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Do Afrocentric Schools Shortchange Students?

Recognizing that black students have not been well served overall by traditional public schools, African-centered schools have begun to appear across the country ("Poor Scores Leave an Afrocentric School in Chicago Vulnerable," The New York Times, Feb. 29). Although they are still too new to evaluate fairly, their record to date raises serious questions.

The Barbara A. Sizemore Academy in Chicago that enrolls 280 students from kindergarten through eighth grade is an example.  Not only do its test scores compare unfavorably with national data, but they are also well below the city median for third through eighth graders.  As a result, the Chicago Public Schools recommend closing it. 

When any school fails to teach students basic reading and math skills, it's reasonable to ask why.  Sizemore says its low test scores are partly due to its student population, 97 percent of whom come from low-income households. It goes on to point out that it provides an atmosphere of nurturing, which prepares even poor test takers for success. But it offers no data to support the latter assertion.

It's presumptuous for outsiders to pass judgment on Sizemore.   However, I wonder if students who attend the school are receiving even a basic education.  Certainly standardized test scores are not the entire story.  But I think it's fair to compare such scores with those of other traditional public schools in Chicago serving similar students.  On that basis, Sizemore is on thin ice.

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