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Court-Appointed Panel
Reports on Desegregation

A panel appointed by U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte reported in June 1997 on the effects of nearly a quarter century of court-ordered desegregation efforts in Prince George's County. Here is an excerpt from that report.

1. Conclusions
In arriving at our conclusions, we have organized our thinking in terms of the four questions the Court asked us to address and which we listed on the first page of this report. The first three of these questions have to do with the specific decrees of the Court. These decrees cover a more limited range of considerations than is encompassed by the 14 factors whose analysis constitutes the bulk of this report.

Our first task is to comment specifically on PGCPS'[Prince George's County Public Schools'] response to the decrees and to the related agreements into which the system entered in the 1985 Memorandum of Understanding. We will then turn to the fourth question which asks about matters not covered by the decrees but which seemed to Judge Messitte particularly relevant to assessing the progress PGCPS has made in achieving desegregation. We have taken this opportunity to range perhaps a bit more widely than strict definitions of desegregation, introducing some observations and thoughts that we hope will be helpful in the future to all concerned.

A. The Four Questions Considered
1. Has there been full and satisfactory compliance with the Court's decrees?

Over the 25 years that the Vaughns case has been before it, the Court has issued decrees in the following areas:

    a. Student assignment to schools
    b. Faculty hiring
    c. Faculty assignment to schools by race
    d. Staff hiring
    e. Student transportation
    f. Magnet programs
    9. Milliken II Schools
    h. Talented and Gifted Programs

The plaintiffs have also brought before the Court in 1983 the matters of student assignment to classrooms, student suspension and special education, but no court decree requiring school system action has been issued.

In discussing the degree of school system compliance with court orders in each of these areas, we will not repeat the more detailed explanation of the guidelines and agreements or the path by which the current ones came to their present status. We have done that in laying out the history of the Vaughns case and in discussing the 14 factors in earlier sections of this report. We will not repeat here the detailed analyses presented earlier but will only highlight the data and observations that we believe are central to our evaluation. In other words, we offer here only a brief reminders of what was said earlier and urge the reader to refer back to the relevant sections and the related appendices for more detail.

a. Student Assignment to Schools
PGCPS is currently operating under a guideline, established in the 1983 decision and confirmed in the 1985 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), that requires that schools have a minimum 10 percent African-American enrollment and a maximum of 80 percent until African-American enrollment reaches 65 percent at each grade level (i.e., elementary, middle, high school). Neither the Court nor the MOU provided any guideline for maximum African-American enrollment once the 65 percent level was reached.

No school in recent years has had an African-American student enrollment close to the 10 percent bottom of the range. At the upper end, exceptions are allowed for certain racially isolated schools, the Milliken II Schools. According to the MOU, 85 percent of schools at each school level should be within the 10-80 percent range, but again there is no guidance beyond the 65 percent African-American student level.

African-American student enrollment in the system and at each school level has been in excess of 65 percent for a number of years. PGCPS has dealt with the lack of court guidance by increasing the top of the range for schools to be within guidelines according to a formula that sets the top at 1.23 times the percentage of African-American students in the system. Both the Court and the plaintiffs have been made well aware of this practice through annual reports filled with the Court. They have raised no objection. The Panel members find this formula a useful and appropriate expedient in the absence of other guidance and the MOW's statement that, "The parties also take note that the Court's Order of September 20, 1983, suggests the 10-80 percent guidelines are flexible and to be flexibly administered."

The schools outside the guidelines have, with the exception of two elementary schools, been designated Milliken II Schools, been given magnet programs, or been designated "model comprehensives." The "model comprehensive" concept, applied to 15 elementary schools, one high school and one middle school, is the system's effort to deal with the increasing number of schools "outside guidelines" by providing some extra resources but not full Milliken funding. This concept and treatment have not been sanctioned by the Court, but they have been duly reported annually and no objection has been raised.

Our examination of student racial balance in schools shows the inability of extensive busing and a large magnet program to cope with increasing African-American enrollment and prevailing residential pattems. In the current school year, only middle schools have 85 percent of schools within the upper limit of the African-American enrollment guideline (92.6 percent) as PGCPS now calculates it. Among high schools, 77 percent are below the current top of the "within guidelines" range (91.2 percent). The elementary schools are well short of the goal, with 67 percent within the current guideline (89 percent).

Based on these observations, we conclude that PGCPS has made substantial efforts to comply with the Court's decrees but has not been able to meet the established goal, which in any event was intended to be "flexibly administered." We believe that the system has achieved compliance to the extent practicable, given increasing African-American enrollment and the geographic distribution of students.

b. Faculty Hiring
PGCPS has mounted a concerted and imaginative program to recruit African-American teachers. The program has resulted in a steady growth in the percentage of African-American teachers in the teaching force, even at a time when the absolute number of teachers has been increasing. It represents an outstanding effort given that African-Americans constitute only 9.6 percent of teachers nationally and a much smaller percentage of those currently completing teacher certification programs each year. More rapid progress faces the further limitation imposed by the rate of teacher turnover in the system.

In the matter of teacher hiring, we find PGCPS fully in compliance with Court decrees.

c. Teacher Assignment to Schools by Race
The current Court guideline is twofold:

  • In placing newly hired teachers, PGCPS is to a~`empt to bring schools within a range of +/-7 percentage points of the percentage of AfricanAmerican teachers in the system in the previous school year.
  • PGCPS must override seniority and deny teacher transfers if the transfer would leave a school with more than 50 percent AfricanAmerican teachers or less than 12 percentage points below the percentage of African-American teachers in the system.

In other words, +/-7 percentage points is the goal toward which the system is directing its efforts by applying it to new teacher placements. A range of 50 percent to -12 percentage points from the average is a more proximate goal to be applied in the case of voluntary transfers and in overriding seniority in making involuntary transfers.

In terms of the latter goal, 70 percent of schools fall within the -12 to 50 percent guideline for the current year (25-50 percent African-American teachers). The personnel office works to maintain the teacher racial balance guidelines but faces a variety of systemic and circumstantial hindrances, explained in Section V.B.2, in adhering strictly to the court's benchmarks. Thus the percentage of schools within guidelines has fluctuated over time, both overall and at each grade level.

Although the personnel office is quite conscious of the guidelines, principals the Panel interviewed seemed less so. Several were certain their schools were within guidelines, but in fact 30 percent of the schools are outside the 50 percent to -12 percentage point range.

When first imposed, the intention of the teacher assignment guideline was to eliminate racially identifiable faculties, which the school system certainly has done, although four schools are well below the target minimum of 25 percent African-American teachers. The other purpose is to distribute African-American teachers fairly evenly throughout the system, a goal which the personnel office appears to try to achieve as well as circumstances allow. However, in view of the fact that so many principals seemed unaware of what the goals are and how they applied to their schools, we are left with some question as to how vigorously and pro-actively PGCPS has pursued this purpose.

d. Staff Hiring
As the data show, PGCPS has had continuous success in pursuing hiring practices that move the system toward a staff that "generally reflects the population of Prince George's County." Even if that goal has not been fully reached in all job categories, the system has kept its "longstanding commitment," reiterated in the MOU, "to hire and promote qualified blacks throughout all employment levels of the public school system." We find PGCPS substantially in compliance with Court decrees.

e. Student Transportation
The transportation plan has been in effect since 1973. The reopening of the Vaughns case stemmed from a school system move in 1980 to alter that plan without court approval. Judge Kaufman's 1983 ruling required that PGCPS return to the 1973 plan, which they have done. The Court directives also require limiting transportation time for desegregation--has opposed to magnet--purposes to 35 minutes. The current desegregation-busing plan has only a small positive effect on racial balance.

The system has also maintained a major program for busing students to magnet schools. This effort has clearly had a positive effect on desegregation without creating inequalities of busing "burden" between African-American and Other Race students. The 1985 MOU required that PGCPS submit annually a "back-up" plan for involuntary busing if the Magnet Schools Program were unsuccessful. When it became evident early in their existence that the magnets were going to have their desired effect, the school system sensibly ceased work on this plan.

f. Magnet Programs
The 1985 MOU is predicated upon establishment of an extensive system of magnet programs as a supplement to involuntary busing. The Magnet School Program in fact has a greater effect on desegregation than the desegregation busing plan, as well as proving extremely popular with the parents and students in providing educational choices. The racial balance of magnet programs as a whole very closely tracks the racial balance of the system as a whole. Virtually all magnet programs make at least some positive contribution to desegregation.

The school system has clearly met its Court-ordered obligations with respect to the establishment and maintenance of a system of magnet programs for purposes of desegregation.

g. Milliken Schools
For certain schools with very high African-American enrollments, the parties in Vaughns agreed in the 1985 MOU that PGCPS would provide special programs and resources in lieu of pursuing other strategies to achieve racial balance. The promised programs and resources have been provided, even in those years in which the school system budget has been under extreme pressure. PGCPS has fully met its obligations in providing programs and funding.

h. Talented and Gifted Magnets
The 1985 MOU addresses only TAG magnets, not the TAG program broadly. The parties agreed that in school year 1986-87 and thereafter African-American and Other Race enrollment would be equal, though the language does not make clear whether that equality should be in each magnet or TAG magnets as a whole. They also agreed that the resources of the TAG programs would be made available to the entire population of the school in which the program is housed.

No individual TAG magnet has an enrollment half African-American and half Other Race. Enrollment in the TAG magnets as a whole is 57.2 percent African-American, 42.3 percent Other Race. If the intention of the agreement was to work toward fuller representation of African-Americans in TAG magnets, the goal has been more than met. Thoughtful efforts to find creative ways other than test scores of identifying students as talented and gifted have contributed importantly to this result.

If the goal was to keep African-American enrollments proportionate in all schools, as their percentages in the school system grew, to the 50 percent contemplated in 1986-87, the goal, which in 1996-97 would be 61 percent, has nearly been met. No school has become exclusively a TAG magnet school and TAG resources have been shared in various ways with other children in the schools.

We conclude that PGCPS has substantially met the requirements of Court decrees with regard to TAG magnet programs.

In summary, we have concluded that in six of these eight areas in which the Court has issued decrees, PGCPS has fully or substantially complied. In the area of student assignments to schools, we believe the system has done as well as it is reasonable to expect. Only in the area of faculty assignment to schools do we believe that a more proactive effort might be made, although we are by no means sure that, given a variety of circumstances over which the system has no control, much improvement in the actual results could be achieved.

2. Is retention of judicial control necessary or practicable to achieve compliance in any respect?
For only two of the factors considered above do we find any reason to believe that the system is not in full or substantial compliance with Court decrees. In the matter of student assignment we believe PGCPS is doing as well as could be expected. With regard to teacher assignment to schools, we cannot detemmine how much impact Court insistence on a more pro-active effort, absent a change in seniority override provisions, could hasten movement toward the goals.

3. Has the School Board demonstrated a good faith commitment to the whole of the Court's decrees since they were entered?
Judge Kaufman's 1983 decision indicated that he did not think the School Board had done all that it could to eliminate racial imbalance in the schools. Since that time, however, the Board appears generally to have done so. Certainly large amounts of money have been invested in busing, in magnet and Milliken programs and in faculty hiring. Substantial results have been achieved in hiring and in the establishment of magnet programs. Reporting requirements, except for the unnecessary back-up busing plan, have been faithfully met.

3a. A Related Consideration
While it is not a matter of lack of good faith with regard to court decrees, the issue of system record keeping is related to many of the matters we have discussed throughout this report. Without certain kinds of data systematically collected and made available, it is difficult to track progress toward eliminating vestiges of prior segregation. We note, for instance, that the system was unable to provide us with information on distance and time of student transportation by race that distinguishes between magnet busing and busing for desegregation purposes. That information seems central to the kind of question often raised in school desegregation cases and particularly in this case where desegregation busing times are required to be limited to 35 minutes.

Data that we requested and that have similar relevance to desegregation had to be gathered ad hoc. The system keeps no data on participation in extracurricular activities, although that is one of the Green factors. While participation in extracurricular activities has never arisen as an issue in Vaughns, such data might have been kept to identify possible problems. Data on assignment of teachers to Advanced Placement courses similarly had to be gathered "by hand." No systematic information was available on the ratio of applicants to hires for any employment category other than teachers.

The lack of certain kinds of data--or more often having the data in usable form--impedes evaluation. We considered the problem of lack of program evaluation at length in the "Quality of Education" section. The issue we have identified does not raise questions of bad faith, but of the ability to identify possible racial balance and differential treatment problems clearly so that they can be addressed. The evaluation issue is so closely related to the data collection issues that it seems most appropriate to discuss it in this context.

Much of the problem has its origins in lack of a definition of what constitutes success in matters of educational outcomes. And when better results occur, it is difficult to know to what to attribute them. All of us--panel, plaintiffs, defendants, judge and school stakeholders everywhere--who are concerned about how schools function are missing systematic models of good educational processes that would facilitate analyses linking inputs to outputs. Thus, because court orders have been couched in terms of certain quantifiable inputs and outcomes, school districts under court order put their money and efforts into meeting the courts' requirements and focus their available research and data gathering funds on information that will satisfy the court.

In the past three years PGCPS has begun to get past this point, doing formative evaluations of magnet and Milliken programs, beginning the school climate assessments and undertaking the "value-added" studies. Prior to that time, the only routinely available data for assessing program outcomes has been that collected for the Maryland School Performance Program (MSPP), which centers on standardized test data, student attendance and dropout rates. Such data tell only part of the story of effective schooling and may or may not relate to vestiges of prior segregation.

PGCPS should certainly take credit for the research efforts it does make, especially what it has begun to do on its own initiative. We also recognize that the kind of data collection and research needed is time consuming and therefore expensive. Money for such activities has not been readily available in recent years. But we do feel that a system under court order and striving to be unitary needs to know more about itself and needs to be better organized and systematic about data collection and analysis.

We do not wish to say that the absence of a more consistent, systematic, outcomes-oriented data collection, research and evaluation program constitutes bad faith. PGCPS has done at least as much as most other school systems under court order of which the panel is aware. And as we have noted, the courts themselves are at least partially responsible for having forced school districts into certain kinds of data collection activities. If the Court continues to act in the Vaughns case, it should take cognizance of the need for more appropriate kinds of data collection and evaluation that can help to identify need for and support of changed outcomes for children.

4. Have vestiges of past discrimination been eliminated to the extent possible?
Many of the factors we were asked to analyze have never been the subject of court decrees and some of them have not heretofore been topics of discussion in Vaughns. Two of the factors we were asked to consider, "School Board Appointments" and "School Location," have not raised for us any issues we see as relevant to past discrimination. Analysis of four other factors revealed no discernible patterns that would suggest racial discrimination. These factors include extracurricular activities, the physical condition of facilities, graduation rates, and summer and stipended employment opportunities. We have nothing further to say here about these matters.

Another group of factors exhibit disproportionalities largely related to student performance or treatment of students. These factors include the underrepresentation of African-Americans in TAG programs and Advanced Placement courses, their over-representation in some special education programs and among those suspended and expelled, and a persistent gap between AfricanAmericans and Other Race students on standardized tests.

a. TAG Programs
PGCPS has mounted an unusually large Talented and Gifted Program and has gone to great lengths to identify potential students for the program and train teachers in identification criteria and processes. Under-representation of African-Americans here would not seem to be a matter of discrimination.

We have also noted that African-American students get disproportionately low numbers of A's and disproportionately high numbers of C's, D's and E's in TAG courses. This outcome may be partially explained by the fact that the majority of African-American TAG students are identified by Path 2, which admits students to the program on a trial basis.

b. Advanced Placement Enrollment
Nearly all students in Advanced Placement courses are pursuing the Maryland Diploma with Certificate of Merit. African-American students are underrepresented in this diploma track and similarly underrepresented in Advanced Placement courses. We know of no administrative structure or procedure that might lead to this result. Ascertaining such discriminatory practices as might exist would require surveys of students, teachers and counselors, which were beyond the means of time and money available to us.

c. Special Education
African-American over-representation is observable only in some intensity levels. However, African-American students are sufficiently over-represented in the three largest special education categories other than speech and hearing to have attracted the attention of the Office for Civil Rights. The system is now at work exploring the reasons for these disproportionalities and seeing if some altematives to special education placement will work better for African-American students. At this time, no one can say with any certainty whether the disproportions are or are not a vestige of prior segregation.

d. Suspensions and Expulsions
The pattern of African-American over-representation among those students suspended and expelled has remained stable over time, though the disproportionality has been somewhat reduced. The persistence of the pattern, particularly the over-representation of African-American students among those suspended for infractions involving subjective judgments by teachers and administrators, bears closer analysis than we had time to carry out. PGCPS needs to assure itself and the community that safeguards against discrimination are in place.

e. Standardized Test Scores
African-American students at all grade levels and in all types of schools consistently score substantially and significantly lower than Other Race students on all standardized tests. Multiple regression analysis shows that race always has the strongest negative association with test results independent of all other variables.

f. Teacher Assignment
Of the several factors that we examined, only one group seemed to us to show a pattern of differential treatment between schools with higher and lower African-American student enrollment. This group of factors is related to assignment of teachers.

The clearest case is assignment of teachers by years of experience. We have shown that the average teacher years of experience in schools with African-American student enrollment above the county average has for at least six years been substantially lower than that for schools with African-American student enrollment below the average for the system.

Similarly, average teacher experience for the 18 Milliken II elementary schools in the current year is 3.33 years less than the 18 elementary schools with the lowest African-American student population. Schools with higher percentages of African-American students have a larger percentage of new teachers and a smaller percentage of highly experienced teachers than schools with lower African-American enrollments. The pattem is persistent and the differences in average years of experience are substantial.

We also acknowledge that years of experience are not per se a guarantee of teacher effectiveness. But on the whole, experience is desirable and teachers in schools that enroll higher percentages of African-American students have less of it on average. PGCPS needs to explore ways to address this problem, even though the system's ability to control this factor may be limited by negotiated agreements.

The same pattern holds true for years of teacher education, but here the absolute differences are not very great, even if they are statistically significant. We make a particular point of this pattern because the "value-added" studies show a strong positive correlation between teacher years of experience and student perfommance relative to predicted outcomes on MSPAP tests.

The percentage of African-American instructors among those teaching Advanced Placement courses (15 percent) is strikingly low proportionally. We noted above the coincidence between this disproportionality and a similar one in African-American students enrolled in AP courses. We cannot say that there is a causal relationship here, but we do think that PGCPS should try to find African-American instructors to teach AP sections. The school system can exercise some control here and should.

B. Relationships Among Some Factors
Looking at these teacher assignment practices in the context of the multivariate analysis of student standardized test scores we note the following:

  • The zero-order correlations show that African-American students are highly unlikely to have teachers with greater years of experience or higher levels of education.
  • Milliken II schools are similarly unlikely to have either teacher with greater years of experience or high levels of education.
  • African-American students are very unlikely to be in schools the; teachers rate as having a positive school climate.

We cite these three associations because each of these factors--teacher experience, teacher education level, and a positive school climate --contribute favorably to student test perfommance. The overall result is a clear pattem of disadvantage to African American students, particularly poverty status, black males.

C. A Further Consideration
The pattern of disproportionately few African-American students pursuing the Diploma with Certificate of Merit, parallel lower enrollments in AP courses and disproportionately low numbers of African-Americans teaching AP courses illustrates certain complexes of circumstances to which we would like to call attention. These complexes of interrelated circumstances are not in our view the result of any intentional discrimination, but could in concert produce persistent disparities that raise concern.

We note, for example, that nearly half the AP courses are offered at four high schools (Eleanor Roosevelt, Bowie, Suitland, Laurel); that three of these four are among the four high schools with the lowest African-American enrollment; that the same three have no African-Americans teaching AP courses; that two of the four (Eleanor Roosevelt and Bowie) have an unusually large (more than 15 percent) under-representation of African-Americans in AP courses; and that two (Eleanor Roosevelt and Laurel) are the only two high schools with a teaching staff whose percentage of African-Americans is below the -12 percentage point minimum. This pattern calls for some examination by the school system.

While we have not noted a general pattern of discrimination in the condition of facilities, two comparisons, Eleanor Roosevelt/Oxon Hill and Tall Oaks/Croom bear attention. We have discussed the nature of these contrasts in the "Facilities" section.

On an entirely different level, we note a complex of troubling circumstances surrounding the issue of administrative accountability. We did not find indications that principals are held accountable for such matters as quality of magnet programs in their schools, outcomes of Milliken programs, success in achieving racial balance in their teaching staffs, assigning more African-American teachers to AP courses and so on. The CEAs are supposed to hold principals accountable, but to what degree they are actually held accountable for these kinds of desegregation-related matters is insufficiently clear.

Accountability requires good and relevant data. Some of the desegregation-related individual school data we have cited is not available--at least not in easily usable form--to principals and CEAs or is not a major factor in their evaluations. We did not have an opportunity to explore the way data, other than MSPAP data, is used in the schools. We have already cited questions about the coordination of data. Some problems of accountability and data management and use may also hinder progress toward desegregation, especially if data is not made available and used. Problems can continue to exist without anyone close to where they are occurring being assigned responsibility for solving them.

D. A Final Recommendation
We have not made a recommendation about whether PGCPS should be declared unitary. The Court asked only that we explore a set of factors and draw conclusions about specific compliance with court decrees and the continued existence of any vestiges of discrimination. We have done so.

We would add only the recommendation that if the Prince George's County Public Schools are to be declared a unitary district, that they first be required to submit a plan of action for their new status. Among such other matters as the Court and the system consider important, this document should:

declare intentions for keeping special resources in place, set forth post-unitary policies consistent with these intentions, lay out plans for identifying the funds to continue support of programs that have been effective in achieving high quality desegregated education, define areas of accountability, provide the design for a systematic research and evaluation program to assure that the district continues in desegregated status. We recognize that if the Court should decide to relinquish jurisdiction, subsequent school boards may choose to modify this plan. The current Board should, however, declare its intentions and affimm such policies publicly.

As we complete our task, we wish to thank again all in the school system and among its stakeholders who helped us with our work and to express to Judge Messitte our thanks for this unique opportunity to work together on behalf of the children of Prince George's County.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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