The Prince George's County school system, which has a black majority student body and a white majority teaching corps, started a three-day conference yesterday that attempts to start bridging the gap between the two.
School officials said they will introduce changes in curriculum and teaching methods this year designed to foster something educators call "multicultural education." The new methods are designed to foster a better understanding between black students, who make up 63 percent of the Prince George's school system, and their white teachers, who make up more than 70 percent of the teaching force. They also will try to address the performance gap between black and white students.
"In education we've been doing things the same way and expecting different results. That's not going to work," said John A. Murphy, superintendent of the county's school system, who joined 800 teachers and principals gathered at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. "We need to reshape the way we teach to get different and better results."
Teachers are being encouraged to promote the understanding and recognition of different cultures and races while incorporating their contributions into the school curriculum, school officials said.
The teaching methods of multicultural education are seen by some as a form of educational reform. Current classroom methods ignore some students' cultural heritage, while unfairly placing low expectations and stereotypes on some students, school officials and teachers said.
The Prince George's school system will make changes in two areas, according to Louise F. Waynant, associate superintendent in charge of instruction.
The first will be a reshaping of the system's current curriculum, including textbooks, to better incorporate the contributions of other races, which the current curriculum does not do well, Waynant said.
"Our curriculum is too Eurocentric at this point," Waynant said, adding that students learning about their culture build self-confidence and the ability to learn because they personalize the information. "What we have now is not inclusive of the different cultures in our community. That has to and will change."
Interpersonal skills and teaching methods are the focus of the second part of the program. During the school year, teachers will take part in sensitivity training so they can further understand the background of the students they instruct.
Many teachers who participated yesterday in group sessions, which focused on their feelings about multicultural education, said they were optimistic about the teaching methods.
"This will let students who feel they are not part of the system be a part of it," said Sylvia Yaffe, a social studies teacher at Greenbelt Middle School. "Relating subjects to them and their history will help them identify with the subject and hopefully do better."
Representatives from school systems that use multicultural teaching methods -- Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Portland, Ore. -- will relate their experiences tomorrow.
"This is a catalyst to the understanding and exposure of the differences and similarities between people," said Sheila Hyman, a Bowie High School art and photography teacher. "This is something that is long overdue. But it's better late than never."