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Cleveland Student-Assignment Plan Focus on Reform, Race Balance

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The Cleveland board of education is expected this week to consider whether to drastically scale back the school district's 17-year-old mandatory-desegregation program in favor of a voluntary system that its supporters say is geared more toward improving educational quality.

The plan, named "Vision 21,'' was released May 1 at a citywide education forum. District officials said it is the product of six months of work by some 400 educators, parents, and community leaders.

In addition to the change in the district's student-assignment policy, which has been at the center of controversy since 1976, the plan also calls for changes in curriculum and other school operations to improve education for all students, especially minorities. About 17,000 of the district's 73,863 students--roughly one in four--are bused for desegregation purposes.

School officials discussed the plan last week with the Cleveland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which represents the plaintiffs in the district's long-running desegregation case.

"The concepts were good, but, until we have some data on implementation, it is difficult to say that this is something we could approve of and something that would be good for our kids,'' said Pauline H. Tarver, the director of the N.A.A.C.P. branch.

The plaintiffs must approve the plan before it can take effect, as must U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti, who oversees the case. In March 1992, the judge said he was open to an alternative to busing for racial balance provided that the substitute is constitutional and improves educational quality. (See Education Week, March 25, 1992.)

The plan has received generally positive reviews from key players in Cleveland school governance.

Carol S. Gibson, the executive director of the Cleveland Initiative for Education, a consortium of business and civic groups, said the plan is "just spectacular'' and "a good statement about how far this city has come.''

Christopher M. Carmody, a special assistant for education to Mayor Michael R. White, said Vision 21 is the the city's first comprehensive school-reform plan in two decades and "one of the only student-assignment proposals in the country which is driven by educational concerns rather than by logistical or other concerns.''

Richard A. DeColibus, the president of the 5,200-member Cleveland Teachers Union, said his union was "solidly behind'' most of the plan, which he called "educationally sound.'' Still, he questioned how the plan would be funded and objected to the proposed location of some magnet schools.

4 Attendance Regions

Asserting that the Cleveland system now has only a few excellent schools and programs, the superintendent, Sammie Campbell Parrish, said the plan would create "an entire system of schools that routinely works and works well for all students.''

The plan would divide the district into four student-attendance regions. Magnet schools open to students from across the district would be created to promote voluntary integration.

Elementary schools not made into magnets would become "community model schools'' offering children in their attendance regions programs based on trends in school reform.

Ms. Parrish confirmed that up to seven of the district's 127 schools could become racially identifiable as black under the plan.

She said the parents of children assigned to these schools would be allowed to transfer them to another that more closely mirrors the district's 70 percent black enrollment, even if the change would exacerbate racial isolation at the schools losing the students.

At the high school level, the plan proposes eliminating the general track and requiring all students to prepare for either a four-year college, a two-year associate-degree program, or a licensed apprenticeship program.

It also calls for the hiring of more guidance counselors, infusing Afrocentric and multicultural education into the curriculum, and upgrading professional development for teachers and principals.

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