THE NECESSITY to desegregate is now producing, in the Prince George's County schools, an educational experiment of great breadth and attraction. It begins with the idea that white students can be persuaded to enroll in schools in black neighborhoods, if the right programs are offered there. In the school year now ending, the first year of this experiment with magnet schools, there have been special classes for gifted children at some of the elementary schools and extended day care at others.
Next year the range of choices is going to be greatly widened. Two elementary schools will be turned into "traditional academies," as the school system calls them. That will mean dress codes, regular homework, much involvement of the parents and, for the older children, Latin. In effect, these schools will be secular versions of good parochial schools. Three elementary schools are to offer Montessori preschools and kindergartens for children as young as three. At two other schools, kindergartens will be conducted entirely in French. At six schools there are to be special programs in math and science, taking advantage of the enormous federal research facilities that are their neighbors. Most adventurous of all, Central High School in Capitol Heights is going to begin a concentrated college preparatory program with, in addition to the usual subjects, a strong emphasis on the humanities. The courses are to include philosophy, creative writing, history of art and the Japanese language. Those are powerful inducements to people whose ideas of excellence go beyond the conventional.
Inevitably, the first year's successes have generated some anomalies and anxieties that need to be addressed. There are unusually bright black children who have not been admitted to the classes for the gifted because, under the desegregation rules, those seats were reserved for white students. Next year there will be more of these classes for black students. In many of the schools not yet touched by the magnet experiment, there are ripples of uneasiness among teachers and parents who fear that their classrooms will lose their most talented students and teachers. Perhaps the best answer is that, if these new ventures take hold, their influence will surely affect schools throughout the county.
Enrollment for next year's magnet programs began this week and, in the first two evenings of registration, some 2,500 children applied for the 1,400 places. School authorities urge interested parents and children to continue to register, since the rules of selection are complex and some of the seats may still be open. But this initial response is an overwhelming vote of public support for the magnet plan -- a strategy of diversity that is elevating and purposeful.