School administrators in Northern Virginia have heard the charges before -- that integrated schools have failed to meet the needs of many black students. But what perplexes school officials most is how to ensure that public schools provide equal education.
School statistics in Fairfax County, Arlington and Alexandria show that black students are less likely than white students to go on to college, to be enrolled in advanced placement courses and to score passing grades on state-required minimum competency tests. The statistics also show that black students are more likely than whites to be suspended from school at least once.
Although racial inequalities seem to transcend school boundaries, the solutions to those problems do not. In the three major Northern Virginia jurisdictions, school administrators have embarked on vastly different courses of action, based at least partly on the administrators' view of the problem.
In response to poor showings by ninth grade black students on minimum competency tests last year in Arlington, where blacks generally scored 10 to 15 points lower than white students, school officials kicked off a home skills program designed to promote parent involvement and to tackle the problem of low student motivation.
But some Arlington officials say they have an added problem. Ann Broder, chairman of the school board, said the influx of Asian refugees -- and the attention they have been given -- has served to irritate the black community in a school system where blacks make up 15.7 percent of the total enrollment.
"In Arlington, we have the added complication that 23 percent of the students are non-native speakers of English," she says. "The blacks sometimes ask why all this money is being spent on programs for foreign students."
In Fairfax County, where black students make up 5.75 percent of the total enrollment, school administrators have adopted a less specific approach to racial problems, stressing what they call a "pluralistic" curriculum. In September, Acting Superintendent William J. Burkholder formed a 15-member human relations task force to deal specifically with the question of what is happening to the county's black students and why.
"It concerns me very much," says Burkholder. "But I don't know what we should be doing. I don't mean to sound trite, but if I knew why this was happening I wouldn't have needed to form the task force."
In Alexandria, where blacks make up 46 percent of the school system, administrators say the problem is not one of black and white, but one of rich and poor. As a result, Alexandria schools have extensive remedial programs for students, but none designed specifically for black students.
The advent of mimimum competency testing has brought with it a fear that in 1981 -- when competency tests become a prerequisite for graduation -- a significant number of blacks may be leaving the 12th grade without high school diplomas. The various school programs -- or lack of them -- are not entirely satisfying some blacks in the community.
In Alexandria, the director of the Northern Virginia Urban League, Angella Current, complains that black students are being ignored in the schools.
"Superintendent Bristol has yet to address the problems of black students in Alexandria," she says.
A major concern among black educators in Alexandria is the small proportion of black students enrolled in upper-level courses. Nowhere is that more evident than at T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where black pupils outnumber white 47 percent to 44 percent. Yet, say some students, classes are virtually segregated.
"I hardly have any black kids in any of my classes," says Monica Rose, a senior taking college preparatory courses.
Both Arlington and Fairfax counties have formed human relations departments in which personnel are assigned the full-time task of exploring problems involving minority students and recommending solutions.
Alexandria Superintendent John Bristol says he does not feel the need for such a department.
"Frankly, we don't have highly bureaucratic methods here," says Bristol. "I've never seen any evidence that forming a new department solves any problems."
Perhaps one of Northern Virginia's most innovative programs -- designed by the Arlington schools' human relations department -- is the Home Basic Skills Program. The purpose of the porgram is to identify children who have potential educational problems and help them before they fall hopelessly behind their classmates.
Shelley Fisher, director of the program, says her nine "parent assistants" go to students' homes, where they present parents with packets of educational material designed to fit the students' individual needs. The assistants, Fisher says, often are the only contact parents have with the school system.
"Many of the parents work and don't have time for the children," Fisher says. "We try to stress the ties between school and the home.
"Just the fact that we go to the homes seems to do something. The kids say to us -- 'You came to my home, you care.'"
Not everyone involved in the Home Skills program shares Fisher's optimism, however. One parent assistant accuses the schools of developing a program which is strictly for show.
"The program was designed to fail," the assistant says angrily. "They say they want us to be part of the school system but they refuse to treat us like employes. The pay is ridiculous ($4.76 per hour) and we don't get any employe benefits. I think they designed the program to show off and then let it fail."
In Fairfax County, the human relations department has prescribed a "pluralistic" curriculum -- one in which students are taught about racial and ethnic differences in a positive way. Human relations director Daniel Jackson says his department also is studying textbooks in an attempt to weed out sexual and racial stereotypes.
The human relations task force also is designed to look at questions of racial or sexual bias. When Acting Superintendent Burkholder formed the ad hoc committee, he asked its members to consider how race or sex might be adversely affecting students in the areas of suspensions, minimum competency testing, identification for gifted and talented programs and enrollment in advanced placement courses.
The task force, headed by Jackson, submitted its report to Burkholder last week. While Burkholder says he will not discuss the report until he submits it to the school board, he said the report examined several issues important to black educators. Burkholder said two areas which received attention were the variance in test scores and the small number of blacks in gifted and talented programs.
In Arlington, one of the most outspoken advocates of equal education is Daniel Brown, a black who is coordinator of human relations for the schools. An educator in Arlington for 23 years, Brown has worked in segregated and integrated systems as an administrator and a teacher.
Brown says blacks are becoming frustrated by the increasing attention being directed at the Asian population in Arlington.
"There are a number of projects targeted especially for the foreign-born," Brown says as he sits in his tiny office on the fourth floor of the school administration building on N. Quincy Street. "Logically, the blacks would be concerned about the resources."
Brown says he believes schools have been reluctant to designate programs exclusively for blacks because that would be admitting desegregation has not been a total success.
Brown claims that the county became complacent about racial problems after the early 1970s, when overt racial incidents ended.
"I'm saying let's begin to analyze why these things are happening in the schools," Brown says. "So many times we don't do anything because we're afraid of what we might find.
"We may find racist attitudes in the schools. We may find out black students are not expected to do well. We might find people are not pushing and caring enough."
In Alexandria, where no department has been established to deal exclusively with the problems of black students, collecting statistical information is often difficult, and finding an administrator concerned specifically with black children is nearly impossible.
Donald Dearborn, director of instructional services for the Alexandria schools, says, for instance, that he prefers to analyze the results of minimum competency tests, not from the standpoint of race, but from the perspective of students absenteeism.
"We don't look at the scores in terms of black and white. For the most part, these are students who just don't come to school," he said recently, pointing to official school reports. "We can't teach the kids if they don't come to school."
William Euille, one of three blacks on the Alexandria school board, says the absentee theory must be taken a step further.
"The administration can look at the results in terms of attendance if they want," Euille says, "but then you have to look at reasons why the kids aren't coming to school.
"I know of one family where there is no father, and the mother works. The kids have to take turns babysitting the little ones, so they wind up missing a lot of school."
Since studying the results of minimum competency testing, Alexandria has stepped up its remedial education program. Dearborn says every student who failed the tests last year has been enrolled in remedial classes.
Superintendent Bristol says Alexandria plans to install a computer monitoring system, which will allow school administrators to track a student through the educational process.
"It's unfortunate that education has been measured with just tests recently," Bristol says. "You can't just look at where the kids are today. You've got to look at where they were yesterday.
"A school system is a bit like a hospital. Not every patient coming through the door is going to be cured, but you have to know you're doing everything possible to try to make them well. There are no guarantees.
"Remember -- schools just teach children -- we can't learn (for) them."