Black group seeks ways to improve education Parents, educators target test-score gap in Balto. Co.

September 08, 1996|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

"Divorce the Baltimore County Public Schools," bellowed the RTC billboard that parents erected on Liberty Heights Avenue last month, summoning residents to yesterday's meeting at Maximum Life Christian Church.

It was a signal that a group of African-American parents, known as the Education Coalition of Organizations, had reached the breaking point in its effort to reduce the 30-point gap in test scores between black students and their peers in other ethnic groups.

Yesterday in Woodlawn, there was talk among the 30 parents and educators of forming a private school based on African ideals, charter schools -- independent schools run with public money -- and promoting taxpayer-financed vouchers for private school tuition.

But speakers also told of struggling successfully within the public system.

"Decide what you want and don't give up until you get it," said Gertrude S. Williams, principal of Baltimore's Barclay School, who fought for four years to bring the private Calvert School curriculum to Barclay. "But don't ever divorce the system," she ,, said. "Make it work for you."

Since the Barclay program began six years ago, test scores in reading and math have jumped from the 20th percentile to the 60th and 70th percentiles, Williams said, an increase she attributes to emphasizing basic skills.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a 7th District Democrat, told of growing up with a "special education" stigma and a counselor who told him he'd never amount to anything.

Long hours at the Enoch Pratt Free Library and a father whose motto was "Unless you're dead, you go to school" helped Cummings overcome the label to be inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society at Howard University and become a lawyer. His first client was the counselor who demeaned him.

Of the disparity in test scores, he said: "We have [black] children in Randallstown living in $125,000 houses. What is wrong? I think it has to do with expectations.

He said that blacks, as well as whites, need to examine their expectations of their children.

Cummings urged churches to devote Saturdays to activities that encourage male parishioners to spend time with boys.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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