Parents and students from Howard County School's Region 3 protest against a proposed redistricting plan before 3rd public hearing at school board on Sept. 26.

Howard County is in the process of debating a proposed plan to redistrict public schools county-wide. The goals of this plan are to better use existing capacity and reduce overcrowding, address equity by balancing the distribution of low-income students across schools, and plan ahead for the construction of a new high school. The challenge for the district is to weigh individual self-interest against the interest of the community as a whole (“Howard County schools are segregated because housing is segregated,” Oct. 2).

Not surprisingly, this plan has aroused the passions of the community. In the process, statements are often made that are inaccurate. One such statement is that the Maryland Equity Project deemed the Howard County schools the most integrated in the state (or region depending on the source). The Maryland Equity Project has not made such a determination. A report released by the Maryland Equity Project that I co-authored found that segregation between African American and white students in Howard County Public Schools was moderate. That is, it was found not the most segregated but also not the most integrated.


We also found that low-income students in the system were among the most segregated from non-poor students in the state. There were just two other districts in Maryland with higher levels of segregation by income. Segregation by income is significant because research has found that going to a high-poverty school has a negative impact on student outcomes. In a separate report, we examined the relationship between the racial/ethnic and economic composition of Maryland’s public schools and school performance on state achievement tests. The strongest relationship was between the percentage of low-income students in a school and school proficiency rates.

For the state, an increase in the percentage of low-income students in a school was associated with a decrease in the school proficiency rate on state assessments. A ten-percentage point increase in low-income enrollment corresponds to a 5.2 percentage point decrease in a school’s proficiency rate. Among school districts, the relationship between the enrollment of low-income students and proficiency rates was the strongest in Howard County where a ten-percentage point increase in the enrollment of low-income students was associated with a 7.58 percentage point decrease in school proficiency. The findings from this study are consistent with other research showing that school composition is related to student achievement.

Taken together, these two reports show that as the schools in Maryland — and Howard County — have become more segregated and that this increasing segregation, particularly by income, has a negative impact on student achievement. While there are many research-based policies Howard County schools can adopt to mitigate the effects of poverty on student outcomes and improve educational equity, these should include policies that encourage both racial and socioeconomic integration.

Gail Sunderman, Baltimore

The writer is co-founder and the former director of the Maryland Equity Project.

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