Integration experiment's last gasp Paired schools: Little benefit seen now in program deemed necessary 24 years ago.

March 07, 1998

CIVIL RIGHTS leaders have been debating whether school integration should remain a goal, whether black students benefit from being in class with white students. In Baltimore, a decision is about to be made that answers this question for about 1,100 elementary school students. They are the children who would be affected most if the Baltimore school board ended the pairing of schools linked 24 years ago to achieve integration.

At one time, the city had more than 20 schools paired for that purpose, white children going to formerly all-black schools and vice versa. It was Baltimore's response to a federal directive from the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Since 1974, the number of paired schools has dwindled to four. There is no documented record, but pairings typically ended as schools became mostly black.

Still paired are Steuart Hill Elementary with Franklin Square Elementary, but most of their students are black. There would be little racial change in them if the board ended all pairing.

That wouldn't be the case if Samuel F. B. Morse and Bentalou were decoupled and both became kindergarten-through-fifth-grade schools. For Morse and Bentalou, the school board must ask whether the modest integration that occurs is worth the problems.

Morse Elementary is about 70 percent black and 30 percent white; it would become 43 percent black, 57 percent white if unpaired. Bentalou Elementary is about 78 percent black and 22 percent white; if unpaired it would become 99 percent black, 1 percent white.

These schools are only about a mile apart in Southwest Baltimore. Children in the community attend kindergarten through third grade at Bentalou; then transfer to Morse for

grades three through five. Because parents complained about inclement weather, buses are provided to take children from one school to the other. Still, children often have to wait for the buses in the cold and rain.

A greater problem is the uneven education that children who attend paired schools may receive.

Morse Principal Kenneth Gladden said his school has had to accept responsibility for the poor performance of students who weren't properly prepared in their earlier years at Bentalou to take tests in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Almost every parent and teacher involved wants the schools decoupled, so the board is likely to end the arrangement.

In doing so, it would be saying integration isn't always possible in every school in a city with so few white and so many black youngsters. That makes it even more incumbent on the school board to boost the caliber of education delivered at all city schools, regardless of their location or demographic

composition.

Pub Date: 3/07/98

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