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Book Review

Leading for Equity: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Montgomery County Public Schools

Leading for Equity tells the compelling story of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools and its transformation—in less than a decade—into a system committed to breaking the links between race and class and academic achievement. In chapters organized around six core themes:

1.      Implementing a strategy of common, rigorous standards with differentiated resources and instruction can create excellence and equity for all students

2.      Adopting a “value chain” approach to the K-12 continuum increases quality and provides a logical frame for strategic choices

3.      Blurring the lines between governance, management, staff, and community increases capacity and accountability

4.      Creating systems and structures that change behaviors is a way to shift beliefs if they lead to student learning gains

5.       Breaking the link between race, ethnicity, and student outcomes is difficult without confronting the effects that beliefs about race and ethnicity have on student learning

6.      Leading for equity matters

the authors lay out the essential elements of MCPS’s success. They identify key lessons other districts can draw from MCPS’s experience and offer a framework for applying them. A dramatic departure from “business as usual,” MCPS has won nationwide attention as a compelling model for tackling the achievement and opportunity issues that confront our nation as a whole.

The following excerpt illustrates how the Montgomery County Public Schools created a climate in which fundamental problems in student achievement could be faced and discussed frankly.

“The MCPS community has taken on the challenge of creating an environment in which people are expected to discuss race and achievement, including the impact that beliefs about race have on expectations and student learning. In addition to diversity training and study circles, systems like [a data-focused process called] M-STAT and [the Honors/AP Potential Identification Tool] HAPIT explicitly focus on racial and ethnic indicators, and provide forums and protocols for people to discuss them productively with an eye toward building the capacity of individuals and teams to analyze the performance problems and examine the degree to which their own behav iors and the beliefs reflected in the structures of their organizations actually contribute to the problems.

The MCPS team believes that this deeper focus will accelerate its efforts to break the link between race and achievement. The team’s current vision statement makes a bold claim about its intentions: ‘Let us aspire to create a school system where achievement is no longer predictable by race.’”

David Gergen says in his foreword to the book: “…the authors issue a call to action that is grounded in their research in Montgomery County but is aimed at the larger national conversation about transforming public education. Because they contain a classic American blend of hope and pragmatism, their insights and ideas are a welcome addition to the cause for reform. The years ahead are crucial for public education. I am among those who believe that evolution is no longer enough; only a revolution in American public education will meet the demands of social justice and twenty-first-century competition. Reading this book instills confidence that we can indeed make the leap from reforming a cluster of schools within a school district to reforming the district itself. That is cheering news at a time when the country needs a strong dose of optimism.”