Schools must close gap for minority students The...

LETTERS

February 10, 2002

Schools must close gap for minority students

The Maryland State Department of Education has mandated closing the gap in educational performance of African American and other ethnically minority students. The African American Coalition Of Howard County is pleased that Superintendent O'Rourke, in his message transmitting the FY 2003 budget, cited a commitment to "close and ultimately eliminate, achievement gaps." Our concern is that the resources requested in the instructional budget appear to support only the current level of services, which will simply maintain the intolerable current level of educational performance gap for African Americans and many other students.

Moreover, in the Academic Support Services section, the proposed budget provides no resources to fully implement the proven highly effective Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP) in all schools within a three-year period. We cannot see how a performance gap that is substantial and damaging to both children and this Howard County community can be closed within five years without resources being allocated.

There is a very closely related gap issue which I raised a few years ago with both the Board of Education and the County Council. That is the issue of African American students who test high on CTBS and yet are relegated to low-level classes. For example, in the reading area of fifth-grade students scoring in the extraordinarily high 95 to 99 percentile, the rates of their assignment to high-level reading classes were 56 percent of white students but only 20 percent of African American students.

I asked was this clear evidence of the deliberate and systematic steering of exceptionally academically talented African American students away from academically challenging courses as a result of systemic white supremacist practices that remain institutionalized in the educational system? Or was it evidence of gross incompetence on the part of some Howard County teachers and administrators who allow very significant numbers of African American children to be sidetracked into less challenging course work?

If this is what happened to the most academically gifted African American students, what happened to those bright black students who scored at the commendable 80th percentile and above? What happens every school day to the average African American students and those who enter the school system less prepared? Is this gap at the highest levels a clue as to why there is a performance gap at the lowest levels? There is a proverb of the African people of Cameroon that says "He who asks questions, cannot avoid the answers."

We have begun to see some attention to this latter issue under Mr. O'Rourke's leadership, but the problem remains pervasive in the schools. It is now up to the Board of Education to provide the additional resources to close the educational gaps at both ends through fully funding BSAP, training central office and school-based staff and closer monitoring of the actual implementation of policies and procedures at the classroom level.

Once again, Howard County has been acclaimed as the number one school system in Maryland. The last time, when the large celebratory banner was raised above the entrance to the Board of Education building, it seemed to be tolerated that some children were being left behind either by omission or commission. The Board of Education must clearly articulate, within the FY 2003 budget, how the performance gap will be closed within the next five budget years. Let Howard County be truly number one in Maryland as the first school system in the state to eliminate the performance gap for African American and other students.

Ken Jennings

Columbia

(The writer is vice president for operations at the African American Coalition of Howard County.)

Center offers advice, aid on caring for elderly

The article "Graying Howard a growing concern" (Feb. 3) brought to light that many baby boomers in Howard County are now becoming caregivers for elderly loved ones, both in and out of the area. There is a new service available in Howard County to address this need.

The Caregiver Resource Center of Howard County (410-715-5057, www.crchc.org)offers information, referral, a lending library of books on caregiving and related subjects, and take-home materials.

The Center, which opened in October, provides a starting place for people who are caregivers, even when they do not know where to begin. Future resources and support will address needs of caregivers of those with chronic and terminal illness, disabilities, and grandparents caring for grandchildren.

Elizabeth Wexler, LCSW-C

(The writer is manager of the Caregiver Resource Center of Howard County.)

Funding athletic trainers brings O'Rourke praise

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