When finalists were announced for the 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education, I did not give much thought to the inclusion of Montgomery County, Md. I did not give much thought to any of the finalists, really. But today I saw the video on the Montgomery County Public Schools website—I covered MCPS for the Post years ago and check in there from time to time—that highlighted the Broad visit and couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the officials at Julius West Middle School. Julius West is a couple of miles from one of the most affluent communities on earth. Heard of Potomac? Not what I would call “urban.”
Yes, there are swaths of poverty in the county, and lots of new immigrants. But Montgomery County has the tenth-highest median household income—and by at least one measure the most educated citizens—in the entire country.
Broad is a prize for urban districts, and previous winners have had poverty levels well below MCPS’s (one-third for elementary schoolers). That poor kids in Montgomery County outscore poor kids in districts where nearly all the kids are poor is not surprising. Large districts in affluent counties are able to redistribute wealth from well-off taxpayers into the few schools with high poverty rates, reallocate from an excellent pool of teachers and make use of all of the systemwide resources inherent in being a really rich place. It is admirable that Montgomery County has chosen to do so (not every place does), and that it often does so effectively, but putting them on a Broad pedestal implies that their accomplishment is equivalent to turning around an impoverished urban district.
Not that I care about prizes, as you know.
What do you think? Am I being pedantic?