During its review of the 2001-02 strategic targets, the Fairfax County Public Schools staff discovered that of the three targets specifically aimed at minority students, the school system failed to reach its stated goal to reduce the difference between minorities' and whites' SAT scores by 10 percent. However, buoyed by the fact the goals of reducing the disparity between minority and white suspensions and increasing the number of blacks and Hispanics taking advanced-placement and International Baccalaureate courses were met, the staff is recommending two more targets for 2002-04 dealing with minority students.
The proposal aims to double the number of black and Hispanic students in the Gifted and Talented Center Program, of which there are 16 elementary-school centers and 10 middle-school centers, and to double the number of black and Hispanic students in the Gifted and Talented School-Based Program, which is offered in every elementary and middle school.
The recommendation follows in the footsteps of the Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee, which in January also recommended the school system establish a target for increased minority participation, among other suggestions.
"Gifted children are found equally at every level, in every culture and ethnic group." said Judy Howard, a committee member, back in January.
MEMBERS OF THE SCHOOL Board agree with Howard's statement but are leery of creating a target that seemingly sets a quota for the gifted and talented program.
"I think if we pass this, we will end up in the courts," said School Board member Christian Braunlich (Lee). "It's a race-based quota. I think it's illegal and at the least very immoral. What it says is that if you are black or Hispanic, the only way to get into the program is with a target like this, and I think that is wrong."
For more than a year, the board has struggled with ways of reducing the achievement gap between minorities and whites while still remaining politically correct. Most recently, the board raised the enrollment for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, hoping to increase black and Hispanic representation at the school. In addition, the board is also reviewing a draft plan to offer a test preparation course to help underrepresented populations pass the Jefferson admissions test.
"We're not making progress, we're going backwards. I think that's where the target came from," said School Board member Ernestine Heastie (Providence). "I believe when we open the door, it's not just blacks and Hispanics that walk in, but a lot of other people go through, too."
The minority achievement committee concluded more whites were walking through the doors of the gifted and talented (GT) program.
"We are dissatisfied. Our children are not being included in advanced programs," Howard said. "In the 1989-99 school year, black and Hispanic students were 2 percent of the GT program. In 2000-01, black and Hispanic students comprised less than 1 percent. That's only 693 blacks and 510 Hispanics that were in GT programs."
THE COMMITTEE recommended a target of at least an 8-percent increase in minority participation in the GT programs by the end of the 2002-03 school year. The staff took the recommendation a bit further, and in attempting to have the number of black and Hispanic students in the GT programs reflect the percentage of black and Hispanic students in the general population, recommended doubling the current participation figures.
This year 4.5 percent of black students and 3.3 percent of Hispanic students took part in the programs, which had an enrollment of 15,415 students. Yet blacks made up 11 percent and Hispanics made up 13 percent of the school system's total enrollment.
At the request of the School Board, the staff asked the school system's legal counsel to review the proposal. In the meantime, board members asked staff to come up with alternative wording for the target.
"I think it is a goal … to have better representation in our GT Centers. I do think we have to be cautious as we proceed," said School Board member Rita Thompson (At large). "No minority wants to think they got in because of the color of their skin."
Last Thursday, school superintendent Daniel Domenech said counsel concluded the proposed target was legal as written.
The School Board is expected to vote on the 2002-04 strategic targets April 11 at its regularly scheduled meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church.