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Does Montgomery County offer excellence and equity for all students?

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Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has made very public claims about making “data-driven decisions.” Stacy M. Childress, formerly at Harvard, has authored a book and has written at least one article making this claim. However, as this column has pointed out, the book and subsequent articles were based on data that was discredited by the superintendent and the school board.

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Recently, this column requested and obtained the data pertaining to student applications for two of the county’s high school magnet programs. It turns out that the data provided by MCPS was wrong, at least when it pertained to the Montgomery Blair High School math, science, and computer science program.

As the Public Information Officer, Dana Tofig wrote to this column, “I’m writing to let you know that the information we provided you for your Maryland Public Information Act request contained an error that needs to be corrected. In the “Blair Overall” table, the data regarding white students who applied for and were invited into the Blair Magnet was incorrect. The correct information is posted below and has been corrected in the attached spreadsheet.

“I take my Public Information Act responsibilities very seriously and regret that we provided you with inaccurate information, which led you to post an inaccurate article to your Examiner site. I certainly accept responsibility for sharing inaccurate data with you and I know you will, in turn, take responsibility for correcting your article and presenting accurate information to your readers.”

To be accurate, the data did not contain “an error that needs to be corrected.” Instead, it contained a column of errors that were corrected. It turns out that MCPS provided incorrect data for 2012 applicants who identified as white.

How could a school system claiming to be wedded to “data-driven decisions” disseminate data with such systematic errors?

Furthermore, despite acknowledging that the data is being provided to a member of the press, and having received a waiver of fee request, the school system demanded $139.16 to fulfil the remainder of the request filed by this column.

The corrected data is not without a compelling story of its own. For example, in a high school where Hispanic students make up the majority of the student body, only 6.7% of the total invited to the magnet program identified as Hispanic in 2012. Blacks, who are the second largest group at Blair, fared even worse, with only 3.7% of those invited to the magnet program in 2012 identifying as black.

According to the data provided by the school system, on average, every year nearly 60% of the magnet student population comes from Takoma Park Middle School (TPMS). The middle school is one of a handful that houses a magnet program. In 2012-2013, nearly 31% of the student population at TPMS, identified as white, while 27.7% identified as black. Despite drawing its largest population of students from TPMS, in 2012 blacks accounted for just 3.7% of those invited to Blair, while whites accounted for 28.1%.

On average, for the class of 2014 through the class of 2017, nearly 60% of the applicants from TPMS entered the magnet program at Blair. In other words, the largest cohort of magnet students, almost two-thirds of them, comes from a single middle school.

Of the remaining magnet programs Argyle Magnet Middle School for Information Technology had an uneven acceptance rate, usually in the teens. The Parkland Magnet School for Aerospace Technology didn’t do much better. More specific conclusions could not be drawn because MCPS does not provide actual numbers if the count is less than five.

If the data provided by MCPS is accurate, and despite pronouncements to the contrary the academic achievement gap is alive and well in Montgomery County. There is little evidence, at least based on magnet admission data, that MCPS created “excellence and equity for all students.”

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