“To say [the] world has changed (in recent years) is an understatement,” said Scott Murphy, director of the Montgomery County Department of Secondary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs. “In 2019, it’s a different world and we are compelled to change how we think about high school programs.”
As part of Superintendent Jack Smith’s push to diversify and expand student access to college and career readiness programs, MCPS is currently preparing to increase access to “choice programs”.
In a report to the Board of Education in May, school system representatives introduced a plan to duplicate programs such as Thomas Edison’s career readiness program and Richard Montgomery’s International Baccalaureate program to other schools in the county. Both programs offer specialty courses for students who are either seeking more academically challenging courses or those who are not planning on going to college and have chosen to build up their vocational studies.
Currently, Edison offers eighteen career readiness programs part-time to students around the county that are bussed from their home schools every day. These career-focused courses allow students to gain real-world experience in their fields of interest as well as college credit and industry-recognized credentials.
Reinvention of Edison’s programs are on the horizon after MCPS hired a group of educational consultants in 2017, who found that the county is falling behind its peers in enrollments in career readiness programs. Their report outlined that during the 2015-2016 school year, twenty-nine percent of MCPS students were enrolled in one or more career-related technical education courses, compared to thirty-five percent in Howard County and fifty percent in Baltimore County. Furthermore, the number of MCPS students signed up for these classes has been falling in recent years, while other counties have seen increased enrollment.
In future years, MCPS hopes to remodel Edison into a full-time career academy or combine it with neighboring Wheaton High School so students can attend Wheaton and then take classes at Edison.
As part of a broader push to emphasize vocational training as a pathway existing outside of the traditional expectations of four-year college, MCPS is also planning on duplicating Edison’s program at Seneca Valley High School, which will soon be undergoing a $7.5 million expansion and renovation that will make it the largest high school in the county.
On the other side of the county, Richard Montgomery’s competitive International Baccalaureate program is also a provider of rigorous specialty study. Unlike other IB programs in Montgomery County, Richard Montgomery is a test-in program open to all students in the county regardless of their school cluster. The program requires students to pass examinations in six challenging academic subjects as well as take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course inquiring into the role of knowledge in different subject areas, complete a Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) activity, and compose a 3,500-word Extended Essay scored by international guidelines.
It is widely acclaimed throughout the state as one of the best providers of an internationally-standardized liberal arts education and diploma recognition. Every year, approximately 1,000 students apply for 100 seats in the program.
Due to high demand for Richard Montgomery’s IB model, it has also been slated to expand to three other high schools with existing IB programs – Watkins Mill, John F. Kennedy and Springbrook – which will triple the number of available seats, beginning in the 2020-2021 school year.
Choice programs — are they successful in diversifying??
Findings from the study of the MSMC produced the following overarching findings:
• Families who participate in the MSMC choice process are generally very satisfied with the magnet program offerings and the lottery process. Overall, close to 90% of students are placed in their first choice school.
There is a high demand for MSMC programs. For the 2013–14 school year, approximately 750 out-of-consortium students applied for 300 available seats; only about 40% of the applicants were admitted due to limited number of seats.