Black Parents Resist Calls to End Voluntary Busing Boston's Landmark Program Is under Attack for Draining Best Students from Urban Schools

By Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

Black Parents Resist Calls to End Voluntary Busing Boston's Landmark Program Is under Attack for Draining Best Students from Urban Schools


Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


PARIS WILKEY, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, gets up at 6:15 every weekday morning and rides a school bus from his home in the Roxbury section of Boston to suburban Newton North High School.

"It's very dangerous and hard to get an education where I live," Paris says. "You always have to watch your back."

Paris and more than 3,000 other Boston students like him are part of a voluntary busing program that has been used to integrate the city's minority urban students with white suburban students for nearly three decades.

When the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, known as the METCO program, began in 1966, it was the first voluntary school desegregation program in the United States. This was well before the tumult of court-ordered busing gripped Boston in 1974.

Participation in METCO is voluntary for both the students and the suburban schools; the state reimburses suburban districts for the cost of educating Boston students.

The program is so popular that 7,500 students are on the wait list. The state cannot fund any more than 3,300 participants.

Paris's mother, Karen Granger, put her son on the METCO wait list when he was six months old. Many mothers, such as Voncille Cherrie, sign their children up before they are even born. "You have to start early," says Ms. Cherrie, whose son, Phillip, is now in sixth grade and has participated in METCO since kindergarten.

In spite of its popularity with urban families, an aide to Mayor Raymond Flynn called for a phase-out of the METCO program last week. The aide, Theodore Landsmark, charged that METCO robs the city's schools of the most motivated minority students and parents.

"We cannot hope to improve the quality of our neighborhood's schools without the participation of active parents whose upwardly mobile aspirations for their children are an essential ingredient in an improved learning environment," Mr. Landsmark says. Parental participation

Yet there is no research to suggest that parents who choose to participate in voluntary busing programs are more motivated or supportive than other parents.

"The research that has been done shows that it is quite a cross section of children {that participate in voluntary busing}," says Gary Orfield, a professor of education at Harvard University. "Certainly, these parents are organized enough and interested enough to get connected to the program in some way. But it doesn't tend to be a really elite population."

METCO administrators say the program should be expanded rather than phased out since voluntary educational desegregation is still needed. "Boston may, in fact, have become more racially segregated," says Sandra Vaughn, associate director of the program. Minority students now make up 80 percent of the city's school system.

"The METCO program was founded to ensure that all students, urban and suburban, have the best integrated educational opportunities," says Jean McGuire, executive director of METCO. "There is an implication in Landsmark's statements that some parents and children are more worthy than others.... Is the intention to turn back the clock of democracy?"

Cornisha Cherrie is one of many METCO success stories. She grew up in Roxbury but started attending suburban schools in third grade. …

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