New tool aids visualization during Montgomery Co. school boundary analysis

As Montgomery County, Maryland, education officials review school boundaries to determine whether they have enough buildings to accommodate students and bolster diversity, a new database is making it possible to see data from a specific school or group of schools.

In a Tuesday webinar, the county debuted an “interactive boundary explorer,” which lets parents see data points that Montgomery County Public Schools uses to analyze growth, including school facility utilization and capacity, student demographics and proximity to school.

In November 2019, Montgomery County launched a countywide school boundary analysis with the goal of making schools in Maryland’s largest school system more diverse.

The county’s consultant team, WXY Studio, plans to release a final report detailing school demographics, enrollment and the percentage of students who are able to walk to school.

The interactive boundary explorer breaks down several of the elements used in the analysis.

The school system says the data is shown through three lenses:

Utilization measures the capacity of school facilities. This is calculated by comparing student enrollment to a school’s total available seats. Utilization is important for maintaining reasonable class sizes and accommodating growth.

Diversity refers to differences between students. It is measured here by three factors: race and ethnicity, socio-economic background, and English language proficiency. Key measures include racial dissimilarity, Free and Reduced Meals System (FARMS) eligibility and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

Proximity considers the difficulty or ease with which students get to school. This analysis considers miles traveled to school (using road distances) and the proportion of students who attend the school closest to their home or live within their school’s walk zone.

Since school redistricting is a perpetual hot-button issue for residents, the county’s rollout of the new tool attempted to make clear that the distillation of data is not being used to redraw school boundaries.

School officials say the consultant’s final report is expected to be made public in January or February 2021: “Once complete, this report will serve as a critical data resource for Board members and will allow them to comprehensively understand districtwide issues informed through data and community feedback. The final report will not have any recommendations on boundary changes.”

The public is invited to register for upcoming webinars to provide input on the county’s boundary analysis.

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