Education is an investment in the future of our families, our communities, and our country. But right now, we’re shortchanging our future and leaving too many of our young people unprepared for the opportunities and challenges they will face.

The County Council and Board of Education work collaboratively to set the vision for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). County Council sets the budget, and the Board of Education sets curriculum and priorities for MCPS.  We need a bold new vision for education that supports the growth, development, and leadership of all Montgomery County students.

To achieve education for all, we must:

Our focus should be on teaching, not testing. The testing regimen in our schools has overwhelmed almost every other educational priority: students spend weeks on test-taking, and months on test preparation. While that means a lot of money for testing companies and their lobbyists, it means less instructional time where students and teachers can delve into important topics or use creative learning experiences to help students better engage with their curriculum. It also means that anything that isn’t on the test is unlikely to receive attention – whether that’s a discussion about current events and civic engagement, or the inclusion of other cultural perspectives on history, literature, or the arts.

It’s time to bring public education back to what is most important: preparing our students to be engaged and informed community members who will provide leadership on the pressing issues facing our world. We need to change the structure of our educational system so that educators can take the time to understand and respond to the unique gifts, interests, and needs of their students. And we need to be more creative in how we provide learning opportunities that truly engage students in their education – whether that means service and experiential learning, bilingual education, or more experience with diverse career options including the building trades, agriculture, and childhood or elder care.

A restorative justice model for engaging young people in school is required to end the school-to-prison pipeline. The opportunity gap in Montgomery County schools is directly related to the disparate treatment of students of color when it comes to school discipline. Parents and students of color routinely report unequal discipline for behaviors that are overlooked among other students – this starts as early as kindergarten, and continues throughout high school. MCPS has one of the highest school arrest rates in the nation. We must support students of color to succeed, instead of criminalizing them and denying them their right to a good education.

We need to focus more on school counselors trained in trauma-informed care and less on school resource officers focused on discipline. We must adequately support students who are dealing with racism and xenophobia, housing and food insecurity, abuse, bullying, and other issues that make it harder for them to do well in school. We need implicit bias training for teachers and administrators to eliminate unequal punishment of students. Lastly, we must invest more in innovative restorative justice practices like school meditation programs and mediation to build the skills of young people – and adults – in positive conflict resolution.

Our young people face a complex, interdependent world. They have opportunities to do things that we haven’t even dreamt about – but they also must face down the enormous challenges we are leaving to them, such as climate change, increasing income inequality, deep social unrest, and political and economic instability. We do our students a huge disservice if we don’t prepare them to lead in that changing global environment.

STEM education is absolutely part of this equation – but so is a strong foundation in cultural competency, communication skills, and conflict resolution. We’ll need doctors and lawyers, but also farmers who know how to grow our food without harming people or the planet. We’ll need artists and artisans, tradespeople, nurses and care workers, and many other gifts to keep our communities healthy and thriving.

Most of all, we’ll need young leaders who are able to think critically about the systems around them and develop better alternatives. Our education system needs to provide opportunities for students to create, innovate, and play a meaningful role in the decisions that impact their lives. Our students must graduate not only with knowledge, but also with the confidence that they’ll be able to build a better future for themselves and those who will come after them.

Education is about more than K-12. We have to invest in learners of all ages – beginning with our youngest community members whose minds, hearts, and bodies are at a critical stage of development. We must advance universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds as part of a strong system of early childhood care and education that helps children and their families. By providing more assistance to those in our county ergo want to start community-based child care centers, we can address economic as well as educational success in Montgomery County – allowing caregivers to make a living and support their neighbors in doing the same.

When it comes to lifelong learning, Montgomery College is a tremendous resource for all members of our community. With free community college becoming available for many low-income individuals and families in 2019, we must make sure that we are funding Montgomery College to provide an excellent education for those who enroll. We must also support and promote Montgomery College’s programs for workforce development, continuing education, youth, and older adults.

Our school system is the 14th largest in the nation. While Montgomery County is one of the wealthiest counties in Maryland, we face real challenges in meeting the needs of over 1 million residents and more than 161,000 students. Montgomery County needs adequate state funding to care for our most vulnerable communities: 11% of students receive special education services, 17% participate in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), and 35% of students receive free and reduced meals (FARMs) at school. That’s 56,000 FARMs students – more than the entire public school enrollment of the District of Columbia.

The Kirwan Commission’s newly released funding formula shortchanges Montgomery County schools and hinders us from providing an excellent education to all our students. We must work with our state delegation to the Maryland General Assembly and our county and state teachers’ unions to advocate for the money we need for school instruction and school construction – so that we can truly provide education for all in Montgomery County.