Montgomery County black leaders say they are disturbed by the results of two recently completed studies evaluating board of education attempts to increase teacher sensitivity to minority students.
One study found that a black culture course, once mandatory for all teachers and school staff members, failed to change the behavior of white teachers toward blacks, the course's main objective.
The second study rated highly a two-day "multiethnic convention" the school system held for its employes last fall in lieu of the black studies course. Black leaders termed the convention, which featured ethnic foods, crafts and music as well as more serious lectures, "a joke." But most staff members and teachers polled in the study said they found the convention worthwhile.
Both studies were made by board of education staff members, and the reports on them were distributed at a recent school board meeting.
"It's ridiculous!" said Roscoe Nix, Montgomery NAACP vice president. "If an intensive, 15-week course didn't change white teachers, how can a diluted frolic and fun festival be more effective?"
Black leaders, who were angry when the school board abolished the course requirement last spring, believe the course was needed to help teachers understand black children, who statisically do less well in their studies than their white counterparts in Montgomery County Schools.
Blacks want the board to make the course mandatory again. Chances are slim the board will do so, its members say, especially in light of the study results.
"The study confirms what we believed all along -- that we should not require the course," said Marian Greenblatt, leader of the board's conservative majority. Greenblatt was instrumental in having the course requirement rescinded last year.
Nix, who is a former school board member, accused the board's conservative majority of hiding their bias behind the studies.
"Some board members do not want to face the problems of the black child and find it politically profitable not to do so," he said.
"This suggests that the school board will go on its merry way unless drastic action is taken on the part of blacks in Montgomery County to let the board know this is an insult to our intelligence."
Defenders of the multiethnic convention claim it was effective because it made ethnic studies enjoyable for the participants. The board plans this year to hold a second convention with more emphasis on topics related to school instruction and less on crafts and music.
School Superintendent J. Edward Andrews Jr., interviewed by telephone, cautioned against comparing the 15-week course with the convention because the events have different goals. Andrews said he realized, however, that the simultaneous publication of the two studies made comparison unavoidable.
Andrews also said he believes both studies were flawed and should not be considered "the last word" on the subject. School board president Daryl Shaw, who opposed rescinding the requirement for the 15-week course, also said the studies have too many defects to be valid. Authors of the studies agree.
Only 500 of the school system's 12,000 teachers and staff members responded to the survey evaluating the multiethnic convention. Nearly half of these said the event was worthwhile and a third claim it inspired positive changes in racial behavior.
But the study does not say how many of those who responded positively about changes in their behavior were teachers, although it states that 28 percent of the respondents were teachers. Teachers make up 56 percent of the system's employes.
"The results of this report cannot be considered representative of the total population of Montgomery County public school employes," said Joseph Hawkins, a specialist in the school system's Educational Accountability Department. "What we have is a rough barometer."
The survey on the black culture and history course contrasts the attitude and behavior of 323 employes who took the course with 553 people who did not take it.
The study report said no differences were found between the classroom attitudes and teaching techniques of white teachers who took the course and of white teachers who did not, but no study was done before the teachers took the course.
Teachers voluntarily taking the course now will be tested more thoroughly, Hawkins said.
Studies also are under way of a new course designed to heighten teacher awareness of special needs of all minority groups. This course is now required for all new teachers and staff members.
Black leaders maintain that the problems of black students need more indepth attention than can be provided by activities with a multiethnic focus.
"All other minority groups are integrated into the system. They are considered white," said Norman Seay, NAACP president.
Judy Docca, a staff member of the school system's human relations department, said she is also distressed by the studies, and claims the course and the convention cannot be compared.
"The course cannot be replaced by a one-and-half-day convention," said Docca, who helped prepare the black studies course.
Docca said she is concerned because black students, who make up about 10 percent of the county's total school population, still get more than their share of low grades. She said there are two to four times more blacks than whites in remedial English classes.
White teachers do not expect as much from black students as they do from white students, and black students react to the lower expectations of their teachers by performing poorly, said Docca. Black leaders in the county agree.
"I'm concerned that the expectation of black students is the same as it was in the Fifties," said Docca. "Kids are very sensitive to it."
Board member Marian Greenblatt, however, said, "I don't think the black studies course was a panacea. It is not adding to the classroom achievement of students." Greenblatt said the board wants to study black achievement on a school-by-school basis.