The Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has issued a set of recommendations that, while well-meaning in spirit, could prove highly problematic if put into practice. In a report released last week, the group suggests that the county school system eliminate all classes for low achievers, even including special education. Doing away with such courses would establish high expectations for all students, the NAACP's education committee concluded.
Noting that a disproportionate number of African-American students in Howard County are assigned to "skills, general education and special education classes," the group called the practice re-segregation because it "deprives students of the quality of education provided to student not placed in those categories."
The observation is not wholly without merit. In fact, the school system is moving in that direction. Inclusion, the process of putting children identified as needing special education in the "least restrictive environment," is underway and should be implemented gradually.
But the elimination of special education classes is not a possibility. Appropriate programs are federally mandated and the most severely disabled will always need a learning environment separate from the general population. Similarly, skills or general education courses will always be necessary on a temporary basis, although officials are attempting to eliminate "tracking" that permanently assigns students to low-level courses.
The NAACP wants school officials to stop making ethnic comparisons based on student performances as measured by assessment tests, saying the practice demoralizes teachers and pupils. On this issue, however, the organization appears to want it both ways. While supporting the "gathering" of ethnic-specific information, committee members suggest that school officials cease reporting the findings. The fact that such data, if collected, is public information is never addressed.
We would remind the NAACP that it recommended the system begin collecting such information a decade ago. The goal was to get a better fix on minority student achievement. There may be no better way of keeping track of the system's progress in serving various socio-economic groups.