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Equity 2000 Seeks To Raise Expectations for All

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New York City

The College Board has taken its Equity 2000 program to market, spreading the word to urban superintendents of dramatic results at six pilot sites.

More than three dozen superintendents from urban school districts gathered here last week to discuss Equity 2000 and the program's overall goal--helping minority and disadvantaged students achieve the same scholastic success and college-entry rates as other children.

A report issued by the College Board this month concludes that the six pilot sites have substantially raised teacher and counselor expectations for students since the program began in 1991. The districts have also seen substantial increases in the numbers of students taking and passing higher-level courses in algebra and geometry, steps widely viewed as crucial for college-bound students.

Vinetta C. Jones, the national director of Equity 2000, told the superintendents gathered here that the program seeks, through such gains, to help all students gain access to higher-level courses in all subjects and to drive various school reforms predicated on the belief that all children can learn, "regardless of the backgrounds they come from."

"If kids can achieve in rigorous mathematics, they can, and should, be expected to achieve at similar levels in other subjects," Ms. Jones said in an interview.

The philosophy and approach of Equity 2000 seemed well-received by the superintendents, some of whom have launched their own initiatives with similar goals.

"Equity is not the gimmick of the year. It is something that children deserve," said Schools Chancellor Ramon C. Cortines of New York City, who last spring imposed rigorous new graduation requirements in math and science. (See Education Week, May 11, 1994.)

Sammie Campbell Parrish, the Cleveland schools superintendent, advised her colleagues not to saddle such initiatives with labels and fanfare that might draw attention and political resistance.

Beyond Test Sites

The College Board plans to have a much larger national conference on Equity 2000 later this month. The event's co-sponsors include the Committee for Economic Development, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, and the National Alliance of Black School Educators.

So far, the program has been limited primarily to the six pilot sites: the Milwaukee, Nashville, Fort Worth, Providence, R.I., and Prince George's County, Md., school systems, and a consortium of districts serving the San Jose, Calif., area. The districts serve nearly 14 million students in more than 700 schools.

Although the six-year pilot efforts are only entering their fifth year, College Board officials said they have seen enough evidence of improvement at the sites to justify trying the program in more schools.

"Preliminary results from the participating schools show higher test scores, rising standards, and improved motivation," the College Board's report says.

"In the 1993-94 school year, almost all 9th-grade students in the Equity 2000 schools were taking algebra," the report says.

Moreover, the College Board report notes: "Even though these untracked classes included students who normally would have been tracked into lower-level classes, the passing rates remained nearly constant."

"The less-advantaged students in detracked classes learned almost the same amount of algebra as the more 'advanced' students who took algebra back when the course was tracked," the report says.

A 1993 survey found that, after in-service training for teachers and counselors as part of Equity 2000, teachers believed 77 percent of students could pass algebra, up from 66 percent. For counselors, that number rose from 65 percent to 88 percent.

An End for Tracking

The Equity 2000 model asks districts to raise standards and eliminate academic tracking, which the College Board report blames for preventing more than four out of five black or Hispanic students from taking algebra and geometry classes in high school.

"When minority students are tracked out of algebra and geometry, the gates to college are slammed in their faces," the report says. An African-American student who has not taken college-preparatory math has a 1-in-40 likelihood of completing college; for Hispanic students, the odds are 1 in 60, the report says.

To help students achieve in higher-level courses, Equity 2000 says that teachers, counselors, and principals should receive extensive, ongoing professional development and that students should have a "safety net" of academic-enrichment programs.

The model also calls for more parent involvement; community partnerships, including links with higher education; and tracking of student enrollment and achievement by race and gender.

Getting Beyond Obstacles

Superintendent Howard Fuller of the Milwaukee public schools told summit participants that "there are parents who don't believe their children can learn this stuff" and that many assume algebra classes have been watered down if more students take them and pass. He nevertheless urged his fellow superintendents not to wait to change district practices.

The summit participants also described a skeptical media and their own entrenched bureaucracies as likely obstacles to change.

Several, however, said the most formidable barriers likely lie within their teaching staffs.

Arthur Zarrella, the superintendent of the 23,000-student Providence district, said poor teacher attitude is "one of the biggest problems we have" in implementing Equity 2000. The situation is made worse, he said, because union-contract provisions require him to consider seniority over enthusiasm in placing teachers in some Equity 2000 programs.

Robert Spillane, the superintendent of the Fairfax County, Va., school system, said his efforts to implement equity-based reform have been hampered by a workforce of "minimum quality trying to achieve maximum results."

"You've got to break the stranglehold that unions and mandates have on the system" to bring about such reforms, Mr. Fuller said.

Mr. Fuller said his efforts to implement Equity 2000 "hooked nicely" into other reforms already in place in his 100,000-student district.

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