Desegregating MCPS Would Benefit All Students, Researcher Says

Desegregating MCPS Would Benefit All Students, Researcher Says

Boundary analysis could result in increased test scores, better life skills

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Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at the Century Foundation speaks about the MCPS boundary analysis.

Caitlynn Peetz

Focusing on diversity as Montgomery County Public Schools examines school boundaries could increase minority students’ standardized test scores and help others adjust to the “real world,” a researcher said Thursday.

A discussion sponsored by the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club focused largely on research-based evidence that diverse schools benefit all students.

In April, tension about the boundary analysis boiled over at a public meeting at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg. Some parents said they opposed the review because forcing children to change schools, partly to diversify schools, would be “unfair” and decrease home values.

Community members and many students responded by denouncing the statements as “racist” and “segregationist.” They said they support addressing “de facto segregation” because it creates positive learning environments for all students.

On Thursday, Richard Kahlenberg, director of K-12 equity at the Century Foundation, a national think tank that seeks to reduce inequality, said research suggests those students are correct.

He said it’s important to note that “diversification” in terms of the boundary analysis and the research he presented is more about socioeconomic status than the color of students’ skin. However, minority families often are more prone to poverty than their white peers.

“Schools are meant to bring everyone together and yet, in Montgomery County, that isn’t happening as fully as it could,” Kahlenberg said. “The schools do have a fair amount of segregation that reflects residential segregation.”

In January, MCPS launched its first comprehensive review of school-attendance boundaries in decades. Its goal is multi-faceted: possibly alleviate crowding problems at some schools while others have empty seats, diversify schools with large concentrations of white students, and create more effective transportation patterns.

An interim report from the consultants hired for the project is expected in February. A final report is to be presented to the school board in May.

The school board will not be required to make any boundary changes based on the consultant’s report.
And although integrating schools is just one factor the consultants will consider in its analysis, Kahlenberg said it is likely the most critical.

He pointed to a study by a Stanford University researcher that showed low-income students isolated from more affluent peers are more likely to have lower test scores. Further, he said, students not exposed to peers who are different are less likely to be successful in the “real world” because they often can’t positively interact with people of other backgrounds.

Dan Reed, an urban planner from Montgomery County, spoke at Thursday’s meeting and highlighted the county’s history of zoning and land use as a factor that led to segregation in MCPS.

A study by the Century Foundation found that spending more money per pupil in schools with high concentrations of minority students was less effective than integration, Kahlenberg said.

“Low-income students can do amazing things if given the right environment, but when they’re all packed into certain schools, that … presents a more difficult learning environment,” Kahlenberg said. “… When students bring different life experiences, research shows that the learning is deeper and that groups come up with more creative solutions when not everyone comes from a similar background.”

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

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