services are less able than their White and Asian peers.  By discussing academic achievement from that construct, it is easier to address changing the “under-performing” students instead of changing behaviors and actions of the adults.  And there we have the subtle inference of white supremacy.

From my vantage point as a parent and a member of the Board of Education, I want to put the majority of the burden back on the adults in both the school houses and central office to do more and do better by all of our children.

Race continues to be a fundamental part of the political landscape, therefore, a part of the educational landscape.  Look, I don’t have a visceral disagreement with Mr. Kahlenberg’s theory, I just think it is out of sync with the work that needs to go on in this county.

Responding to Rick Kahlenberg on Integration

Rick Kahlenberg’s commentary on the Montgomery County school boundaries debate highlights an issue of critical importance to all of us who care about improving disadvantaged children’s odds of success, and of ensuring a thriving democracy. With a student body that is increasingly diverse, not only at the County but at the national level, we have both a moral imperative and self-interest in ensuring all students an enriching, equitable education. As Rick and I wrote recently for the Huffington Post, we also have an opportunity to expose our children to the diversity that is the reality across the globe, and to prepare them to thrive in that world.

Unfortunately, as my colleague Emma Garcia and I report in a paper we co-authored for the Economic Policy Institute and the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, intense segregation in our schools is preventing us from fulfilling that promise. Looking at US 5-year-olds who entered kindergarten in 2010-2011, we find that white students tend to begin school in classes with students who look like them, while the inverse is true for Hispanic and black students; they are surrounded mostly by minority peers. This might not, in itself, pose problems. Very problematic, however, is the associated finding that most of the former group of students also share classrooms with non-poor students, while the majority of children of color have peers who live in poverty. As Rick cogently points out, it isn’t racial concentration that poses the real problem, but rather the concentrated poverty that it masks, but that tends to come with it. Minority children, even those whose parents earn above poverty-line wages, are thus more likely than their white counterparts to be surrounded both in school and at home by adults who are unemployed, not married, and lack social capital and connections, and by students whose parents have on experience navigating the college-going system, fewer resources, and less capacity to navigate and influence their schools.

I join Rick in urging MCPS to complement its other poverty-alleviating policies by using school boundary decisions to attend to issues of racial and income segregation. As a district at the forefront of other policies that may be controversial but are wise, I hope it will lead the way on this one as well.

An Exciting Opportunity to Integrate Montgomery County Schools by Richard Kahlenberg

Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the issue of school integration is once again back on the agenda for Montgomery County public schools.

In April, the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight issued a disturbing report showing that racial and economic achievement gaps are growing and segregation is rising.  But tucked into the report was the hopeful finding that low-income students in lower-poverty schools perform better than low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools.

Earlier this month, County Council members, pointing to the report, met with school officials to ask about ways to promote greater diversity in the public schools.  More than 80 school districts across the country, educating some 4 million students, are taking affirmative steps to reduce concentrations of school poverty.  Montgomery County itself has a policy on the books that says factors like the socioeconomic status (as measured by eligibility for subsidized meals) should be a factor in the drawing of school boundaries and the construction of school choice programs.


According to a recent article in the Washington Post, superintendent Joshua Starr said the school system plans to evaluate its school choice programs and might address as part of that review the issue of integration.  But one school board member, Christopher Barclay was reportedly hostile to the idea (see editor’s note below).

Barclay was, in reporter Bill Turque’s words, “offended by the notion that students of color could thrive only if surrounded by more middle-class and affluent whites.”  Barclay told the reporter, “I don’t believe in white supremacy.”  Boundary changes to achieve greater integration would simply hide “pockets of need” within diverse schools.  “I don’t want kids shipped all over the world,” Barclay said.

These concerns are not those of a white right-wing segregationist from Mississippi but rather a thoughtful African American Montgomery County school board member who has in the past served as president of the board.  These issues deserve respectful consideration.  Take each in turn:


  • Underlying the idea of school integration are notions of white supremacy:  that black children will do better if they sit next to white students in class.

School board member Barclay is right to suggest it is highly insulting to think that black and Latino students somehow benefit academically from being around children whose skin happens to be white.  But that is not why most people advocate school integration.  First, schools are about more than boosting test scores.  A big part of the reason to want racial integration is that we want children to learn to get along with students of all different backgrounds and to reduce racial and ethnic prejudice.  White students benefit, just as black and Latino students do, from this interaction.

Second, on the narrower question of academic achievement, the evidence has suggested not that black students benefit from being around white students but rather that low-income students of all races benefit from being in a middle-class school setting – in which students are, on average, more academically engaged, parents are more likely to volunteer in class and participate in school affairs, and stronger teachers typically are found. As UCLA professor Gary Orfield noted long ago, “educational research suggests that the basic damage inflicted by segregated education comes not from racial concentration but the concentration of children from poor families.”

  • Integration will simply serve to hide the needs of underachieving students.

Barclay is correct that in the past, when schools reported average student test scores, the lower scores of disadvantaged students were often hidden, to their detriment.  But one of the important advances in federal educational policy is the “disaggregation” of test scores by race and economic status.  Now, if a school as a whole is doing well but certain racial, ethnic, or economic subgroups are not, the inequality will be in plain sight for everyone to see.

Moreover, powerful evidence suggests that low-income students will perform much better, on average, in middle-class schools.  A 2010 Century Foundation study conducted by Heather Schwartz of RAND Corporation found that students from families randomly assigned to public housing units in Montgomery County performed much better in math when they lived in lower-poverty neighborhoods and attended lower-poverty schools, even though higher poverty schools in Montgomery spend more per pupil. About two-thirds of the positive effect was associated with attending a low-poverty school and one-third with living in a low-poverty neighborhood.

  • We shouldn’t “ship” kids “all over the world.”

In the early days of desegregation, some programs did “ship” kids around, as Barclay suggests, giving their families no say in the matter.  Today, however, intelligently designed integration programs try to achieve their goal through parental choice.  In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, a socioeconomic integration program avoids compulsory busing.  Instead, parents choose among a variety of schools, each with a different pedagogical approach or theme, and 90% of parents get one of their first three choices.  Montgomery County should explore expanding magnet programs and using choice to bring about greater diversity in its schools.

Likewise, in Montgomery County, it is possible to achieve greater levels of socioeconomic integration by adjusting boundaries of nearby schools.  For example, as Joe Hawkins points out in his recent blog post for Bethesda Now, the County already plans to build a new elementary school in the White Flint area.  Thinking strategically about the placement of the school and the drawing of boundaries could promote economic integration in a way that would not inconvenience children or ship them anywhere.

School board member Christopher Barclay’s concerns are important and legitimate but today, there are ways to shape integration programs – by emphasizing socioeconomic status over race, and choice over compulsory busing — to gain the benefits while avoiding the pitfalls.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Barclay has been invited to respond to this post and plans to provide another post to appear in this blog shortly.  MoCoEdBlog invites other perspectives to this and other topics of interest.

Tackling Poverty the Right Way: A Reply to Elaine Weiss by Joe Hawkins

In her well stated piece, Tackling Poverty the Right Way, Elaine Weiss wrote, “As our poverty rate rises, then, and as achievement gaps rise in tandem, we must protect what has helped to alleviate poverty’s effects, even as we improve our analysis of what families need and deepen our commitment to providing that support.”

What jumps out here is the need to improve analyses. Specifically, I believe Elaine is suggesting that we make a commitment to better understand poverty in Montgomery County and how poverty impacts students, families, communities, and our schools.

I would like to share two suggestions for improving our understanding of poverty. And my suggestions assume that the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Montgomery County government would work together.

Suggestion #1: Make a long-term commitment to following and documenting the lives of the poor in Montgomery County.

As a district, MCPS has never undertaken a thorough analysis and understanding of what it means to be poor. Traditionally, MCPS only views being “poor” through the lense of the federal FARMS program. FARMS stands for free and reduced meals. Schools use FARMS as a stand-in indicator for poverty. Students eligible for FARMS are labeled “poor.”

I have always viewed FARMS as a simple “sign post,” and only that. Sure, it tells us which students and families are poor—economically challenged, but it tells us very little about those families and their needs. We need to improve our analysis of what challenged means.

I would like to see MCPS and the county government commit to periodically following and documenting the lives of the poor. And there are proven ways to do this. For example, without reinventing anything, we could commit to using the federal government’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) program, which is designed to examine child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. Click here to learn more about ECLS: For decades, ECLS has provided researchers and policy makers with a wealth of data. We need such insights and it is time we commit to such activities.

Suggestion #2: Pick a specific poor Montgomery County neighborhood or community and commit to understanding every aspect of life in that community.

Now, on one level, MCPS and the county government are doing this via The Kennedy Cluster Project. Click here to learn more about the project:

However, to date, the Kennedy Cluster Project has failed to produce a single informative public report on the status of the project. I’m not even sure officials could describe, with details, life in the Kennedy Cluster. There have been a number of public hearings on the project, but at these hearings, officials mostly have stated that little is known yet.

Perhaps, the Kennedy Cluster Project staff should take a short drive over to Langley Park and quiz Casa de Maryland staff about how they’ve accomplished what they’ve accomplished with “Langley Park” Project.

If you have not paid attention to what Casa de Maryland is doing in Langley Park, you are missing out on what I would call a great example of how a poor and challenged community is being thoroughly studied and then supported with a wide variety of new programs and initiatives. Click here to read Casa’s Cradle to Career report:

Click here to learn more about what Casa is doing in Langley Park:

At the end of the day, because it has done its homework, including thoroughly analyzing the students and families it plans to serve, Casa is positioned for success. Because it has not done its homework, MCPS and the county government are at best positioned to continue saying to the public that it knows little about the lives of the poor living in the Kennedy Cluster. We can and must do better.

Montgomery County and MCPS: Tackling Poverty the Right Way by Elaine Weiss

Achievement gaps, which had been narrowing in Montgomery County, are on the rise again in recent years. Parents, City Council members, and others are understandably frustrated, and demand answers. Unfortunately, that uptick is not uncommon; districts in virtually every state have experienced surges in both child and concentrated poverty and, with them, growing achievement gaps.

Now may thus be an opportune time to explore how the county’s proactive approach to addressing poverty has helped shrink achievement gaps in recent decades, and what more it could do. This approach includes both school district and County-based initiatives; together, they tackle many of the poverty-related impediments to learning that scholars have identified, resulting in achievement gaps that, while still too large, are far smaller than in most other districts, and that demonstrate the real opportunities Montgomery County affords low-income and minority students.

As the mother of two daughters who attend Red Zone elementary schools, one of them among the County’s largest, poorest, and most non-English speaking, I see the benefits of these choices every day.

Red and Green Zones. Former Superintendent Jerry Weast took a controversial step to address poverty in the district’s schools when he decided, in 2000, to classify those in less-affluent areas as Red Zone Schools, and to allocate them an additional $2,000 per student. This redistribution of funds supports smaller class sizes and extended learning time in Red Zone schools, where teachers also receive specialized professional development targeted at alleviating the effects of student disadvantage. Heather Schwartz’s rigorous study for the RAND Corporation demonstrates substantial benefits: the third grade reading gap shrank from 35 percentage points in 2003 to 19 points in 2008 for African Americans, and from 43 points to 17 points for Hispanics. As three researchers note in their 2009 book, “Improvements of this magnitude in a district of this size in so little time are rare in public education.”

Housing. However, that same study finds that mixed-use housing policy gives disadvantaged students an even bigger boost. Since the 1970s, Montgomery County has required developers of large subdivisions to set aside 12-to-15 percent of units for low-income and working-class families. As a result, some of the county’s lowest-income students are dispersed across schools, including in some of our wealthiest ones. Low-income students who live in those more affluent neighborhoods and attend Green Zone schools saw greater improvements in achievement than their Red Zone peers. In other words, “peer effects,” both in and out-of-school—living near and going to school with students with bigger vocabularies, higher expectations, and more connected parents – had a greater impact than smaller classes, extra teacher training, and other within-school advantages for students in higher-poverty schools.

Early Childhood Education. My younger daughter’s school, Rolling Terrace Elementary, is home to a Head Start and two pre-kindergartens – fulfilling the County’s guarantee of early education for all low-income 4-year-olds – and a Judy Center, a state-supported resource center where low-income parents can access a range of public and private supports and learn parenting and other skills. Our children also benefit from a state pre-k program that supplements federal Head Start funds and provides high-quality early childhood education to over one third of all 4-year-olds.

Health and Nutrition. Rolling Terrace opened a school-based health clinic last year, the latest in high-poverty schools over the past two decades. We have taken advantage of its convenience to check for pink eye, lice, and a banged-up knee. More important to the school, however, such clinics substantially reduce students’ absence due to preventable and easily treatable problems like strep throat, monitor and control asthma, and make sure kids who need glasses have them. Rolling Terrace is also one of eighteen schools that began serving breakfast to all students as a way to boost take-up of the “most important meal of the day,” reducing children’s loss of focus due to hunger or feeling stigmatized, and the school’s administrative burden.

Following the evidentiary trail. What is perhaps most remarkable about the County’s policy priorities is how closely they align with researchers’ findings regarding what works to narrow achievement gaps. Pre-kindergarten, increased access to meals and health services, housing policies that promote integration, smaller class sizes, and targeted academic support for disadvantaged students, are all found to substantially boost disadvantaged students’ success in school. Most states and districts, in contrast, have focused on using student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals, and to identify “low-performing” schools for interventions from “F” grades to conversion to charter schools or outright closure. These strategies, less or not at all aligned with the evidence, haven’t worked.

Former Superintendent Weast’s and current Superintendent Joshua Starr’s refusal to follow this path is largely responsible for Montgomery County’s success in boosting low-income students’ achievement, from test scores and AP class placement to high school graduation and college acceptance rates. As our poverty rate rises, then, and as achievement gaps rise in tandem, we must protect what has helped to alleviate poverty’s effects, even as we improve our analysis of what families need and deepen our commitment to providing that support.