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Saturday  •  September 7, 2019

Thoughts on Superintendent Martirano’s 2019 HCPSS Redistricting Plan

By Steven Keller

There is great value for HCPSS students to be immersed in as diverse a community as possible in their learning environment — diverse ethnically, socially, and socio-economically. It is certainly an essential aspect of a well-rounded education.


However, the so-called ‘socio-economic integration’ redistricting plan proposed by Superintendent Martirano is not the right method for achieving ‘equity in education’ and the socio-economic diversity that is so valuable for the students of Howard County. The solution that the superintendent has proposed will result in thousands of students from higher FARM percentage schools being “swapped” with thousands of students from lower FARM percentage schools and will insidiously mask underlying problems that need to be addressed at the County, State & National policy levels —- social & socio-economic problems that the school system can never hope to solve on its own.


Statistically, high FARM percentage schools unfortunately appear to have the lowest proficiency scores for math and English. Suddenly immersing these students in a higher proficiency environment without other assistive tools in place is not a guarantee of performance improvement. Instead, it creates a greater risk for students to be further separated within the schools based on performance metrics. It is difficult to believe that there will be additional targeted assistance for any students in need if they are cutting funding and coverage of educational providers across the board (such as the 76 paraeducators cut from HCPSS this past June, among other significant cuts to educational support that came from this year’s school budget decisions at the County Council level).


When these swaps occur, the increased socio-economic diversity that we all agree is valuable will still likely not be achieved. How will this diversity be achieved at the classroom-level with this redistricting plan if 70-80% of the students being transferred from high FARM % to low FARM % schools do not have basic proficiency in English & math and cannot qualify for gift & talented programs or maintain passing grades in AP/honors classes in their current form?


Since a high percentage of students from high FARM % schools unfortunately can’t qualify or maintain passing grades in these programs, the diversity that we all hope can be realized within the borders of each school by making these ‘integration swaps’ will not occur, even if we shuffle around thousands of students and achieve balanced FARM percentages between all schools.


Within each school’s walls, students will remain socio-economically divided by the AP/honors/gifted & talented classes to a great extent until we solve the core societal issues that are causing the low academic proficiency for many students with families at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum.


Unless and until the county works on solving the underlying social & socio-economic issues, this “quick-fix” proposal towards achieving socio-economic diversity in Howard County schools will unfortunately fail, and at the same time hurt most Howard County students & communities in a wide variety of ways (which will be detailed in all of the written & oral testimonies submitted this month to the BoE).  Alternative solutions and comprehensive, constructive coordination between the County Council and HCPSS are needed to to maximize long-term socio-economic diversity and equity in education at all Howard County schools without breaking up local communities.


Coordination such as smart future zoning/housing decisions at the County Council and consideration of establishing new magnet schools within the county (perhaps turning one or more high FARM % schools into a magnet school) will balance FARM student percentages at school county-wide and maximize county-wide socio-economic diversity at the school level over the long-term without dividing local communities through Superintendent Martirano’s proposed reckless and short-sighted gerrymandered redistricting plan.


Maintaining and perhaps expanding the number of honors/G&T/AP classes at ALL Howard County Schools, particularly those currently with highest FARM student percentages, while opening opportunities to participate in them to ALL interested students regardless of state proficiency scores and simultaneously adding important new academic supportive tools and resources to assist those disadvantaged students who strive to achieve academic excellence but lack the academic support needed to excel will provide equity in education over the long-haul and will also maximize classroom-specific socio-economic diversity at all schools across Howard County. The attached example of a community in Illinois demonstrates a possible implementation of such an approach: 

Note: At no point in time now or in the future should Howard County ever consider abolishing Honors/AP/Gifted & Talented class opportunities like what is being considered in NYC ; the proposed solution is to increase access to these courses (particularly at the elementary & middle school levels) and significantly increase the assistive tools & resources available for those who need it the most to excel in these challenging classes.


Superintendent Martirano’s redistricting plan will require an enormous amount of resources (both time & money). The required increased transportation costs alone could be redirected towards long-term solutions such as those proposed above to maximize classroom level socio-economic diversity and equity in education.


With all of the above in mind, it is strongly recommend that Superintendent Martirano’s redistricting plan be rejected and that HCPSS and the greater county government explore better, smarter long-term solutions that keep local communities together.

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