Maryland Schools Experience Demographic Changes

Across the country, suburban school districts viewed as wealthy and white are rapidly changing and diversifying. As a result, perception is lagging reality.

To measure how rapidly the demographics of a school district are changing, a good place to start is examining the backgrounds of incoming kindergartners and comparing that against the averages for overall enrollment and upper grades.

The Washington Post reports that in the Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, Hispanics now make up the largest ethnic or racial group among kindergartners and first-graders.

Hispanics make up about 31 percent of students in those grade levels, the article reports. The district enrolls more than 151,000 students and continues to grow quickly. When it comes to all grades combined, whites are still the largest group at 32 percent (with Hispanics at 27.4 percent). Meanwhile, only about 5.3 percent of teachers are Hispanic.

Despite those changes, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr told the Post that people erroneously perceive the area to be a “wealthy white enclave.”

The district is high-performing, but significant achievement gaps remain for Hispanic students. The articles notes that only 20 percent of Hispanic and black eighth-graders performed at advanced levels on 2012 Maryland math exams, compared with 60 percent of white and Asian students. Additionally, the Post reports that Hispanics saw a 32 point drop in SAT exam scores.

The demographic changes combined with the achievement gap are prompting Latino activists to challenge the superintendent to improve academic outcomes for Hispanics.

What steps are rapidly changing districts in your area taking to better serve Hispanic students?

Related Links:

“Hispanic Students Outnumber Other Groups in Montgomery County’s Early Grades,” The Washington Post.
Montgomery County Public Schools

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Do School Districts Need Hispanic Outreach Positions?

The Prince George’s County School System in Maryland came under scrutiny after the county’s executive recently appointed three new members to the Board of Education — none of whom were Hispanic.

Of the district’s approximately 123,000 students, roughly 25 percent are Hispanic (though no Hispanics serve on the 13-member board).

After the backlash, The Washington Post reports that the district recently hired Maritza Gonzalez, as a diversity officer charged with overseeing Latino affairs. The district, which has a student population that is majority black, is now experiencing Hispanic growth.

The article reports that in Gonzalez’s position, she is already taking on tasks such as translating at meetings for parents. The newspaper notes that in her new role as a liaison, she has also heard from Hispanic parents that they want more pre-K classes and English classes for adults.

She also has set an agenda that includes focusing on offering dual language Spanish immersion programs and promoting college.

“I hope that she helps to address the needs of the growing student body here,” state Sen. Victor R. Ramirez told the Post. “I feel right now there’s a disconnect.”

Many districts have turned to hiring translators and creating parent involvement offices geared at improving outreach to various minority and immigrant communities. Is this a trend you are seeing in your area?

Related Links:

“Prince George’s Schools Hires Diversity Officer to Focus on Latino Affairs,” The Washington Post.
“Hispanic Leaders Upset Over Latino Representation in Prince George’s,” The Washington Post.
Prince George’s County Public Schools

Voters Approve Maryland Dream Act

Undocumented immigrant students celebrated a big victory on Tuesday night, as voters approved the Maryland Dream Act.

The law will allow some students brought to the United States as children to pay in-state tuition at Maryland’s public colleges and universities.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was celebrating along with students at a watch party at Arcos Mexican Restaurant in Fells Point.

“This is going to be a tremendous affirmation of the goodness of the people of the state,” the governor told the crowd.

Known as “Question 4,” the act was approved by a comfortable margin.

However, it differs from other states in that students must first attend community college at the in-state rate and then transfer to universities to receive the in-state benefit there. Other states with similar legislation don’t require students to attend community colleges to receive the benefit. The law  should not be confused with the proposed federal Dream Act, which would provide a path to legal status and citizenship to undocumented college students.

While there are other states that offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students, Maryland is the first state where voters –rather than just legislators–approved  such an initiative. The Maryland General Assembly approved the act last year, but it went to a vote because Republicans successfully petitioned to put the law on hold and place it on the ballot.

Both immigration and education were top issues for Latino voters heading into the election. Javier Mercado, 42, told The Washington Post that he supported the Dream Act legislation.

“It is another opportunity for the students that want to better themselves,” he said. “We can’t deny them an education.”

The Post noted that in-state tuition is $7,175 a year at the University of Maryland in College Park and out-of-state tuition is $25,554. University of Maryland president Wallace Loh supported passage of the law.

Students were also paying careful attention to the ballot initative, as the outcome could have a significant impact on their college aspirations and goals.

“This means so much to me, my parents and my family–who are the other dreamers,” high school senior Nathaly Uribe, who moved to the United States from Chile when she was just two years old, told The Baltimore Sun as she watched the election coverage. “This will give all of us a chance.”

Related Links:

– “Md. voters approve ‘Dream Act’ law.” The Washington Post.

– “Students celebrate approval of Maryland Dream Act.” The Baltimore Sun. 

– “Maryland Voters Approve In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students.” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week. 

– “Maryland Dream Act will benefit state, study says.” Maryland Politics – The Washington Post.