Yes, Schools' BSAP Is A 2nd-Tier Outfit

COMMENT

July 11, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

A few weeks ago, as I was preparing to embark on vacation, I got a 7:30 a.m. wake-up call from an irate reader.

The caller, who described herself as a Howard County teacher, was angry about a column I had written last month about a new pilot program designed to improve the achievement scores of African-American students. It was my contention that the new program would put the Black Student Achievement Program, now more than six years old and with little success to which it can point, on a "second tier" as such programs go.

The caller asked that I meet with a half-dozen of her colleagues so that I would have a more accurate picture of the BSAP. I declined, suggesting instead that I speak to each of her colleagues separately to discuss the matter. It was my intention to avoid a confrontation in which I would be merely outnumbered.

Unfortunately, for the caller, that wasn't a satisfactory compromise.

During the course of our conversation, however, I got a glimmer of what had upset the person about the column. Because of that I feel a need to set the record straight.

In my mind, Howard County schools' BSAP richly deserves a second-tier status.

The program has done some things for which it should be commended -- particularly with programs aimed at lifting the self-esteem of African-American children. There is, in fact, more work the BSAP can do in this area.

Where the BSAP has had little impact, however, is in the classroom. Any number of test score results back up the validity of that statement. Black children continue to lag behind their white and Asian counterparts despite the BSAP's long track record.

In addition, the BSAP has charted a course that has jeopardized its own agenda and alienated potential allies.

The tactic is as old as the hills, and involves charging racism against anyone who questions or disagrees with the group. The BSAP has done this to the school board and to top administrators.

It may be a mystery to some that the BSAP's county-paid facilitator, Gloria Washington, hasn't received the boot, because she obviously condones such tactics. Ms. Washington, however, has built herself a powerful lobby that would quickly come to her defense.

In a strange way, even I, a black man, have been dealt the race card. More than once a BSAP supporter, including Ms. Washington, has seen fit to tell me of their dismay that an African-American would question anything about the BSAP. The implication is clear: If I were black enough, I would never criticize.

Let me make myself clear: The African-American community is not monolithic. We can disagree, even with the white man looking on. It makes us stronger when we do agree on something.

Lastly, let me say that the BSAP has failed in one way for which there can be no excuse. It has failed to reach the impoverished and disadvantaged children who should have been the group's central focus.

Instead , too many of its programs have been aimed at middle-class students, who may need a boost, but don't require the same attention as a poor child in order to achieve.

This is too bad, and it is why I believe the pilot program being developed by the school system's Human Relations Office has the potential for success. It attacks the problem at the core, in the classroom. And its focus is on high expectations and using a variety of teaching methods to reach all children.

The BSAP has not had a solid focus on the classroom, perhaps because Ms. Washington's background is in counseling rather than teaching.

For that reason, I put the pilot program on the first tier. In fact, it's first class.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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