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Study says students still face gender, race inequities

July 01, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Grading our schools

Educational equity is an easy concept for Carolyn W. Brooks to describe.

Brooks, chairwoman of the Washington County schools' Citizens' Advisory Council, defined equity as being "able to walk from school to school and not seeing a major difference."

That's not what a study of county schools found last year. The curriculum audit cited several areas of racial, gender and school-to-school inequities including:

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- Availability of library books varies from school to school, the audit found. Students at Emma K. Doub Elementary School have 25 books for every student, while the ratio drops to 12-to-1 at Old Forge Elementary School.

"Inequities in access to library books often impacts on the acquisition of skills in other curriculum areas," the report said.

- Computer capacity varies. There are 10 students for every high-capability computer - Pentium processor or Macintosh equivalent - at Clear Spring High School. At North Hagerstown High School the ratio is 86-to-1.

- Black students make up about 6 percent of enrollment, but are categorized at mentally retarded at 11.9 percent and emotionally disturbed at 7.22 percent in special education programs, according to the audit.

- Black students make up 13 percent of student suspensions, more than twice the overall percentage of black enrollment.

"We need to recognize there are imbalances in some things," said John Ingersoll, supervisor of career technology education for county schools and co-chairman of a committee studying equity issues in the schools.

The other co-chairman, the Rev. Anthony Carr, pastor as Asbury United Methodist Church in Hagerstown's predominantly black Jonathan Street neighborhood, said equity is crucial.

"I'm just concerned about the kids. I want them to get the best quality of education they can get," Carr said.

The audit also said that some data dealing with equity issues was missing or not available, and could not support efforts to find out where equity disparities exist.

"Overall the auditors found several practices in the district that promote inequities in student placement and the distribution of instructional materials and equipment. These practices hinder the district from ensuring the resources are allocated on student need," the report said.

Washington County Board of Education members agreed there's a need to do more for minorities and all students at certain schools.

"We need to do more. We need to do not only better minority achievement, but better all-learner achievement," school board member B. Marie Byers said.

Board member Andrew R. Humphreys said he sees the equity issue as more about poverty than race, and said the school system should work to make sure disadvantaged children have the same opportunities as those coming from wealthy homes.

He said that also would help prevent a practice whereby people move to the county and ask for their children to be enrolled in the "good schools."

The equity committee, of which Humphreys is a member, has made several preliminary recommendations, calling for a review of existing policies related to student behavior, strengthening student support personnel and broadening staff development efforts.

"Are there valid concerns? Yes. Are we addressing them? I think we are," Humphreys said.

Many people hope the result of the equity review will change the way the school system allocates its resources.

Jenny Belliotti, president of the county Council of PTAs, said the school system often assumes the more students a school has, the greater the need there is for certain programs.

"That's not the case. You should look at the needs of the students," she said.

Donna Gelwicks, a parent with two children in county schools, agreed.

"Equity is not always having the same things in the all the schools because each school does not have the same needs," Gelwicks said.

Brooks, the CAC chairwoman, said the bottom line should be that all children, despite their backgrounds, should have the same opportunities at school.

"I think we all want something better for our students and our educational system," she said.

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