Superintendent Smith challenges accuracy of report on MCPS achievement

MCPS superintendent challenges accuracy of county report on achievement

Smith says analysis ‘provides an inaccurate picture of the school system’

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MCPS Superintendent Jack R. Smith speaks during a press conference on Tuesday morning in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County Public Schools’ top official on Tuesday challenged the accuracy of a county report that said the district is misusing funds designated for certain programs and that its work to close an achievement gap has been “largely ineffective.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith took aim at the county’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) report released in December. Specifically, Smith said the report’s assertion that the school district uses more than one-third of the state funds it receives based on free and reduced-priced meals enrollment for programs that do not directly target low-income students or high-poverty schools is “flawed.”

The Office of Legislative Oversight plays a watchdog role, assessing various parts of the county government and the school system.

The report found that MCPS underfunds its programs for English language learners and “compensatory education programs,” relative to the additional state aid it receives for such programs.

Compensatory programs are designed to “offset the impact of poverty on student achievement,” according to county documents.

Smith said the report’s analysis of compensatory education funding is inaccurate and “pits communities of students against one another.”

“We are concerned because the OLO report provides an inaccurate picture of the school system, actually,” Smith said. “It provides some arbitrary financial analysis of compensatory education that’s simply inconsistent with the state system of funding. It also is not aligned with state law and how that works and we’re concerned about that.”

Additionally, the OLO report says MCPS makes student achievement disparities worse by concentrating its low-income students in a handful of schools. It says 75% of all black, Latino and English language learners in elementary school, and more than 80% of elementary school students in poverty, are enrolled in the district’s “focus,” or high-poverty, schools. Meanwhile, more than 66% of all white and Asian elementary students are enrolled in low-poverty schools.

Focus schools have high concentrations of students in poverty, but are not eligible for Title 1 funding for schools with low-income populations, according to an MCPS spokesman.

At the core of Smith’s problems with the report is its lack of focus on MCPS’ efforts to expand students’ —- particularly minority and low-income students’ — access to advanced-level courses.

In recent years, for example, MCPS has focused on ensuring more middle school students can take Algebra 1, Smith said.

“If no one ever allows me to take Algebra 1 in middle school, there isn’t a gap because I didn’t have the opportunity,” Smith said. “The first step is to get kids the opportunities they need and our data shows tremendous progress in access across many areas.”

Smith also took issue with the report’s claim MCPS does not have an equity policy.

In November, the county government passed a sweeping racial equity bill that mandates equity impact statements for all new bills and budget measures. It also requires county offices to submit plans for reducing inequality and creates a new Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice within the executive branch.

The county’s OLO report about MCPS calls on the school district to implement a similar policy of its own.

Smith, however, said MCPS already has a nondiscrimination, equity and cultural proficiency policy that aligns with the county’s bill.

The policy says discrimination “in any form will not be tolerated” and says the school district will continuously work to identify and address sources of bias and inequality in schools.

School district officials are scheduled to meet with members of the County Council’s Education & Culture Committee on Jan. 27 to review the report.

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

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