Waking up in Wilde Lake; Howard County: Educators need to take seriously erosion of confidence in a community school.


HOWARD COUNTY is especially known for two things in Maryland: Pride in the high quality of its schools and Columbia, the "new town" created on the principle of inclusiveness. Both appear threatened, judging by the recent report that white parents in Columbia are pulling their children out of a diverse, older middle school and pooling nearly $40,000 to bus them to a newer, less diverse school just outside the unincorporated, planned city.

The news is alarming: It suggests an erosion of confidence in Howard schools. It also exacerbates segregation, as the black student population at Wilde Lake Middle has risen by 10 percent and the white population dropped by 10 percent in just the past year. White parents have used "open enrollment" to transfer their children to predominantly white Lime Kiln.

This story is more complex than racial prejudice, however. The parents now disenchanted with the Wilde Lake school are mostly white, but unless test scores and other numbers improve, African-American families with resources might get fed up and leave, too. Suburbia is no more immune to this cycle than the city.

Howard educators must take seriously the deflated perception of Wilde Lake Middle. A specialized magnet program might help. A strong disciplinary and academic environment is crucial.

Rejuvenation is possible. Educators need look no farther for a good example than Wilde Lake's own high school. A few years ago, the school had a reputation for unruliness and poor achievement. The turning point was a raucous schoolyard brawl that ended in the fatal heart attack of a teacher who was trying to restore order.

A new administrator was brought in, and Wilde Lake High seems to be moving in the right direction again. Wilde Lake Middle's energetic new principal could be what that school needs to begin restoring faith there, too.

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