In March, a consultant hired by the Montgomery County Board of Education will present their recommendations for alleviating racial discrimination in that Maryland county’s schools. If you want to know what life in America will look like in the decades after Trump, this looming battle offers hints.
Montgomery County, in the DC suburbs, ranks 11th in the nation in median family income. It ranks 3rd in education level, with almost a third of its residents holding a post-graduate degree. Fewer than 1 in 5 voters supported Trump. Montgomery County is, by all accounts, a Democratic stronghold.
Only a third of the students in the county’s schools are white, however by some magic almost two thirds of the county’s white high school students attend a majority white, or plurality white school. Almost half of Latino students attend schools that are majority or plurality Latino. Turns out, like any other affluent community, Montgomery County’s schools are heavily segregated.
This segregation has measurable, material impacts. A realignment of school boundaries would not only alleviate this problem, it would bring some balance between under-utilized schools and crowded facilities in neighboring districts. Resource disparities that accompany this segregation also cause measurable damage, depressing outcomes for students in the under-invested districts. If no one had ever heard of race, then this district remapping would be an obviously necessary move. We don’t live in that kind of world.
Last January, Ananya Tadikonda, the board’s student member, courageously raised the issue of segregation at a board meeting. Being a solidly Democratic community with a powerful progressive presence, her boldness in addressing this issue should have been welcomed. Thing is, people tend to be “progressive” right up to the moment they discover the price tag.
Tadikonda’s request that the board formally review options for addressing segregation touched off a contentious debate in the community, a debate that isn’t resolved. Tensions were primed by the experience of neighboring Howard County, where an effort to redraw district boundaries to relieve segregation brought the snakes out of the woodpile.
Though it’s fun to chuckle at the hypocrisy of a performatively progressive community struggling with its own racism, we shouldn’t miss the more important point. These are the only places in America where this fight could even be waged right now. What makes this story interesting is not the racist backlash, but the fact that these localities are able to stage such a debate at all. This battle in Maryland to move past virtue-signaling toward tangible progress is a crucial test of sincerity and will.
In the world that emerges from the Trump disaster, who will be willing to carry the weight of progress where it really matters, in our neighborhoods? Who is going to tackle the problems white supremacy has spawned in zoning, mortgage finance, school funding, higher education and transportation? Today, self-described “progressives” are gutting efforts to achieve progress in Berkeley and Seattle to preserve their personal investments and chase ideological unicorns. The embarrassing spectacle staged in Oakland Tuesday, where “progressive” activists hijacked the Mayor’s announcement of support for zoning reform, portends a grim future for the progressive movement.
All over the country, progressives are loudest about the subjects that cost them personally the least. They are quick to chase rainbows and slow to reckon with facts or dig into difficult details. You can count on a progressive to noisily announce their preferred pronoun or post pictures of their locally-sourced vegan meal, but when it’s time to tackle thorny issues with broad implications that might potentially cost them something, you better not bet on their help. That has to change.
Keep an eye on the news out of Montgomery County this spring. If the local school board, empowered by an overwhelming progressive majority, can chart to path out of their persistent racial segregation, their success might be a playbook for others. If they can’t, it’s hard to imagine who can.