Choice and special academic programs have been a fundamental component of the Montgomery County, Maryland public schools’ voluntary racial integration efforts over the past five decades. Yet, historical data showing that enrollment trends in these programs did not align fully with the school district’s integration goals concerned district leadership. Metis was contracted by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to conduct a study of the district’s vast array of choice and special academic programs. The study examined issues of equity and access to these programs among the various sectors of the community.
Comprehensive Assessment of Choice and Special Academic Programs
The 15-month study focused on four main objectives:
- Understanding the unique history and current status of the district’s choice and other special academic programs
- Identifying the original purposes of each program and assessing whether they are in fulfilling those purposes
- Determining whether all students have equitable access to these programs
- Ensuring that the program plans are well-positioned to effectively advance the mission and core purposes of the district’s Strategic Planning Framework
Metis conducted the study in two phases. Phase 1 included a comprehensive review of historical documents and district policies; interviews with district leaders, staff, and community stakeholders; site visits to a sample of 20 schools with choice and special academic programs; focus groups with students, teachers, parents, and community members; community surveys; and analyses of student data.
Phase 2 included benchmarking the district’s programs with best practices in other school districts. The study sought to understand how the experience of choice programs relates to and could be informed by experiences of comparable school districts using interviews and literature reviews.
Study Results Set the Stage for Needed Reforms
The Metis study brought to light several key findings:
- Programs evolved to meet demand from families but did not align with the district’s core value of equity
- Enrollment of students by racial and ethnic group was not reflective of the district population
- Demand for choice and special academic programs exceeded supply
- Placement of programs within schools increased diversity at the school level but did not address conditions of within-school segregation
- Communication about the choice and special programs did not filter into all segments of the district equally
Montgomery County Public Schools developed a blueprint for responding to the Choice Study, including a timeline for addressing the myriad of programs, policies, and structures identified by Metis’s findings. The district committed to the following next steps:
- Expansion of the Extended Learning Opportunities Summer Title I Enrichment Program
- Building capacity of Title I schools to identify and nurture the talents of young learners
- Implementation of universal screening and field-testing a revised selection process for highly-gifted centers to ensure larger candidate pools and more equitable access
- Growth of the highly-gifted centers and renaming to Centers for Enriched Studies
- Adoption and expansion of the two-way language immersion model