A nurturing atmosphere and dedicated instructors are needed to overcome society's hurdles and boost the academic performance of black students, a teaching expert told more than 200 educators yesterday.
Asa Hilliard III, an award-winning educator who spoke to a standing-room-only audience at a conference on educating black students at the Johns Hopkins University, said educators must change goals, structures and attitudes to boost morale of black students.
"Change these three things and we will see achievement improve," Mr. Hilliard said.
Educators from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Catholic, independent and Jewish schools attended the all-day conference, sponsored by the Baltimore Collaborative of Public and Non-Public Schools.
In Baltimore, Baltimore County and elsewhere, results show black students as a group do the worst on standardized tests and in classrooms.
In Baltimore County, for example, while 80 percent of Asians and 53 percent of white students met minimum standards for admission to the University of Maryland, only a third of black seniors did. The standards included a variety of course requirements and combined SAT scores of 1,000 or better.
"That's a challenge, and all of us face it," said Anthony Marchione, assistant superintendent of Baltimore County schools.
The burden is on school systems -- but primarily teachers -- to turn the trend, he said. While parental involvement helps achievement, teachers are the backbone -- people who motivate and nurture students, setting high goals for them to achieve.
"Parental involvement is the outcome of good schools, not a prerequisite," said Mr. Hilliard, an urban education professor at Georgia State University.
"People will tell you the other way around. You must have parental involvement, but not for the reasons you think."
Schools must set higher goals for their students, change the way they structure curricula and increase expectations. Students must have time to socialize, time when they can communicate with one another. Teachers must have patience, love children and love themselves -- these are the keys to black student success, he said.
"You have to have the attitude that every student . . . is a genius, not that every child can learn. Every child is a genius, just sitting there, waiting for me to turn the key."
Administrators who attended the conference said they were enlightened by Dr. Hilliard's speech.
"It made me think of all the things we need to do for children to do better," said Wendy Prioleau, vice principal at Elmwood Elementary School in Overlea. "What he points at is the caring person, and that for me is paramount. A lot of it has to do with guidance from teachers."
Mr. Hilliard compared American education with that in Asia, pointing out differences that he says make the Asian system -- and Asian students -- better.
"Asian education is not characterized by rote learning," he said. "They are not bottled up in drilled [sessions]. They are not overworked. There's a lot of recesses."
The way Asian teachers view their role is also a factor. "The reasons Asian students do better is because the people who teach them see it as their responsibility to nurture them," he said.
"The Asian teachers see their job as a well-informed guide, not a teller," he said, adding that Asian teachers are not required to hold a bachelor's degree and a teaching certificate.
"Many of them have only a high school education. They learn their teaching skills through the apprenticeship method, by a good teacher."
He also stressed teaching black students about their culture and heritage.
"To have 80,000 African-American students in a school district and not to have [their heritage and history] in a school curriculum is disrespectful," he said. "Every human being on the planet needs to locate themselves and their people in time. That's how you learn what your people are."