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'All-Black' Education Agenda Advocated

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Washington--The excellence movehreatens 20 years of progress toward equity in education and the well-being of a generation of black youths, a group of black educators has charged.

Speaking at the annual meeting here of the Association of Black Foundation Executives late last month, Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, who was a member of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, called for "all-black" solutions to the problem of attaining excellence in education for black students.

"The educational deprivation in many urban centers parallels the hunger in Ethiopia today," Mr. Francis said. "Blacks must set national and local agendas for the way excellence is achieved. ... It is certainly good for us, but it is good for the nation as a whole."

"It's imperative that black educators define the problem and outline solutions," agreed Donald H. Smith, president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators. "We cannot trust others to save our children. We must save them."

Other speakers said they perceived the development of a two-tiered education system, accelerated by the reform movement, in which blacks either drop out or are concentrated in special-education classes, while white students prosper.

Black youngsters are "locked into low-level tracks, money is going into gifted-and-talented programs, and once again we're on the low end of the totem pole," said Beverly P. Cole, director of education for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The conference was called to bring the problems of black students in public schools to the attention of blacks in positions of influence in philanthropy. "The condition is chronic ... and needs your grantmaking response," said Adrienne Y. Bailey, vice president for academic affairs of the College Board, in introducing the speakers.

One of numerous so-called "affinity groups of grantmakers" associated with the Council on Foundations, the black foundation officers met on the last day of the council's three-day annual conference.

Needs Seen Growing

Many of the more than 1,500 foundation officers meeting here voiced uncertainty about the federal government's commitment to social-welfare programs and concern that deductions for charitable giving will be eliminated as part of a tax-simplification plan. Some foundations have been diverting funds to social-welfare agencies to help sustain them, said the foundation chiefs, but they lack the funds to make up for all the Reagan Administration's cuts, even if they wanted to.

During the general sessions, several speakers urged the foundation officers to devote more resources to pressing social needs.

Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, named four issues she said were most deserving of support, the first of which was "bringing blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities into the mainstream" of American life.

"We haven't begun to do that," she said. "We don't know how."

Second on her list, she said, was "finding ways to strengthen family life and nurturing children," a theme echoed by Representative Harold E. Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on public assistance.

Representative Ford urged the foundation chiefs to work with the Congress to devise programs to address teen-age pregnancy; he equated the solution of that problem with the "salvation of the black community in America."

Although foundations have been devoting less money to education generally in recent years, acording to the Foundation Center, which assists grantseekers in finding available grants, a greater proportion of the education grants awarded has been in precollegiate, as opposed to postsecondary, education.

This deepening interest in school-aged youths was signaled at the conference by the formation of a new affinity group of foundations "interested in children and youth."

'Dangerous Retreat'

The black educators speaking at the abfe meeting said they did not oppose higher standards, rather what Mr. Francis called "a dangerous retreat" from equity.

"We are for quality, we are for excellence, but if we don't speak up for equity, no one else will," Ms. Cole said.

The speakers said they took particular exception to programs that place a premium on high achievement and neglect students who are less gifted. Blacks are already more than twice as likely as whites to drop out of school, Mr. Francis said, and raising standards without providing support only increases the chances that blacks will fail.

"These policies are having negative impacts on blacks," said Stephanie G. Robinson, the National Urban League's associate director for education and career development.

"Equal exit standards without equal treatment is grossly unfair," added Mr. Smith of the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

School administrators may be "too willing to write off" poor students, Ms. Cole said, figuring that if they drop out, "maybe it's the best thing." The excellence movement, she said, should not "be one of just raising the ceiling, but also of raising the floor."

'Falling Backward'

Mr. Francis said the problems the reform movement poses for blacks must be viewed in the context of the general condition of black America.

The country "thinks blacks have made it," he said, when in fact, blacks are "falling backward."

But Mr. Francis and other speakers contended that the commissions established to look at the public schools and recommend changes "were not formed because minorities were doing poorly, but because majority youngsters were not performing."

"It wasn't until s.a.t. scores of some majority groups slipped that they stopped to take a look," charged Ms. Cole.

Mr. Francis said he agreed to serve on the National Commission on Excellence in Education because of his feeling that "when the train came to the station, we had a chance to get on it."

'Part of the Total Movement'

Now, he said, "I think we have to be part of the total movement but also an all-black movement" to improve schools.

Society resists equity because it "would lead to rearrangement, or at least a reassessment of the social structure, and that's a scary thing to many people," said Shirley W. Malcolm, who heads opportunities-in-science programs for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As a result, she said, blacks, women, and minorities must "take control of the reform movement, on our terms."

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