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Few black males in high schools are averaging "C" Little accomplished in past 3 years, educator complains


Three years ago, a special panel gave the county Board of Education a list of recommendations to help improve the academic achievement of young black males.

But little has been done since then, Yevola Peters, a member of that committee, the Committee on Black Male Achievement, complained last week.

Mrs. Peters said this inaction is reflected in new statistics showing that nearly two-thirds of high-school-age black males have less than a 2.0, or a "C" academic average.

"We've had sporadic responses, but nothing measurable has been done to bring about results," Mrs. Peters said. "Until [the Board of Education] accepts that there is a problem, and prioritizes the problem, 20 years from now we'll be talking about the same thing."

The figures show that 60 percent of high-school-aged black males have less than a "C" average, compared to 37 percent of their white counterparts.

The numbers came to light during the board's review of its newly adopted policy that requires students who participate in sports to carry a 2.0 grade point average.

Members said they knew the system had a problem, but they didn't know that is was as bad as it is.

"The most interesting thing is had we not insisted on raising the GPA [for sports] we never would have heard about the numbers," said board member Jo Ann Tollenger.

"It just makes me wonder what I've been doing wrong, what the system has been doing wrong to let things get so bad.

Board President Vincent O. Leggett said he is ready for the school system to take action in addressing the needs of black males.

"The last thing we need is another study group," Mr. Leggett said. "The problem has been well identified. It is time to move to an action plan. I'm not going to let it get swept under the rug."

Mr. Leggett said he will encourage Superintendent C. Berry Carter II to put together a comprehensive approach to solving the problem by involving the school, community, and students.

As startling as the statistics are, they are not unique to Anne Arundel County, or to Maryland. Black males tend to score lower than their white counterparts on standardized testing such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

Baltimore County's school system has been grappling with the problem for the past five years.

The school board there adopted a Minority Student Achievement and Participation plan in 1989. The plan holds school officials accountable for: increasing minority test scores; bringing more black males into gifted programs; reducing the number of suspended or expelled minorities; and for hiring more minorities.

The lack of black male role models in schools was seen as one reason for low achievement among black students. Another reason is said to be the low expectations many teachers hold for black students.

Darius Stanton, a 1988 graduate of Annapolis High School, says low expectations don't begin in school. Mr. Stanton, the Substance Abuse Coordinator for Annapolis, said he can recall having both black and white teachers tell him he would not be a successful adult.

"Teachers watch TV and they read newspapers and they get a very smeared view of black males," Mr. Stanton said. "If a black male goes into school and displays any action close to what those teachers have seen on TV, then it's all over.

"Look at where black males are placed in school. From the elementary level they are pegged in low-level classes and they stay there for the duration of their schooling. [Black males] don't even think about taking upper level classes because we don't think we can do it, because [teachers] don't think we can do it," he added.

Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the school system needs to do more than just look at the numbers.

"We need to look at why the numbers are so low," Mr. Paolino said. "If [students] are not paying attention, if they are not coming to class, we need to find out what's going on."

Mrs. Peters said the school system fully implemented only one recommendation from the Committee on Black Male Achievement, making the curriculum more multi-cultural.

The committee also called for an ombudsman in the school system to assure equity among students, provide teacher sensitivity sessions and improve communication with parents, she said.

"It doesn't take more money to make some of these changes. It takes a change. . . ."

And that change, she said, "has to be an institutional change, and that change has to begin with the Board of Education and the leadership."

She is willing to give Mr. Carter "the benefit of the doubt" because he only recently became superintendent, she said. "But as community, we just can no longer afford to wait."

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