We ask ourselves: Who am I to be... brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?… We are all meant to shine, as children do… It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
-- Marianne Williamson
There are two different school systems in Montgomery County
At the end of second grade in Montgomery County, when children are just seven years old, they are “tracked” or sorted into two tiers of educational experience. The “gifted and talented” (GT) label is applied to about 40% of students — mostly white, Asian, affluent — while the other 60% — mostly African American, Latino, low-income — become by implication not gifted and not talented. Schools in Bethesda may label 80% of their children as gifted, while in Wheaton only 14% could be so labeled.
Students not labeled gifted are the children left behind
GT-labeling and subsequent tracking determines resources, methodologies and expectations provided to each student. Children are treated as “slow” versus “bright”, receive remedial as opposed to enriched instruction, worksheets versus hands-on labs, rote memorization exercises rather than higher-order thinking skills activities—mind-numbing in place of intellect/interest engaging.
Students not labeled gifted have diminished future prospects
The consequence of this labeling and tracking? Children not identified as GT, as well as their teachers, are given the message that school is not a place where they will shine, and not surprisingly, they lose interest in learning, in school. Their test scores go down. Behavior and attendance problems go up. They are identified in disproportionate numbers as having “special needs.” They sleep in class. They are suspended, expelled. They lose academic eligibility to participate in sports, music, drama, and other clubs that could connect them to their school. They go to night school. They fail the high stakes exit exams. They drop (or are pushed) out. They are barred from graduation. They are easy prey for gangs. Military recruiters focus on them. They end up in jail. Their life options are diminished.
MCEF was created to end tracking in Montgomery County Public Schools
In 1999, a small, feisty group of teachers, parents, students, and community members founded MCEF. Former MCEF Co-Chair Valerie Ervin won election to the Board of Education in 2004 (the second African American woman ever on the Board). Three additional promoters of equity and excellence were elected to the Board in 2006, resulting in a progressive majority. MCEF has evolved into the convener of the multi-agency Equity in Education Coalition. MCEF has played multiple roles: coalition and bridge builders—MCEF initiated the development of and convenes EEC and it continues to seek common ground with other public education stakeholders, based on a mutual concern for high quality education for all students; advocates for policy change—testimonies before the Board of Education, relationship-building with MCPS leadership and staff, press conferences, and issue-specific campaign development; innovators—MCEF successfully advocated for elementary school "no labels" pilots where teachers use differentiated instruction to ensure that all students receive a high quality education in heterogeneous classrooms. These models are soon to be replicated countywide and can be used as best practice models for all stakeholders; subject matter experts—MCEF’s 2002 position paper catapulted MCEF into a public role as a “go to” group for local media and educational constituencies; sponsoring of public conferences featuring well-known experts as keynotes: Bob Moses, Jonathan Kozol and Pedro Noguera.