If you have been out of town recently you might not be aware of the hottest controversy in our County. Living in Howard County's bubble seems to have left us unprepared to be the testing ground for a battle of values in our educational system. Inclusiveness and diversity versus neighborhood schools are right now being battled out in our County. The loser in this battle will probably be our proud motto of civility.
The Superintendent of Howard County Schools has proposed a redistricting plan that has two goals. First is the shifting of students from overpopulated schools to less populated schools. This is required before any new request for school construction money can be submitted to the State of Maryland. Secondly and more controversial is the rebalancing of the student population of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, commonly called the FARM program.
Any plan that transfers students from one school to another is controversial to some extent but when you are talking about transferring students from a school with higher test scores to a school with lower test scores you will get a huge outcry from parents. Test scores stigmatize schools with lower scores and glorify schools with higher scores. Throw in the issue of property values being impacted by the local school scores and you will be creating a "hornet's nest." As any realtor and they will tell you families with children will usually tell them in which school districts they will look at houses. I had this brought home to me when we lost a buyer for our house when the buyer found out the test scores from our local high school.
There is now a Facebook page to organize against the proposed plan. I joined the page to follow the discussion of those opposed to the plan. One of the arguments made on this page is that moving low-income (often minority) students to a higher scoring school doesn't improve the performance of the low-income students. I am sure that each side of this argument can find some research to prove their side of this argument. Maybe the better argument is a discussion of whether there is a benefit for children to be exposed to a wide group of diverse children. This also plays out in the adult world when you see the different political beliefs for people living in an urban setting and a rural setting. The Red/Blue divide in our Country is really an urban/rural divide.
Is it true that in Howard County the quality of education doesn't vary to any considerable extent from one school to another in the quality of instruction or the opportunity to take courses that match a student's ability? If that is true than moving your student from one school to another will make a minimal change in your student's achievement. If that is not true then the School System needs to do everything in its power to correct how it allocated resources. I am willing to bet that the quality of teachers and resources allocated to all schools in Howard County by the School System is one of its most important goals.
We only need to look at the scandals involving actresses and other wealthy individuals bribing colleges to gain admission to select colleges to understand how much we value the prestige of some schools. I am not sure why this is a scandal now when giving large amounts of money to a school always bought preferential treatment of your child's application. The assumption that the school your child attends will determine their success in life is one that is strongly held and greatly overvalued.
Following the Facebook page has educated me on what a "Polygon Map" is. At first, I couldn't understand why is this term was being used so often and I had no idea what it was. It refers to the map the School System uses to define where students will go to school.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the futures of the School Superintendent and our elected officials. For each of them, this is probably a no-win situation where taking a position will lose them support from the opposition group. Don't be surprised if jobs are lost and officials are defeated by the position they take in this dispute.