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Thursday, April 17, 2014

What’s happening at election-time?

            I’m naïve, having never worked a phone bank, canvassed door-to-door or wheedled the imprimatur of an interest group.

            On the surface, an election appears as grubbing for office, with voters as background medium. And then office is the grind or game of legislation or executive administration.

            Is it too idealistic to think of an election as a space set aside for engagement with citizenry? As a time when the would-be officeholder is most open to citizens’ opinions and feedback? As a venue in which the candidate tries to win the voters not only to him/herself personally, but also to a way of understanding the issues and an approach to resolving them? The candidate explores the issues and possible solutions with the citizens, sharing his/her policy expertise and political skill and judgment, and modeling his/her future practice once elected. This is a win-win-win, for the candidates, the citizens and the issues.

            Is it too idealistic to hope that we’re selecting not just a grinder of decisions in a circumscribed realm, but a politician on a broader canvas orchestrating better community?

            It’s early in this campaign, so not everything that should be discussed has been yet, and I may be naively alarmist.

            The issue of the widening achievement gap among our schools, with corresponding stratification of our students by race, ethnicity and socio-economic status and bifurcation of our County into more starkly-defined geographies, should be discussed. The OLO report indicates a sharp turn for the worse in a condition to which we’ve become accustomed over the past four to six decades (the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and the end of MCPS de jure segregation, being May 17).

            In early returns, our candidates and citizens are whistling blithely past the chasm. Doug Duncan mentioned it in public; Phil Andrews mentioned it in private; George Leventhal mentioned it on twitter. Otherwise—invisible.

            The gap issue won’t be comfortable to resolve: the real questions being how much effort is enough? And how much inequity is too much? (A red zone 50% as good as the green zone is too much inequity.) But it’s appalling to contemplate a continuing trajectory of social divergence, and it’s embarrassing to hear continuing lip service and temporizing, and to watch posturing and preening passing for executive administration.

            Now, maybe if I weren’t so naïve I’d see that stealth on this issue is the best way to get the best politician into office, and in a position to get down to real work. But what a implausible Rube Goldberg mechanism! I think that a political leader leads even before installation—now, during election time. And the citizens respond. A resolve is fixed--a way forward begun to be charted.   


Monday, April 14, 2014

Half as Effective (Our Red Zone High Schools)

            The proportion of students from 11 of MCPS’ higher-poverty high schools (“OLO” schools) who graduate college-ready is half the proportion of Non-OLO students who graduate college-ready. Three quarters of MCPS white and Asian high school students are exposed to a low-FARMS (14%), high-performance (two-thirds college-ready) Non-OLO peer environment; two-thirds of black, Latino and FARMS high school students are exposed to a high-FARMS (42%), low-performance (one-third college-ready) OLO peer environment.

            Between-school segregation and localized underperformance result from the vicious cycle generated by residential sorting, MCPS’ school assignment, peer influence and school under-resourcing. The consortia choice program in the NEC and DCC was implemented in 1998 to disrupt this cycle by changing school assignment and peer influence.

            It hasn’t worked. Over the past decade, FARMS numbers have doubled in both OLO and Non-OLO schools, while non-FARMS numbers have remained constant in Non-OLO schools but have decreased by a third in OLO schools. Over the past seven years, OLO students have lost ground to Non-OLO students in graduates scoring at least SAT 1650, SAT 1650 or ACT 24 and AP 3—in college-readiness.

            The OLO/Non-OLO performance divergence starts early, then widens. The proportion of OLO elementary students achieving benchmarks is only 70 percent of the proportion of Non-OLO elementary students; the proportion of OLO middle school students achieving benchmarks is only two-thirds the proportion of Non-OLO middle school students. MCPS tracks its lower-performing OLO middle school students into lower-performing OLO high schools. 

            Northeast and Downcounty Consortia high school students perform slightly better than three non-consortia “Like” high school students. But this advantage takes hold prior to consortium treatment -- at the elementary and middle school levels. Consortia students have lost ground to Like students over the past five years (since the 2008 OLO Report) as to graduates taking AP exams, graduates scoring 3 or higher on AP exams, graduates scoring 1650 or higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and graduation (leaver) rate.

            MCPS’ policy of school assignment by residence – a policy of segregation – negates MCPS’ consortium treatment.

            The Office of Legislative Oversight’s 2008 Report and 2014 Update are politically significant exercises in proving the obvious. As the 2014 OLO Update recognizes, the issue is not the sliver of daylight between Consortia and Like schools, but the yawning, still widening, chasm between these schools and Non-OLO schools. The issue is not whether that gap exists, but whether publicity of its eye-popping, way-beyond-expectation, magnitude will provoke our community and our political leadership to do anything about it.

            This paper compares Consortia and Like, and OLO and Non-OLO, demography and performance; and addresses Consortia choice, resource allocation and Superintendent Dr. Starr's response.

Read the paper and the Appendix Tables.