Community Calls for Education Equity for ‘Black and Brown’ Students

Community Calls for Education Equity for ‘Black and Brown’ Students

Group makes list of recommendations to address achievement gap

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Diego Uriburu, left, and Byron Johns present during Tuesday evening's forum in Gaithersburg.

Caitlynn Peetz

Hundreds of community members and local leaders gathered Tuesday at Gaithersburg High School to highlight inequities in MCPS education. And they have a plan to address the issue.

The newly formed Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence organized the forum following recent reports to the Montgomery County Board of Education showing that students of color are more likely to be taught by teachers with less experience.

The report also showed that schools with high concentrations of minority and low-income families are more likely to have novice principals with less than three years of experience. Also, those students are less likely to be enrolled in advanced-level courses, like advanced placement (AP), even if they perform at the same level of their peers.

“We do not want to be on the fringes of our children’s education any longer,” said Diego Uriburu, executive director of Identity, a Gaithersburg nonprofit that helps families in high-poverty areas of the county. “Together, we make up 54% of MCPS’ student body, and we suffer the brunt of the achievement gap the most. So, what we want, is we want from now on to be key decision-making partners as it relates to our children’s education and that’s why we’re here tonight.”

Speakers detailed instances within MCPS in which they say they or their children were affected by ineffective or discriminatory teachers. They said MCPS needs to consider policy changes, updates to teacher and principal contracts, and ways to improve school culture to improve minority students’ achievement.

Giankarlo Vera, an MCPS graduate, said that in high school, he dreamed of becoming a doctor. But he did not feel that the MCPS staff supported him to attend a four-year university.

Instead, he said he was pushed to go to Montgomery College, despite having “near-perfect” grades.

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A crowd gathered at Gaithersburg High School Tuesday evening to discuss inequities in MCPS.

“Don’t get me wrong, (Montgomery College) is one of the finest schools in this nation, but why was I not pushed to explore more options?” Vera asked. “… Where was all the support that I was promised when I enrolled in MCPS schools?”

Luz Chavez, another MCPS graduate, said one of her elementary school teachers was so unkind to her family that they moved so she could attend a different school. Afterward, Chavez did better in school. She is currently studying three majors at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Former school board member Chris Barclay, pointing to statistics about minority students’ enrollment in advanced math courses, said MCPS has “systemically stunted the growth of our children.”

According to data from the equity report commissioned by the school district, 5% of Latino students and 8% of black students are enrolled in advanced classes and by 12th grade, more than half of all low-income black and Latino students are enrolled in the “least rigorous math courses.”

“Clearly, the system holds them back and restricts their opportunity to thrive,” Barclay said. “That level of neglect must and can be addressed.”

The coalition said that to eradicate the achievement gap, MCPS needs to:

• provide incentives to recruit and retain strong teachers and principals in high needs schools

• increase access to professional learning

• ensure minority students have access to advanced-level courses

• engage families in their students’ education

• work closely with education equity advocates to quickly implement services.

By 2025, the Black and Brown Coalition hopes all students have “equitable access to the resources, opportunities and supports they need to be successful in college, career and life.”

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro attended the forum along with more than two dozen other elected officials from across the county. She said the community coming together to detail a specific plan about how to achieve educational equity is “powerful.”

“When all the children succeed, we all succeed,” said Navarro, a former school board member. “For me, it’s also a matter of fiscal responsibility. If we are investing more than $2.6 billion in the school system, we have got to make sure the results reflect that investment.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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