ANNAPOLIS -- Poor school preformance by black students in Anne Arundel County is a "crisis" for the county's black community, and the school system must work with black churches, clubs and other black organizations to obtain improvements, the county NAACP told county school board members this week.
The NAACP was responding to an "equity study" conducted by the school system last year. That study found that the performance of black students ranked below that of whites, Asians, Indians and Hispanics by every available measure. Blacks had lower test scores and grade averages, were suspended from school more frequently and were overrepresented in special education programs for students with serious learning difficulties.
County NAACP President Jean Creek told school board members Monday that "the black community should play a major role in collaborating with the school board and the local schools" in solving the problem. Although the NAACP officials presented no specific timetable or agenda they wanted the board to follow, they stressed that school officials needed to begin work soon with the community so that the problem did not get worse.
"We don't need another 250-page document," Creek said. "We know what the problems are."
With cooperation, she said, "we can turn an abysmal picture of equity around . . . . Unless there is direct participation from community groups in resolving the problem, I suspect the problem will not be resolved."
NAACP member Dr. Aris Allen, a former county school board member and state senator, told the school board that he is "extremely concerned about the facts that have come out in this report." He, too, urged that the black community be brought into addressing the problem. "I believe that a lot of the problem is going right back to the families," he said.
Allen said many black children start school with huge disadvantages compared to their white schoolmates, and that schools need to emphasize remedial programs to correct them. The big difference is that white students usually come from more prosperous, better educated families, he said, and have had a wider range of experiences including travel and visits to libraries and museums.
Several school board members praised the NAACP recommendations, but said it was worth waiting until an updated equity report and recommendations from school superintendent Robert C. Rice are completed early next year before developing any specific programs.
The school system's study found that blacks, who make up 14 percent of the school system's 64,000 students: Scored an average of 14 percent lower than whites on California Achievement Tests. Scored an average of 13 percent lower than whites on Cognitive Ability Tests. Scored lower than whites in all components -- reading, math, writing and citizenship -- of the Maryland Functional Testing Program. Had a mean grade average of 1.86 compared to the 2.28 mean grade average of whites. Made up only 3.6 percent of the students in gifted, talented and advanced high school programs. Made up 20.9 percent of students in special education programs.
The percentage of blacks who dropped out of school was little different from that of whites. But 21.5 percent of discipline referrals were black, and 24.8 percent of those suspended were black.
Putting aside the question of how racially biased student testing may be, the study suggested that black student performance may be lower because black students generally come from poorer families, white teachers sometimes have lower expectations for black students, and white teachers are sometimes afraid of making demands on black students or confronting black students or their families about poor performance.
In addition, teachers interviewed as part of the study said that black students often feel it is "uncool" to do well, lacked black role models in prestigous positions within the school system, and suffered from a lack of parental interest in the school system. The study noted that just 7 percent of parents involved in local school advisory committees are minorities.
Among other things, the study recommended that the school system begin a county-wide prekindergarten program, make sure schools are staffed so that role models for different racial groups are evident in each school, and make sure students aren't hindered from taking part in school-sponsored programs because of their families' financial limitations.