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January 99 Message
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"... We ignored the larger reality. We neglected the young because we did not want to admit the system’s real intention toward them -- or us. ... But we cannot compartmentalize their fate from our own, for the children are the future, and if they are killed literally or culturally or morally or intellectually, then so, too, are we."

William Strickland
Where Have All The Heroes Gone?
African Commentary
October 1989

Recently, a report was released by the state Board of Education which presented the results of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP). The report documented that for the sixth straight year Howard County students earned the top scores in the state on the MSPAP which measures a school’s meeting of state standards in reading, writing, language usage, math, science and social studies. It should be noted that the MSPAP tests are designed to measure how well each school teaches the state curriculum, rather than to highlight the performance of individual students. There are very significant differences obvious in the performance of selected Howard County Elementary and Middle schools. In a Washington Post article, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Michael Hickey, stated preparations are underway for "a more intensive strategy" to help about 10 or so schools that have seen their assessment test scores drop steadily in recent years. The report is to be presented to the school board in February.

All of this is important and informative to those of us in the African American community who have a strong interest in education of the children against all odds. But there is more - there is another test that recently was given to Howard County elementary school students. The test is the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). A significant difference in the CTBS compared to MSPAP is that the former is an assessment of individual students while MSPAP is an assessment of students as a group in a school. An analysis of the CTBS showed that of 5th grade students scoring in the 95 - 99 percentile for math - an extraordinarily high score - 64% of White students were in gifted and talented classes, 86% of Asian students and only 30% of Black students. In the reading area, of 5th grade students scoring in the 95 - 99 percentile the rates of participation in the gifted and talented program were 56% of White students, 100% of Asians and only 20% of Black students.

What do you make of this data? Is it clear evidence of the deliberate and systematic steering of exceptionally academically talented Black students away from academically challenging courses as a result of systemic White supremacist practices? Or is it evidence of gross incompetence on the part of some Howard County teachers and administrators who allow very significant numbers of Black children to be sidetracked into less challenging course work? If this is what happened to the most academically gifted Black students, what happened to those bright Black students who scored at the commendable 80th percentile and above? There is a proverb of the African people of Cameroun that says "He who asks questions, cannot avoid the answers."

Maulana Karenga, Ph.D. has said you should not be surprised when oppressors oppress - that’s what they do. For too long have too many Howard County African American families and organizations ignored the reality and then been surprised as to what was happening to so many of our children in what is cited as "the best school system in Maryland." Many a Howard County Black parent has reflected the attitude: "I can evade identifying with my incomparably rich African cultural and intellectual heritage and just send my child off to the best school system in Maryland without rigorously monitoring what is happening to the child in the classroom." African American organizations to often have put their greatest emphasis on awarding scholarships to the disproportionately small number of African American students who against all odds manage to reach their senior year with an above average level of academic accomplishment. Moreover, many organizations avoid committing their significant personnel and financial resources to the critical need to mentor and monitor at the elementary and higher grade levels and they also avoid establishing in the community Afrocentric cultural and educational programs that strengthen the students’ collective ability to confront and succeed in a hostile school learning environment. In the schools, some Black teachers and administrators see the actions of their colleagues that divert Black students from academic success and yet they do nothing to challenge a White supremacist culture - thereby becoming themselves collaborating agents in the destruction of Black children.

Na’im Akbar, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Florida State University and speaker at Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s 1993 Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast, has pointed the way toward the action we in the African American community must collectively take in Howard County for our children and for ourselves.

"The way to reestablish ourselves is to put ourselves back in our culture. To restructure our culture. Now please understand, this is something ultimately we must do for ourselves. Now I’m sorry to tell you this, there will be no grants available, there will be no handouts, there will be no special programs. We as a community must take the responsibility to build for ourselves what we need. ... We must justify us only to us, by us and for us and that must be the criteria by which we operate."


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