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Conferences Aim to Outline Battle Plan for Educating, Preparing Black Students

Conferences Aim to Outline Battle Plan for Educating, Preparing Black Students
By Robin V. Smiles

As lawmakers on Capitol Hill debated the final particulars of Bush’s education reform bill, just minutes away at the historically Black Howard University and just outside the Beltway in Reston, Va., education advocates and experts gathered to craft their own battle plan for reform. Their charge: ensuring quality and comparable education for African American students.
The Black Education Leadership Summit at Howard University brought together a unique group of individuals from various educational institutions, organizations and agencies. Bush’s presidency and “Leave No Child Behind” act served as an impetus for the meeting. Shortly after Bush was elected, former Congressman Augustus Hawkins and Dr. Vinetta C. Jones, dean of Howard University’s School of Education, convened a group of concerned education leaders to address key issues facing students of color. Last month’s summit was an extension of that first meeting.
Led by Hawkins, Jones and a summit advisory group, participants at the two-day conference worked together to find policy recommendations to address critical issues facing Black students.
“We have to go beyond a reactive mode … to put forth our own proactive plan,” said Jones in outlining the conference’s goals. “We have to refocus education discourse back from rhetoric to what actually works for African American students.”
In reference to the title of Bush’s bill, Hawkins said the summit would give participants a chance to “understand what it really means … not just lip service.”
Hawkins also reminded the summit participants of the elder President Bush’s claim during his presidency that although the nation had the will for education reform, it did not have the wallet.
“That is not the case today,” said Hawkins. “We have the resources today. The question is do we have the will.”
Among the critical education issues focused on by the Howard summit participants was the dearth of qualified teachers and administrators. According to Jones, in 1977, 22 percent of Black graduates received their bachelor’s degrees in education. By 1991, the number was down to 7 percent.
Participants identified a variety of actions to take to address the shortage, including lobbying for increased funding for teacher programs, incorporating innovative recruiting measures and celebrating the successes of quality teachers.
Other critical areas addressed by participants included: enforcing the basic principles adopted in the 1994 reauthorization of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; supporting early childhood development and literacy; fully funding effective education programs; and using appropriate assessment measures vs. “high-stakes testing.”

Preparing for the Information Age
At the National Policy Summit on Science, Mathematics and Technology Education for African American Students, preparing Black students for the information age was the focus of discussion.
Participants at the two-day conference in Reston, Va., came together to examine public policies that affect the education of Black students, identify best practices and programs that have yielded favorable outcomes; and to outline a series of policy recommendations that aim to generate better math and science outcomes among Black students.
Sponsored by Black Issues In Higher Education and the National Science Foundation, the conference drew a mix of educators, administrators, technology executives and researchers.
Several summit participants characterized the state of educating Black students in today’s technological society as a crisis.
“Our children are not doing well,” said Dr. Gerunda B. Hughes, an assistant professor in Howard University’s School of Education.
“We have to get a grip. Get back to the basics …We need to believe in ourselves again,” said Hughes, who served as a facilitator for a breakout session on the merits of interdisciplinary teaching.
“We’re at war, and our youth are the casualties,” said Dr. John Brooks Slaughter, CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering Inc.
“We will continue to be at war until we mobilize community forces, until teachers become more accountable, as long as colleges and universities are more concerned about their U.S. News & World Report rankings than they are about the quality of education, as long as we wait for the U.S. government to do something.”
Slaughter, who served as a keynote luncheon speaker, also emphasized the crucial role of parents in educating and preparing students for the future.
“Parents need to get involved and listen to their children,” he says. Slaughter, whose father had a third-grade education and whose mother finished high school, says parents are often the only ones who can provide encouragement.
The Bush administration’s education reform plan also permeated the technology discussion.
Congressman Major Owens, D-N.Y., characterized the current administration as one that speaks well about its commitment to education. “The rhetoric is good,” he noted.
But he added that the nation needs a commitment akin to that of the Great Society in the 1960s. We need a “Lyndon Johnson approach” to education, said Owens, who addressed the conference during dinner Thursday evening.
Owens, who disclosed that he reluctantly supported the Bush education bill passed last month, said the bill carries the risk of putting failing schools in danger of being privatized if academic performance goals are not met.
“The burden of success is placed on the backs of students. There’s no accountability from the state and local school systems,” he said.
Congressman Owens added that the Bush education bill fails to address the problem of teacher shortages in math and science.
Among the many recommendations reached by summit participants to close the math and science achievement gap: Establish free science, math and technology education for American college students; provide incentives to colleges and universities to graduate more Black students in science, math and technology fields; and adopt national education standards and offer incentives to states to implement them.
As both conferences came to a close, planners and participants re-emphasized the importance of following through on the many recommendations.
“The summit is one thing,” says Hughes, who attended both meetings. “What we do after is what matters.” 

— Additional reporting by Hilary Hurd and Ronald Roach

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