Montgomery audit finds school system lacking clear approach to anti-racism

By Nicole Asbury October 11, 2022 at 12:00 p.m. EDT Washington Post

Students of color in Montgomery County have a less satisfactory experience within the school system compared to their White peers, according to results of a months-long audit released Tuesday.

The results proved the initial theory held by administrators about differences in experiences, and also found that the school system lacks “a clear systemwide comprehensive approach to anti-racism.”Fast, informative and written just for locals. Get The 7 DMV newsletter in your inbox every weekday morning.

The findings were scheduled to be shared with the county’s school board Tuesday.

The school system initiated its anti-racist audit earlier this year, after years of planning. It follows a trend of school systems across the country who have re-examined their curriculums and policies in an effort to address systemic bias and be more inclusive toward students of color following a racial reckoning after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Montgomery County schools’ anti-racist audit to examine its curriculums

Montgomery County — a liberal, racially diverse D.C. suburb — has traditionally sought out measures that would make its policies more inclusive to students of color. After Floyd’s death, students of color across the district began making social media accounts — such as like Black At Whitman, Black At Wheaton and Black At Rockville ― that documented regular racism they experienced at county schools.The school system alsobegan planning for the broader systemwide audit. The school system approved a social studies framework in June that would expose fourth- and fifth-graders to more American history — particularly Black history — at a younger age.

The audit initiative was led by Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight, the first Black woman to lead the large school system.

“This is not one person’s problem … this is something we should all own collectively,” she said about the audit results during a media briefing this week. She pointed to fifth grade academic data that showed Black students and Hispanic/Latino students were disproportionately less proficient in reading and math compared to Asian and White students.

“When I took this seat [as superintendent], I said that I think of the 161,000 students in the system as I do my own son,” McKnight said. “If I were to look at the predictors of that data, he would be grouped into one of those groups where the data does not look positive. That concerns me, it upsets me, and it makes it not OK.”

The audit was conducted by Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, a Bethesda-based nonprofit which received a $454,860 contract in November 2020. It reviewed six key areas: workplace diversity, school culture, work conditions, curriculums, community engagement and equity of access. Parents, staff members and students were surveyed earlier this year about their experience with the school system. There were over 130,000 responses.

For Black Americans, teaching about systemic racism is more urgent than ever

The audit found the school system had many elements to eliminate racial disparities among students, staff and families, but the implementation of policies varied school by school, “suggesting that the system is currently fragmented,” according to the report. Through stakeholder groups sessions, it found there was a lack of coordination in the central office, distrust that the school system wouldn’t be honest about the audit results, and a “culture where there is a ‘cost’ to speaking up and power dynamics that stifle honest dialogue.”

The nonprofit recommended that the district make a clear action plan for tackling its next steps. A draft action plan will be released in January for community input. A final report will be issued in March. It also recommended the school district continually collect data, build more relational trust, “equity-centered capacity building” and accountability for racial equity work.

This story will be updated.