Beating the odds

May 01, 2006

Aforthcoming study brings welcome good news in education, ranking Baltimore County as the best large school district in the nation in getting African-American males successfully through high school. Positive results were also shown in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. At a time when other national studies have lamented the declining plight of young black males, that some Maryland school districts have figured out a better way is encouraging. The challenge is to sustain the success.

In Baltimore County, 78 percent of black males graduated in 2004, nearly the same as the 80 percent of white males that graduated. It's the highest rate among 58 large districts across the country that were studied by the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Montgomery and Prince George's graduate 64 percent and 61 percent of their black males, compared with 83 percent and 57 percent of white males, respectively - for the second- and third-highest rates. Among the other districts that fared well in the study were Boston; Cobb County, Georgia; and Guilford and Wake counties in North Carolina - representing urban, suburban and rural areas. Nationally, an estimated 45 percent of black males and 70 percent of white males graduate.

While parental and community support are important, the Schott report suggests that schools can have an even greater influence on the success - or failure - of black male students. After all, family income in Montgomery County is somewhat higher than in Baltimore County. And while family circumstances can impede student performance, those circumstances can be overcome when schools establish defined goals and set high expectations, use data to track progress of individual students and offer immediate help when pupils start falling behind. Schott's researchers think the key is to create good schools that are good for all students, not just special groups.

Despite the success of some Maryland counties in getting black males through school, those districts can't become complacent. Starting with the class of 2009, Maryland high school students will have to pass rigorous assessment tests in order to graduate. School officials throughout the state should take notice of the Schott report - and then follow and enhance the examples set by Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties as places of opportunity for young black males.

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