Black Educators Reassess Gains of Past Decade
Memphis--Amid the dozens of educational issues discussed as the National Alliance of Black School Educators met here last month, one theme came up time and again: Black students, whether they are in predominantly black or integrated schools, can do better if teachers and administrators expect more of them.
The alliance has about 2,000 members from elementary, secondary, and higher education. Its primary concern is the progress of black students and educators in predominantly black and integrated educational institutions.
Many school officials and teachers participating in the four-day conference agreed that it is time to reassess gains made by blacks in education in the last decade. Old issues such as busing, remedial education, and elitism provoked some surprising comments from panelists.
Jerome Harris, an assistant superintendent in the New York City schools, noted that there are now more than 100 black school superintendents. "We didn't take [these districts], the whites abandoned them to us," he said. "We have chosen to copy the models of our predecessors. We have built a system modeled after failure."
He suggested that principals should spend at least 30 percent of their time in the classrooms. And he said teachers should make their students work harder. "Don't tell me that a child can't learn because he has only one parent or because he is poor. We've got to remove all those excuses," he said.
He urged that more attention be given to the top 3 to 5 percent of the students in each class. "We spent so much of our time on remediation that we have not developed the gifted and talented. We need an elitism. We have to develop elitism."
Berthina E. Palmer, of the Cleveland board of education, called for ''periodic review of desegregation plans so you can be sure you are not doing more harm than good."
"We should not be busing black kids to black schools," she contended, citing Memphis as one city that has reduced the number of bus routes and increased the number of neighborhood schools while continuing to meet court-ordered desegregation requirements.
The most enthusiastically received presentation was made by a Memphis high-school student. Danita Webb, president of the student council at Memphis's Booker T. Washington High School, said that although it is often described as a ghetto school, its academic record compares favorably with those of the best schools in the city and has been praised by Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and others.
A session on blacks in higher education produced some disturbing news for high-school teachers and administrators.
About 80 percent of the black students attending colleges and universities now attend predominantly white institutions, officials said, but their dropout rate is far higher than that of whites.
"The retention rate is not going to get any better; [it] is going to get worse," said Eugene Eubanks, dean of the school of education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. About 7 percent of the students at his campus are black, Mr. Eubanks said, and he does not expect that figure to increase soon.
Mr. Eubanks blamed inadequate preparation in science and mathematics, the difficulty of adjusting to a predominantly white campus, and cuts in student aid for the retention problems of black students.