Removing racial and ethnic barriers to student achievement

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Small child smiling at camera while other children work behind herThe Montgomery County Public School system is the 16th-largest school district in the United States, and one of its most diverse. Although the district has ample funding, excellent teachers, and a proven curriculum, there is a huge gap in test scores between white students and students of color. In 2002, the local business roundtable and the school district decided to try a new approach. They began a concerted effort to implement structured conversations in schools about how race and ethnicity affect student achievement.

They started in one school and have expanded to many schools and neighborhoods across the county. The district’s “Study Circles" program has engaged thousands of administrators, teachers, students and parents in dialogues to address racial and ethnic barriers to student achievement and parent involvement. Recently, they invited the district’s top leaders to examine the racial implications of institutional practices and policies.

As a result of the program's success, the school district remains committed even when school funding is being cut. The dialogues have led to improved understanding and awareness, individual behavior changes, new and stronger relationships, and to institutional changes:

  • Students of all backgrounds have avenues to talk with each other, with parents, and with administrators.
  • New student leaders are emerging, equipped with knowledge of racial and ethnic barriers to student achievement.
  • Teachers are developing awareness of how unintentional stereotyping affects their teaching, and are changing their behaviors.
  • Schools are offering new support systems in multiple languages to help parents from every background get involved.
  • Some schools developed new discipline plans to treat students of color fairly.

See some reactions from Montgomery County students about the program:

Read more stories of communities addressing education issues.


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September 25, 2013

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Mayme Webb Bledsoe of the Duke Durham Neighborhood Partnership Uses Dialogue to Lift Voices in the Duke / Durham Community 

Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.