Black Educators Hail Rapid Progress Of Their 'Effective Schools' Blueprint
Hunt Valley, Md.--The principles that underlie the "effective schools" movement are gaining acceptance in a growing number of school districts and states, according to educators, parents, policymakers, and state officials meeting here last week.
The movement has been catalyzed by a concise, six-page document, "A Blueprint for Action II," which was developed at this conference two years ago, participants at the 4th National Conference on Educating Black Children said.
From its inauspicious beginnings four years ago, this annual gathering and the resulting blueprint have become the foundations of a national movement to improve education for minority children through the use of "effective schools" principles, they asserted.
Minority leaders and advocates from some 27 states and the District of Columbia attended this year's conference, which was intended as a forum on strategy but was also an occasion to celebrate the progress of the last four years.
"At the first conference, we met in some confusion, we didn't really trust each other, but we lit a candle of understanding that has carried us through," said Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and founder of the informal group that organized the meetings.
"I never thought that just four years later we would talk about all of these wonderful things," added Owen L. Knox, founding co-chairman of the National Conference on Educating Black Children and lecturer at the University of California-Los Angeles's graduate school of education.
"Prior to the first conference, I was distressed with what I perceived to be our own participation in our own genocide," Mr. Knox said. ''Now things are changing."
"Blueprint for Action II," a document developed at the group's 1987 conference, represents a consensus among participants that their goals can best be achieved through the use of the "effective schools" approach, whose best-known advocate was the late educator Ronald Edmonds.
Mr. Edmonds's philosophy stresses that all children--regardless of race or class--can be successfully educated.
On the basis of his studies in a number of city schools, Mr. Edmonds concluded that schools in which black children were achieving well shared five qualities: strong instructional leadership by the principal; an orderly environment; a climate of high expectations in which no children were permitted to fall below minimal levels; an emphasis on teaching basic skills and a focus on academic tasks; and frequent evaluations of pupil progress.
The blueprint that is based on his work lays out specific steps that students, teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and the community should take to turn around the often-dismal conditions in and around the urban schools in which 85 percent of black children are taught.
Conference participants focused particular attention at the recent meeting, called "Ensuring America's Future: Educating Black Chil8dren,'' on how parental involvement in education can be strengthened.
"Blueprint II" has served as the model for school-improvement plans across the country, the 472 conference participants were told, and has also served as the basis for discussions in numerous regional meetings organized under the aegis of the National Conference.
"We are done with little thinking and little deeds," said LaVerne Byrd Smith, coordinator of the Virginia education department's minority-student achievement program. "We had better be a little bit anxious about this--we don't have much time."
The blueprint serves as the basis for draft recommendations Ms. Smith has developed for improving the academic achievement of minority students in Virginia. Her report, which is to be presented later this month to the state board, calls for coordinating all of the state education department's efforts under the overarching plan for minority achievement.
A statewide plan is expected to be adopted by December, she added.
Educators from Delaware and California also reported on steps their states have taken to implement the blueprint's recommendations, as did school officials from Portland, Ore., New Orleans, and Frederick County, Md.
Portland's plan, called "Success for Students At Risk," will be used by each school in planning for the 1989-90 school year, explained Michael L. Grice, a researcher for the Portland public schools.
The plan is distinguished by its emphasis on collaboration between the groups that will be asked to implement it, he said, and by its emphasis on assessment and accountability, which was suggested by the city's business community.
Among its many recommendations, the Portland blueprint calls for teachers to "infuse multi-cultural/multi-ethnic materials into classroom teaching and materials." Parents are asked to visit and volunteer in the schools, and "support other parents so they can do the same."
In Frederick County, Md., where the school board also has adopted an effective-schools model, all reports of student achievement are required to disaggregate data by race, sex, and socioeconomic level, said Earl H. Robbins Jr., a member of the board.
And in its next statewide report of student achievement, Maryland will disaggregate its data by race, Mr. Robbins added.
"People are going to start scrambling to cover themselves," he predicted. "If you look at the overall system, it looks like everyone is doing fine. But when you start breaking down by various groups, you see great dispari4ties. People will want to know why."
Mr. Hawkins called on participants to "monitor" the implementation of the program-improvement provisions of the Hawkins-Stafford School Improvement Act, which permits school districts to use Chapter 1 money for effective-schools programs.
"The black children who have been systematically excluded must be included," Mr. Hawkins said. "It's going to be done because we do it.''
The National Conference on Educating Black Children, headquartered in Washington, is sponsored by a wide variety of educational and black organizations. The annual meetings here are funded by donations from corporations and philanthropic organizations.
Despite the well-attended regional conferences, at which the latest information is shared, keeping abreast of the progress being made has been difficult, Mr. Knox said.
The organization plans to establish a clearinghouse to "keep track of what we're doing and how successful we're being in implementing the blueprint," he said.