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Project To Focus on Minority Achievement

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A group of prominent educators and policymakers has launched an ambitious project designed to substantially boost the academic achievement of minority students from kindergarten through graduate school.

The project, known as Quality Education for Minorities, will seek to meet specific goals by the year 2000.

They include doubling the number of minority high-school graduates who successfully complete a college-preparatory curriculum and tripling the number of minority students receiving bachelors' degrees, according to the program's director, Shirley M. McBay.

"People have begun to realize that we need to have students who can think for a living," said Ms. McBay, who is dean for student affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "If we continue to produce students with minimal skills, they will be dependents, not contributors."

Over the next two years, she said, the project will prepare a plan of action for raising minority achievement, and then form a nonprofit foundation to implement its recommendations. Funded by a $1.2-million grant awarded last year by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the effort officially got under way this month when the group's 35-member "action council" met for the first time in New York City.

Ray Marshall, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and the Audre and Bernard Rapaport Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, is chairman of the council, which will oversee the project.

Other members include Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association; Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts; Representative Manuel Lujan Jr. of New Mexico; and Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board.

The new project comes as increas8ing public attention is being focused on the need for strategies to enhance the educational attainment of minorities.

Comprehensive Strategy

Last month, for example, the American Council on Education and the Education Commission of the States announced the creation of a blue-ribbon panel headed by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter to study minority participation in higher education and other sectors of society.

Ms. McBay said the action council's agenda differs in that it goes beyond delineating the dimensions of the problem to encompass the development of a comprehensive strategy for improving minority achievement.

"We don't intend for this to be another report with a set of recommendations for everybody else to carry out," she said.

The group's recommendations will draw on the substantial body of existing research in minority education, according to Ms. McBay.

"We will pull together what we have learned, both successes and failures," she said, adding that the recommendations would be flexible enough to allow for a variety of approaches. "There is no way that we will say, 'Here is the way to solve the problem,"' she said. "We have to use strategies appropriate to particular circumstances."

Goals for Year 2000

The action council, which will meet three times over the next two years, has endorsed the project's goals for the year 2000, according to Ms. McBay. These include:

Eliminating the gap in high-school graduation rates that now exists between whites and minorities;

Increasing fourfold the number of minority students receiving bachelors' degrees in mathematics, science, and engineering; and

Increasing fivefold the number of minority students with bachelors' degrees entering precollegiate teaching careers.

The foundation to be created after the release of the final report is expected to develop about a dozen demonstration projects implementing the suggested strategies. It could also fund other groups' efforts, said Ms. McBay.

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