Schools Have Far to Go to Meet Court's Goals Libraries, `Emphasis Schools' Lagging, Official Says

Article excerpt

The St. Louis Public Schools have miles to go before meeting the educational requirements of their desegregation plan, says the head of a committee that oversees the schools' compliance.

"The school level is where the rubber meets the road," said James Dixon, director of the Education Monitoring and Advisory Committee. The committee reports to U.S. District Judge George F. Gunn Jr. on the schools' progress in meeting the judge's desegregation orders.

The city magnet schools have largely met court orders, Dixon said. But, he said, many of the system's 72 other schools have fallen short.

"We have not fully implemented quality education goals and objectives," Dixon said. "I'm talking about substance and quality."

Dixon won't speculate on how many years the district may be from meeting the requirements of the various court orders. But he points to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in April 1992 on a school desegregation case in DeKalb County, Ga.

In that ruling, the Supreme Court said a school district seeking release from court supervision must demonstrate "a good faith commitment" to the court's desegregation plan "so that parents, students and the public have assurance against further injuries or stigma."

The St. Louis School Board has said repeatedly that it wants to get out from under the court supervision. Dixon said he saw three major areas where St. Louis schools had yet to meet court requirements:

Schools of emphasis.

Libraries.

Curriculum.

The 1983 settlement between the city and county school districts outlined special provisions for the city's non-integrated schools. They included such things as lowering pupil-teacher ratios and establishing schools of emphasis.

In such a school, teachers adopt a theme, such as science or aeronautics, and all of them incorporate elements of it in their classes.

Some schools have carried out their themes extremely well, but many others have not, Dixon said.

Dixon said many of the themes in non-integrated schools are "far inferior" to magnet school themes. In some schools, the themes "are not school-wide and are offered only one part of the school day."

Schools of emphasis were never fully implemented in non-magnet high schools. Instead, the school system developed a program called Project Courage, which Dixon calls a "poor substitute." Benchmarks such as student attendance, discipline, participation in the ACT or SAT college tests indicate that the program is not working for most students, Dixon said.

Tom Downey, director of planning and evaluation for the school district, acknowledged that some elementary schools have been "a little less creative" than others at becoming schools of emphasis. …