MCPS must expand special programs

By Suzy Rudorfer
Circulation Manager

Specialized magnet schools and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program are the two most notable examples of “special programs” offered in MCPS high schools. At first glance, these and other programs seem like a harmless way to challenge advanced students with a rigorous schedule. Upon closer inspection of their admissions process, it appears that some students have a better chance of being accepted into one of these competitive curriculums based on the student’s local high school.

For the most part, MCPS has “local school programs,” meaning that only students attending the school through their locality have the opportunity to participate. In other words, students who do not attend the schools offering these programs are not allowed to apply.<BR>
A select few schools, namely Montgomery Blair, Poolesville and Richard Montgomery, allow students from outside of their school zones to apply to their program by taking a notoriously difficult exam. For the most part, it is the luck of the draw: either your designated school has the program you want, or it does not. For instance, numerous high schools (Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Albert Einstein, Rockville, Springbrook and Watkins Mill) offer the IB program for local students only. CHS does not happen to be one of them.

There are also two clusters of high schools known as the Downcounty Consortium, consisting of Montgomery Blair, Einstein, John F. Kennedy, Northwood and Wheaton High Schools, and Northeast Consortium, which is made up of Blake, Paint Branch and Springbrook High Schools. Students who attend a school in one of the consortiums can choose to attend any school within that consortia based on their interests. Each school has different program options specializing in different topics, ranging from Biosciences and Health Professions to Fine Arts and Humanities.

To be fair, not all special programs are so restricted. The Foreign Language Immersion Programs use a lottery system to choose students since students apply in kindergarten and it is difficult to measure ability at such a young age. Unfortunately, this is the only program that uses a lottery to pick its students.

The schools with an application process are at least giving all MCPS students a chance; the same cannot be said for the schools that only take local students. Why bother having such a distinguished program if some of the most suitable participants are excluded?

It would be in the county’s best interests to use a voucher system in which students can choose to attend any school in the county. This would allow students to nurture their passion and be part of an environment that supports their individual interests while students who do not want to participate in a specialized program can still attend their neighborhood school and receive a more traditional education. Hopefully, this would encourage lower-performing schools to boost their academic integrity in order to draw more students. As an added bonus, it would also promote diversity since students would not be going to schools based on neighborhood boundaries.