MCPS Anti-Racism Audit Confirms Inequalities; the district aims to develop a “coherent” action plan

Montgomery County Public Schools families of color report incidents of bullying and racial harassment, and Spanish-speaking families say they face prejudice from staff and the district fails to respond to their needs, according to a two-year anti-racism audit commissioned by MCPS.

The audit, which cost about $455,000 and elicited survey responses from 126,000 community members, confirmed what the district expected to learn: students, staff and families of color have a less satisfying experience than other members of the school community.

The audit by the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, a Bethesda-based nonprofit, also found that while MCPS follows best practices and has policies in place to achieve racial equity, many have been implemented. implemented unevenly across schools in the district, leading to fragmentation. system. For example, students and family members reported that staff were not trained to teach the history of different racial groups with nuance and cultural sensitivity, the audit found.

The audit report presented to the school board on Tuesday calls for MCPS to take a clear, consistent, and comprehensive system-wide approach to anti-racism and lists 23 recommendations for action. According to MCPS, anti-racism is defined as “actively working to achieve racial justice by identifying, disrupting, and dismantling racist practices, policies, and attitudes that disproportionately harm communities of color.”

Recommendations included collecting data more frequently and being more transparent with it, encouraging “meaningful two-way communication” with families “in languages ​​they can understand and access”, the strengthening the pipeline for hiring and recruiting staff and “creating clear and mandatory pathways”. for professional learning opportunities regarding racial equity with a particular focus on cultural competency.

“A lot of these recommendations don’t come from us. These are things that we’ve heard in the polls, in the focus groups, so these are things that people are asking for,” said Jenny Portillo, senior education equity specialist at CASM.

In response, MCPS officials told the board they were developing an action plan and expected to have a draft that would be based on feedback from students, staff, and families by January, with a draft final to be delivered by March. More immediate steps to take include mandatory training for district and school leaders “specifically designed to target consistency, accountability and equity-focused capacity building,” according to unit director Anthony Alston. district equity initiatives.

The report “addresses the first step that MCPS has taken, which is that we will self-assess without having to because we recognize our own inconsistencies and lack of accountability,” said the MCPS superintendent. , Monifa McKnight. “We own this issue, we’re going to be transparent and understand and say what we’re not doing, but we’re going to need the help of everyone in this room and every other family in this county for us. help solve it.”

The district commissioned the audit in 2020 to dig deeper into long-standing issues of racial and ethnic disparities and achievement gaps across the school district. Over the years, MCPS has conducted numerous studies, provided equity and cultural competency training, and launched initiatives to address the issues, including its “All In: Equity and Success Framework», adopted in 2019.

MCPS officials noted that the audit report was different from other studies undertaken by the district because it delves into why such issues continue to exist, such as inconsistency and lack of consistency in implementation. implementation of practices and policies. McKnight pointed out that the district’s size — with 210 schools, a student population of 161,000, and a full-time and part-time staff of nearly 30,000 employees — is “one of the biggest hurdles” to achieving “consistency, responsibility and coherence”. .”

“It’s not a factory in which we create a product. It’s personal experiences that we have with individuals every day that really have an impact, which means doing the work of changing hearts and minds. minds and priorities of all the people who are sitting between us and all the people in this room and the child who is sitting in school right now,” she said. “And what makes that even harder is when you’re dealing with an infrastructure that doesn’t take into account diversity, language, culture – all those things we’re talking about.”

Prior to the presentation of the audit report, the board heard testimony from several Latino parents whose families’ experiences with the school system amplified the findings of the audit. A dozen parents attended the session, their appearance organized by the coalition.

Speaking Spanish which was later translated, the parents spoke of a lack of access to higher education information for their children as well as academic opportunities, MCPS school organizations and sports. Language communication issues with their schools are also a big concern, said the parents, who said they are members of the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity and Excellence, which advocates for black and brown and low-income students across the country. Montgomery County.

After listening to the testimony, board member Karla Silvestre noted that she became involved with MCPS 15 years ago due to translation and communication issues for Latino families.

“Every time the Spanish-speaking community comes to testify, this is mostly what we hear: an inability to communicate with our schools, our teachers, our administration. You cannot be the partners we want them to be. if you can’t communicate,” she said. “So when I hear responsibility and trust and something is really going to happen, that’s a great example. We’ve been hearing this for 15 years: what will happen next? …So this is just one example of the high expectations we all have for this job and we’re going to hold ourselves accountable because our community and our schools deserve it.

The audit assessed the school system through the lens of six “domains”: school culture, workforce diversity, working conditions, pre-K-12 curriculum, relationships and community engagement and equity of access. A steering committee of 43 members – including students, family members, staff, administrators and members of community organizations – worked with CASM on the audit.

MAEC staff reviewed previous MCPS studies and data regarding racial equity, met with focus groups and community groups, and conducted school community surveys, among other measures, officials said. In total, the auditors engaged with more than 130,000 stakeholders, including receiving 126,000 survey responses, said MAEC Vice President Karmen Rouland.

MAEC found that although MCPS was explicit about creating a welcoming culture and a high number of students agreed that their schools had positive cultures, a significant number of students of color were not d ‘OK.

School board member Scott Joftus wanted to know how CASM’s recommendations for transforming the district’s approach to achieving racial equity would encompass what the district is doing and not add another layer to existing initiatives and more work to teachers and administrators.

MAEC officials said the recommendations of the audit were crafted with the district’s strategic plan in mind and with the aim of being incorporated into its next action plan. “We try to push back the small steps that don’t seem very impactful. We tried to come up with the recommendations that would give you the most bang for your buck,” Portillo said.

Joftus said he hopes the district will focus on select areas and then measure its performance and work with school communities to ensure the change is meaningful before expanding that work. “We need to identify three to five things and really work to move the needle and not think we can defeat racism in a year or two,” he said.

When Silvestre asked for more guidance on what areas the district should focus on first, Kasia Razynska, MCEA’s director of assessment and continuous improvement, said making sure students feel safe should be a priority. She noted that students, parents and staff have reported incidents of bullying and racial harassment.

“Until you feel safe, you won’t learn,” she said. “Things that focus on student safety would be a great place to start.”

Board member Lynne Harris asked MAEC officials if there were any other school districts that MCPS could look to for strategies to improve racial equity.

Razynska said the district had an “incredible opportunity” to lead the way in such work, noting the level of engagement from the school community during the audit. For example, CASM had planned to receive only 10,000 responses to its surveys and instead received 126,000, she said.

“Everyone was engaged in this,” she told the board. “You are now pioneering this work on a national scale, so you can’t look at anyone else. You write the book on it.

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