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Mongomery County lawmakers: Teacher raises won't narrow student achievement gap

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Local,Maryland,Education,Rachel Baye,Montgomery County

Montgomery County lawmakers say the county school system should spend more of its limited funds to close a troubling gap between white and Asian students and their black and Latino counterparts.

Of MCPS' proposed $2.1 billion fiscal 2014 operating budget, only 0.1 percent is dedicated to efforts to reduce the achievement gap.

The pay raises were "a direct investment in our students," said MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig. "There is no better way of serving all students than making sure they have outstanding teachers and support."

At a meeting Friday, several lawmakers said the school system should be spending money to more directly tackle the gap.

"What do I tell the fellow parents when I am sitting in the PTA meetings?" asked Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown. "When I look at how long and how persistent this achievement gap has been, apparently what you've been doing hasn't helped."

MCPS Superintentendent Joshua Starr said he plans to present a "strategic plan and framework" to the Board of Education in June. An initial plan included a four-year rollout of new support services systemwide beginning this fall, and monitoring of students' progress in third, fifth, eighth and ninth grades.

Starr said MCPS is already pursuing other common approaches to reducing achievement gaps, including improving coursework and the quality of teachers.

Lawmakers also wanted to know why the school system has rejected the idea of making smaller class sizes a priority.

"I've had teachers say to me, 'I can't even get to students because there are so many students in the classroom,' " said Council President Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County.

But Starr disagreed that this change would result in the intended improvement. Rather than reduce class sizes, the school system tries to reduce student-teacher ratios by making sure there are more English as a Second Language and special education teachers.

"We have strategically reduced class sizes and student to teacher ratios where it is needed," he said. "If we were to start to reduce class sizes now, there would not be a commensurate benefit beyond what we have already done."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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