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Starr Kicks Me to the Curb: The Non-Interview

Superintendent Joshua Starr refuses an interview with a black Montgomery County blogger. Here are the achievement gap questions he refused to answer.

For this blog, I recently emailed the Montgomery County Public Schools and requested an interview with Superintendent Joshua Starr. My hope was to sit and chat with Dr. Starr about achievement gaps. He seems to talk endlessly about this issue with all sorts of people; so why not me?

I got kicked to the curb. My request for an interview was turned down by MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig.

Well, I think I came up with some really great interview questions. The questions appear below, without responses.

I stand ready at any time to sit and chat with Starr.

Question No. 1: 

Your children will attend Walt Whitman High School. When Advanced Placement exam results were last reported (for the Class of 2012), Whitman AP exam-takers who took AP Psychology, on average, scored a “4.”  Forty-one percent of the Whitman AP Psychology exam-takers scored a “5”—the highest AP score possible.

Across the county, Psychology exam scores for Wheaton High School tell a different story. At Wheaton, on average, AP Psychology exam-takers scored a “1”—the lowest AP score possible. Only 2 percent of the AP exam-takers at Wheaton scored a “5.” 

First, how do you interpret these differences?  And second, what is your plan to alter these outcomes—increase the AP exam performance for minority high school students?

Question No. 2: 

Let’s stick with the performance gaps between Whitman and Wheaton high schools. In 2011, Wheaton seniors who received FARMS scored 429 points, on average, on the SAT critical reading subtest. Black seniors at Wheaton scored, on average, 421 points on the same subtest. Across the county, white Whitman
seniors scored, on average, 623 points. During the 12-year tenure of MCPS
Superintendent Jerry Weast these SAT performance gaps never closed (although,
Weast is on the public record saying they did close). 

First, why do you think they never closed?  And second, what is your strategy for closing such performance gaps? 

Question No. 3: 

Let’s fast forward to 2020: You're in your third term as MCPS superintendent. The above performance gaps remain—you have not closed this specific performance gap or others.

When you factor such a reality into the mix, how would you then grade your overall MCPS performance as superintendent? And how would explain the grade? 

Question No. 4: 

I’m on the record saying that MCPS still experiences huge performance gaps for black students in our high schools because our black students are not taking complete advantage of specific “high-end” challenging academic programs. For
example, the number of black students participating in our International Baccalaureate programs is embarrassingly low (in my opinion). 

What are your thoughts on this? Why aren’t our high schools enrolling more black students in their IB programs?

Before answering the next question, Dr. Starr should read a book chapter I wrote about the "Talented Tenth." (Note to readers:  If you send me an email at hatmbrown@yahoo.com, I will send you a copy of this book chapter.)

Question No. 5: 

Now, I believe that one significant factor that drives low black IB participation is
parental apathy. I actually believe that black parents are not pushing their children hard enough academically.  

What are your thoughts on this? What can MCPS do to change this?

Question No. 6: 

If Bill Gates called you tomorrow and said, “Dr. Starr I’m giving $1 billion dollars to MCPS to spend on gap-closing efforts and programs at the high school
level, however, MCPS can only spend the money on three specific things,” what three things would you pick and why?

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Buzz Beeler March 11, 2013 at 07:30 PM
Online, a seasoned journalist or should I say hundreds of well fried news hounds got nowhere in Fast and Furious and the Benghazi hearings. Mum was the word and still is. Sean Hannity from| Fox News laid out a time that connected the dots and spoke with no one in the WH on the Benghazi issue. A moment to moment account of the attack. He did not enter the spin zone and didn't have to. You let the facts do the talking. Now they may think some of us are stupid, but the body count and the military people they spoke with paint a different picture. Any successful writer, no matter what their background is should always write in drafts and have them reviewed by other professionals before publishing. One of the best movies on journalism and how it is done successfully is "All the Presidents Men." Required reading before one puts pen to paper. I agree with you on the issue of the interview. I would have used an e-mail for a response or lack thereof but that would not have been the focal point of the article. I would have also stated the facts as opposed to asking for them. Your argument becomes more forceful when you present them and then refer (documentation by e-mail) they had no answers. That way you remove the agenda issue and the onus now becomes their silence..
Janis March 11, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Not sure what planet you on on, but there are no seasoned journalists covering Montgomery County Public Schools. There are some young adults fresh out of college who readily proclaim they are not "investigative journalists". They are usually tasked with multiple articles per day, and some hold together entire publications. Hence, there is no "staff". There is no massive news room to review education stories relating to 1 public school system. If you are interested in this topic, why don't you do a MPIA request for the e-mails from the MCPS Public Relations department to local reporters? Take a look at how the MCPS PR department "handles" news stories. You also might like a list of the private press conferences held by the Superintendent. Those are the ones where only the "approved" reporters are invited. No general press conferences here in Montgomery County.
Buzz Beeler March 11, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Janis, great point. I use PIA's all the time. Even sued Balto. Co. one time over a story I did. I think that if Joe takes a look at the "War on Poverty," and correlates those issues he'll find they are applicable across the country and that battle left no dollar, excuse me, stone unturned.
Janis May 17, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Wrong. The education is not free. Hasn't been for years. Students in MCPS are constantly charged for attending public school classes in violation of Maryland law. The Parents' Coalition has been documenting this reality for over 5 years. Stick to the facts: http://parentscoalitionmc.com/Guide_to_Fees.html
Janis May 17, 2013 at 03:09 PM
No worries. Superintendent Starr only does interviews with select reporters who will only write stories from MCPS Press Releases. Now, that's not biased at all, right? Haha. Starr only does interviews when he knows how the interview will come out. But, you don't want him to do interviews with anyone with an opposing view? Your wish has been granted.

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