Panic over school redistricting ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

November 24, 1992

School redistricting plans always turn ugly. A proposal to move Severn Elementary pupils to the Meade Senior High feeder system is no exception.

Severn Elementary parents are bitterly opposed, and, in many ways, their feelings are justified. Switching schools can be a disruptive, upsetting experience for children, and inequities between schools are a fact. These are sensible reasons for fighting redistricting.

Unfortunately, redistricting usually devolves into emotional turmoil until all rational arguments are lost in irrational panic. In this case, Severn parents object chiefly because they believe Meade schools do not perform as well as Old Mill schools and are rife with disciplinary problems.

But the disparity between Old Mill and Meade scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and other exams is just not that great. Old Mill's combined SAT scores are 915, Meade's 881. The Maryland School Performance Tests show ninth graders at Old Mill and Meade scored almost identically in reading, mathematics and writing. Only 4 percent more Old Mill students are qualified to enter the University of Maryland System -- and last year 4 percent more Meade students were college ready. Meade also holds the record for the most National Merit Finalists and "Scholarships for Scholars" winners in one year.

Meade schools have their problems. Lack of parental involvement, due largely to the transience of a military community, translates into lack of political clout. The dropout rate is too high. And the student population, which draws from Fort Meade, middle-income neighborhoods and subsidized housing in Meade Village and Pioneer City, has complex needs.

And yet, Meade does not fit the picture Severn parents are painting. Only 114 of 1,700 high school students come from troubled Meade Village and Pioneer City. And statistics on the most serious disciplinary cases (those involving drugs, assaults, weapons, etc.) show that 38 occurred at Meade and 35 at Old Mill -- similar numbers, even considering that Old Mill has 800 more students.

These facts may not make Severn parents any more favorable to redistricting. But they should make them think twice before sending the not-so-subtle message that Meade students are somehow something less than the children up the road.

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