In The Nation’s March 4 issue, Deborah Meier, the much acclaimed East Harlem principal and MacArthur-award winner, writes provocatively on the parental-choice movement. Her title: “Choice Can Save Public Schools.”
She calls the “conservative-progressive” split over choice the result of a mistaken focus on political intent. Progressives, she says, wrongly assess choice as an “elitist” movement that threatens public education; they perceive it to be the successor to the previous “right-wing challenge,” vouchers.
What these critics overlook, Ms. Meier notes, is the promise choice holds of possibly reviving the alternative-schools movement, which has traditionally been supported by progressives as a means of providing greater targeted services and flexibility within the public sector.
She cites the saga of New York City’s Central Park East school complex as one successful example of a district’s instituting alternative schools to meet the needs of the community.
If such experimental programs are more widely and systematically developed, she maintains, then public education will remain a viable challenge to private schools.
“By using choice judiciously,” she says, “we can have the virtues of the marketplace without some of its vices.”
An article in the March Ebony asks “Do Black Males Need Special Schools?”
Experimental programs that separate young black males from their white and female counterparts have been started or contemplated in such cities as Milwaukee, Washington, Baltimore, and Detroit.
“We have to show many African-American males that education is something that men not only do, but excel in,” explains Spencer Holland, an educational psychologist at Morgan State University. Like other proponents, he cites the lack of positive role models as one reason for creating exclusively black-male classrooms with black teachers and mentors.
Washington’s Project 2000, co-founded by Mr. Holland, is one of the vanguard programs that support such groupings. It pairs elementary students with African-American volunteers who commit to working with them from the 1st grade until graduation.
Begun in 1988, the program has produced an improved attitude toward learning among the 47 boys participating, Mr. Holland says.
Critics, however, fear a move toward resegregation. As Mary Hatwood Futrell, former president of the National Education Association, comments, “It sends the message that black males have to be treated differently to get a quality education.”
But for participating teachers, the goal is to set an example. “Realistically, I know I’ll lose some, one or two will fall through the cracks,” says one Baltimore teacher. “But if we can get through to a few of them, it’s worth it."--skg
A version of this article appeared in the March 27, 1991 edition of Education Week as Publishing: In the Press