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Disintegration of Public Education Result of Dis-Integration

June 19, 2016

Last Sunday’s heart-wrenching NYTimes article, “Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City” by Nikole Hannah-Jones reminded me that the world has changed dramatically since I attended graduate school in the early 1970s. At that time, we were contemplating a world where Brown v. Board of Education was the final word and the “separate-but-equal” premise of Plessy v. Ferguson was overthrown. Ms. Hannah-Jones article, though, reminded me that recent court rulings and politics have changed all of that— for the worse. The pivot came when President Reagan took office:

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he promoted the notion that using race to integrate schools was just as bad as using race to segregate them. He urged the nation to focus on improving segregated schools by holding them to strict standards, a tacit return to the “separate but equal” doctrine that was roundly rejected in Brown. His administration emphasized that busing and other desegregation programs discriminated against white students. Reagan eliminated federal dollars earmarked to help desegregation and pushed to end hundreds of school-desegregation court orders.

Unfortunately for the generations of black children who enrolled in schools since that time, the de facto re-segregation since that time has had a devastating impact, especially given the recent findings of researchers regarding the positive impact of desegregation.

A 2015 longitudinal study by the economist Rucker Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley, followed black adults who had attended desegregated schools and showed that these adults, when compared with their counterparts or even their own siblings in segregated schools, were less likely to be poor, suffer health problems and go to jail, and more likely to go to college and reside in integrated neighborhoods. They even lived longer. Critically, these benefits were passed on to their children, while the children of adults who went to segregated schools were more likely to perform poorly in school or drop out.

After looking at where we are today, Ms Hannah-Jones concludes:

Legally and culturally, we’ve come to accept segregation once again. Today, across the country, black children are more segregated than they have been at any point in nearly half a century. Except for a few remaining court-ordered desegregation programs, intentional integration almost never occurs unless it’s in the interests of white students. This is even the case in New York City, under the stewardship of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned by highlighting the city’s racial and economic inequality. De Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, have acknowledged that they don’t believe their job is to force school integration. “I want to see diversity in schools organically,” Fariña said at a town-hall meeting in Lower Manhattan in February. “I don’t want to see mandates.” The shift in language that trades the word “integration” for “diversity” is critical. Here in this city, as in many, diversity functions as a boutique offering for the children of the privileged but does little to ensure quality education for poor black and Latino children.

As illustrated in earlier posts (and will be demonstrated in tomorrow’s post), “diversity” is acceptable but “integration”— especially if it involves mixing with “children from the projects”, is a third rail issue…. and its one we can sidestep with choice.

Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, found the same thing when she studied how white parents choose schools in New York City. “In a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building,” Wells told me. “We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’ It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.”

So the disintegration of schooling for those attending under-resourced schools where poverty and kids of color are concentrated continues and is reinforced through the use of standardized test scores. It is a tidy system: one that allows affluent parents to opt into boutique “diverse” schools while ignoring the plight of those children only a few blocks away who are unable to have the same opportunities for success. And here’s the final irony: one solution is to make sure that the students attending those schools have the same level or resources… that is… that those separate schools have equal resources.

So much for Brown v. Board of Education….

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