Affirmative action for magnet programs creates county controversy
October 26, 2018
MCPS elementary and middle school magnet programs have begun to reform their admissions process to promote diversity, effectively bringing the controversial practice of affirmative action into Montgomery County.
In 2013, an annual MCPS choice report estimated that 46 percent of magnet students were Asian. But that number has since dropped by more than 20 percent. In fact, since 2017 alone the number of Asian students has dropped by almost 10 percent.
The report also found that, at the same time, the percentage of African American and Hispanic students in these programs has been slowly increasing.
According The New York Times, MCPS has changed its magnet application process so that teacher recommendations are to play a smaller role, the Cognitive Abilities test will carry less weight and private evaluations from parents will no longer be an option.
Additionally, magnet programs will be more likely to accept applicants if they rank near the top academically in their neighborhood schools, rather than ranking at the top of the county. Fewer than 20 of a student’s peers must display the same test results for the student to have an advantage in being chosen for a program.
Although some of these changes do not apply to middle and high school magnet programs, they do make a big difference in elementary school applications. Some students in RM’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program feel that the new policies may impact magnet program education negatively. “The quality of magnet program has dropped, and it’s a lot lower than it used to be… some of the policies that have been created recently have been really negative,” sophomore Jaewoo Chung said.
However, there are also students that feel the new practice would have a positive effect on the learning environment and even the IB program. “It’s good to incorporate more diversity especially in Montgomery County, because you can see the differences in schools quite plainly,” sophomore Chris Ma said. “I know a lot of people are against the whole idea but I think a bit of change will be good.”
According to The Brookings Institution, Montgomery County has historically been a predominantly white area. But those demographics started to significantly change when white flight, or large groups of white people leaving the area, began in the 60s and 70s. The county is now 30 percent Hispanic, 29 percent white, 22 percent African American and 14 percent Asian, as The Brookings Institution states.
However, some consider the county still segregated through de facto segregation, or segregation “by fact” rather than by law. In public schools, de facto segregation occurs when groups of minorities are concentrated in a certain area, which in turn causes neighborhood schools to be filled predominantly with that minority group.
In Montgomery County, de facto segregation occurs because African American and Hispanic populations are concentrated in the down-county area, which is closer to the northeastern border of Washington, D.C. At the same time, while White and Asian populations are spread throughout the county, they are the most concentrated in the up-county.
Jack Smith, the MCPS superintendent, spoke to the New York Times and saw the magnet program changes as a more general approach to integration. “If you’re a student in poverty and you go to school with a critical mass of students who are not in poverty, you have a different experience,” he said. “It’s desirable to level out the amount of poverty in a school. It’s not always possible.”
Some parents, however, are not so pleased with MCPS’ attempts to change the demographics of magnet programs. As The Brookings Institution explained, packed town halls, where parent after parent complain of their child scoring in the 99 percentile but still not being accepted, illustrate the controversy.
But in the end, the effects of affirmative action in Montgomery County really land on the students. “I think it’s great for minority students to have a chance at having a more advanced education. There should just definitely be more diversity in magnet schools and programs” junior Ebaide Akhigbe said.