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Black Pupils Fare Well in Suburbs

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Despite some expectations to the contrary, black students who moved from low-income areas of Chicago to predominantly white suburbs are maintaining their grades, even though they face higher academic standards in their new suburban schools, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern University.

Moreover, the study found, most of the 113 black children studied are more involved in extracurricular activities than they were in their city schools and have experienced "surprising and noteworthy" success in making new friends.

The students' successful adaptation to their new academic environment was linked, the researchers suggest, to smaller classes, special attention from teachers, and appropriate grade and ability-level placements.

James E. Rosenbaum and Leonard S. Rubinowitz, researchers at Northwestern's center for urban affairs and policy research, noted that their study, released Dec. 16, is probably the first in the nation that examines the school experiences of black children living in predominantly white suburbs.

The study appears likely to add new fuel to the long-standing debate over the educational benefits of integrated schools.

Housing Desegregation

The Northwestern study focuses on 113 black students and their families who moved to Chicago suburbs between 1976 and 1983 as a result of a landmark housing-desegregation suit, Hills v. Gautreaux. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower-court orders that subsidized housing be provided to blacks in white areas of Chicago and its suburbs.

The study was based primarily on interviews with the children--ranging in age from 6 to 16--and with the heads of their families, all of whom are women. All of the families moved from neighborhoods in Chicago's inner city that were more than 95 percent black to suburban areas that were more than 97 percent white.

The black suburban families' experiences were compared with those of a control group of 48 black families who moved from one predominantly black low-income area of Chicago to another during the same period.

Expectations Not Confirmed

Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Rubinowitz said they were unable to measure with great accuracy changes in the students' academic achievement because there had been no opportunity to test them both before and after they moved. But interviews with the parents led them to the conclusion, the researchers said, that their "expectations of lower grades and lower relative performance were not confirmed."

After an initial period of adjustment, most of the children maintained about the same grades and levels of performance as they had before moving, according to the study. This performance, the researchers found, was due in part to the efforts of the suburban teachers, who frequently went out of their way to help the children, and in part to the significantly smaller class sizes in the suburban schools.

In addition, one of the most important factors influencing the students' grades, the study notes, was the fact that most of the children were either retained in a grade for a year or placed in lower-ability groups or special-education classes. Many of the parents interviewed were initially critical of such placements, the report says, but later approved of them after concluding that the suburban schools were much more demanding than those in the city.

"They had to hold [my son] back and he had to have special tutors," one mother told the interviewers. "But they eventually started working with him and now he's really doing great. ... [When they told me], the first thing I thought was 'black' because this was the first time I had had any trouble. ... [But when I went there and] actually saw what the first-year kids were doing, I knew in my heart he couldn't do that."

"I thought she was doing tremendous in schoolwork [in the city] until we moved here," said another mother of her daughter. "Here, she is average. She was getting the same grades in the city as here, but academically, it was different. She's learning more here than she did there."

The researchers also found that the parents were pleased with the suburban schools' smaller class sizes and larger array of extracurricular activities. Many parents cited athletic programs in particular, because, they told the interviewers, such activities gave their children an opportunity to excel and academic-eligibility standards were higher than in the city schools.

In addition, expectations about4the black students' social integration with their white peers were unduly pessimistic, Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Rubinowitz reported. The researchers said they were surprised to find that "no consistent pattern of social isolation or exclusion emerged."

The researchers said that not all of their findings were positive, noting, for example, that the black children "did not derive the full benefits of the changes in [their] general environment."

"Racial differences and discrimination, as well as economic differences and their Chicago backgrounds, seem to have placed many of these children in a 'sub-environment' within the larger environment," the report says.

Racially motivated harassment on school buses, in schools, and in neighborhoods was frequent but not routine and generally took the form of name-calling, occasional fighting, and ostracism, the researchers found. They also reported that they uncovered some evidence that the frequency of such incidents tended to decline over time.

In addition, black parents expressed concern to the interviewers about the absence of black history and culture in the suburban schools' curricula and about the potential for their children to lose their black identity. Some parents also reported what they considered racially biased attitudes and actions by school administrators, teachers, and white students.

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