For years, Montgomery County Public Schools has been talking about narrowing the so-called achievement gap, and it appears, sadly, the school system will have to talk about it for years more.
To be sure, this is no easy issue to solve. But Montgomery County parents should be able to expect that their black and Hispanic children learn just as much as their white and Asian peers. Former schools Superintendent Jerry Weast made it an element in his middle school reform efforts. A year ago, incoming Superintendent Joshua P. Starr put closing the achievement gap near the top of his agenda.
The salaries the school system pays attract the best and brightest education has to offer. If Montgomery County canít solve this problem, who else can?
A report by the school systemís Office of Shared Accountability has looked at the efforts at 38 middle schools. Only 10 — about a fourth — showed improvement on the Maryland School Assessments from the 2008-09 school year to the 2010-11 school year. The report also looked at student performance in Algebra 1 or higher math classes.
The report does not name the 10 schools. School system spokesman Dana Tofig said the goal of the report was to go beyond showing where the gaps are, but rather to identify some of the characteristics of middle schools that have had success in narrowing the achievement gap. Even skeptics should applaud the aims of the report. Montgomery parents, however, should know which schools are succeeding and which arenít. Withholding the names sets back school accountability efforts.
As part of the study, three teachers at each school were asked to complete a survey regarding school policies, strategies and practices.
According to the teachersí responses, the schools that succeeded in closing gaps had stronger school leadership, were more focused on the goal of closing the gap, were more data-driven, offered more opportunities for collaboration, and had better communication with leaders and students.
All are reasonable best practices, though the community would have a right to be suspicious. For example, why now is the school system recognizing the value of data-driven decisions? Why not years ago? Itís fair to wonder if this is an example of forcing the data to fit the curve; Starr arrived a year ago as a proponent of data-based decision-making.
Over the years, all achievement has been loaded with ďif onlys,Ē particularly by parents. Two seem apropros to this discussion: If only our school had an addition to take away those ugly trailers and if only parents were more involved in their children's education.
Temporary portable classrooms have been a barometer of failure for the school system, the County Council and the state. The governmentsí inability to build schools to pace our development has caused parents grief for years.
But a portable classroom may have very little effect on the quality of education. The countyís newest blue ribbon school, Rachel Carson Elementary, has a small fleet of the temporary buildings moored outside the building.
And parental involvement is addressed in the school system report. Twice itís mentioned and neither time is it considered to have provided a statistically significant impact on closing the gap.
Regardless of the findings of reports, the portables parked outside an elementary school or even the money that has been spent, county parents and taxpayers have a right to expect progress. Itís about time they received it.