Panel to prescribe help for minority students

Town hall meetings in Baltimore County to seek parents' ideas

May 25, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

With $500,000 set aside to improve minority students' achievement, a Baltimore County task force has drafted recommendations ranging from more help in reading and math for fourth- and fifth-graders to additional diversity training for teachers and administrators.

The task force's work comes as the school system's African American Advisory Group plans to hold a series of town meetings across the county tomorrow night to let parents and community members talk about the plight of black students in Baltimore County. It will present recommendations to the county superintendent next week.

Other likely task force recommendations include help in reading and algebra for middle school pupils, extra preparation for the SAT, more teacher training and renewed efforts to encourage parent participation.

In Baltimore County and school systems across Maryland, black students -- the largest minority group -- consistently score lower than white students on achievement tests.

For example, on the third-grade reading portion of the 1998 Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams in Baltimore County, 51.4 percent of white boys and 55.4 percent of white girls scored satisfactory, but only 25.7 percent of black boys and 32.5 percent of black girls earned satisfactory scores.

Similar disparities between black students and white students can be found across subject areas and grade levels.

While the school system has taken some steps in recent years to narrow the gap, the lingering problem prompted the appointment of the task force by Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione.

The recommendations -- though preliminary -- already are being criticized by some black leaders for falling short of the broad reforms that have been recommended by the African American Advisory Group and a task force that reported to the state school board last fall.

"We think there need to be systemic changes in attitudes and expectations," said Ella White Campbell, chairwoman of the advisory group and a Liberty Road activist.

"From what I've seen and heard so far, this falls short. It shouldn't just be about how much money you have available to spend right now," Campbell said.

Members of the task force argue that they're rushing their initial recommendations because they were given a tight deadline to figure out how to spend the $500,000.

"Some people say $500,000 is not enough, but we've never had $500,000 before," said LaWanda Burwell, the task force's chairwoman and a school system assessment supervisor.

Other expected recommendations include developing a middle school mentoring program with area colleges and universities; expanding the availability of PSAT testing to high school sophomores and juniors; and making schools more friendly to parents with welcome desks and welcome packets.

If approved, most of the recommendations would be aimed at schools with large concentrations of black students, such as Winand Elementary, Woodlawn Middle and Randallstown High schools.

School board member Warren C. Hayman plans to put together a panel of experts and community members to review the task force's recommendations -- including Irving McPhail, chancellor of the Community College of Baltimore County; educators from several universities across the country; and representatives of the Baltimore County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Baltimore County Alliance of Black School Educators.

The task force also plans to resume its work next month on developing a broader strategy. Burwell said she hopes the group will have more recommendations prepared by October, in time to be a part of the budget preparation for the 2000-2001 school year.

The task force plans to have at least one member at each of tomorrow night's meetings.

"Hopefully, parents will talk about a variety of issues that our students are facing in our schools today," said Campbell, whose group is sponsoring the four meetings.

The four town hall meetings -- which are all scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. -- will be at Parkville High School for the northeast and central areas; Dundalk High School for the southeast area; Woodlawn High School for the southwest area; and Randallstown High School for the northwest area.

Pub Date: 5/25/99

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