A high school has defended its decision to segregate students by race and gender.
The scheme, at McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, separates black students from the rest of the school pupils, and then further breaks it down into black females and black males.
The separation is only for a short period–six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month–but it has drawn criticism for raising the spectre of racial segregation.
Today the school’s principal defended the policy.
Bill Jimenez said the school noticed that black students were not performing as well as other students, and that research had shown that same-race classes with strong same-race role models led to better academic results.
Mr Jimenez admitted that no other students were divided by race at the school, but he added that academic data dictated the school take a different approach with its black students.
He told Lancasteronline.com: ‘One of the things we said when we did this was, “Let’s look at the data, let’s not run from it. Let’s confront it and see what we can do about it”.’
The idea came from Angela Tilghman, an instructional coach at McCaskey East.
She said statistics had shown about a third of McCaskey’s African-Americans scored proficient or advanced in reading on last year’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, compared with 60 per cent of white students and 42 per cent of students overall.
In mathematics, only 27 per cent of black students scored proficient or advanced.
She said research had shown that grouping black students by gender with a strong role model could boost both academic achievement and self-esteem.
Some students, staff and parents were against the segregation, saying that it ran against everything the school stood for–with students from diverse backgrounds.
But it was something Mr Jimenez thought was worth trying.
In all segregated classes, mentors track their students’ grades, test scores and attendance.
One such mentor is Michael Mitchell, who hopes to inspire his black male students during their short daily meetings.
He said he often quoted the Reverend Martin Luther King, who said: ‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’
Mr Mitchell recently used the quote when he found that some of his students were failing gym.
He said: ‘They’re all young. They’re all strong. They’re all athletic. But they’re failing because they chose not to participate.
‘That’s an example of “conscientious stupidity”. You can do but you choose not to do. These are the things we need to get away from.’
A Pennsylvania high school says some students are separated by race, gender and language for a few minutes each day in an effort to boost academic scores, raising controversy over the historically contentious issue of segregation in schools.
“Educators immediately noticed strong bonds being formed between all students and mentor teachers,” the statement said.
The junior class at McCaskey East is voluntarily segregated by the students, who organize themselves “by gender, race and/or language,” said school spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder.
But some school experts say the experiment is misguided.
“When we talk about reducing the achievement gap, do we mean merely reducing the discrepancy of test scores of white students and students of color?” asked education consultant Sam Chaltain. “Or do we mean reducing the predictive impact that things like race, class and gender have on all aspects of student engagement, performance and learning?”
But while McCaskey East students are “segregated” for six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month, some say other school systems in the country appear to be reverting to real segregation.
Last month, the NAACP held a three-day education summit in Raleigh, North Carolina, where the Wake County School Board, bolstered by the election of four new conservative members last year, ended the school system’s 10-year-old diversity policy that used the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches to assign students to schools.
They plan to replace the policy with a “neighborhood schools system” that critics say will establish real segregation.
“School boards across this country are rolling the clock back to the time before Brown vs. the Board of Education,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “The NAACP will not let this happen.”
But as educators look for new ways to improve student aptitude, some point out that McCaskey East High School could have the right idea. A national study from UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies claims to show that girls from single-sex schools have an edge over their co-ed peers.
“Single-sex education appears to produce favorable outcomes for female students, especially in terms of their confidence, engagement and aspirations, most notably in areas related to math and science,” the 2008 study said.