Asian-American Organizations Welcome the Education Department’s Investigation into Illegal Racial Balancing of Montgomery County’s Magnet Programs

By | March 22, 2019

For Immediate Release

March 22, 2019

Livingston, New Jersey: Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) and Association for Education Fairness (AFEF) jointly issue the following statement to welcome a recent decision by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to open a probe into the selection process of Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) middle school magnet programs. OCR’s timely investigation responds to complaints filed by courageous parents in Montgomery, Maryland and reaffirms the federal government’s support to all parents in faithfully enforcing laws granting equal education rights.

First developed in the 1970s, MCPS’s magnet programs have been considered the most intellectually elite in the country. For the magnet programs under the OCR investigation, previous selective admissions criteria including the Cognitive Abilities Test, teachers’ recommendations and essay writing were anchored to encourage academic excellence. However, against all positive evidence of consistently outstanding academic outcomes among magnet program students, MCPS adopted a sweeping reform in 2016 for the explicit purpose of making the racial mixes of these programs mirror the demographic changes in Montgomery in the last two decades. Based upon an independent report on the district’s special academic programs in March 2016 by Metis Associates, the reform expanded the definition of “gifted” to introduce non-cognitive criteria, group-specific norms that benchmark student performance against school peers with comparable backgrounds while diluted preexisting standards. In addition, this racially motivated reform dictates that MCPS’s magnet programs now should serve outlier students from underrepresented communities, specifically “Hispanic, black, and limited English proficiency students”, instead of top-performing students whose academic outcomes are testified by universally rigorous standards, regardless of their racial background. In some instances, the district awards automatic admissions to students in the top 5-10% of sending elementary or middle schools, regardless of inter-school performance gaps.

Window-dressed as equity and diversity measures, the new selection process for the magnet programs is an act of illegal racial balancing, which is subjective, unfair and particularly detrimental to Asian-American children in Montgomery. Since 2016, Asian-American students’ admission rate at Takoma Park Middle School and Eastern Middle School (two middle schools offering selective magnet programs in MCPS) has consistently dropped by 20% annually while Hispanic and black enrollments increased at an average rate of 15%, in spite of no supportive data on each group’s academic performance. Many Asian-American children who ranked among top 1-2% at their elementary schools and excelled in all MCPS measures were unfairly denied admissions. Instead of adopting a legal approach to encourage underrepresented groups to apply to magnet programs, the reform remedies on the subjective criteria only exacerbates confusions in communication by prioritizing non-transparent measures over objective standards.

In this critical light, AACE stands firmly with Asian-American parents in Montgomery and our local partner AFEF who has been fighting vigilantly to oppose the school district’s de facto racial balancing in transforming its magnet programs. It is a gross political move violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act while ignoring the root problem, failing public education in underrepresented communities. We are grateful to the OCR and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for standing by Asian-American children’s equal education rights.

Mr. Alex Zhong, the president of AFEF said: “Association for Education Fairness is grateful that the OCR is now investigating the ongoing reform in the selection process of Montgomery’s magnet programs. The current admissions system is non-transparent as MCPS has refused to release data to verify its claim of race-blind selections. We condemn any policy favoring one race at the expense of another which unequivocally translates into racial discrimination. Most importantly, we believe in Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s vision that ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race’.”

Mr. Yukong Zhao, the president of AACE said: “To safeguard the spirit of the American Dream and the principle of equal opportunity, we must relentlessly combat illegal racial balancing in K-12 education as a zero-sum political game. The OCR investigation into Montgomery’s magnet programs showcases the federal government’s commitment to the equal protection of the laws for Asian-American communities, despite the fact that we are a relatively small minority. Going forward, AACE will continue to support AFEF and local parents’ courageous fight against MCPS’s racial balancing!”

Asian American Coalition for Education Association for Education Fairness

Alex Zhong, Cell: (646)496-7108, email:[email protected]
Dr. Wenyuan Wu, telephone: (786) 393-8028, email: [email protected]

About the AACE:
Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE) is a non-political, nonprofit, grassroots national organization, the proven leader in fighting for Asian-American children’s equal educational rights. Over the years, we have advanced the cause of equal education rights for the Asian-American community by filing civil-rights complaints against Harvard and other selective colleges and filing lawsuit against education institutions for their anti-Asian discriminations. In July 2018, the federal government adopted our policy recommendations by rescinding Obama era guidance that promoted racial balancing and acquiesced to racial discrimination in college admissions. AACE has been proactive in supporting local parents and Asian-American organizations in their fight against racial discrimination in K-12 education.

About AFEF:
Association for Education Fairness (AFEF) is a non-political, nonprofit, grassroots national organization, based in Montgomery County, Maryland. Its mission is to advocate and achieve fair and equal education rights and opportunities for ALL Americans. Our vision is to collaborate with other communities and organizations that share our mission and to partner with diverse organizations to achieves our goals. AFEF has been leading the fight against illegal racial balancing in MCPS.