"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The "Pre-Brown" Quality of the Education Equality Project

In a display of moral blindness that ignorantly ignores the re-segregation of American schools while, yet, clamoring for the "No Excuses" apartheid chain gangs of KIPP, political relics like Gingrich, Sharpton, and Bloomberg are parading their tough guy solutions around Washington today in hopes a generating a grassroots movement for the corporate takeover of American schools. If anything could be more ridiculous, I can't think of it.

There was this reaction Thursday by Errol Louis in the New York Daily News:
Thursday, May 14th 2009, 2:08 PM
Fifty-five years after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that struck down laws segregating public schools by race, there's intense pressure by local and federal authorities to close the persistent education gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts.

The fight is about to shift into high gear, with the White House pledging $5 billion to turn around 5,000 failing schools and the Education Equality Project co-founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein holding a rally in Washington this weekend framing the struggle to fix schools as a continuation of the civil rights movement.

It's a commendable goal that, I fear, will not be reached as long as we continue to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the entrenched segregation in housing and employment that leads, as day follows night, to concentrated poverty and separate-but-unequal test scores and dropout rates.

So long as we accept segregated cities, suburbs and workplaces as the natural order of things, there isn't much point in being surprised that barely half of all black and Latino kids graduate high school (compared with 78% of their white counterparts).

All available evidence shows that leaving black and brown families in isolated, impoverished neighborhoods creates a dense thicket of social problems - including educational failure - that resist easy solutions. That is why the struggle for civil rights was always understood to be a sprawling, multifront attack on laws, commercial practices and cultural attitudes.

But the broad movement of the past has been replaced by a relatively narrow education discussion in which the price of admission for those who want to be taken seriously is to say as little as possible about race, injustice or discrimination.

Leaders of the education equity fight end up going through mental and political contortions to argue that America can and must end one system of racial injustice - while leaving all others untouched, unchallenged and intact. There is no discussion, for instance, of the disgraceful residential segregation that leaves so many urban neighborhoods - including here in New York - virtually all-white or all-black.

You rarely hear about government agencies enforcing the fair housing laws or working to reduce employment discrimination. On the contrary, the Bloomberg administration continues to battle in court against the federal Justice Department, stubbornly defending the hiring practices that created New York's 92% white Fire Department.

"America's thinking about education has taken on a strangely pre-Brown quality," writes Richard Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Century Foundation. "There exists a solid consensus among researchers that school segregation perpetuates failure, and an equally durable consensus among politicians and policymakers that nothing much can be done about it."

Another educational skeptic, James Forman Jr., son of the civil rights leader, says that we too often fixate on a model project like the Harlem Children's Zone or the KIPP charter schools while ignoring the question of whether there is even close to enough political will and money to take the models to scale.
"For too long, I am afraid, the answer has been to trumpet the success of a spectacular school or teacher and shout, 'No More Excuses,' or 'It's Being Done.' But that alone will not work," Forman writes in the current Boston Review. "There are more than 19 million low-income students in this country. That is the problem we have to solve."
I have the greatest personal respect, and highest hopes, for the efforts by Klein, Sharpton and the new education secretary, Arne Duncan, to improve public education. But they and the rest of us have to stop kidding ourselves about what it will take to end inequality in America.

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