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Black Educators Say Reform, Austerity Threaten Gains

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New York City--If the quality of education is to improve for America's black students, then blacks themselves will have to bring about the change, said speakers at a meeting of some 1,500 black educators here last month.

Asserting that the education-reform movement has stressed excel-lence without regard to equity, several prominent black leaders told members of the National Alliance of Black School Educators that government can no longer be looked to for the means to overcome past inequities.

"Nobody will save us, for us, but us," said the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, one of the keynote speakers at the group's 13th annual meeting. "Santa Claus really isn't real."

Other speakers noted that the educational gains made by blacks during the past decade are slipping away as austerity measures at the federal, state, and local levels of government reduce the amount spent to meet the special educational needs of black students.

"Don't look for added resources because they are not going to be there," said Donald Clark, director of educational planning and testing for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education, during one of the meeting's small-group sessions. "The federal golden goose is dead."

Mobilization Urged

Some speakers urged groups within the black community, such as churches, businesses, and professional organizations, to mobilize and establish networks for helping black students, parents, and schools.

"We must use what we have and not cry over what we don't have," Mr. Jackson said. "We must plot a new plan and assert ourselves."

According to its officials, the alliance comprises nearly 3,000 teachers, administrators, and officials from elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. The group is dedicated to ensuring that black students in predominantly black and integrated institutions receive a high-quality education.

Speakers' Concerns

A number of speakers called on participants to work to change parental values and attitudes toward education.

"We have to believe that our children can achieve," Mr. Clark said. Too many parents, he noted, will give their children money for expensive clothes or stereo equipment, but will not invest in their education by buying them a computer or a new set of books.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, said black parents "must understand" that "they can't drop [their children] off at kindergarten and pick them up at grade 12 and wonder what happened in between."

Ms. Futrell argued that leaders of the nation's education-reform move-ment "seem hell-bent" on creating an exclusionary system of education that promotes excellence for a few students while excluding the rest.

The reformers are accomplishing this, she said, by "establishing high standards and not giving us the resources to help our children meet those standards."

"The gap between the educational achievement of white and black students will only be closed if the educa-tion-reform movement becomes committed to closing it," Ms. Futrell said. "I have to tell you that I don't think the movement is committed to that. The reform movement will only address this issue if you and I insist they address it."

At the close of the meeting, one educator said that while the conference had been inspiring, it had also alerted him to "beware of complacency."

"Obviously the battle is not over," the educator said. "We aren't gaining ground, we are losing ground."

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