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School scraps race-specific mentoring program

By Monika Plocienniczak, CNN
Parents attend a meeting with the School District of Lancaster over the controversial program.
Parents attend a meeting with the School District of Lancaster over the controversial program.
  • Mentoring program allowed students to be seperated by race for a few minutes each day
  • School research showed that grouping students can boost academic achievement
  • Some analysts say the experiment was misguided

(CNN) -- A Pennsylvania high school has scrapped a mentoring program, which allowed students to be taught by instructors of their same race for a few minutes each day, following a storm of criticism over the initiative.

"The mentoring programs are more heterogeneous now," school spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said Tuesday.

McCaskey East High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, instituted what it described as a pilot program meant to enrich "students' experiences through mentoring" and was derived from research "that shows grouping black students by gender with a strong role model can help boost their academic achievement and self esteem," according to a school statement.

The junior class at McCaskey East voluntarily divided themselves "by gender, race and/or language," said Burkholder. The groups met for six minutes each day and for 20 minutes twice a month.

Educators at the school said they initially noticed strong bonds being formed between all students and mentor teachers," the statement said.

But some analysts say the experiment was misguided.

"When we talk about reducing the achievement gap, do we mean merely reducing the discrepancy of test scores of white students and students of color?" asked education consultant Sam Chaltain. "Or do we mean reducing the predictive impact that things like race, class and gender have on all aspects of student engagement, performance and learning?"

The school's principal defended the policy last month.

"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,'" said school principal Bill Jimenez. "In visiting the classrooms, I saw students planning their path for success after graduation."

A 1954 Supreme Court case ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, overturning an earlier ruling in a decision that determined "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

But as educators look for new ways to improve student aptitude, some point out that McCaskey East High School could have the right idea, noting that the "mentoring" idea had nothing to do with separate educational facilities.

A national study from UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies claims to show that girls from single-sex schools have an edge over their co-ed peers.

"Single-sex education appears to produce favorable outcomes for female students, especially in terms of their confidence, engagement and aspirations, most notably in areas related to math and science," the 2008 study said.