Improving Education for Minorities

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SHIRLEY M.McBAY
Improving Education for Minorities
We have a long way to go, but the successes of hundreds of projects nationwide show that hope is very much alive.
By the year 2015 or so, minorities will make up one-third of our population and a higher proportion of our work force. From this group can come a major share of the skilled technicians, scientists, engineers, and doctors, as well as teachers, generals, policymakers, financiers, and a host of other professionals that America needs to move ahead in the twenty-first century. That is only possible if members of minority and majority groups alike work together to reverse many of the adverse conditions now shadowing our prosperity. I am optimistic about such a future. My colleagues and I in the Quality Education for Minorities Project have spent much of the last year traveling around the nation, and we have seen evidence of hope in hundreds of programs in which minority children from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds are enthusiastically learning. The Project was created in 1987 to develop a set of strategies that would help ensure the continuous flow of minority students through the educational pipeline. In our travels, therefore, we kept several major questions foremost in mind: How do we identify what works? How do we replicate those programs wherever they are needed? And how do we change the system itself to make supplemental programs eventually unnecessary? After speaking at length with educators, policymakers, parents, and students to learn about successful programs—including regional meetings we held in New York, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Anchorage, Albuquerque, San Juan, and Boston—we began to develop a consensus about what needs to be done to improve our educational system for minority students. I would like to share with you some of the lessons we learned. I wish I could report that a few magic bullets are available, or that in some cities a bold new program has completely erased the educational disadvantages faced by minority youth. Unfortunately, the problems stem from deep roots, and their answers are many and complex. In some locales, however, enough answers are in place to the point that black, Hispanic, Shirley M.McBay, Dean for Student Affairs at M.I.T., is Director of the Quality Education for Minorities Project. This article is based on her presentation in January at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Improving Education for Minorities 36
and Indian children are pursuing their dreams in science, mathematics, engineering, and other critical fields. Sometimes the difference is a single teacher such as Jaime Escalante (whose story was recently dramatized in the film, Stand and Deliver) or an inspired parent or community advocate; and sometimes the difference is a program or system of programs to which many contribute. In any case, such activities are only the beginning; much work remains to be done in applying their successes throughout the country. But the point is that hope is alive. Let me present these lessons in the form of nine short principles, with examples: The first and most obvious principle is that interventions should occur at the earliest possible time. Early intervention in preschool and parent education, along with day care and nutrition, is essential. It has lasting effects and, as the Committee for Economic Development recently demonstrated in its report, Children in Need, it is extremely cost-effective.

One of the most carefully evaluated and best-known early childhood education efforts was the Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Low-IQ, disadvantaged three- and four-year-olds were placed in a two-year preschool program in the mid- 1960s, and followed through age 19. The Perry Preschool followed many of the precepts, such as participatory learning by the children and home visits by teachers, now urged by child development specialists. Compared to...
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