NAACP calls for equity in schools

Report urges plans to cut disparities within five years

November 17, 2001|By Tanika White and Alec MacGillis | Tanika White and Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

The NAACP challenged school administrators in Maryland and across the nation yesterday to produce plans to reduce racial inequities in schools by 50 percent over the next five years.

In news conferences that began yesterday and will end Monday, local NAACP officials in many Maryland counties and throughout the nation released a 40-page "Call for Action" report. The document details "the persistent failure of schools to provide equality of opportunity for all students" in several areas, including suspension, graduation and retention rates, student placement in special education programs, school staffing and general academics.

Minority students across the nation, "especially black and Latino students, are consistently resource-deprived in comparison to white students," the report says.

The report asks public school systems and state secondary schools to submit a five-year education-equity plan to the national NAACP by May 10, outlining the steps that will be taken to equalize education for all children. It also requests that adequate funding be allocated to support the plans.

Local school officials responded positively to the challenge by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"This is very realistic and very much in line with the state's goals," said Howard County's director of the office of academic support Jacqueline F. Brown. "Those of us in curriculum and instruction welcome the support from the community toward making a reality of the state's number one priority, which is the elimination - not just reduction - of the academic achievement gap within five years."

"Morally, that's the type of goal you have to set," said Barbara Dezmon, assistant for equity and assurance to the Baltimore County superintendent of schools.

The report also calls for greater racial equality in higher education, noting that only 16 percent of 25-29 year old blacks had completed at least four years of college in 1998 - half the rate for whites. Its recommendations include the preservation of affirmative action in college admissions, a reduced emphasis on standardized test scores in admissions, and a greater commitment to need-based financial aid.

The latter point may have the most relevance for Maryland. A recent report by the Maryland Higher Education Commission found that the state, like many others, has shifted much of its funding toward merit-based financial aid, thereby leaving less money for those who need it most, including minority students.

"They're obviously on the mark. We recognize the need to take a closer look at state policy on that," said state Higher Education Secretary Karen Johnson, who said the state hopes to increase need-based funding this year.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg agreed yesterday that the trend toward merit-based aid should be reversed.

"I do support a deliberate shift of merit-based aid to need-based aid," he said. "It's very clear from the evidence we get from students that financial aid is very often a factor in whether they persist to graduation."

In discussing the low graduation rates among black college students, the NAACP report singles out the University of Maryland, College Park basketball and football teams, whose graduation rates, it says, are 19 percent and 39 percent, respectively.

Langenberg said it was unfair to focus on a few dozen of the state's estimated 20,000 black students, and that other major college sports programs faced similarly low graduation rates.

"There are undoubtedly plenty of problems in that area, but they have less to do with the race of student athletes than with student athletes in general," he said.

The Call for Action report is being released in all 50 states, NAACP national director of education John Jackson said yesterday in a telephone interview. Jackson said it also will be given to President Bush and Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

"It doesn't matter where you are in the U.S.," said NAACP state conference education chair Natalie Woodson, "it all points to the same results. What is true in Howard County is true in Pocomoke City."

Woodson, who also is first vice president of the group's Howard County branch, said the request is not a "finger-pointing exercise," but is instead a "collaboration to get the job done."

Two years ago, the Baltimore County school system formed a Minority Achievement Task Force, which received $500,000 in county money to tutor lagging students. Each month, the school district receives a progress report.

And in January, a Baltimore County task force on minority achievement called for bold classroom and curriculum reforms to address the disparity in achievement.

The request came after the most recent Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests showed that 28.9 percent of Baltimore County third-grade black pupils met or surpassed state standards for reading, compared to 50.7 percent of white third-graders.

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