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Record Enrollment, Tight Budgets Leave Montgomery Schools Facing Tough Challenges

Montgomery County Public Schools is one of the most diverse districts in the nation. Despite a record of academic excellence, success isn't achieved equally among students.

It's been a year of upheaval for Montgomery County Public Schools. The district gained a new superintendent, hit record-high enrollment and took  on its proposed 2012 budget.

Montgomery Schools face many , but if the "Listen and Learn" tour is any indicator of which the district will prioritize, changing demographics, better community engagement, and a focus on the achievement gap are issues likely near the top of Superintendent Joshua Starr's list.

"It's a tough issue and schools are doing their best to address it," said Laurie Halverson, PTA vice president of educational issues. "If you look at the budget, you can see what they're spending, and when you look at budgets of schools that are Title I schools, [schools that have failed to meet government benchmarks for two consecutive years], they're getting [almost] twice as much funding as other schools, so there's significant funding going to those schools and solving the achievement gap. But money is not necessarily the solution."

Statistics documenting persistent achievement gaps between students of different races and ethnicities support community concern over equal opportunities among students. Looking at indicators that the district identified as keys on a path toward higher education, significant differences are evident at every grade level. However, Starr's recently released , specifically highlights a 40 percent difference on an eighth-grade reading exam between white and Asian students and black and Hispanic students.

According to the report, race, class, language proficiency and geography are key factors influencing students' success and, "…the district has not been systematically successful in engaging parents and community members who are African American, Hispanic, and poor in conversations and decision-making processes."

Changing demographics make achievement gaps a larger issue

As the nation’s 16th largest school district, has an economically and racially diverse student population. Of its roughly 147,000 students, almost a third receive free and reduced priced meals and a 13 percent participate in its English for Speakers of Other Languages programs. Collectively, students come from 164 countries and speak 184 languages. A quarter of students are Hispanic, 14 percent are Asian American, 35 percent are white, and roughly 20 percent are African American.

Effective, accessible community engagement with Montgomery schools is crucial as the county’s population continues to diversify—but the extra steps needed will be harder for educators to take if continued recession means more budget cuts on the horizon.

"There's no way we can take the kinds of cuts that we’ve taken in the past few years and have it not impact the classroom," said Mongomery School spokesman Dana Tofig in a phone interview. "People say you need to cut the fat, well, we've cut the fat. And we're cutting deeper than that now. ... We can't continue to grow like we've been growing and see our budget cut."

Tomorrow, join us for a look at the future of housing and development in the county—as demographics shift, so do construction plans. 

Jerry November 01, 2011 at 12:45 PM
Montgomery County has been in a choke hold by the teacher's union for decades, and it is milking the taxpayers dry. This article reflects its latest attempt to squeeze more money to perpetuate its gold plated school system. I offer the following first hand experience as proof of this. Not many years ago, there was a radio advertisment for math and science teachers for Montgomery County schools. Since I have a Ph.D. from MIT and teaching awards from my days as an Instructor there, and because I live within walking distance of Wooton High School, I decided to apply. Making math and science understandable and enjoyable to students, and perhaps writing recommendations for them when they applied to MIT, would be my way of giving something back to my community. The school board sent me a pile of forms to fill out, which I dutily completed and submitted. (I have no criminal record and no physical handicaps, by the way.) I was never called for an interview and never asked for further information. Sorry folks, but for all the money we throw at our gold plated school system, Montgomery County is not providing the best and the brightest teachers. especially in math and science. That's for sure.
JH November 02, 2011 at 08:40 PM
In large part, the school system faces a parenting gap. Too often we find that failing families produce failing students. You can double the taxes in the County and double the pay for teachers, but this will not change the sad fact of family dysfunction. Just ask the teachers. Elected leaders in the County promoted and encouraged the demographic changes ----- so I am sure they are going to meet the tough challenges noted in the article. Honest taxpayers beware.

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