Racial balance and forced busing are the favorite lances of the Don Quixotes still tilting with the civil rights windmills of the '50s and '60s. Unfortunately they devote their energies to concocting ideal proportions of racial groups and to transportation-based schemes to achieve these quotas, instead of considering how to maximize achievement in the classroom.
How are Montgomery's minority children achieving? Rather well, actually. According to the standardized tests taken here last fall, both black and white students performed well above their racial counterparts in the national sample in grades 3, 5 and 8. Black students' scores were the same as the national average of white students' scores. In Montgomery County, both black and white students maintain the same level of performance between grades 3 and 8.
But I cannot be satisfied while there is a gap between the achievement of white and black students. The tendency of misguided advocacy groups has been to make excuses for test results or to demand lower standards. When some students failed the minimal competency test required by Maryland for graduation, they charged the test was biased. But shouldn't all high school graduates be able to read traffic signs, job application forms and even recipes? When a significant number of blacks were suspended for verbally abusing teachers and fighting, the reaction was that we must understand that these students are part of a different culture. When should reasonable behavioral standards be applied -- at their first job?
This board continues to address ways to improve achievement for all students. We are emphasizing basics, good discipline, regular attendance, high standards and testing to ensure mastery of the curriculum. We have focused our budgets on the classroom (teachers and textbooks) rather than on administration and overhead.
The board has continued to direct substantial funds -- an extra $14.9 million this year for additional teachers and aides, remedial summer programs, etc. -- to minority students who are not achieving. In the last four years, over 20 percent of all administrators appointed have been minorities.
The tempest that started this spring was not over the quality of education but over racial balance and busing. Montgomery County desegregated its schools in 1954. In 1976, a liberal board discarded the neighborhood school concept and instituted mandatory busing in certain areas. Today, aside from those affected schools, the minority population in the schools reflects the natural housing patterns. There are more minority students in the southeastern portion of the county near the District.
Because of declining enrollments and limited finances, the board will probably decide this fall to close about 35 more schools. But support for the results will evaporate if the minority pattern is artificially changed.
The board has three options: 1) extending busing into already naturally integrated areas adjacent to high minority areas (and invariably close to the tipping point); 2) embarking on a massive county-wide busing plan that skips to areas with few minority students; or 3) emphasizing neighborhood schools with opportunities for integration with magnet programs, consolidations, etc. I support No. 3.
Busing does not work. It has been counterproductive. In those areas where the previous board voluntarily instituted busing, many parents withdrew their children from the schools. There is no proof that children learn more because they are bused.
There is a comfortable feeling about small children's walking to school and about parents' being close by to volunteer to help. These are not imagined desires; they are real and have nothing to do with race.
Rather than spending money on buses and gasoline, I prefer spending more on effective teaching. I welcome members of the minority community who want to help sove our educational problems. This is the educational equivalent of President Reagan's plan to improve the economy: a rising tide lifts all ships.