Three continuing challenges. Education: parents' rising expectations
BLACK parents no longer play the numbers game of counting the black-white ratio in public-school classrooms. Now they want a higher count -- of black students graduating from high school and of black students enrolling in college. Boston's school system is still recovering from the violence and disruptions that surrounded the first years of court-ordered busing. Since 1974, when a US district court judge ordered the schools desegregated, enrollment has dropped from 92,000 to 59,000. White enrollment, which had been 65 percent of the student body, now makes up only 30 percent.
Still, there have been a number of gains for blacks in the public schools, which opened this month without court supervision for the first time in 11 years. The quality of education available to black students has improved. And, under court orders, faculty and administration are now 19 percent black, including new school superintendent Laval S. Wilson.
The demand of black parents has shifted, too. They call now for lower dropout rates and better scores on standardized tests. Only 25 percent of graduates from Boston public schools go on to higher education.
Black students are becoming an ``endangered species,'' says Clarence G. Williams, assistant to the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Northeastern University is working to reverse the low retention rate of black students. It offers innovative aid to the black community, scholarships to residents of public housing, a neighborhood-service program, and workshops to spawn ideas on retaining black students. The family: burden of teen parents DELORIS Hayman is 18, a high school senior, and a mother. She and her seven-month-old son, born out of wedlock, live with her mother, two brothers, and a sister in her grandmother's three-room apartment in Boston's black ghetto.
Sociologists say the black family is in trouble, and teen-age parenting is the basic source of family problems. No father lives in this home, rented by ``grandma.''
``Teen childbearing is at a crisis level in Massachusetts, particularly in urban centers such as Boston,'' says Joan Tighe, spokeswoman for Alliance for Young Families, an advocate group for families.
The state rate is well below the national average. But in its cities, the teen birthrate is more than twice the state average, she says. Black teen-agers have babies at two to three times the rate of white teens -- and nearly 20 percent have more than one child, she adds.
The desperation of black mothers -- divorced, separated, widowed, or never married -- and their hungry children is so critical that the nation's most influential civil rights groups, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League, have made the family their No. 1 issue.
``We middle-class blacks who are making it can't sit back and smugly moralize the plight of babies having babies in the black community,'' says John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League.
For young women like Deloris, the options are limited. ``Finish school. Then get a job. My mother says she'll take care of A.J. [Andrew James] when I work. My teacher let me know about WIC [Women, Infants, and Children federal nutrition program], tutors, and lots of things.''
Many sociologists say sex education, family counseling, day care, and nutrition programs need to be increased.
But many conservatives say social programs for women like Deloris actually contribute to the breakup of families. They argue that welfare assures pregnant young women of an independent income, whether their mates stay or leave. Housing: still a way to go WITHOUT a doubt, Boston's public-housing agency has made great strides in improving living conditions for its residents, more than half of whom are black.
Twelve years ago, the Boston Housing Authority was bogged down in a political quagmire. Much of the public-housing stock was in shambles. To remedy the situation, the state court took control of the BHA.
Today, the city has regained control of the agency, which is headed by a former public-housing tenant. Says director Doris Bunte: ``We blacks have been kept very separate, but not very equal, when it comes to finding a place to live.''
About half of Boston's housing projects are in Roxbury. Ms. Bunte says the BHA is well into a program to improve security by installing locks and alarms, and by winning a commitment from police to patrol the projects more often. In addition, a modernization program is being carried out with money from the federal government.
Still, recent studies point out a number of needs that go largely unmet in the projects. A recent survey of 751 BHA families shows:
Single mothers head most BHA households.
About 55 percent of unemployed mothers would prefer to work, but they need education and child care.
About 37 percent of the tenants need high-school equivalency training, and 48 percent say they need short-term job training.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which controls much public housing in Boston, recently took 2,904 rent-assisted units off the auction block. It will sell them to tenants or to a nonprofit housing partnership, which will help keep the rents low. CHART: Quality of life lags for Boston's blacks
Citywide average Blacks High school dropout 29.8% 35% College graduate 20.5% 10% Jobless 5.2% 8% Homeowner 27.2% 20.2% Median family income $15,000 $10,277