Consortiums divide

Dec. 20, 2001, midnight | By Elizabeth Green | 19 years, 5 months ago

When MCPS launches the Down-County Consortium in 2004, it will continue on a path toward de facto segregation that began when the Northeast Consortium was first planned. Quietly, insidiously, segregation of schools by race and income is becoming the status quo in Montgomery County.

Consortiums were designed and are intended as educational tools to group nearby high schools into one conglomerate, giving students the choice of attending any of the schools in the consortium. These well-intended tools, however, have been corrupted by the interests of some wealthy, western-county parents into vehicles for segregation.

The Down-County and Northeast consortiums are composed of seven of the nine highest-density minority schools in the county—Blair, Einstein, Kennedy and Wheaton high schools in the Down-County group and Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook high schools in the Northeast. Five of these high schools are predominately minority in a county whose total percentage of black and Hispanic students is comparatively low at 35 percent. If that isn't enough proof of segregation, take this: consortium high schools are, on average, 55 percent minority; non-consortium high schools average 26 percent.

Can we blame the schools? If anything, it is the inaction of MCPS that deserves censure. In allowing its seven consortium schools to house over half of the district's black and Hispanic students, MCPS has effectively bowed to the demands of the rich and powerful parents who refuse to allow their children to sit in classrooms with poorer, darker-skinned peers.
The first refusal of western-county parents to participate in consortiums came five years ago when Sherwood High School parents declined to join an educational group that would spell the integration of its school's students, only 22 percent of whom are black and Hispanic, with the Northeast Consortium school's 47 percent minority populace. Had MCPS forced Sherwood, which is less than ten miles from each of the three schools in the Northeast Consortium, to join the group, the consortium would have been more racially balanced at 41 percent minority.

MCPS again succumbed to western-county interests in 1999 as plans were formed for the Down-County Consortium. The county never considered the prospect of grouping low-income, high-minority schools like Blair, Einstein, Kennedy and Wheaton with any districts but their own. It would have been just as geographically viable to group any of these schools in consortiums with such high-income, low-minority schools as Bethesda-Chevy Chase (B-CC), Walter Johnson and Rockville high schools, all of which share borders with at least one school in the Down-County Consortium. Instead, anticipating resistance from this latter group—whose combined populations are 27 percent minority—MCPS neglected to consider any such option, insisting that doing so would be politically unfeasible. In other words, Weast, even as he announces a Call to Action to bridge the ever-widening achievement gap, is too scared to defy the powerful western-county upperclass.

MCPS' motto is "success for every student." Consortiums, done right, could make the ideal real. By creating larger educational groupings within the county, consortiums could mean the successful racial and economic integration of area public schools. And integration, research shows, could mean an increased chance of success for every student.

According to a Washington Post study published Sept 3 in the story "Closing Student Gap Opens Door to Conflict," when lower-income students are concentrated in high-poverty schools, their test scores are a dismal half of their peers' at more affluent schools, while low-income students integrated into affluent schools score much better. If such results are not enough justification for integration, parents in schools like Sherwood and B-CC should take note that the academic performance of high-income students educated in low-income schools is just as high as that of equally affluent students left in affluent schools.

But education means more than simply getting high test scores. This county would do well to produce students with a tolerance learned from exposure to diversity. Maybe if the children of the obstinate western-county parents learned such tolerance, the MCPS administration of the future would have no bigoted opposition to fear.

For now, if MCPS really wants to raise minority test scores, it should not group its most disadvantaged and heavily minority schools into consortiums where students will perhaps blossom but most likely languish. Instead, the county should stand up to the powerful by using consortiums as a vehicle toward the racial and economic integration of Montgomery County schools.

Weast was quoted in the Post as calling the growing division in MCPS the neglected "elephant on the table." If this is so, Weast, why don't you kick the elephant off by making consortiums tools for integration and not racism?

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Elizabeth Green. Elizabeth Green is seventeen years old. She is also happy to take on the position of editor-in-chief of Chips this, her senior, year. In fact, she has so enjoyed her forays in high school journalism that she is thinking about pursuing a career in the … More »

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