Friday, September 28, 2018

MoCo school board approves new redistricting criteria that would force busing of students from "W school" clusters

Move to disconnect
home address from 
coveted school districts 
would reduce home values

Your vote in November's election will now literally determine the future value of your home. The Montgomery County Board of Education this week approved new criteria for redistricting of public schools that would force the busing of students from affluent school clusters in Bethesda, Potomac and Rockville. In their comments prior to the 5-3 vote, some board members specifically cited students in the "W school" clusters in the southwest part of the county as having to be bused to other schools around the county. Because the new criteria puts the heaviest weight on diversity, the policy as written could only be achieved by busing students out of their currently-assigned Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, Winston Churchill and Thomas S. Wootton clusters (the districts to which the term "W school" are most commonly applied).
Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer
has made no secret of his desire to change who gets
to attend the most coveted schools in areas like
Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac
Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer and Craig Rice have openly endorsed the idea of detaching homeownership or residency from school cluster assignment in the affluent southwest of the County for several years. But the BOE move this week is the first formal codification of this desire in County regulations. Rice mocked Whitman parents from the Council dais in 2016, declaring in an entitled-sounding voice, "I moved to the Whitman cluster, and therefore I must go to Whitman High School! People lose sight that somehow you attending Whitman is better than attending Gaithersburg or Northwest. That should not be the case," Rice said. "It should not be about what your zip code is."

On Monday night, BOE members took aim at those same parents. Jill Ortman-Fouse, who ran unsuccessfully for the Council and doesn't face reelection for the Board, also criticized the idea that "when you buy a house, you buy a school. And [parents] even said that in their emails. They said 'I bought my house for that school.'" Chiding those parents, she said, "all of those schools are owned by all of the taxpayers. They aren't owned by certain neighborhoods." She denounced the belief that "only certain kids get to go to those schools." Jeannette Dixon added that "an easy commute to school" should not be a criteria for school assignment.

Board member Judith Docca explicitly called out the "W school" clusters, and said that busing of students must include those students from more affluent families. Of those who spoke during the public comment period prior to the vote, Docca noted, "only one speaker mentioned a W school. And that's where some of the students are that need to interact with some of our other students. That is not happening. When we talk about all students, we mean those students as well. I know that it's not going to be easy to do."

That could be the understatement of the decade. If there's any doubt this move is coordinated between the BOE and councilmembers like Riemer and Rice, note their similar talking points. In 2016, Rice declared that "boundary changes used to be a third rail." Monday night, Ortman-Fouse called redistricting "the third rail."

BOE members acknowledged the new criteria, which would certainly reduce home values in the "W schools" communities, will be a hard sell. Ortman-Fouse referred to parents hitting the "panic button." "There will be unintended outcomes," MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith - who declined to take a position for or against the new criteria - warned, "and we will all live with them."

Smith is usually dead wrong on most topics, having failed to keep students safe or reduce the achievement gap during his term, but he made one of the best points during the discussion. In regards to what most determines student achievement, "the secret is what happens in that classroom," he said.

The superintendent is correct. Busing did not lead to equal education. Instead, we have an achievement gap that persists to this day in America. You can bus a child to another school, but they still come from the same income-level family as they would have in their neighborhood school. If diversity of race or socioeconomic background were the top factor in academic success for a school, Whitman or any number of elite private schools in the area would be among the worst-performing. They are not.

Some proponents of the new criteria are predictably quick to call opponents "racist." In reality, the new criteria is what is racist. This is a dodge by MCPS to avoid the actual challenging work of improving the worst-performing schools in the County. The Council has wasted yet another term, failing to reduce the achievement gap and geographic educational inequities in areas like East County and the Upcounty. 

Dropping final exams has already led to MCPS gaining an "Easy A" reputation across the country, according to the Washington Post. This will hurt Montgomery County public school students in the college admissions process over time, if not reversed. Now MCPS is dropping the PARCC tests, for the same harebrained reason that the kids can't pass the tests. Can't pass the test? Get rid of the tests, our County "leaders" say. Can't improve failing schools? Bus kids around to try to artificially-but-slightly boost test scores, even if it causes scores at the top schools to drop.

This is the definition of "the soft bigotry of low-expectations."

As Jaime Escalante proved three decades ago, student groups of any racial or economic background can perform at the highest levels. It's the teacher and the curriculum that make the difference. Contrary to Riemer's claim that there must be rich, white students in a classroom for black and Latino students to excel, Escalante's students achieved high scores without "Richie Rich" sitting at the next desk.

How do we know "the secret is what happens in that classroom," as Smith said? After Escalante left Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, student math performance tanked. Kind of like Algebra test scores in Montgomery County in recent years.

Redistricting and busing could be a post-election surprise for many parents, especially with no accurate media coverage of Monday night's change. Several schools are already due for new or changed assignments before the end of this year, such as those impacted by a new high school opening for Downtown Crown in Gaithersburg. The clusters affected in that redistricting will be Wootton, Richard Montgomery, Quince Orchard, Northwest and Gaithersburg. Clarksburg Village #2, another new school, will also be districted this fall. Development pressures in Bethesda and Silver Spring make boundary changes inevitable in those areas, especially with elected officials showing a new boldness to touch that "third rail."

According to board veteran Patricia O'Neill, who voted for the new criteria, boundary changes will be "happening pretty darn soon." Docca referred to the implementation of the new criteria as "the operation."

Impacts of the changes are clear: reduced home values when a particular address no longer guarantees entry to coveted schools, perpetuation of failure at failing schools countywide, longer bus commutes for already-tired students, and a continuing achievement gap. 

Can "the operation" be stopped? Yes. By electing Council candidates who oppose this dodge of the County's fundamental responsibility to provide good schools in every neighborhood. If elected, I would use the ultimate power to force the BOE to drop the new criteria. It is the County Council that funds MCPS. The BOE would have a hard time operating with no funding.

If you currently live in an area with coveted schools, your vote on Tuesday, November 6 will literally determine the future value of your home, and the futures of children countywide. We need leaders who won't sidestep the major challenges we face for another four years, including failing schools and an unacceptable achievement gap. The failed solutions of the past won't move us forward into the future.


  1. You are 100% correct, Mr. Dyer. Luckily, my youngest child is a senior, so we won't have to suffer the consequences of this idiotic proposal.

  2. Why not go ahead with the proposal, but offer parents who would face busing their kids a chance to "buy out." In other words, plenty of parents will choose private school instead of sending their kids to a school that they perceive as less preferable. So, if you are close to Wooten but get told you need to bus your kids to Gaithersburg, offer a fee of $10,000 per year to keep your kid near. This way, before selling their home and moving, people have a choice and it will alleviate the drop in property values.

  3. Let's not forget that parents with children in "less desirable" schools also will oppose the redistribution of their kids to schools farther away just to balance demographics. Quite often low income families lack access to transportation and personal vehicles which impedes their ability to participate in activities at schools outside their neighborhood.

    Voters should support candidates Bleauer, Reilly, and O'Neill who support neighborhood schools and have the judgment to implement the new policy in sensible way.

  4. This article in completely inaccurate and designed to inflame people. While the board approved the new policy FAA-Educational Facilities Planning, they did not approve any redistricting of any school. Within the policy FAA, there are criteria for boundary studies when one occurs. The heading that falsely states that there would be forced busing of students from "W" schools is completely fake news. It is a lie to state this as fact. Someone running for County Council should know better.

    1. 9:00: Nowhere in the article does it state that the board approved redistricting of any school. It approved new criteria that makes diversity the most-weighted factor in redistricting.

      Forced busing is absolutely going to occur - there is no other way that schools such as the "W schools" would meet the new diversity requirements given the demographics of their geographical area.

      It was "fake news" for the Washington Post to cover-up the explicit targeting of the "W schools" by the Board, and the discussion of busing students from those schools elsewhere in the County. Their article was completely inaccurate and designed NOT to inflame people ahead of Election Day.

      As someone running for County Council, I do know better, and that's why I oppose this rehash of a failed old busing policy by the BOE and Hans Riemer.

  5. First the obvious question, are you writing in favor of segregation?

    Secondly I'll ask a hypothetical. If you were a teacher would you find it easier to teach a class with 32 affluent English speaking students, a class with 32 students consisting of 16 FARMS and 16 ESOL students, or a class with 10 affluent, 11 ESOL, 11 FARMS students? Which class would take the most resources (money, time, etc) to work with?

    What exactly would your plan be to bridge the gap? You only state you would take money from the BOE to stop this, seems like the opposite of what is needed.

    "Busing did not lead to equal education. Instead, we have an achievement gap that persists to this day in America. You can bus a child to another school, but they still come from the same income-level family as they would have in their neighborhood school. If diversity of race or socioeconomic background were the top factor in academic success for a school, Whitman or any number of elite private schools in the area would be among the worst-performing." Please tell me I'm reading this wrong and your not trying to argue what I think you are? Can you expand on this quote a little.

    1. 11:18: Desegregation in the 2018 context is a dodge to avoid fixing failing schools in lower-income areas. Moving some students around the county means many others are left in their still-failing neighborhood schools.

      If we have teachers who aren't qualified or capable of handling the challenge of FARMS and ESOL students, that is a personnel issue, not a segregation issue.

      You'd have to tell me what "you think" I was saying - I simply stated the facts: Post-1970s busing, there is still an achievement gap. It failed.

      And I'm responding to the false claim that diversity of demographics improves academic performance. If that were true, majority-white schools would be among the lowest-performing. Conversely, we also have diverse schools in the MCPS system that are failing.

    2. Talk about a dodge. Non-answered like a true politician, you can't even say you are against segregation...

      Again great job not answering the questions. I can only guess you see the validity of the question and don't want to acknowledge that having more students with greater needs will lead to poorer performance given the same human resources.

      First, I think it needs to be stated that academic performance is not the only thing to measure when it comes to diversity. Do you think it's important to open young people world views through interactions with diverse groups? You say that it is a fact that post 1970's busing is failing because their is an achievement gap. Can you tell me what the gap would be if this was not done? Can you provide any studies supporting your claims on achievement and diversity?

      What narrow minded thinking on the topics of education, diversity, and achievement. Based on your last response, it seems like you think it's simple, 1 cause 1 effect. You are over simplifying all of this for what appears to be a hack job article to advertise yourself with scare tactics. You get asked questions and side step them.

      What specifically would you do to help bridge the achievement gap?

      Are you for or against segregation (of any kind)?

      Do you think having more students with greater needs will lead to poorer performance given the same human resources?

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  6. Why would they have to buy out if they already paid top dollar for their home and are paying higher property taxes?!

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