Macy To Expand Accelerated Program for Minorities

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Washington--Saying that its rigorous honors-level curriculum has led to impressive gains in academic achievement among minority high-school students, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation announced last week that it would help nearly triple the number of schools using the program.

The New York-based foundation unveiled a study here of its nine-year-old, four-state experiment that now puts more than 3,000 disadvantaged, academically average students through courses traditionally reserved only for high-achieving students. The coursework is backed up by small class sizes, counseling, and extracurricular programming.

The report, compiled by the McKenzie Group, an education-consulting firm based here, said that disadvantaged, minority participants have scored substantially higher than their peers on standardized achievement tests and have gone on to college in far greater numbers.

While Macy students' scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test are only approaching the national average, black participants in the program scored, on average, 56 points higher on the mathematics portion of the sat than the national average for their peers, and Puerto Rican students scored an average of 51 points higher than their peers nationally, the study said.

Participating schools report that 90 percent of the Macy students have gone on to college, most of them to four-year institutions, the report said. Fewer than 30 percent of black and Hispanic students nationally go on to postsecondary education, Floretta McKenzie, the former superintendent of the District of Columbia schools who led the study, said, noting that many of those enroll in two-year programs.

About 40 percent of the program graduates are pursuing college studies in health-related fields, mathematics, and the physical and biological sciences, the study showed. Minority students nationally account for only 1.6 percent of the four-year degrees in math, science, and engineering, according to the report.

"When I first heard of this program, I was appropriately skeptical,'' recalled David Satcher, president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville and an adviser to the program. "But I'm very excited about the results. They tell us indeed that, with a modest investment, the returns can be strikingly positive."

'O.K. To Be Academic'

The foundation has pumped in about $1.5 million a year for the 39 participating schools, 34 of which are in rural Alabama. The others include an Arizona school on a Navajo reservation and urban schools in New Haven, Conn., and New York City.

The program's director, Maxine E. Bleich, has formed Ventures in Education, a firm devoted to spreading the model. Beginning with a six-year, $4.5-million grant from Macy, Ventures will select 100 new sites this year, she said. Schools in New Orleans and Los Angeles have already expressed interest, and, she said, the organization would like to expand its Native American programs in Arizona and its New York coverage.

But a successful expansion, Ms. Bleich conceded, will require additional financial support. To cover the cost of 100 new schools, Ventures will need to raise $9 million a year. Discussions have begun with the National Science Foundation and the Kaiser Foundation, she added.

The Macy classrooms have had a ripple effect through entire schools, administrators say, spawning new programs through aroused student interest and healthy competition.

Honors programs have been spun off at Tuba City High School in Arizona and throughout the Alabama schools. Pre-engineering, pre-business, and pre-education programs in math and science have been established at A. Philip Randolph High School in Harlem in New York City. Students and teachers outside the program at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., can participate in tutoring programs, summer sessions, and faculty workshops set up under the program.

The Macy program "has stood as a model for our school, for motivating the kids, for creating curricula, for inventing other programs to involve kids in the school," said Lottie Taylor, principal of Randolph High. "The entire school has changed."

The program turned a complacent reservation school with a poor academic reputation into a model for other Native American schools, said Manuel T. Begay, the program's director at Tuba City High School.

"We've kind of made it O.K. to be academic," he said.

'The Forgotten Middle'

For the students, the Macy drill is not easy. Courses include physics, organic chemistry, genetics, endocrinology, and bacteriology. Four years of English, math, science, and social studies are required, along with two years of a foreign language. Students must take advanced-placement classes in biology, calculus, English, and social studies.

Shakira Payne, a senior at Randolph, spent a summer splicing dna and cloning genes when she was 15. Kisha Savage, 16, also at Randolph, has worked with residents and interns performing autopsies at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

Students say they appreciate the challenge.

"I want to be a pediatrician or psychiatrist," said Mauricia Grant, a 14-year-old freshman at Clara Barton High School. "In order for me to get there, because I'm black, I know I have to work extra hard. This program will give me the extra push."

And push they do, principals say.

"I don't want to use the word 'browbeat,"' said Jerry Resnick, principal of Clara Barton. "But you've got to do it. You've got to say, 'You've got to do your homework. You've got to perform."'

The program's significance lies in its attempt to target "the forgotten middle," Ms. McKenzie said. Most special programs are directed at either gifted or at-risk students. Most of the Macy students test between the 50th and 75th percentiles in junior-high-school achievement exams, she said.

But the lessons learned from the Macy experience have universal application, Ms. Taylor of Randolph High said.

"The Macy program provides the kind of enrichment, the exposure to curriculum development for the teachers, the support services for the parents, and the self-esteem and inner motivation for the students that would promote success in anyone," she said.

Vol. 10, Issue 08

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