Who's No. 1? Who Cares

June 05, 1993

Within weeks, when the members of the Dulaney High School Class of '93 are busy with summer jobs or preparations for college, few people will recall or care who the top-ranked graduate was.

Yet Dulaney student Amanda White and her family were so bent on her winning the rank of valedictorian that last Wednesday, just days before the graduation ceremony, her parents sued the Baltimore County school system in an attempt to block another girl from becoming No. 1.

If that weren't strange enough, consider the timing of the suit. It came well after Amanda had already brought honor to herself and her school by her accomplishments as both a student and a nationally recognized scholastic athlete, and by gaining admission to Stanford University, one of the most prestigious schools in the nation.

Amanda's parents -- including her father, Stan White, the former Baltimore Colts linebacker, now a local attorney and radio talk-show host -- lost their bid for an injunction and later withdrew the suit. Too bad they can't take back the damage done to what should be one of the happiest days of their daughter's life. Making this a public matter, they have ruined tomorrow's graduation not only for Amanda and her "competitor," Angela Lee, but also for other Dulaney students and their families.

It's all too easy to castigate the Whites for their apparent obsession with seeing Amanda become valedictorian, for viewing her courses more as ways to rack up ranking points than as paths to learning. The greatest share of blame, however, belongs to a school system that enables and, worse, encourages competition that pits student against student, with courses "weighed" so youngsters feel compelled to take classes primarily for their impact on class rank.

Ironically, this is the school system of Stuart Berger, a superintendent who has decried the harmful effects of letter grades. Dr. Berger said yesterday he was "shocked" by this competition that took place under his nose. Let's see him put his shock into action. We hope his recently formed committee to examine the county's class-ranking methods leads to changes that prevent sad episodes such as this one from recurring.

If certain schools in the Baltimore County system -- and, in fact, whole other systems, such as Howard County's -- can operate without rankings, then why not all schools? Anyway, college admissions officials tend to judge applicants by the quality of the courses they took, their extra-curricular activities, their SAT scores and other tangible factors. Students and parents might be surprised at how little attention is paid to something as superficial as who's No. 1.

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