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 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.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please help me understand. Is part of this proposal intended to help reduce school overcrowding by redistributing students at crowded school to those with more capacity? Do we have info on the capacities and level of crowding of the schools under discussion?

I fully understand that home owners might be miffed if their children could not attend a local school, but I am honestly wondering if this is an effort to help distribute the population more evenly to reduce clad sizes and over crowding.

Anonymous said...

Shorter Dyer: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."

Anonymous said...

Odd that Whitman is "overcrowded", given that there is no multi-family housing at all in that cluster. Dyer has claimed that school overcrowding is driven primarily by construction of multi-family housing.

Anonymous said...

This article is a perfect idea of why being both a journalist reporting on the politics of our county, while at the same time being a candidate running for office in our county, is a huge conflict of interest.

Baloney Concrete said...

Dyer really shows his true colors here. The primary issue at hand is our kids’ education, but the article opens by sounding the alarm about... home values.

Anonymous said...

In 10:07 AM, "idea" in the first sentence should be "example".

@ 7:24 PM - Not just no new multi-family housing, but no new single-family housing, either.

Anonymous said...

The ghost of George Mahoney lives in Robert Dyer.

Anonymous said...

They want to bus students from W schools to make room for students from crappy schools. We are not against diversity, we welcome it. However, I work two jobs to pay for a house in my neighborhood of choice so that my kids can go to that school. My kids have made new friends both at school and in our community. Then some Geniuses, want to bus them god know where.

Robert Dyer said...

2:45: Surprised you'd be criticizing a fellow Democrat whose election loss gave you Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

10:29: You only emphasize you are a light-your-hair-on-fire radical who doesn't live in the W clusters, but would like to control the lives of those who do. Kind of like Hans Riemer and the MoCo cartel!

10:07: Translation: Robert Dyer is the only candidate who dares to actually take on the local political cartel, and it scares me.

7:24: I understand you are a carpetbagger, but you still should know that there are several apartment buildings, condominiums, and many townhomes in the Whitman cluster. Not sure what you're smoking to make you think there aren't any.

Anonymous said...

"I understand you are a carpetbagger, but you still should know that there are several apartment buildings, condominiums, and many townhomes in the Whitman cluster. Not sure what you're smoking to make you think there aren't any."

How many? How many were built recently? How have they contributed to overcrowding in the Walt Whitman cluster? Your talking point is that new multi-family housing is the driving force behind school overcrowding.

Also, your "carpetbagger" talking point got stale a long time ago. Many if not most of us commenting here are also lifelong residents of Bethesda or areas immediately adjacent to it. Just living in the same house all of your life, rent-free, after having been born in Virginia, does not magically qualify you for anything.

You really should consider avoiding commenting after midnight, because you seem to be experiencing extreme stress during those hours, which is evident in your comments. Also, there would not be the appearance that you are avoiding engaging your readers directly in the daytime.

Robert Dyer said...

5:49: I haven't lived "in the same house" all my life. You know nothing of my financial situation, either. You indeed are a carpetbagger if you didn't know there was multifamily housing in the Whitman cluster. Anyone who lived in the nearby area would know that.

Those apartments, condos and townhomes are indeed generating above average numbers of students these days.

Does your mom make you go to bed after midnight? LOL "Do you drink beer???!!!!"

Love the new Pat Boone morality you're adopting these days.

Anonymous said...

The geniuses who run Montgomery County have done such a good job with our transportation infrastructure that doubling students commuting distance shouldn't be any problem at all.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Your link is to a Board of Education meeting agenda which has 13 items of business listed. Not only do you not provide any actual text showing a change in the criteria for redistricting of public schools, you do not even indicate under which business item on the meeting agenda this is discussed.

Journalism FAIL.

Robert Dyer said...

7:38: As the only media outlet to accurately and fully report this groundbreaking change in redistricting rules that directly impacts every MCPS child and residents' home values, this was most definitely a JOURNALISM WIN.

I gave you the direct quotes of the board members, in their own words.

There is no way to directly link to an item on the agenda.

Anonymous said...

Here is what your headline says:

"MoCo school board approves new redistricting criteria"

What is the actual change to the criteria?

Anonymous said...

"I gave you the direct quotes of the board members, in their own words."

Random comments from individual Board of Education and County Council members is not the same as reporting on an actual "change in redistricting rules". Can you provide the text of the section of the rules that were changed?

Anonymous said...

Dyer wrote: "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."

So if elected, if the duly elected Board of Education makes aa decision you do not like, you will defund the entire school system?

You have an exaggerated notion of your powers as a single at-large member of the Council. Moreover, closing the public school system at your whim would assuredly lead to your impeachment.

Anonymous said...

The old local legacy print media The Washington Post reported on the meeting, three days before Dyer did, and they actually mentioned the specifics of what was changed.

"Under the previous policy, diversity was considered equally with other factors — neighborhood considerations, whether students had previously been reassigned and the capacity of school facilities.

"The change would give diversity 'a little bit more' weight than the other factors, Ortman-Fouse said at the meeting."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/boundary-struggles-a-maryland-school-system-looks-for-more-diversity/2018/09/25/90436774-c05a-11e8-be77-516336a26305_story.html

Anonymous said...

Gotta love Dyer's inflammatory use of the word "busing".

How many Montgomery County high school students currently walk to their school?

Robert Dyer said...

3:52: You can't walk if you're being bused across the County, Einstein.

3:50: You proved my point. In fact, the change makes "diversity" the heaviest-weighted factor in redistricting, thus triggering forced busing. Ortman-Fouse would get four pinocchios from the Fact Checker. The Old Legacy Media, controlled by the MoCo cartel, misled you. Fortunately, Suburban News Network is here to inform the public accurately with stories like this.

2:14: The power of the purse is the ultimate power. We could also defund the Planning Board, should they continue to flout the wishes of the citizens who pay their salaries.

6:24: Diversity is now the heaviest-weighted factor in redistricting considerations, and board members openly stated they were targeting the "W schools," which the Post purposely left out of their "report."

Anonymous said...

This type of bussing can be a real insult to those it purports to help. The message is: to improve who you are you need to spend more time with “your betters”.