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Until We Address Inequities of Wealth and Race, Public Education WILL Be Part of the Problem and No Solution Whatsoever

November 24, 2020 Leave a comment

A few days ago, Erica Pandey wrote an article for Axios on the inequities in public education that is as timely now as it was on November 14, 2020. Indeed, the facts and assertions in Ms. Pandey’s article are identical to those I read in the 1970s when I attended graduate school in Philadelphia. And what are those facts?

The big picture: Family income is perhaps the strongest determinant of student success, and low income becomes an even higher barrier when it intersects with race.

  • Even when Black students from poor families start kindergarten with above-median test scores, 63% test below the median by the time they’re in the eighth grade, a recent Georgetown University study found.

  • Among Latino kindergartners in the same high-achieving, but lower-income category, 36% did worse by eighth grade, as did 39% of white students and 18% of Asian students.

  • High-achieving students of color are too often overlooked by teachers and administrators: The odds of Black and Latino children being referred to gifted programs are 66% and 47% lower than white students, respectively, per the Fordham Institute.

And the reason for this disparity in performance is as clear now as it was in the early 1970s: “Decades of redlining and exclusionary zoning practices have segregated our neighborhoods and, by extension, our public schools.”

Ms. Pandey goes on to note that children of color are disproportionately disciplined and that the internet inequities have made all of these situations even worse.

She ends her article with this sobering message:

The bottom line: “The idea that this is about who’s smart and who’s not is just not true,” says Anthony Carnevale, founder and director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In the end, the system pretty much places you where you were as a child. Education is the problem. It is not the solution.”

Unless we change our minds and hearts about race segregation, about taxes and funding equity, about having a TRULY level playing field I fear that Mr. Carnavale is right: Education IS the problem. It is NOT the solution.

History of Gwinnett County GA Mirrors History of White Flight, Links Between Test-Driven Reform and Segregation

November 2, 2020 Comments off

Last week, Education Week featured a lengthy article by Benjamin Herold on the history of desegregation in Gwinnett County, GA, a history that could have been written about scores of counties south of the Mason Dixon Line… and scores of communities anywhere in our country. Everton Blair, the first person of color elected to the Gwinnett County School Board, is the protagonist in Mr. Herold’s recounting of the history. One of the first African American students to graduate from a Gwinnett County. Mr. Herold describes Everton Blair as follows:

Everton Blair Jr., a Black millennial and self-described progressive who’d gone on from the local public schools to the Ivy League and the Obama White House—only to come home, move back in with his parents, and set out to transform the school system that helped mold him.

The challenge Mr. Blair faced was systemic— and the same story blacks have encountered for generations: as blacks moved into the suburban districts surrounding Atlanta the whites fled… and even when the majority of students in the district were children of color the majority white school boards controlled attendance zoning and policy making and the children of color were denied access to the schools with the most resources. Shiloh High School, the Gwinnett County school Everton Blair Jr. graduated from, was a case in point. During the 12 years he attended schools in the district his neighborhood school went from 86% white to 77% minority…. and the experienced teachers fled with the white children. Blair was a devoted student who got degrees from Harvard and Stanford and, in all probability, could have parlayed his education into a high paying job. But he was committed to the students “left behind” in Gwinnett County. He observed that “The most-advanced, best-supported students would usually find a way to succeed” but he entered the fray on the school board because he was worried about the other kids:

That concern only grew as Blair heard about the experiences of his three younger siblings at Shiloh High. The rigor of the courses and assignments available to them was steadily decreasing, he believed… Gwinnett’s most experienced educators and highest expectations seemed to be following white families to the fringes of the county. And just like his parents had done, Black families of means were chasing after them. Low expectations suffocated the children who were left behind, Blair believed. Rather than challenge and support these Black and brown and poor students, schools focused on controlling their behavior, gradually undermining the hope for the American Dream that had drawn their families to suburbia in the first place.

The chance to disrupt that pattern helped draw him home to run for the school board in 2018.

“Offer a high-quality education to who’s here, period,” Blair said. “It should not be predicated on the retention of whiteness.”

The article offers a blow-by-blow description of the uphill fight Mr. Blair faced in trying to achieve the fairness and justice he believed was needed to ensure that ALL children had the same chances. The uplifting story illustrates that high-mindedness CAN prevail in the face of deeply entrenched racism. My only concern is that folks who live in the rest of the country will shake their heads and read this as yet another indictment of racism in the south without looking closely at the practices in their own states. New York has countless examples of predominantly black districts surrounded by districts that are white strongholds. New England, which has few blacks, has a similar pattern of affluent districts surrounded by ones where children raised in poverty reside. In my mind, any laws, policies or procedures that preclude economic and racial integration work against the aspirational narrative of our country, the narrative that any child born any where can become whatever they want to if they work hard and play by the rules. Sadly, the rules in place when it comes to housing do not support this goal.

In Gwinnett County, Everton Blair Jr. wants to change the rule book. Mr. Herold concludes his article with this:

The larger project, (Blair) believed, was about more than just winning elections. It was about showing that the suburbs and their public schools could actually deliver the American Dream to everyone, even those they were originally designed to exclude, regardless of whether the old guard was willing to let go of the past.

For decades idealists like Mr. Blair have fought to level the playing field, to change funding formulas and laws and policy that separate children of color from white students and affluent students from those raised in poverty. It takes more that changes to schools to make this happen. It requires more than a change of laws or a change of minds. It requires a change of heart.

Voting Rights and School Desegregation Inseparable in the South

October 26, 2020 Comments off

Today’s New York Times features a long article by Nicolas Casey that describes a half century of fighting in Sumter County GA over a fundamental question:

Should a school district that was 70 percent Black be governed by a board that was 70 percent white?

Mr. Casey’s article manages to be both discouraging and heartening.

The article was discouraging because of the fact that despite court decisions in the middle of the 20th century that provided rights for blacks to govern the schools their children attend by dragging their feet and using gerrymander voting maps the whites in Sumter County prevented the integration of schools. Worse, one court decision— Shelby County vs. Holder— effectively rescinded those rights and enabled the newly elected white board members to create a charter school named for a Confederate soldier that was almost completely white.

The article was heartening because despite the odds stacked against them the blacks in Sumter County persisted and, at least for now, there is good news for the black majority in that county:

This year, Judge Louis Sands of Georgia’s Middle District federal court ordered a new voting map to be drawn and voted on in November

The map, produced by Mr. Grofman, the university professor appointed by the court, signified a major reversal of the last one: Four of its seven seats would be in places where African-Americans were more than 60 percent of the population. It was the kind of map Mr. Wright, the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. branch, had long sought.

But, as is all too often the case in the the fight to integrate schools, the victory may be short lived:

The new map won’t permanently settle the matter. Next year, after the 2020 census, Georgia’s legislature will approve maps for its 159 counties based on the new data.

“It took years for this case to be won,” said Sean J. Young, the legal director of the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union. “And there’s nothing to stop them from drawing the same discriminatory map all over again.”

It was “only” 66 years ago that Brown v. Board of Education ended “separate but equal” schools… and “only” 157 years ago that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. My heart goes out to the generations of blacks who have struggled in the decades since both of these landmark cases to get what was promised to them.