BSAP at 10 Howard County: Black Student Achievement Program must do more to get results.

February 19, 1997

AFTER 10 YEARS, we would have expected a program designed to improve academic performance of African American children to show tangible results.

Despite a decade of the Black Student Achievement Program, however, only 72 percent of black students in Howard County passed the Maryland Functional Tests by the end of ninth grade last year, compared with 95 percent of white students.

This disparity exists even though the income gap between the races is less pronounced in suburban Howard than in many communities. A gulf like this is unacceptable anywhere, but particularly in a stable enclave such as Howard.

The BSAP must work harder to accomplish a goal that programs typically try to avoid -- putting itself out of business. An evaluation by the school system's assessment supervisor shows failure, not only on the part of BSAP, but also by the Board of Education, administrators and teachers whose resistance has contributed to the program's shortcomings.

Perhaps the program is guilty of the same flaw that a task force alleged last year was an overall problem in county middle schools: too much emphasis on self-esteem, not enough on academics. But don't single out BSAP for blame. School board members let children down two years ago when they rejected a proposal to expand the program's successful academic mentoring, in which adults help students with homework, attendance and relations with teachers and administrators.

The system's recent BSAP evaluation, however, erroneously concludes that a program designed only for black children is discriminatory. The opposite is true. The Ebonics solution offered in Oakland, Calif., may have been wrong-headed, but one of its premises was valid: That learning is difficult when a teacher and student from vastly different backgrounds cannot communicate. Efforts must be made to reach black children who aren't fully acculturated to middle-class America, just as efforts are made to reach kids from other cultures.

There is no need to sacrifice academics in the process. Indeed, academic success should be BSAP's focus. If the program works aggressively to provide a bridge over cultural differences in classroom achievement, in 10 years we may be writing a glowing obituary for the program.

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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