Are Community Schools the Last, Best Shot at Addressing Education Inequity?

Yves here. This article describes how a school consisting largely of people of color/lower income households children is part of a new approach called community schools. Normally, parents in these districts want to get their children into “better” schools, as in one in more affluent neighborhoods with presumably more rigorous teaching standards. However, this article has an key factoid buried in the middle:

In 2019, a report by the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies found that although Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) outperform other Maryland districts with similar levels of students receiving free and reduced meals (FARMs), “not all student groups in MCPS experience this outperformance. Performance gaps still exist both across and within schools, particularly for FARMs students and students of color.”

High-poverty schools in MCPS not only have lower performance levels than low-poverty schools but also the “African American and Hispanic FARMs students who live in poverty but attend more affluent schools do not perform significantly better than their peers in schools with higher concentrations of poverty,” according to the report. “African American and Hispanic FARMs students do not perform substantially better in low-poverty schools.”

Admittedly, your humble blogger is not current with studies on educational performance. However, a leader in the 1960s War on Poverty, Daniel Patrick Moynihan publicized in the so-called Moynihan Report the most important factor in what was then called minority student educational attainment was the socio-economic standing of their classmates. The stereotype was the scholarship student at a private school. Never mind that the student had to be accomplished to get that slot.

In fairness, Moynihan relied on data that was broader than that. But this was also the 1960s, when income and wealth disparity were tame compared to now. But that belief, that being in a high performance school district (which now comes with bidding up of home prices and hence even greater income/class stratification) is key to a child’s access to “better” colleges and jobs, for the most part doesn’t work for what once were called disadvantaged kids. They are stigmatized. If you believe in expectancy theory, it’s not hard to see that kids from the wrong side of the track would be on the wrong end in affluent school districts.

Although the community schools experiment in Montgomery County appears to be too new to be measured, a key initial result is that parents are enthusiastic and seem to be becoming much more involved in the school and presumably in their children’s education. Many educators believe that the standout average performance of Asian students is the result of parental involvement. So it’s plausible that this approach will yield results.

By Jeff Bryant, a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm. Produced by Our Schools

When Tiffany Allen and her husband first moved to a house in Montgomery County, Maryland, their plan was not to stay in the neighborhood for very long because the school their two young children would eventually be assigned to attend was Wheaton Woods Elementary. The school had a mixed reputation among parents in the neighborhood, she told Our Schools. It was designated a Title I status by the federal government, meaning its enrollment was mostly for students who struggle the most in schools—namely, children from low-income households. The school’s students were mostly Hispanic, and many of the children come from homes where the parents don’t speak English, according to Allen. The school had a middling summary rating of 6 out of 10 stars on Great Schools, the school rating site many parents rely on for choosing schools, and the test scores of Wheaton Woods were no better than the state average, according to the site. Even her husband, a school teacher in neighboring Howard County, was skeptical about the quality of education that would be provided by the school.

“Especially because my kids are African American,” Allen said, “I wanted them to have the best education opportunities they can have and give them access to whatever they need to neutralize the systemic effects of being Black children in a society that often discriminates against those children.”

Allen had attended a private school in the elementary grades, but had attended a Montgomery County high school, which she eventually graduated from, that was known as “the worst” high school in the county, according to her. That education experience left her “feeling segregated from most of the families in the county,” she said.

Montgomery County, which consists of a sprawl of suburbs to the north of Washington, D.C., is majority white, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 59 percent of its adults aged 25 or older completed a bachelor’s degree or higher between 2016 and 2020. Median household income is almost six figures, making Montgomery County “one of the wealthiest counties in the United States,” according to the county government website.

But Allen, who works as a social worker for the county, knew all too well there were pockets of poverty in the district, and she was leery about having her children educated in one of them. So when her oldest daughter became old enough to attend kindergarten, Allen somewhat reluctantly enrolled her at Wheaton Woods, with the reassurance that she would be there “only for a few years.”

As the 2022-2023 school year approaches, both her daughters are enrolled in Wheaton Woods, and Allen has had a change of heart about the school.

“I’m grateful now that we gave Wheaton Woods a try. I now feel we have our kids in the best school for them, and I always advocate for the school,” she said.

What helped turn around Allen’s attitude toward Wheaton Woods had much to do with a recent state-mandated Blueprint in Montgomery County and across Maryland to implement an education approach called community schools.

The Blueprint calls for designating schools that serve highly concentrated populations of impoverished families as “community schools” and providing these schools with extra funding and support.

The extra funding is supposed to be used to hire a health practitioner and a school-based staff person who conducts a needs assessment of the school, and based on that assessment, coordinates and manages a wide range of services—including academic, health, mental, and other services—to help address the negative impact that concentrated poverty often has on children and families.

Nineteen schools in Montgomery County, including Wheaton Woods, have been designated as community schools, according to the district’s website.

Now in its third year of implementing the approach, Wheaton Woods has poured new energy and resources to engage families more deeply in the operations of the school and respond to their needs by providing them with access to new programs and services.

According to Allen, the school is constantly reaching out to parents with surveys, volunteer opportunities, and invitations to participate in committees. There is an active Parent Teacher Association and a parent engagement committee. She serves on the NAACP Parents’ Council. Meetings and communications are carried out in multiple languages to accommodate the high proportion of Hispanic families.

“The school has given our kids so many opportunities,” Allen said.

During the school year, many families participate in a popular after-school program called Excel Beyond the Bell, which is free for qualifying students, and for a modest fee of $5, provides additional learning opportunities to students, including classes in art, Spanish language, and soccer.

During the summer months, students can attend a summer camp that provides sports and recreational activities. The program requires an affordable fee to participate in the camp and includes free bus transportation for children to their homes in the afternoons.

After-school activities are important to Allen’s family because both she and her husband work full time. “Our daily schedules are tight,” she said.

A great deal of the school’s outreach effort is due to the work of Daysi Castro, who serves as the school’s community school coordinator called “liaisons” in Montgomery County.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to offer the services we can now give our families because we are a community school,” Castro told Our Schools.

Many of the services offered by Wheaton Woods are the result of Castro and the school forming partnerships with local nonprofits and county agencies. The Excel Beyond the Bell after-school program Allen mentioned is the result of a partnership with a local community organization Action in Montgomery. The school also collaborates with a local charity, the Children’s Opportunity Fund, to bring soccer, art, and Spanish language classes to students, along with the opportunity to participate in school clubs for homework and cooking classes. Other partnerships offer parents driving classes, English language classes, and food safety classes. The Montgomery County Recreation collaborates with Wheaton Woods to offer after-school activities as well.

“All these programs expose students to experiences they might not [otherwise] have,” Castro said.

While the Allens are just one family, and Wheaton Woods is just one elementary school, others who Our Schools spoke with in Montgomery County believe that the community schools approach may be a solution to a much bigger education issue in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the U.S. public education system.

Addressing the Systemic Issues

Wheaton Woods’ Principal Daman Harris is one of those who believe in the advantages of the community schools approach.

When he was being courted to, initially, take a job as the school’s vice principal, he was aware Wheaton Woods was a school with “greater needs,” he said, because of its performance levels on state tests and its student demographics.

According to Harris, 83 percent of the school’s students qualify for federally subsidized free and reduced-price meals, a common measure of poverty, and 55 percent are English language learners. The student population is largely made up of first- and second-generation immigrants from Central and South America along with a significant population from northeast Africa.

In addition to the learning challenges posed by his students, Harris believes there’s a greater challenge posed by a prevailing “belief system” in education, which is the tendency to believe that certain families, like those enrolled in Wheaton Woods, have deficits rather than believe that there’s something wrong with the system.

In trying to “fix” the educational deficiencies of these students, he said that educators and policymakers continue to change the “keywords” they use for the supposed remedies they recommend—promoting, for instance, that schools cultivate their students’ “grit” or “growth mindset”—but they aren’t addressing the systemic issues, like racism and poverty, that thwart some students’ education attainment.

In Montgomery County, a systemic issue that dogs the district’s otherwise highly touted reputation is the yawning gap between how white and Asian students perform on achievement tests compared to their Black and Hispanic peers.

As far back as 2008, the district was divided “into two distinct areas,” one with high-performing schools and the other with low-performing schools, according to Education Week.

In 2019, a report by the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies found that although Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) outperform other Maryland districts with similar levels of students receiving free and reduced meals (FARMs), “not all student groups in MCPS experience this outperformance. Performance gaps still exist both across and within schools, particularly for FARMs students and students of color.”

High-poverty schools in MCPS not only have lower performance levels than low-poverty schools but also the “African American and Hispanic FARMs students who live in poverty but attend more affluent schools do not perform significantly better than their peers in schools with higher concentrations of poverty,” according to the report. “African American and Hispanic FARMs students do not perform substantially better in low-poverty schools.”

When the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) looked at the achievement gap in Montgomery County in 2019, it found the district’s attempts to address those gaps had made virtually no progress since 2015, “the last time the oversight office published a study on achievement gaps,” the Washington Post reported.

“For 50 years, the achievement gap in Montgomery County has grown in the shadows while many of our county’s schools and students garnered well-deserved praise and earned awards,” former MCPS superintendent Jack R. Smith wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post in May 2019. “Despite efforts by county leaders, the gap continued to grow,” he said.

The district administration’s attempts to address these inequities “have been of questionable value,” according to Jennifer Martin, current president of Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), an organization that represents teachers in collective bargaining and contract negotiations. Reforms that adhere to a philosophy of “data-driven” outcomes have been especially harmful, she believes.

“No teacher goes into their position with the intention of being driven by data. We’re not here to fill out spreadsheets. Being data-informed is important. But being student-centered and child-centered is more important,” she said.

Martin, Principal Harris, and others that Our School spoke to about the expansion of the community schools approach agree that it is a viable way to recenter schools on the real needs of students and families that struggle the most with schooling and address the deep inequities that are rife in the public education system.

‘We Weren’t Listening to Our Families’

If the community schools approach is going to have any impact on addressing these long-standing inequities it will only be because of the highly structured process it entails, according to MCPS educators.

Every implementation of the approach starts with conducting an assessment consisting of an internal scan of the school’s needs and resources, an external scan of neighborhood assets, and outreach efforts, through surveys and interviews, to students, parents, and community members.

Early on in implementing the approach, Harris felt families at Wheaton Woods held a level of mistrust for the school. They had a hesitancy to challenge authorities and a tendency to think of themselves as, “not being school people,” he said.

The reason for the lack of trust became clear as he worked through the community schools process.

Harris discovered, “We weren’t listening to our families. We started off thinking our families needed things like food assistance and English classes—providing what we assumed families in poverty need. When we started listening to our families, we found out that what we didn’t have was enough out-of-school time and activities for their kids, not enough athletics. We found out that rather than English classes for adults, parents wanted their children to learn Spanish to retain their culture. They wanted employment training for adults and more help with child care.”

‘A Learning Curve’

Jenny Mendez-Guerrero had a similar experience at Oak View Elementary School, another community school in Montgomery County, where she is the community schools liaison.

“This job has posed a learning curve [for] me,” she told Our Schools. “I came into this job with a lot of ideas and expectations but realized very quickly that I had to take a step back and get to know the students, build relationships with the families, and make connections with the community.”

Oak View Elementary, which includes grade three to five students as well as a Pre-K program, has a unique aspect to it. While its general education program is composed of mostly Hispanic students from low-income households, the school also has a center for enrichment studies geared toward students who have advanced abilities in English language, arts, and math.

This makes for “an interesting dynamic,” according to Mendez-Guerrero, because the “center students,” as she calls them, tend to be from more affluent families whose parents often have more time to be engaged with the school and their children’s learning. More than 90 percent of center students come from English-speaking families, she said, while the majority of students in the general education track do not.

“As the community schools liaison, I have to conduct outreach to both sets of families,” she explained, which has led to some interesting observations.

In face-to-face meetings with the separate groups of families, Mendez-Guerrero asked students and parents to make a list of services they felt their family needed from the school. Parents and children in the general education track were more disposed to ask the school to provide programs for family needs, such as child care and English classes for adults, while parents and students in the enrichment center frequently requested the school to provide more avenues for parent involvement and opportunities for leadership.

However, both sets of families requested that the school provide student mental health services. Also, students in both tracks expressed a need for a more “interesting” and culturally relevant curriculum. Both the Hispanic and a small minority of African American students said they didn’t see themselves represented in the current curriculum.

“Conversations between the two sets of families can be very different,” Mendez-Guerrero said, with parents of children in the enrichment center being more eager to offer their time and resources, while parents with children in the general education program tend to be more guarded in expressing their families’ needs.

Also, some parents of students in the general education program may be undocumented and therefore scared to tell the school staff much about themselves.

Mendez-Guerrero came to realize she had to reassure families who may be struggling with food, housing, or multiple jobs that, “I’m not here to judge you,” she said. “I’m here to help.”

‘Missing a Sense of Community’

At Wheaton Woods, Castro and her colleagues conducted listening sessions that involved having “authentic conversations,” in her words, with parents and other family members.

One family need that quickly came to the fore was child care. Many parents also said they were “missing a sense of community” in the school, and they expressed the desire to meet other families and participate in school activities.

Another top concern was for the school curriculum to be more multilingual and reflective of the children’s cultural origins. Parents wanted their children to see themselves reflected in lessons and readings and didn’t want their children to completely lose their cultural identities.

Using this feedback, both Oak View and Wheaton Woods have created new partnerships with local nonprofits and county agencies to address a wide range of student and family needs.

“Since we started on the community schools approach, we’ve developed more than 30 partnerships,” Harris said. Among the partners are local nonprofit organizations that provide dental care, vision screening, child care, assistance with housing, and a partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library that provides Wheaton Woods families with free books for early readers, “so families have their home libraries even before their children come to school,” Harris said.

A Revelation

None of this is to say that adopting the community schools approach has not come with some uncomfortable change and ambiguity.

Montgomery County educators caution that listening to parents and responding with relevant programs and services is not enough—that along with adopting this way of addressing family needs, there also needs to be a change in leadership philosophy that departs from the traditional ways that policymakers and educators have chosen to address the impact of poverty in education.

A revelation Harris had early on in his school’s implementation of the community schools approach was that he realized his leadership style was “ill-suited to the approach,” he said. “I had this blind spot that I thought I alone knew what’s best, and what I realize now is that it’s impossible for me to always know how to lead.”

He also realized that he had to work hard to ensure all the school’s staff, including teachers, understood and were committed to family involvement in all aspects of the school.

“We want families in meetings to actually determine priorities and make decisions. That takes getting used to.”

In her union’s most recent contract negotiations with the district, Martin noted that MCEA had called for the creation of school-based councils made up of teachers and parents that would have some decision-making authority on school policies and programs. The idea was “shot down,” by the district, according to Martin. “Central leadership has a tendency to say, ‘We know what’s best,’” she said.

Also, because the district is so early in its implementation of the community schools approach, and because of interruptions posed by the COVID pandemic, none of the sources Our Schools spoke with in Montgomery County could point to any data indicating whether or not the approach is having a positive impact on narrowing the district’s deep education inequities.

Nevertheless, Castro feels confident the evidence will eventually be there. “I can’t wait to see the result of our efforts on the data side,” she said.

Although Harris is leaving his position at Wheaton Woods to write a book and build up his nonprofit work, he expects that the programs and services he helped put in place at the school will continue, and the school will turn more of its attention to measuring and evaluating the impact of its community schools approach. He is confident that after three to five years of using the approach, better results will be there.

In the short term, though, if Montgomery County schools have any real prospect of narrowing its chronic achievement inequities, the district has to retain parents like Tiffany Allen and her husband—parents of African American children who are full-time professionals, relatively affluent, and highly engaged with their children’s education. So far, it seems that using the community schools approach is helping these schools do that.

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  1. alfia

    Great article on community schools. UK schools are also having to plug the gaps in social services (or the lack of them really). The problem is that very often the schools have no funding/resources to deal with various social issues in addition to providing education.

  2. Carla

    It seems to me we expect our public schools to achieve every social good the larger society has utterly failed to provide. Is that realistic? We bussed children to achieve racial integration that had been stymied by decades of segregation in neighborhoods, workplaces, financial services and government services. That was an abject failure. As soon as Black and brown families finally started making their way into the middle class as the War on Poverty petered out, our powers-that-be ramped up a War on the Middle Class that has been spectacularly successful. Can the Community School movement stem that tide and achieve better educational outcomes as well? I would like to hope so, but absent a turnaround in this country’s larger political and societal priorities, I fear it will be quite the uphill battle.

    1. Polar Socialist

      I’m not sure I completely understood the community school concept, but if it’s a step towards to much praised “Finnish model”, it should be a good step. Sure, it absolutely can’t achieve what society has failed to provide, but by making school the primary interface trough which the kids are engaged in a society and social services – whatever there is left of either – will help in preventing the kids from becoming marginalized. In other words, create a sense of belonging instead of being processed.

      With any luck many of these kids will grow up with anti-Thatcherian worldview and eventually start to work towards a society they want to have. The first step is to make the kids to understand that they are not just growing up to be individuals but also growing up to be members of a community.

      1. Carla

        “The first step is to make the kids to understand that they are not just growing up to be individuals but also growing up to be members of a community.”

        But are they? Is there really a community for them to grow into?

        I appreciate and thank you for the reference to the Finnish system, which I admit, I had not thought of in this context (and admittedly don’t know much about it, although it has the reputation of being quite effective.)

        At any rate, I suspect there is a stronger community to grow into in Finland than currently exists anywhere in the U.S., but I sure don’t have the data.

    2. Mike

      Maybe, but I think it’s slightly different. It’s not only that schools are expected to provide every social good but also at a minimum are largely damaging to our children in the pursuit of providing every social good. I think some schools can be a net negative impact on a kids life.

  3. Louis Fyne

    This will likely never happen anymore given the inertia of the American curriculum—but IMO after raising kids, elementary schools should have multi-age classes, eg instead of 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd, etc. classes, have classes 1st-2nd graders, 3rd-4th graders. Like the old one-room schools. AKA one of the facets of the “Montessori method”

    And mixing kids such that “average” 1st grader with an “slow” 2nd grader/”advanced” 3rd grader with “average” 4th grader are in the same classroom boosts achievement for everyone across the board….versus the stay-in-your-lane method of American schools today

    heck, import most/all of Montessori’s original pedgaogy. I am 100% a believer in Montessori-philosophy of education (there is no official “Montessori canon.” but alas Montessori-style generally only is taught at private places, and skews to be insanely expensive.

    IMO, it is a travesty that most American public schools ignore Montessori methods—-have no idea why, don’t understand the history of American education pedagogy.

    maybe it’s because Montessori was Italian, and uncredentialed. But the original Montessori observations were following the scientific method—and they work! IMO.

    1. GramSci

      Thank you, Louis. That’s how an education system teaches sustainable “family” or “community” values.

    2. Left in Wisconsin

      My kids went to an elementary school with mostly multi-age classrooms (K/1, 2/3) up to third grade but with some single-cohort classes. Also, they made a conscious effort not to stratify kids by ability. Every year the new parents clamored to get their own kids into the relatively few single-age classrooms – two main reasons being: I want my kids to have more friends “their own age” and “How can one teacher possibly challenge every student with such a wide range of student abilities in the same class?.” The principal, who was excellent, would have to do a song and dance with data and lots of cajoling to keep the parents from rebelling and you could always hear the sense from many parents that those who got into the single-cohort classes “won” and the others “lost.”

      By the way, the reason the data is positive for multi-cohort classes is simply the gains from having the same teacher for consecutive years, which dramatically reduces the knowledge loss from summer break and the period in the fall in which the new teacher needs to figure out what is best for the student. Relatedly, it is quite helpful for many working class and poor families, who are extremely time challenged, not to have to develop a new relationship with a new teacher every year.

      Which gets to the main point in the article above: the most important thing is that this model provides a way for the school to actually get to know every kid and every family and to hear what their actual needs are. Which points out the fallacy of the Moynihan model, and which was made abundantly clear to me in my kids’ subsequent schooling in schools that were roughly 2/3 upper-middle class mostly white and 1/3 poor and mostly Black and Latino/a: the middle class parents knew how and had the resources to make sure the schools looked after their own kids and they dominated all the PTO’s and all of the school/parent interactions. Which made them unappealing and unwelcoming for the poorer parents. (Ironically, there was lots of bitching about how hard it was to get the parents of “the other kids” to engage or become active in school affairs.)

      The biggest problem with our public schools is that it is still very easy for huge numbers of kids to fall through the cracks and there is very little in the traditional public school setting to prevent this from happening.

      Yes, as soon as that elementary school principal was re-assigned to a different school, multi-age classrooms were abandoned.

    3. Valerie from Australia

      As a classroom teacher – one who works hard to differentiate my teaching in Reading, Writing and Mathematics to meet the learning needs of my students – I can tell you that multi-age classes just complicate this process. They widen the learning range from three or four years to five or six. On the whole, whenever there is a “split class” system, it is driven by money, not learning. Basically, after filling entire classes on one level, the school has ten, twelve, fourteen extra students. By making, for example, a 4/5 split, and filling up the rest of the class from another level with its own extra students, the problem is solved.

      Montessori is fine for highly curious and internally motivated students but fails the less self motivated students – which sadly, are many in our educational system today. Waiting for some children to want to learn how to read or learn something that doesn’t come easily can be like waiting for Godot.

  4. GramSci

    Our society treats its schools as a Galton box, existing primarily to sort the white from the riff raff. After a few early bounces, kids learn where they’re headed. To offer consolation prizes, the football coach (cheerleading coach if the school is woke) is made principal, the better to persuade the losers in the achievement test competition (and their parents) that sports stardom is within reach. Eventually the disillusioned majority vote for a certified, dyslexic winner to be their champion, like Trump.

    Montgomery County is perhaps to be commended for any effort to change this system, but once the Tube (or the interTubes, h/t Lambert) takes over the curriculum, reinforced with federal race-to-the-bottom-of-the-Galton-box dollars, it’s hard to see how much will change.

    1. Louis Fyne

      if it makes you feel any better….schools achieved racial equality, mediocrity for all!

      in my old school district, white, not-low-income kids underperform on achievement standards just as much as Hispanic and black kids. (yes, test scores are not the be-all/end-all).

      The only bright spot are Asian kids who are the only cohort in which the majority of kids meet or exceed reading, math, science standards.

      Presuming this is cultural and socio-economic (income + two-parent homes).

      1. anon in so cal

        “two-parent homes”

        The flip side of this is the “single parent family,” which describes 30% of US families.

        Somewhat relatedly, a large literature chronicles another growing and seemingly intractable source of economic and educational inequality. Data show that higher educational attainment and higher income individuals are marrying at older ages and deferring parenthood until their careers and household incomes are established. One parent has the option of not working and both parents practice a childrearing style called “concerted cultivation,” in which they closely monitor and manage their child’s development. This is contrasted with the coupling and child-rearing practices of lower income and lower educational attainment individuals who marry at a younger age or not at all, have higher divorce rates, and who become parents at an earlier age. Their parenting style includes “natural love,” which translates to much less monitoring and supervision.

  5. jackiebass63

    As a retired educator for 35 years ,this is not a new thing.Education goes through cycles. A certain thing is pushed. At first it seems to be the answer. Eventually funding and enthusiasm peters out and something “new” appears. This “new” something goes through the same cycle.Eventually we end up back to the beginning of the cycle. It probably happens because a group seems to pop up and offer a “new” idea. It may have a different name but it is actually a recycled idea marketed as something new. As the saying goes, and the band played on.I believe poverty is the biggest reason a for a student not being successful. Even though courts have ruled that all students should be funded at the same level, the reality is it doesn’t happen.Because of how much is spent is actually locally controlled you have a big difference in how much is spent.Even though states give poorer districts more money it doesn’t matter. Rich districts will kick in more local money.What that means is rich districts will have more to spend.Unfortunately this was the case in the past and continues to be the case today.

  6. William Beyer

    I’m not sure the community school concept is “new.” The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation promoted the community school concept in the 1970s, and it had been going strong for some time. As an apprentice architect, I helped design and build the Mott-funded Doyle/Ryder Community School in Flint, MI as a sort of prototype; it opened in 1981. I have no idea if the various concepts developed improved education for the K-6 kiddos or not. I suspect they were mostly hype.

  7. orlbucfan

    Get rid of the craporate standardized test score nonsense, and let teachers teach. That would be a huge plus! My sister has been a junior high/high school math teacher for decades, and hates ‘teaching for high test scores only.’

  8. fairleft

    We need a much more egalitarian society, which will generate much more egalitarian schools with happier, more successful students. Haven’t we tried doing things backwards long enough?

  9. Dave in Austin

    The article says “However, a leader in the 1960s War on Poverty, Daniel Patrick Moynihan publicized in the so-called Moynihan Report the most important factor in what was then called minority student educational attainment was the socio-economic standing of their classmates” That is not quite correct. Follow the Wikipedia link to the Moynihan Reports and read it for yourself. The family structure (single parent households) matters much more than the classmates.

    Moynahan was a big, gregarious Irish-American academic-turned-NY-Senator, a true old-school liberal who enjoyed a drink and an argument. I remember him fondly from my after-work hours at the Dubliner on Capitol Hill. Most of us there were liberals and optimists.

    About Wheaton… If you take DC as the center of a circle, the poor, largely Black Prince Georges County, MD (where I just purchased a townhouse) is north of DC and runs from Noon (straight up) to 5:00 pm. Rich, White Montgomery County, MD runs from 9:30 am to noon with Wheaton and Takoma Park being on the border between the counties at 11:45 am-to-Noon. The rich part of Montgomery county has expanded northwest up I-270 20 miles to the next county, Frederick, where the new (non-poor) planned town at Urbanna features four-story, $800,000 townhouses a nice YMCA (which I use) and its own high school. The place is “diverse” in the ethnic sense (Whites, Asians, Middle Easterners and some Hispanics) but almost all are college educated, commute to Montgomery County and want to avoid Montgomery County’s housing prices and changing school demographics.

    Meanwhile the inner ring of older suburbs where Montgomery and PG meet (Takoma Park and Wheaton) becomes more DINK (double income, no children) and more poor immigrant (the articles says the Wheaton school is 55% non-native English speaking). Not much violent crime but a lot of gangs and school issues. So the Montgomery County problem is: “Do we bus students west to upper-middle class schools with few children (Silver Springs) or do we “enrich” the schools in Wheaton?”. The solution to this problem is the Wheaton community school program.

    Will it work? History says “Yes for the kids of intact middle-class immigrant families but less so for the others, largely American Blacks and Central American refugees.” But the poor kids will not be bused to the rich, million-dollar-home neighborhoods in Bethesda-Chevy Chase, which is the real goal of the exercise.

    Montgomery is a solidly Democratic county, rich and suburban. It is one of the five richest counties in the US and suffers from the usual Liberal cognitive dissonance on issues of race and class. The parents believe in liberal values, but when the rubber meets the road the highest value is: “I want good, safe, high-achieving schools for my kids”.

    Moynahan’s warning about the 1970s is now our present.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Your first para wildly misconstrues the issue. The fact that that the Moynihan Report talked about black family structure does not negate that it also discussed school composition.

      I can tell you as a debater in the early 1970s that the Moynihan report argument about the importance of socioeconomic status of schoolmates in student achievement was widely picked up by the press and academic journals.

  10. Altandmain

    Yves, the closest thing to an international assessment of the education system is probably the PISA, which is conducted by the OECD that measures student performance.

    Long story short, the US does not do that well. This led to a few articles in the mainstream media.

    Actually, there is one other point – the US has a higher standard deviation compared to other nations – top US students do well, but the bottom is performing very poor and as such, the national average is poor.

    The PISA is a far from perfect system and is often subject to criticism, but at least it gives us a rough idea for national comparison.

    Keep in mind of course that the information here was pre-pandemic and it’s possible that because the US was hit harder by the pandemic that the scores may have done comparatively worse.

    1. kurtismayfield

      So the PISA data confirms that we have a bifurcation of educational outcomes in the US. That is not surprising considering the economic segregation that occurs in school district selection.

  11. anon in so cal

    High-poverty schools in MCPS not only have lower performance levels than low-poverty schools but also the “African American and Hispanic FARMs students who live in poverty but attend more affluent schools do not perform significantly better than their peers in schools with higher concentrations of poverty,” according to the report. “African American and Hispanic FARMs students do not perform substantially better in low-poverty schools.”

    Not sure what that means. It reads like the Coleman report.

  12. scott s.

    Living in Hawaii, it’s always interesting to read these sorts of reports and try to compare with our experience. We are considered a state-wide district, though there are several bureaucratic levels between the DoE and the school. Certainly things like HR policy and facilities are close-hold at the DoE but not so sure about things like curriculum. I don’t know that any public school is considered “outstanding”, but I think student achievement is correlated with Japanese ethnicity (the term Asian doesn’t really work here). Black achievement is a different experience as most Blacks are part of the military community and there is some command “ownership” of the public schools serving military families (a number of schools are located on bases).

    In the past Oahu had a collection of “English-standard” schools through HS that required testing into. These were eventually considered elitist and eliminated, though analysis had shown that ethnic representation was population-proportional, with Chinese ethnicity slightly over represented.

    In general my observation is that if you think district-level funding is determinant of educational achievement, Hawaii will prove you wrong.

  13. chris

    I’ve started and deleted several posts in response to this article. It’s a frustrating topic and it contains everything that is good and bad about public education in Maryland from my perspective as a parent of school age children and long time resident of the state.

    First, if you want to see any demographic data or other information about Maryland Public Education, you can check out the MSDE report card.

    Second, for 2021, Maryland as a whole and Montgomery County in particular are doing well in terms of most metrics for public education. For example, the national average high school graduation rate for all populations is about 86%. The national average 4 year high school graduation rate for black students is 80%. For Maryland, the average high school graduation rate in 2021 for all students was about 87%. For black students the 4 year high school graduation rate is about 91%. But there’s been a lot of questions about why it’s as high as it is and whether black students are really learning or just getting passed. For Montgomery county, the average 4 year high school graduation rate is 91% based on the latest publically available data. So all students in Maryland, in aggregate, are doing well. All black students, in aggregate, are doing well. Maryland public education is doing great compared to national averages for most metrics. You’d be forgiven if you’re asking yourself what kind of problems the community school movement is trying to solve if these are the current results.

    Which brings me to my third point, or rather, the point made by one of the former Montgomery County public school super intendants:

    But, of course, when kids do poorly on academic measures, it’s often because they’re struggling with problems that aren’t academic at all — something’s happening at home, or they’re depressed, or they can’t afford glasses, and so on. It may be helpful to provide them with pull-out tutoring or other academic resources (which is how Title I dollars tend to be used), but this does nothing to address the deeper challenges that kids are facing.

    Which is that the so called “gap” that people are trying to use public schools to fill can’t be filled by publics schools. Even in Maryland. Because in Maryland, and in many other places, public school can’t fix a student having poor parents. The FARM metric is not useful in targeting students who need help. Maryland has designed the program to make it easy to get into FARM. But there are still a lot of families who don’t apply, and a lot of families who either lie about their income or have such variable income that they may qualify at some points during the year and not qualify at other times. The last time we did a survey of that issue in my county, we figured out that roughly 10% of students on FARM shouldn’t be in the program and roughly another 10% of students who weren’t in the program should be in the program. But to even be in the program, those kids have to be in school. Maryland has had issues with poor students being chronically absent for years. Among all students, black and Hispanic students are the most chronically absent in Montgomery county. Community Schools are an attempt to work with parents to bring their kids back to class and engage. The family mentioned in the article is not the problem they’re trying to fix.

    So this newest Montgomery County push follows in the foot steps of another push to help poor and struggling families. It will be abandoned too once people discover that you can’t expect public schools and teachers to be father/mother/doctor/nutritionist/patron to struggling students. It will fail to achieve it’s goals because every community program for public schools that is concerned about helping students is transparently focused on helping black students. The community school program might last a bit longer than most because it succeeds in one important non-education metric. It prevents the need for mass redistricting of students and county wide busing.

    Public education in Maryland is good and beats the national average in just about every metric that counts. It does so for every demographic cohort of student too. But it can’t promise great outcomes post graduation to students who come from poor families, don’t show up enough, and don’t have a stable family enforcing learning behavior at home. I appreciate the desire mentioned in the article to get more family input to problems the school is trying to handle. Unfortunately, when we’ve tried that in my county, it amounts to people trying to sabotage learning for everyone so that no one does well in the hopes that everyone becomes uniformly mediocre. Like the last school year when we had families complaining that mid terms and finals were racist and unfair expectations on students. As if poor students don’t need to learn how to study for tests and pass them. As if there weren’t already free tutoring programs to assist them if they needed more help.

    It seems like Maryland people will never be happy until all black students are doing the same or better than all white students. It seems like being much better than the national average will never be good enough. It seems like we’ll never get the data to actually fix real problems in Montgomery county or other places in Maryland. But I do know one thing for certain. Sooner or later, we’ll get another public school program in Montgomery county trying to fix the problems that black students have even though it has nothing to do with public schools.

  14. Valerie from Australia

    I’ve been teaching for thirty five years – 7 of them in Germany, 9 in New Zealand and Australia and the rest in the U.S. in schools ranging from the very poorest to the most privileged. I’ve taught in all models of schools, including Community Schools, and in my experience Community Schools within walking distance from students’ homes are somewhat better than the rest – especially for primary aged children.

    But . . . none of this really makes a significant difference in student learning. What makes the biggest difference is quite simple: an uncomplicated (as opposed to vague and overloaded) primary curriculum, step by step instruction where students have sufficient practice at each stage before moving on to the next, teachers who are given time to plan lessons and organise good resources for the variety of learning abilities in their classes – rather than forcing them to spend their time accumulating and reporting on data that it meaningless – and good principals that understand what genuine learning looks like and enforce student behaviours that allow for learning to take place. Great teachers and great principals are what make the difference. It is a lot less about the bells and whistles and more about passing on a passion for learning and giving the students a step-by-step map to achieving success – which is highly motivating for learners.

    Somewhere along the line, schools and educational leaders bought into the idea that technology would be the answer to all our learning problems – and in my opinion and experience, technology is a real underperformer when it comes to helping kids learn. Every year, I get boatloads of students who can’t read or write a sentence that makes sense but they sure can cut and paste and put a pretty frame around the paragraphs they plagiarise. This is not learning and hours are wasted at school on this type of thing.

    I know it sounds hokey, but primary aged kids need a solid foundation in the basics of reading, writing and computation (and I am not saying that we should ignore our most capable and interested students). But we are sending a lot of kids onto high school who can’t read, write or know/understand basic maths – skills they need to be able to build upon when they get to high school.

    I don’t know how to unwind the mess our schools are in but we are running out of time. All the great teachers of my generation are retiring and I don’t see many really great ones taking their place. What will this mean to our children and the future of our society if we are graduating students who can’t think and don’t have the basic skills to fall back on? We need to simplify the model and train our young teachers in an educational model they have not been educated in themselves – and get them off their phones!

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