School stats skewed in speech to rights group

April 29, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

I got a little bone to pick with an hombre what goes by the monicker of Wade Henderson.

Henderson is the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition founded in 1950 that has grown to 192 organizations. The group's goal is "to promote the enactment and enforcement of effective civil rights legislation and policy," according to the organization's Web site, civilrights.org.

It is a pretty liberal group. But that's not the bone I have to pick with Henderson. I don't care how liberal he is, as long as he's accurate. And the depiction that Henderson gave to an audience in North Carolina of the attempted state takeover of 11 Baltimore schools wasn't accurate.

It happened at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. The occasion was a public forum, the last event of a three-day symposium called "Beyond Rosa Parks: Civil Rights in the 21st Century." Henderson was part of a panel that included Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Ted Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and National Urban League President Marc Morial.

I don't know how the topic of Baltimore schools came up, but Henderson shared with the audience that our state's "Republican governor" was trying to take over the city's education system. Then he went into a litany about inequities that exist between schools in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

The city's schools are overwhelmingly black, Henderson correctly noted. Baltimore County schools are, by comparison, 75 percent white. Henderson then focused on the differences between the two districts on the matter of Advanced Placement courses.

Far more common in the county than the city, he told the North Carolinians. And the Advanced Placement courses that Baltimore did have were predominantly white.

Now I'll concede that Henderson never directly laid the blame for those inequities at the feet of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. But those in a North Carolina audience not familiar with the recent tug-of-war between city and state officials over control of 11 failing schools might conclude that. For some black folks, the big "R" word - Republican - has the same meaning as the little "r" word - racist.

But because Henderson mentioned a political party by name - Republicans - I figure he should have been a bit more informative. For example, he could have told the audience this:

A bipartisan state school board voted for the takeover.

Inequities between the Baltimore City and Baltimore County school systems do, indeed, exist. But the decline in city schools occurred over several decades, in which Democrats ruled the roost in the state legislature, the governor's mansion, the Baltimore City Council and the mayor's office.

Funding is not one of those inequities. According to the Web site www.mdreportcard.org, Baltimore City had a per-pupil expenditure of $9,129 for the school year ending in 2005. Baltimore County's was $8,899. For the same school year, Baltimore County had nearly 108,000 students. Baltimore had slightly under 89,000.

In 2005, about 38 percent of Baltimore County students were black, according to www.mdreportcard.org. Hispanic, Asian and Native American students make up 8 percent of the system. Baltimore County schools are 54 percent white, not 75 percent.

When Carmen V. Russo was chief executive officer of Baltimore schools, she had a report on Advanced Placement performance done for members of the school board. The report covered the school years 1997-1998 through 2001-2002. The race, ethnicity and gender breakdown of students who took Advanced Placement tests is on page 13 of that report. Of the 345 students who took the exam in 2002, 223 were black.

Henderson said yesterday that his numbers "may have been a little off" and that his statistics were from "two or three years ago." (He also indicated that Democrats may have been as politically motivated as Republicans in the state takeover dispute and his reference to the racial disparities in Advanced Placement courses was about math and science courses.) But he wanted to make clear his larger point: that Baltimore City and Baltimore County, adjacent to each other, have school systems that are a "mirror image of each other."

"In Baltimore County, all teachers are certified," Henderson said. "In Baltimore, only a small number are certified. In the county schools, you have a rigorous curriculum that meets the needs of students in the 21st century. In the city schools, that curriculum is almost nonexistent. The Baltimore County and Baltimore City schools present a unique circumstance that illuminates the problems we have nationally. We shouldn't have a situation like this where the city and county have school systems that are a mirror image of each other."

That mirror image might be one of achievement more than race. In Baltimore County, black girls, the smallest of the four subgroups - black female, black male, white female, white male - had the highest graduation rate in 2005 at 88.5 percent. The rate for black males was about 81 percent.

In Baltimore City, those numbers were, respectively, 67 percent and 50 percent. Henderson might not have had all his statistical ducks in a row, but if his goal is to end this inequity, his heart is sure as heck in the right place.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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