Minority achievement strategies abound Conference aims at closing gap

March 31, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Closing the gap of academic achievement between black students and their counterparts in Howard County is a task that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey hopes to accomplish in about three years, the remaining length of his contract.

"There is probably no more critical concern [in] what our school system is facing right now than minority achievement," he said at a panel discussion last night.

"If Howard County can't change minority achievement, we should be ashamed," said Mr. Hickey, noting reports that the area is the sixth most affluent in the United States.

He served as moderator at a Johns Hopkins University-sponsored minority student achievement discussion, at which parents, community activists and educators wrote down questions on pieces of paper and got the chance to have them answered by such educators as Robert E. Slavin, director of the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Research on Effective Schooling for Disadvantaged Students, and Asa Hilliard III, an urban education professor at Georgia State University.

Mr. Hilliard spoke earlier yesterday to Baltimore educators working on how to teach black students.

Jacqueline F. Brown, the schools' human relations coordinator, was also part of the panel.

The discussion covered every thing from improving parent participation to boosting black student achievement.

Responding to a question about how to change the attitudes of teachers with biases, Ms. Brown said such teachers will have to first admit the need to change.

"If we were born and raised in this country, it will be hard to find a teacher . . . who has not been contaminated with negative images, portrayals and messages about African-American males," she said.

Mr. Slavin said schools must change the way they view educating children to improve black students' performance.

"Taking on a philosophy from the outset that every child will succeed, no matter what, is the most efficient thing a school system can do to address the issue of minority achievement," he said.

Mr. Slavin also suggested schools change the way they assess student performance, saying the criteria are so narrow that only a few students measure up.

"School failure at an early age . . . is fundamentally preventable," he said. "If every child can learn at an early age, it's incumbent on the school system to provide that one-on-one so students can do so."

Mr. Hilliard pitched his own ideas to improve student achievement: set similar goals for every child, and establish an accountability system at schools so educators who aren't performing their jobs can be let go.

He also suggested school systems look at other places that have succeeded, saying, "The only way for success to be proliferated is to copy where success has occurred."

Those attending the discussion agreed with most of the suggestions.

"Now whether they can be put into practice is another question," said Francis Lockwood, a former first-grade teacher from Baltimore.

"I just hope the channels that were set will be followed through," said Albertha Lunn, a member of the Howard County NAACP.

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