School Board Sees Disproportionality in Montgomery Program

“This is about race, this is about opting out of a school, and this is about segregation.”

The DJUSD School Board on Thursday heard a presentation that highlighted the disproportionality in the English-only program at Montgomery – as opposed to the dual immersion program which has been successful.  District administration will come back in two weeks with some recommendations after meeting with parents and stakeholders to figure out the best course of action.

“This needs to be stated that this is a Davis problem,” Board Member Madhavi Sunder said.  “This is about race, this is about opting out of a school, and this is about segregation.”

She added, “There is a solution, we’ve known it for decades – it’s desegregation.”

The question for the board is how to address this issue and quickly.

The numbers as presented by Principal Jennifer McNeil are alarming.  “As a site, we continue to be concerned about this disproportionality and are actively taking steps to intervene.”

She told the board, “By program, our students in English-only are not achieving to the same degree as other students in the school or in the district.”

Ms. McNeil said, “Of course there are many confounding variables when it comes to understanding root causes for disproportionality within achievement.”

Among the ones she cited, 55 percent of the schoolwide population is sociologically disadvantaged, compared to 24 percent districtwide.  But within the English-only program in some grades that number is higher – far higher.  Between 2nd grade and 5th grade, the percentage ranges from a low of 71 percent SES (supplemental educational services) disadvantaged to 80 percent of 4th graders and 77 percent of 5th graders.

With 15 percent of the schoolwide population being identified as special education, in most grades the number is upwards of 22 percent, with a high of 32 percent in 2nd Grade and 31 percent in 6th Grade.  With that comes IEPs (individualized education programs) and the pullout of the teacher from mainstream instruction for a matter of days cumulatively, Ms. McNeil explained.

The education level in the English-only program of parents is far lower – parental education level is the highest correlate with the achievement gap.  Districtwide, this is a well-educated district, with 19 percent of parents receiving a college degree and 51 percent receiving a post graduate degree.  Only 5 percent of district parents have only achieved a high school degree.

But those numbers are far different at Montgomery.  In the English-only program a full 30 percent of parents only achieved a high school degree with another 9 percent not being high school graduates.  Fifteen percent have graduate degrees while 26 percent received post graduate degrees.

Thus, by comparison, districtwide 7 percent of the population are high school graduates or less, but that number is 39 percent at Montgomery’s English-only program; while 70 percent are college graduates or more districtwide, that number is 41 percent at Montgomery.

The teacher turnover rate is 32 percent statewide, but upwards of 60 percent in the English-only program at Montgomery.  As Ms. McNeil explained, “They love these kids very much, but something has to change.”

She also said, “This environment is creating secondary trauma.”

The administrator explained, “We must consider community, staff and parents” in figuring out how to move forward.  “This community has a strong and important voice at Montgomery,” he said.  “This is not a new conversation at Montgomery.”

He said, “We have declining (program) demand for the English-only strand and an increasing strand for TWBI (Two-way Bilingual Immersion).

“We need to keep in mind what is best for students.  We clearly have challenges, we want to make sure the solutions, the scenarios that we come up with, don’t exacerbate any challenges these students currently face,” he added.

Rachel Beck, a parent speaking during public comment, made the point that “we don’t approach it as fixing Montgomery, but as addressing the needs of those children whose concentration at Montgomery brings their needs to our attention.  We really need to meet the needs of those children, not make Montgomery look like a more successful school.”

Emily Henderson added that, while this has been a problem for years, “it seems like the transition from identifying problems to identifying solutions is happening really quickly.”  She said, “I’m concerned that if we don’t engage in a really open process and conversation, we might jump quickly to solutions that don’t center on the needs of the most vulnerable students.”

She pointed out that the district was slow and careful in addressing issues like GATE, so “I urge you to give Montgomery’s program the time and care that it merits.”

Board Member Alan Fernandes echoed some of the comments, stating, “It’s not about fixing Marguerite, it’s about fixing our district – our district that would allow such an extreme disparity at one school.”

He added, “Really think we have to take action on this…  We must absolutely hear from our teachers, our parents, our students, our community.”

Madhavi Sunder said, “Our solution forward ought to be focused on the kids and their needs.  Are we doing everything we can be doing and should be doing to meet the needs of every single one of these kids?”

She said, “The data we’ve been seeing for a number of years… shows that we are failing these kids in this classroom.” She added, “When we see that there are classrooms in the English-only strand that have 0 percent meeting standards in English language and 8 percent meeting standards in math, that these percentages are so far different… from the rest of our district.”

She noted the “incredible disparities” where, in some classrooms, 80 percent of the kids are of the low-SES background.

“I fully agree that the goal here is not to make Montgomery look like every other school in Davis,” she said.  “Montgomery has pioneered an incredibly innovative and successful two-way bilingual immersion program.  It caters to the needs of that local population in such a wonderful way.”

She said, “That program seems to model the really diverse community that also meets the academic needs of all the kids in it.  I don’t think we can say that about the English-only program.

“All the needs are being shouldered heroically by the teachers,” she added.

She said, “I’m really concerned about timing,” adding, “I don’t think we have the time for a multi-year task force to look at this.”

Board Member Barbara Archer called the situation “a lot to take in.”  But she said, “I’m very confident in the community’s ability to do the work necessary to talk about what recommendations are best for the community, for the kids.”  She felt it would be “silly” for the board to sit up there, not being members of the community, to start suggesting solutions.

“I would be really cautious of solutions that traumatize students in another way by displacing them or made it less convenient for them to go to school,” she said. “The focus needs to be what’s best for those kids.”

Board Member Bob Poppenga simply stated, “It was a real eye opener when I saw those statistics.”

At this point there will be community and stakeholder meetings with a proposed scenario coming back to the board in two weeks based on input from the community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. PhilColeman

    This “revelation” has been widely known in the greater Montgomery School demographic for the past several years. Families, teachers, faculty administrators, all knew this, whose numbers must total in the hundreds of persons. With all that, the Board of Education had no awareness.

    The School Board can’t be expected to have personal awareness of everything going on the the District. There’s a professional infra-structure created and funded to do just that, tell the Board where the problems are and give options towards solution.

    The “eye-opener” and “lot to take in” strongly implies the Board had no previous knowledge of what is now fully agreed is a disparity in the geographical assignments of particular classes of children. Finally, it will be fixed to the betterment of all.

    School Board, a open plea: Call all of your top administrators into executive session. Ask them this question, “How come we were never told of this problem?” Remember this moment when it comes to evaluating the folks you hire.

    Closing with a long-held personal observation: The administration, staff, and faculty at Montgomery School are in the top tier of dedication to their profession and the students they serve. You can just feel it as soon as you walk on the campus. Remarkable people working under challenging circumstances.

    1. Ken A

      I agree with Phil that Montgomery has a great “administration, staff, and faculty”.  Since just about everyone in town with school age kids who knows where MME is located also knows the story of the school I’m pretty sure this was not a “revelation” to anyone.  It is not PC to admit that smarter than average parents (of all races) have smarter than average kids and that MME has a lower percentage of those “smarter than average” kids in the English only program than other DJUSD schools.  Since anyone that works in public education will hurt their career if they even hint that that there is a small chance that the kid with married UCD professor parents  is even slightly smarter than the kid whose Mom grew up in Davis and dropped out of DHS at 16 when she got pregnant and who now smokes pot every day watching her kid play video games with his siblings (from other fathers who are also not around) in their section 8 apartment.  Since school administrators have to say “all kids in Davis are exactly the same” they will blame “teacher turnover” or “low quality school lunches” (or something else) then spend more money and in the end will be “surprised” at the “revelation” (that like every school since the beginning of time) they will still have an “achievement gap” (where the smarter than average kids have higher test scores than other kids)…

    2. H Jackson

      When you evaluate student performance by standardized tests, as was done last night, it is important to recognize that these tests are designed by college-educated professionals, and the results and benchmarks tend to self-validate the educational choices and opportunities of college-educated professionals.  This pretty much goes for the entire K-12 curriculum.  Standardized test performance tracks very well to parent education level, regardless of race, income, even ELL status.

      Another interesting way to measure student performance would be to determine verbal bilingual competency.  Results would probably skew radically different, with MME and Chavez mostly scoring very well, even for the students in the MME English only program, and we could declare a crisis in most of the other elementary campuses.  In 2018 with a globally interdependent society, one could argue that bilingualism is a valuable trait to have.  The district would probably reject this as a primary measure of educational performance because college-educated monolinguals would not stand for it.

      When evaluating student performance by standardized tests, educators (especially at the federal, state, and sometimes district level) will say it is to provide objective measures of students.  It means that policy is discussed and decided by objectifying students.  Ojectifying women and people based on race is considered bad, but we objectify students all the time, especially in public education.

      1. Ken A

        I agree with H Jackson that most “tests are designed by college-educated professionals” but I’m pretty sure if we got a bunch of “low SES eight graders” to design a test for each class they are in the results would be very similar with the smart kids doing well, the average kids doing average and the not so smart kids doing not so well.

        Measuring “verbal bilingual competency” would not be an “interesting way to measure student performance” it would just be a measure of “verbal bilingual competency” (just like measuring the length of fish kids can catch with dry flies would not measure “student performance” it would measure “fly fishing ability”.

        It is great if kids are bilingual (and or play an instrument) but neither skill is a measure of “student performance” (despite the fact that almost every kid that is truly bilingual and a good enough to be in a school band is smarter than average).

        It seems that H Jackson does not understand the difference between “objective” – “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts” and “objectify” – “degrade to the status of a mere object”.

        If you have an “objective” method to determine which students are the tallest, fastest or best in reading and math you are not “objectifying” or “degrading” them…

        1. H Jackson

          Standardized tests are probably good if you want to measure a skill set of literacy and numeracy acquired following to a certain schedule that will take you to a college education by a certain time.

          If a student tends to deviate from that path/schedule, then the standardized tests determine that you are “below proficiency.”  If you want to do anything else with your life rather than follow that path and schedule, then standardized tests don’t tell you much.

          On objective and objectify, although there are refined differences of meaning between the two, there’s not as much difference as you would make of it.  I don’t think any adult who spoke during the school board meeting last night had less than a college degree.  I doubt very few of those adults personally know families who have less than college education.

          And yet those people are deciding how others (those lacking college education in their families) should go to school.  It’s easy to point to standardized test scores and declare one’s objectivity.  Even easier if you don’t personally know anyone who falls into that category.  There is an uncomfortable level of patronizing that surrounds these discussions.

          There is nothing wrong with letting one’s personal feelings play a role in one’s profession as an educator, and I think it’s a good thing in many ways.  As a parent I appreciate seeing educators who themselves have children of their own, because I know that I can more likely share my parental concerns and anxieties with that person.  (I also acknowledge that childless educators can also do very excellent work).

          I would also hope that an educator would work for their students as if they were possibly their very own children.  But if they are viewed more exclusively in terms of their below-standard test scores, then there’s a problem.  That’s why No Child Left Behind left so many behind.

          ‘Objectify’ also means looking at a person as if they’re not fully human, including with interior feelings, hopes and aspirations.  When students are identified by their below average academic performance, as defined by standardized test scores, and without acknowledgement of many other aspects which bring out their humanity, then it begins to look like objectification to me.

          Davis is a socially stratified community, especially as it relates to education level.

        2. Ken A

          Thanks for the response as someone who was the first in his family to go to college (my grandparents made it to 6th grade and my parents are high school grads) I agree with you that “Davis is a socially stratified community, especially as it relates to education level”.  As someone that knows a lot of happy successful people that didn’t go to college I am sad that almost every guidance counselor in the state tells every kid to go to college (going in to debt to pay for it) even though plenty of people that love their jobs that pay more than double what teachers make never went to college.

  2. PhilColeman

    Point taken. In reality, I don’t think this was a revelation. It’s expressed as such to save face in a public arena like this. Otherwise, the Board would have to respond to the most relevant questions of all: “What have you been doing for the past 5+ years?”

    The answer is nothing, but it will get done now. Unfortunately it required a mass march into the Board Chambers, and a generation of Montgomery students suffered in the interim. That’s not good government.


    1. Howard P

      As much as I respect you, Phil, what is the “it” (any reference to Clinton was accidental) that will be done now?  In the article, I see data (confusing), but extremely short in problem definition (and root causes), and no proposed remedies/solutions…

      My training was to find causes/effects, and design ways to deal with those… not seeing it here…

      1. Howard P

        Thank you for the disclosure… doesn’t take away from the issue of root causes, or potential solutions… if I only knew what those were…

        I assume (?) that you Cecelia, and the kids are fluent in English… this is a good thing… being bi-lingual (or even tri-lingual) is a good thing… my basic questions are:  why are “english only” children suffering… can’t believe all students are “other language” only… yet, it is ‘reported’ that 0% of “english only” can meet standards (3rd grade) for English language skills… is there something that is not being reported?  Are those #’s a sub-group?  Or all students?

        Something doesn’t seem “right” in this narrative…

        1. David Greenwald

          Part of the problem is that there are a class of students not achieving well anywhere in the district and then you’ve concentrated them (by design and geography) in one program.

        2. Howard P

          I haven’t…

          you’ve concentrated them (by design and geography) in one program.

          Interesting ‘charge’, if anyone has… name names, please…  South Davis was historically “upper echelon” … very proud of their “specialness”… guess I did not see the changes…

  3. Sharla C.

    I consider this a crisis.  What is the reason for the heavy turnover for teachers at the school?  How are these teachers who leave different than the ones that stick it out?  Start there.

    1. Howard P

      Turnover, and reasons for that, are a valid concern… (over last 6-7 years, the City has had at least as much turnover)

      Still, do not have info as to the “problem”, and “proposed solutions”… all I see are symptoms… not root causes, no substantive suggestions for effective change…

      1. Don Shor

        As I recall from previous discussions, the proposed solution is desegregation by strict adherence to school boundaries. Many South Davis parents had their kids in Pioneer by choice, if I recall.

        1. Howard P

          Yet, I know of no “ghettos” in Davis… yet, it seems that the district policies as to ‘choosing’ programs/schools is not helpful… self segregation?  You make a good point, Don… yet, a two edged sword… GATE can be viewed as a form of segregation…

          That said, some kids NEED GATE (personalities)… others (“gifted”) will thrive outside GATE… I’ve seen both sides of the GATE coin…

          1. David Greenwald

            I think you need to think back to our discussions of the other Davis. There aren’t “ghettos” but there are concentrations of low SES students in certain areas – many of which feed students into MME.

        2. Sharla C.

          The Open Enrollment Act of 2010 allowed students to transfer out of a “low performing school” into a school with a higher API score.  Margarite Montgomery first appeared on the 2014 list and was the only school in Davis listed as an Open Enrollment school, even though it scores higher than elementary schools in neighboring districts (above 800).  It also appeared on the 2015 list.  There has been no list published since then.  The result has been steady flight of students out of Montgomery, as their request to transfer could not be denied.   I know that students transferring to Pioneer has been going on for a while.  The State rankings for MME have been dropping steadily since 2004. To attract students to MME, a Spanish Immersion track was created, which turned into the two-way bi-lingual spanish program.   I wonder how many students in MME’s attendance zone are attending Pioneer, especially K-2 grades (after the suspension of the Open Enrollment list.)  I also wonder how many students at MME are from outside their attendance zone and attending the two way bilingual program, bolstering attendance at MME.


  4. Ken A

    The reason the “English-only are not achieving to the same degree as other students in the school or in the district.” is that the parents that actually take the time to look in to where their kids are most likely to “achieve” put them in the Spanish immersion program (the parents that work even harder still pull them out and send them to Cesar Chavez or Pioneer).  On the SF Peninsula spanish immersion programs are super popular since it is a way to have a “separate but equal” program in schools that have white kids from $4mm homes in the “Spanish Immersion” program and Spanish speaking kids from $2,000/month dunphy apartments in the “English Only” program.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think you’re partly right. I think the reason you don’t see the English-only students achieving is that the make up of the program are the students not achieving anywhere in the district. The difference in this program is not performance, but concentration of the students.

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