Montgomery County Public Schools
Two school districts that often go head to head in the DC Suburbs are Montgomery County in Maryland and Fairfax County in Virginia. There are decades of history where these districts were home to some of the top high schools in the country. Covid changed that for many schools and locally – we were not unaffected. Let’s see where these two highly regarded school districts currently fare in the education department. This is going to be a deeper dive into what Montgomery County Schools offer – both the good and not so good.
Montgomery County School System
There are a lot of educational choices in Montgomery County. When I went to school we matriculated through the in-boundary elementary, middle and high school. Other than a few elective choices, there weren’t other schools you could choose from, nor was there a way to tailor your education to a specific career path. Sure, a few guys took auto-body shop class, but there were no pathways paved toward college.
This is not the case in Montgomery County Maryland.
Montgomery County’s 211 schools offer both local “by-right” schools as well as regional and countywide programs. There are language immersion programs for French, Spanish and Chinese. There are Centers for Enriched Studies which is like Talented and Gifted for 4th and 5th grade. There are magnet middle schools which offer digital design, performing arts and aerospace technology. At the high school level, the choices blow wide open.
In 8th grade, students can apply to one of the many programs available at county high schools. Some of these programs are criteria-based and selective, and some are administered by a lottery. Some programs are open to the whole county, some are just the geographic region around the high school. Applications open in early October with a deadline in early November.
The first step is to go to the website where you can see the program offerings: https://www2.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/specialprograms/high/
We will start with likely the most well-known of the programs, the IB or International Baccalaureate Program. The IB program at Richard Montgomery HS is a countywide, criteria- based (magnet) program. There are IB programs at Kennedy, Springbrook and Watkins Mill High Schools which are regional, criteria-based (magnet) programs. IB programs are also offered at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Einstein, Seneca Valley and Rockville High Schools.
Rockville High School offers IB / International Baccalaureate career related programs in engineering, biomedical, computer science, hospitality management and child development. This is open to students in about a dozen surrounding high schools.
Blair and Poolesville High Schools are Science, Math and Computer Science Magnet schools.
Clarksburg High School has an I.T. / Tech program where students can earn certifications and college credit. This is open to several surrounding schools near Clarksburg.
Wheaton High School also offers engineering and biomedical programs open to those in the Down County Consortium* as well as college and career programs in construction, healthcare, hospitality and I.T. open to a group of southern Montgomery County High Schools. The same programs are also available at Seneca Valley for the northern part of Montgomery County.
The Down County Consortium comprises 5 high schools (Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton) which offer different academic focuses. Students in these high school pyramids, meaning, the feeder schools that go to these high schools, participate in a lottery called the High School Choice Process. You’re always guaranteed a spot in your base / in-boundary school, but you have a preference to attend one of the other schools based on where an older sibling is attending, socioeconomic status, school capacity, etc.
Kennedy High School has the Leadership Training Institute open for those in the DCC. Einstein High School has a Visual Arts Program. Blair, as mentioned earlier, is a Science, Math and Computer Science Magnet School.
The DCC or Down County Consortium was created in the Silver Spring area of the county which is highly dense with fluid boundaries that, in the future, may be continually readjusted.
Similarly, there is a Northeast Consortium for Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook High Schools. Springbrook as said earlier, has the IB Program as well as Engineering and I.T. Academies. Paint Branch has Science and Media Academies and Blake has Arts, Communication, Humanities and Public Service focuses.
Whitman High School is one of the most popular high schools in the county and they have a Leadership Academy for Social Justice. This is open to the whole county, but transportation options are currently limited. Montgomery County promises they are working on it.
Magruder High School has Aviation and Aerospace Engineering programs open to the entire county.
There are other high schools too which are highly rated and offer AP, dual enrollment and a variety of academic focus area programs as well. They aren’t always open to the whole county so if you want a school like Walter Johnson or Winston Churchill then you would need to live in the boundary for those schools.
North in the county, it’s not as population dense and the high schools are more spread out.
The graduation rate for Montgomery County Maryland’s Public Schools is almost 92%.
Montgomery County, MD Schools – Academics
After the infamous 2018 Johns Hopkins audit, there have been a lot of unhappy parents. Summing it up, Hopkins found that English and Math curricula were unsatisfactory. Fewer than 1/3 of the students understood math for their grade level and fewer than 1/4th understood English Language Arts.
Teachers said it contained too much busywork, too much screen time, not enough time to practice skills and did nothing to help those in special education. The teachers tried to supplement Common Core with other material. Parents lost a lot of trust in Montgomery County Public Schools.
Montgomery County re-bid the curriculum and in 2019, 2.0 was replaced. The new math curricula have turned out better than the ELA.
It feels very a la carte style. It makes use of online apps / technology, plus workbooks. But then there was Covid, and the timing could not have been worse to train teachers on new systems and a new curriculum.
Direct from a teacher, “Kids are subjected to endless testing ($$$) and we are required to collect and document hundreds of data points – for what purpose? We are unable to use that information to modify the curriculum. Data should be used to drive further instruction, and as teachers, our hands are tied.”
This is not great news, but it’s also not unique to Montgomery County. The same is happening in many other districts in the country.
Montgomery County School Administration
Current Superintendent Monifa McKnight started as an interim Superintendent in June 2021 and was appointed for a 4 year term in Feb, 2022. When she started, she had a lot to address. Her letter to the school community stated, “One of my top three priorities is rebuilding community trust in MCPS… I am committed to transparency and responsiveness as we work to address our challenges and celebrate our many strengths.”
We are only a few months into the 2023 school year and already there have been several personnel changes. The deputy superintendent was no longer employed by MCPS, and three administrative personnel at the main office were placed on leave.
One of her first orders of business was to survey the parent community. They put out this handy graphic of what the school system is doing right and what needs to change. The left side is what is going right. The middle is where change is needed. The column on the right is what parents believe is the one thing that needs to be addressed to make the biggest change.
School Safety, Communication, Transparency, Increase Teacher Autonomy, Improve Special Education Services, Hire More Teachers, Reduce Class Sizes – these are currently the major issues facing Montgomery County Public Schools.
Montgomery County Today – a Snapshot in Time
In the last couple months alone, the following issues have occurred or come to light.
- 12-year old just caught for calling in Bomb Threats to several Montgomery County Schools.
- a 17 year old student was arrested last week of October for bringing a loaded handgun to Walter Johnson High School.
- Sexual Harassment Lawsuit against MCPS – 18 complaints filed for sexual harassment against a middle school Principal over 12 years. When the investigation launched, the investigator revealed victim names to other witnesses.
- Ongoing behavioral / violence issues that MCPS wants to address with “restorative justice” instead of removing the violent child from the class. They are averse to special placements for these students, which cost more money, until a ton of data is “collected.” Meanwhile, people are getting hurt and teachers are quitting mid-year.
Montgomery County Schools – Conclusion
Montgomery County Schools has some of the best high schools in the region. According to Niche.com, Poolesville is ranked #2 in the area, Whitman is #3 and Churchill is #4. They round out the top 10 as well with Wootton at #6, Walter Johnson at #7, Richard Montgomery at #8 and Bethesda Chevy-Chase (BCC) at #9. The fact that there is almost no Fairfax County presence in the top 10 and I have long felt Niche.com is not the place to go for information.
On U.S. News’s rankings, Poolesville, Whitman, Wootton, Churchill, Walter Johnson, BCC, Richard Montgomery, Northwest, Blair and Blake are the top 10 for Montgomery County.
There are always going to be problems at schools, especially in light of a pandemic and shifting approaches to education and behavior issues but Montgomery County schools stand the test of time. This is a highly educated area where parents push their kids to aim high and achieve. It’s also an area where a lot of parents can afford private schools but opt for public schools because of their stellar reputation.