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

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Problem with Those Who Defend School Segregation at the Beginning of Black History Month

Last updated 02/03/11

It doesn't surprise me to see one of the "thought leaders" from Education Sector, that neoliberal chop shop for bad ideas, offer an undisguised apologia for segregated schools, but it does raise even my eyebrow to see that Kevin Carey chose the first day of Black History Month to post his prosaic word chiseling entitled "The Trouble with Desegregation."

As pressure builds among civil rights groups for the Obama Administration (Kevin serves on one of Arne's Committees) to do something for those deemed too poor to matter even as Team Obama panders to those too big to fail,  Carey has been sent out to make the case that no one at his sludge think tank or anywhere else knows what to do about segregated schools.  Here's his utterly unimaginative and ignorant premise:
. . . .the lack of attention to education-based desegregation strategies doesn’t stem from a lack of commitment to the goal, or from disbelief in research supporting desegregation’s positive effects. Rather, there are some basic structural and logistical barriers in place that nobody has figured out how to overcome. 
Obviously, Mr. Carey has developed a case of historical amnesia that leaves him stranded back in the day when Southern governors like George Wallace made the case that the "basic structures" of Southern society demanded "segregation now, segregation forever."  Too, Mr. Carey seem to forget that the U. S. Supreme Court, in its Brown Decision, set aside all the "logistical barriers" put forward by segregationist defense attorney, John Davis, by declaring 9-0 that segregated schools are "inherently unequal."  Here's a clip from Carey:
Most black students–54%–don’t attend school districts that are this large and diverse. For Hispanic students the proportion is even larger: 63%. Tighten the assumptions to, say, 10,000 students and 35% white and the numbers drop even further: 72% and 80%, respectively. Successful desegregation initiatives in districts smaller than this are few and far between. Indeed, are there any?

Most black and Hispanic student attend school districts that are either large and not diverse (Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Houston, Dallas, PG County, and Memphis are all less than 10% white while New York City and Philadelphia are under 15%) or not large. With the media attention given to big-city districts and the huge county-wide districts surrounding Washington, DC and other large east coast metropolitan areas, it’s easy to forget that of the nation’s 14,000 school districts, less than 10% enroll as many as 5,000 students.
A similar argument was offered by John Davis before the Court in arguments leading up the Brown Decision:
. . . . During his argument, he [Davis] turned to realities of Clarendon County . . . to remind the justices of the formidable practical problems involved in desegregation.  Clarendon had 2,800 black pupils and 300 white ones.  How should these children be mixed in a plan for desegregation?  "If it is done on a mathematical basis, with thirty children as the maximum . . . you would have twenty-seven Negro children and three whites in one schoolroom.  Would that make the children any happier?  Would they learn any more quickly?  Would their lives be more serene?" (p. 63, Patterson, 2001, Brown v. Board of Education . . .).
So you see, Mr. Carey, your argument even in more extreme forms has been used and dismissed before, during the era of Jim Crow, nonetheless.  It didn't hold water then any more than it does today.  What it does hold, however, is the attention of those enamored by a morally bankrupt re-commitment to a status quo that elevates a category of social injustice that cannot be rationalized by any crass tradeoffs for improved business opportunities, profits, or budget savings.

In terms of "commitment to the goal" of desegregation to which Carey limply refers, there is little evidence of it.  In fact, the Administration's Race to the Top offered none of its $3.4 billion to systems intent upon school desegregation initiatives, either in planning or implementation.  Rather, RTTT provides hundreds of millions for segregated corporate charters that fuel the resegregation inferno.

The legal precedent that Brown set into motion made integration and inclusion possible and necessary, and these ethical and pragmatic advances cannot now be set aside because of an easy preference for the path of least resistance or fealty to corporate education strategies that pretend there is only one education choice for urban America: segregated corporate charter schools that are more often worse than the struggling public schools they hope to replace.

If Kevin Carey is as truly ignorant as he pretends to be, and thus totally devoid of any knowledge of successful policy strategies for providing diversity in schools, let me offer this short reading list that might add some, shall we say, diversity to Education Sector's reform idea bank, which thus far holds a few dried nuggets that may be exchanged for more standardized testing, more segregative charters, a less professional teaching corps, more useless data storage and surveillance, and national standards that have no grounding in empirical research.

If Carey and his former old boss, Andy Rotherham, had some interests that extended beyond advancing their own shabby career objectives and bank accounts, they would take a few hours to learn something other than what Bill Gates has to teach them.  To that end, see my beginning list below.

What Carey and the, otherwise, "bold reformers" now offer us now are narrow and ossified policy options that fuel the resegregation of American schools and advance an educational caste system based on class and race.  I know we can do better, and our political and social aspirations, in fact, demand that we do.

In another fifty-five years, if the planet is not yet melted, perhaps Black History will recall this time, today, when America made crucial decisions to advocate for all children with the creation of the All Children Advancement Act, rather than continuing the same tired and unjust policies to discard and emotionally sterilize those children whose poverty and isolation we are unwilling to even acknowledge as a problem that American ingenuity could address if given the renewed mandate to do so.

A Few Books to Aid the Imagination, Understanding, and Knowledge Base for Those Aspiring to Reform Schools for Diversity and Achievement for All Children,

Anyon, Jean.  (2005). Radical possibilities: Public policy, urban education, and a new social movement. New York: Routledge.

. . . Anyon makes an argument that educational reform should be a broad set of measures that involve the restructuring of the socioeconomic environment of urban and suburban schools. Anyon argues for some fundamental changes in neighborhood composition, intelligent infrastructure development, changing federal policies to generate wealth creation in urban neighborhoods, and, basically, the provision of greater access for the poor to new places to live in and jobs that pay acceptable salaries. Anyon backs up her arguments with many statistics.. . .--Amazon review

Grant, Gerald. (2009).  Hope and despair in the American city: Why there are no bad schools in Raleigh. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

In a time when it is forgivable and even fashionable to advocate for segregated charter schools as the only alternative for parents trapped by poverty, lack of opportunity, and the malignant neglect of their public school, it is a rare and beautiful thing to encounter a book that evenly and honestly provides solid empirical evidence—evidence that, despite the lessons of history that we continue to ignore at our own peril, high-quality public schools could be available to all classes and races of children in America to choose if we were to exhibit the moral and political will to make it so. Gerald Grant’s Hope and despair in the American city offers us, then, an antidote to our present-day detached recidivism on civil rights, as it presents a close examination of racial and socioeconomic integration success in the schools of Wake County, North Carolina. --Jim Horn review essay

Kahlenberg, Richard.  (2003).  All together now: Creating Middle-class schools through public school choice.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

In All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice, Richard Kahlenberg (senior fellow at The Century Foundation), advocates giving every child in American the opportunity to attend a public school in which the majority of students come from middle class households. He persuasively argues that the only way to make good on the American assumption that public schools will provide equal educational opportunity is by teaching disadvantaged and advantaged children together within the same facilities, with the same faculties, the same curriculums, and the same educational resources. The only way to achieve this socioeconomic integration is to establish a critical mass of middle-class students within all schools. The recommendations offered in All Together Now outline a blueprint for creating middle class schools and draw upon the experiences of current experiments with economic integration in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Based on these case examples are practical ways to bring about integrated schools for the future, and guidance for successfully overcoming political, logistical, and legal obstacles to an economic desegregation. All Together Now is informative, challenging, and occasionally inspiring reading which is particularly recommended to education reform activists, policy makers, school administrators, faculty members, and concerned parents. --Amazon review

Theoharis, George.  The school leaders our children deserve: Seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform.  New York: Teachers College Press.

Theoharis' offers an inspired understanding of public school leadership and the necessity of leading for social justice for all students. He uses the experiences of successful school leaders to demonstrate the incredible real life resistance improving schools for all students presents. He articulates the moral imperative we all have to lead for social justice in our practice as public school leaders while giving concrete ideas and inspiration to do so. He has incredible insight into the complexity of leadership and the interconnectedness of social justice within public school positions.  --Amazon review

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