Time to close the learning gap

Crisis: County schools must boost lagging African-American achievement in county schools.

Agenda 2000 Baltimore Co.

September 15, 2000

ONE PIECE of advice for Barbara S.J. Dezmon, the new head of Baltimore County schools' Office of Equity and Assurance: Don't waste any more time on studies of minority underperformance. Assemble an action plan and execute it as soon as possible.

Everyone from the school board to parents knows that county schools with predominantly minority and poor children are lagging far behind others in their levels of achievement. So far, little has been done to improve their poor performance.

Smaller elementary school classes should be a priority to provide intensive reading instruction where necessary. If these students aren't brought up to grade level by the third grade, they likely won't ever catch up and become most likely to drop out of school or develop discipline problems.

Teachers - particularly the least-experienced ones who are assigned to these schools - can't do the job alone. They need support from reading specialists and classroom aides. These new teachers also need mentoring and guidance from experienced teachers.

Many libraries of these underperforming elementary schools need books. County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger had money in this year's budget for high and middle school book purchases. Next year, money needs to be earmarked for elementary books.

The high school curriculum also needs overhauling. Judging from SAT scores, students attending schools with large minority enrollments appear to be shortchanged. The gap needs to be closed, particularly if these students are to continue their educations.

Dr. Dezmon must push and prod the school system until this achievement gap disappears.

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