Demanding school equity

January 28, 1993

If nothing else, Howard countians owe Barbara Strong Goss a note of gratitude for raising the issue of equity among county schools.

Ms. Strong Goss is the Ellicott City attorney and mother who single-handedly amassed a plethora of data to support her conclusion that Howard County schools are inherently unequal.

Focusing on racial composition, the number of students receiving free- and reduced-priced lunches and test scores, Ms. Strong Goss argues that some schools have too high a percentage of minority and disadvantaged students, while other schools have virtually none.

She has approached the school board and the county's Human Rights Commission, calling for massive school redistricting to create a more equitable balance of students in all schools.

Judging by the reaction of school board members -- one school official referred derisively to her ideas as "social engineering" -- Ms. Strong Goss' proposals stand little chance of being adopted.

In fact, rejecting the idea of large-scale redistricting to achieve racial balance may be the right approach. A massive redistricting plan would be highly disruptive and the promise of results would be dubious.

Still, for the board to dismiss Ms. Strong Goss out of hand leaves us to wonder, once again, about the school system's commitment to achieving equity.

Ms. Strong Goss' data, much of which she obtained from school officials, does show a disparity between schools when it comes to race and class composition.

One might reasonably conclude that a concentration of minority and disadvantaged children in some schools places an unreasonable burden on those schools to achieve the same results as schools with largely affluent populations.

Further, we have noted in the past the unequal distribution of resources between newly constructed schools and older, established schools in Howard.

While new schools receive substantial funding for new equipment and other resources, older schools rarely do. This situation further cripples those schools struggling with large disadvantaged populations.

The solution posed by Ms. Strong Goss may not be the ideal one for Howard. But the issues certainly are valid, and they deserve a better reception from the board than they got.

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