No, I’m not talking chile, even though at the moment I am blogging from the Southwest.
Instead, I’m talking about what in the arcana of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is known as the “red zone” and the “green zone”– and the possible impacts on gifted education should MCPS be pressured to refocus resources on grade-level education.
A step back. The terms “red zone” and “green zone” are terms closely associated with MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast, who upon his arrival in MoCo in 1999 crunched demographic student data and overlaid it on a map of the county. The results revealed a dichotomy: a relatively affluent and largely Caucasian outer ring extending from Chevy Chase to Damascus and through to Olney (the “green zone”), and a central corridor of communities running from Takoma Park up to Gaithersburg that was home to the majority of the county’s poor and immigrant populations (the “red zone”).
Some parent activists have long been convinced that students in the “red zone” do not receive an education comparable to those in the “green zones.” Why? They believe that because of the demographic makeup of the “green zone” schools, average grade-level instruction is pitched at a higher level and is more rigorous, and that even in the absence of GT classes and programming, students are able to find a sufficient number of intellectual peers. In the “red zone,” however, this is not the case. “Average” grade-level classes are pitched to comparatively lower level than and the absence of a discernible GT program has a proportionately much larger impact on the fewer high-performing students.
(Check out this Jan. 3rd Washington Post article — “Schools Seek and Find ‘Gifted Students: Montgomery Pursues Aggressive Strategy” that somehow I missed blogging about when it first came out.)
On January 22nd the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) released a report, Defining and Describing MCPS’s Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap. Among its recommendations:
that the Council discuss with MCPS the relationship between and its prioritization of initiatives designed to close the achievement gap on grade-level performance compared to initiatives that focus on closing the gap on above-grade-level performance. For example, OLO recommends the Council discuss with MCPS whether the school system can reach its goal of narrowing the gap in above grade-level measures without first making investments to close the gaps still evident by race, ethnicity, and service group status for grade-level measures.”
In response a group of parents has sent a letter to members of the Council arguing that investment in above-grade-level education needs to continue. They make the following points:
1. African-American, Latino and FARMS students do, or can with additional investment, perform above-grade; failure to invest in these programs exhibits the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
2. While group equality is a vital social goal, the community and its County Council also are bound to attend to the education of children as individuals, and each child’s achievement of his/her maximum potential; failure to invest in above-grade-level education effectively imposes a ceiling on education that wastes potential.
3. Disinvestment in above-grade-level programs disproportionately penalizes the southeast portion of the County: the “red zone.” Disinvestment will eliminate programmatic supports in the red zone; it will not substantially restrain the heightened instructional pitch naturally provided to the larger highly able cohorts in green zone classrooms.
4. Elimination of red zone programmatic supports will exacerbate the already large disparity between the red zone and the green zone in the quality of available education. Of course, school quality is a primary determinant of residential location by wealthy families and of housing prices. Disinvestment will accelerate the vicious cycle of balkanization by wealth in our County, and reinforce the tendency toward two school systems, separate and unequal.
They go on to say that:
The Council should more fully assess the social and economic impacts of adjustments in above-grade-level program support. It would be troubled to compare MCPS’ success in closing the gap on a school-by-school basis (correlated with the schools’ respective FARMS rates) and on a red zone versus green zone aggregate basis.
While the Report focuses on initiatives to close the gap, the primary above-grade programs (e.g., Math A and Geometry) benefit not only African-American, Latino and FARMS children, but all children with the ability or motivation to pursue accelerated instruction. Disinvestment in these “gap closing” programs reduces educational opportunities and life prospects for all such children.
The Council’s attention to this issue is wholly appropriate and welcome, not only because of the Council’s budgetary responsibility, but also because the issue impacts the social and economic well-being of the County and because the Board of Education has faltered in its functions of program oversight and of producing political consensus. The Council’s attention is particularly timely, in that MCPS and the BOE are addressing precisely this issue in the pending revision of Policy IOA, pertaining to Gifted and Talented Education.
The Council’s responsibility for this issue should encourage the BOE and MCPS to work, together with the County, to close the gap, including the particularly egregious above-grade-level gap, and to provide for education to their maximum potentials of all the children, in each region, of our County.
Not surprisingly, MCPS is less than thrilled with what it regards as “meddling” by the Council. But I say, good on the Council. And good for these parents who are investing considerable time and effort to hold MCPS and MoCo elected officials accountable.