August 27 is the most wonderful time of year in my household. Why you ask? I guess I should say it’s the most wonderful time of year for me, but not particularly for my son. It’s the first day of school in Howard County, Maryland, specifically Columbia, Maryland. My son is entering the 8th grade this year and is lucky enough to attend a school system that isn’t particularly failing its students like another school system in Maryland, notably the Prince George’s County (PG County) school system, which seems to run through superintendents like Walmart does cashiers.
When I first moved to Maryland, I lived in PG County and placed my son in an affluent private Christian school, and by affluent I mean costly. My rent at the time and his monthly tuition were competing neck to neck in costs each month and he was only in pre-K! Before moving to the area friends warned me about the school system in PG County and the dysfunction of the county as a whole. Mind you, this was way before Jack Johnson decided to flush money down a toilet and have his wife stuff $100s into her panties. After that first year struggle to pay for private school, I decided to move to Columbia in Howard County because of the better school system and quality of life.
Columbia, Maryland, has seemingly been described as a melting pot because of its diversity and sense of community. Recently it was ranked as the No. 2 place to live in the United States by CNN/Money magazine. Columbia is a planned community designed by James Rouse (whose grandson is actor Edward Norton) to eliminate things like racial, religious, and class segregation. The diversity in Columbia was similar to the area in New Jersey where I grew up. My son’s class photos had Asian, Latino, Caucasian, and African-American faces. His closest friends from kindergarten through 3rd grade were a set of Asian twins named Yin and Yang. (Yes, those were their real names.) My son loved his teachers and never complained about going to school. I was an active PTA parent and made sure I was involved with his school activities and interacted with his teachers.
The summer after his 2nd grade year, the housing market turned into a buyers market, and I thought it would be a good time to find a bigger house. I wanted to stay in Howard County, but as with everything in that area, it’s going to cost you. Reluctantly I started looking into Prince George’s again and found a nice single-family house in an older Laurel, Maryland, neighborhood. The house was close to an elementary school, and after researching the test scores of the school, it seemed like an OK school.
As the saying goes, “all that glitters isn’t gold.” I had the house of my dreams: big yard, two-car garage, five bedrooms, two fireplaces. But after a few months into the school year, I noticed a change in my son. His grades were dropping and he wasn’t enthusiastic about school anymore. I also noticed the lack of parental participation during PTA meetings. Half the time there would be only a handful of parents, and the other half of the time teachers didn’t show up to the meetings. My son also began complaining about some disturbing playground activities he noticed. On more than one occasion he spoke about boys inappropriately touching the girls and kids basically brawling during recess. He practically begged not to spend another year at the school once it let out for summer break, and I didn’t blame him. For the sake of my son’s education and well-being, we moved back to Howard County.
I will say that there are a few top-rated schools in PG County that cater to the arts and sciences, and Howard County isn’t perfect. It definitely has its fair share of issues. But I do know a stark difference in their educational system is due heavily to the racial makeup of each county. Do I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the majority of Howard County’s population is white? Yes. I also feel that PG County does a huge disservice to their residents, particularly ones with children, because of their sub-par educational system. Do I feel this has a lot to do with the fact that PG is a black majority county? Yes. When you couple the fact that a) you have parents who don’t care, with b) an administration that doesn’t care (not to mention the revolving-door care), the result is children receiving the short end of the stick. “Each one teach one” and “No child left behind” seem to have a lot to do with the racial makeup of a county and its administration.
Do you feel a diversified or predominately white school system makes for a better grade school education?