LANDOVER, MD. — UNDER a court-ordered desegregation plan, Prince George's County operates one of the largest bus fleets in the country. But in this majority-black county there are some places far enough away from racially mixed communities that desegregation will not happen.
With a 99-percent black student body near housing projects and an industrial area, Dodge Park Elementary School is one of those places. So Dodge Park and 18 other schools like it have been designated ``compensatory'' schools. Under a program called ``Milliken II'' (named after a similar program in Detroit in the 1970s under then-Gov. William Milliken) these schools receive extra resources to make up for the effects of racial segregation.
Other county schools spend $4,673 per student; Milliken II schools spend $5,373 per student. Among other things, the extra dollars buy smaller classes (by hiring more teachers), full-day kindergarten, a full-time guidance counselor and librarian, a computer lab that loans its equipment to students, and after-school tutoring.
HERE, in a cheerful, immaculately kept building that seems to emit an unusually upbeat atmosphere for an urban school, a staff of 60 - lavish by American standards of student-staff ratios - attends to the 500 students.
The results? In just four years, school officials say, Dodge Park Elementary's scores on standardized math tests rocketed from below the 50th percentile nationally to well above the 90th percentile. That means that these black children - many from troubled homes in poor, drug-and-crime-infested areas of the county just outside the D.C. limits - did as well as the top 10 percent of students in the nation on standardized math tests.
``Our children are of average ability; it's the teaching methods that work for them,'' explains Heidi Granzow, the teacher in charge at Dodge Park.
One of these methods is the ``Comer process,'' developed by Yale child expert Dr. James P. Comer. It focuses intensely on bringing parents into the education process. Its underlying theory is that promoting higher levels of confidence and self-esteem in parents and children is a critical factor in making up for socioeconomic hardships that might otherwise keep students from excelling.
For example, at Dodge Park a room has been set aside for parents to use. In one recent class, parents were taught how to help their students on science fair projects.
The success of Milliken schools shows ``that predominantly black schools can do well, regardless of background'' of the students, explains Jan Stocklinski, the Comer process supervisor for the district.