Elitist. RACIST. Reminiscent of the track system. And it drains good students, teachers and money from other schools. These are the objections that earlier this year killed the plan to have an academic high school in the District.
But now Superintendent Vincent E. Reed has reintroduced the proposal with changes intended to win over the seven school board members who said no to the original plan. To thwart charges that the school would be a white upper-middle-class operation, Mr. Reed would locate it on Georgia Avenue NW, a working-class-to-poor neighborhood, and require that students at the school do some community service. The initial plan had the school located in a more well-to-do area. To demonstrate that the school would be open to any student that works hard, that it would not be a snob affair, Mr. Reed proposes to allow into the academic school any student in the top 15th percentile of his or her class. To lessen the cost of the school, the superintendent would supplement the teaching staff and laboratory facilities with labs and teachers from Howard University.
The remaining objections cannot be quieted by making changes in the structure or location of the academic high school. Those objections are that 1) it would take good students away from other schools and 2) it would only be the latest incarnation of the dreaded track system.The track system was much denounced for trapping students who did not show great academic ability at a young age in unchallenging classes and giving them a crucial, poor estimate of their intellectual abilities.
What is unsaid in all this breast-beating by the school board over objections to establishing the academic high school is that large numbers of parents and students are not listening. They have left the public school system for parochial schools and private schools or moved to the suburbs to get away from the city's public schools and the District school board. What is also said, while the school board philosophizes on elitism, is that to be a smart child in the District public schools is to often watch your abilities waste away. The school board is holding its high-flying debate, blind to the problems of students who have been shabbily educated for the past 10 years in bad schools -- schools that are beginning to be good again but are not quite there yet.
Board members who fear that an academic high school will mean that less money and fewer teachers will be available to improve the rest of the schools should consider the positive effects that a school for top students will have on all schools. With the potentially high standards set by the academic high school, other schools will be under pressure to work for better grades; teachers will be under pressure to qualify to teach at the school. Such competition could make all District schools better by replacing complacent attitudes toward school work with an attitude of caring and attention. With the changes the superintendent has made in the plan to accommodate opponents of the academic high school, there now remains no solid ground to veto it. The school board should approve the school.