Leadership needed for better black scores

New focus: Achievement gap in Baltimore County must be at the top of the school agenda.

February 17, 2000

BALTIMORE COUNTY schools' public confidence problem just went from bad to worse in the African-American community.

School officials were already under fire for failing to make a priority of their efforts to close the staggering achievement gap between white and black students. Now they face a further loss of faith with the departure of deputy superintendent Elfreda W. Massie, the system's highest ranking African-American administrator.

There's only one way to start rebuilding the community's trust: Place black achievement issues front and center.

The combination of Dr. Massie's departure and the African-American performance gap has sent black parents and the NAACP's Baltimore County chapter into a frenzy.

They fear minority achievement won't be an important consideration in choosing the county's next superintendent, now that Dr. Massie isn't a candidate. They worry that Dr. Massie's departure signals a lack of commitment to diversity and black achievement.

School officials can't falter here.

School board members must not pass on the opportunity to find a superintendent -- black or white -- who not only places high priority on improving minority achievement but also has a record of accomplishment in that area.

They also must do more to boost classroom performance. A number of efforts are already in place to raise reading and mathematics achievement across the system. And recent test scores are better. The problem for the system is that the chasm between black and white students isn't closing fast enough for parents and civil rights organizations. The community wants quick and visible action -- and deserves it.

Over the next several months, the school board must develop a focused plan that will be carried out at all levels of the system.

Board members should also take advantage of some of the opportunities that sit right in front of them. The school system has already adopted a governance system based on accountability. Why not include increased minority achievement among the goals that administrators, principals and teachers must achieve?

No one should underestimate the magnitude of the task. But no one should be misled about how imperative it is, either. "This is not a sprint but a marathon," said Ronald S. Thomas, who oversees the system's department of accountability. The time to start that journey is now.

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