A Pennsylvania high school has instituted a new mentoring program for students that began with dividing the homeroom classes by race, gender and language skills, stirring a controversial debate on the historical significance of segregation in schools.
McCaskey East High School officials, inspired by an idea proposed by Angela Tilghman, a McCaskey East instructional coach who was alarmed at the poor academic performance of the school's black students, assigned all the black students to four homeroom classes, taught by African-American teachers. They also separated the boys from the girls, as part of the experiment to determine if grouping students homogeneously for a brief period each day will help them socially and academically, according to a report by Lancaster Online.
School Principal Bill Jimenez told Lancaster Online "No other students were divided by race, although pupils enrolled in the school's English language learners program were paired with ELL teachers."
"The intent of mentoring at McCaskey High School is to build strong teacher and student relations, not separate students by race," the Lancaster School District said in a statement to AOL News. "The high school is disappointed by the negative perception and focus on single racial composition programming."
Tilghman, who mentors one of the segregated classes, told Lancaster Online that "she researched ideas for improving the grades of students who were struggling after reviewing the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) scores for the high school which showed only a third of McCaskey’s African-Americans scored proficient or advanced in reading compared with 60 percent of white students and 42 percent of all students. Math scores were even worse, with just 27 percent of black pupils scoring proficient or advanced."
Principal Jimenez, who spoke with CNN, said the test scores showed they needed to take a new approach with the black students to boost their academic achievement and self esteem. 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”.
Critics of the controversial 'experiment' say the school is reverting to segregation and the separation of the students by race is misguided, said CNN, but school officials are defending the new policy.
Erin Horvat, an associate professor of urban education at Temple University who has written a book on black students' achievement, commended the district for 'trying a new strategy to effect change.' " Isn't this what we hope teachers and school leaders will do? If this program helps students feel engaged and connected to what the school has to offer, it is likely a positive step in retaining them and improving achievement," reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous told CNN "School boards across this country are rolling the clock back to the time before Brown vs. the Board of Education and the NAACP will not let this happen."
Pedro Noguera, a professor of educational sociology at New York University, said "while the goal of the McCaskey program is sound, it might miss its mark," reports AOL.
"Sometimes when we separate students in this way we inadvertently reinforce stereotypes and may in fact stigmatize children by suggesting that there is something wrong with them and that therefore they need extra help," he said.