Home > Uncategorized > The Desegregation Conundrum: Can Schools Move Faster Than the “Speed of Trust”

The Desegregation Conundrum: Can Schools Move Faster Than the “Speed of Trust”

May 8, 2018

Late last month the new New York City schools chief Richard Carranza weighed in with a tweet on a desegregation effort that is resulting in pushback from affluent Upper East Side parents, and in one short message he indicated that there may be some changes in the efforts to integrate schools in the city. The Chalkbeat blog noted that by tweeting an NY1 video of Upper West Side parents angrily pushing back against a city proposal that could result in their children going to middle school with lower-scoring classmates, Mr. Carranza indicated a sift in the thinking in his administration.

Carranza didn’t add any commentary of his own to the message generated automatically by the site that amplified the NY1 video, Raw Story. He didn’t have to for his Twitter followers to see an endorsement of the site’s characterization of the video — “Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

…Since taking the chancellorship, Carranza has signaled that he believes the education department has a central role to play in desegregating schools — offering a contrast to the chancellor he replaced, Carmen Fariña. She called school diversity a priority but argued that integration efforts should happen “organically” and be driven by school leaders and local communities, not department officials.

Last week in a NYTimes article,  First Test for New York Chancellor: A Middle School Desegregation Plan, education writer Elizabeth Harris weighed in on the change in Mr. Carranza’s administration. Citing the fallout from the same tweet, Ms. Harris wrote:

Mr. Carranza said in a partial apology on Monday that the language was not his — it had been automatically generated from the headline on the site hosting the video, a local news story that was first broadcast on NY1. But he did not back away from the issue.

“The video speaks for itself,” he said. “And the video of the comments that were made, I don’t know how anybody could be O.K. with that. I know that I’m not O.K. with that.

To observers, after four years in which Mayor Bill de Blasio and his first schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, took only small bore action on the issue, Mr. Carranza’s language sounded like a sea change.

The new middle school desegregation plan that will test Chancellor Carranza would give priority for 25 percent of the seats at all the district’s middle schools to students who score below grade level on the state tests. Given the fact that test scores generally mirror socioeconomic status and race, the plan would likely increase the number of poor and minority students at middle schools that rely on test scores as a primary admissions criteria, schools that have much higher ratings because they unsurprisingly have much higher pass rates on subsequent standardized test scores. But parents at these high scoring schools are afraid that teachers will be unable to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of incoming underprivileged students use “the lack of a plan” to support teachers as a defense for maintaining the status quo. And some parents are even more caustic in defending the status quo that results in resegregation, like the woman in the video that prompted Mr. Carranza’s late night tweet: :

“You’re talking about telling an 11-year-old, ‘You worked your butt off and you didn’t get that, what you needed or wanted,’” a woman yells. “You’re telling them, ‘You’re going to go to a school that’s not going to educate you in the same way you’ve been educated. Life sucks!’”

Ms. Harris notes the underlying rationale for the school boundaries and choice plans in the city, indicating that “… in drawing school zones and allowing parents choice in which schools their children attend, the city has been seen as trying to keep white families in the public schools.” In tinkering with boundaries or changing the rules in terms of school admissions, Mr. Carranza may topple a delicately balanced arrangement that enables affluent whites to remain in the public schools and thus encourage the support for school funding that provides resources for all students.

The solution to the problem of fewer seats in “elite” schools for children of color seems easy. Instead of expanding the number of seats in schools that restrict enrollments based on test scores provide, expand the number of seats in those schools and offer those seats to children who struggle to do well on tests. That is, instead of forcing 100 students out of a school of 500 to make room for struggling students, expand the seats in that school to 600 and offer those seats to students who sought entry but whose test scores fell short of the mark. A parent who was interviewed for the NYTimes put it this way:

For Tracy Alpert, a white parent who has one child at P.S. 191, which was at the center of an earlier desegregation debate in the district, the answer was clear. “They need more good schools. It’s a scarce resource,” she said. “We need more good seats at good schools.

As one who wishes desegregation could happen much faster, I attended a Buddhist retreat where an African American presenter spoke about our tradition’s need to welcome more people of color. I was struck by a phrase she used in her concluding remarks: she suggested that in our efforts to be more accepting, she realized that we could move no faster than the “speed of trust”… and that trust would only occur when we realized that the stories we imagine may not be the stories others believe.

Parents like shrill woman featured in the video believe that her children’s education will be compromised if they are assigned to a school with those children who didn’t “work their butt off”. The story SHE believes is that the children who do poorly on standardized tests are lazier and less motivated than her children… and the parents of those children care less about their children than she does. But she might think differently if her child attended a school with those “other children”. She might find out that those children work as hard as her child and the parents have the same struggles with their children and aspirations for their children as she does. But here’s the conundrum: if she decides to withdraw her child from public schools for fear that their education will be compromised in some way, she will never gain that understanding… she will never have the chance to trust that all parents want the same thing for their children.

And here’s the last conundrum: the “speed of trust” was not the standard the Supreme Court envisioned when it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The court insisted that schools move “at all deliberate speed” to integrate and now, 64 yeas later nothing has changed in terms of segregation. What will it take to accelerate the “speed of trust”? It will take some courageous leadership on the part of school administrators, school boards, and, in many instances, mayors and state politicians. And sadly it will require courage and persistence on the part of parents of children raised in poverty and parents of children of color… for before parents like the shrill woman featured in the video can trust that economic and racial segregation will not harm their children they will have to experience success in racially and economically desegregated schools and change their stories. And changing the stories we believe in is difficult.

 

 

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