David Berliner, former dean of the school of education at Arizona State University and a past president of the American Educational Research Association writes here about a topic that plagues integration efforts: the FAILING SCHOOLS Narrative.
This FAILING SCHOOLS Narrative has been with us for a long while (my non-historians guess? The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 1983’s publication of Nation at Risk followed by years of high-stakes testing and NCLB etc etc etc). It’s a thing. And it’s a thing that has been called, among other things, racist, inaccurate, and a tactic used in the employ of school privatization. Regardless of the lens though which you want to look at this narrative, it has surely produced much of the hysteria that has fed the beast of segregation.
As Berliner points out, the FAILING SCHOOLS Narrative is also based on an incomplete picture; when we look beyond the means and averages, he writes, “wealthy children attending public schools that serve the wealthy are competitive with any nation in the world…. [S]ome of our students and some of our public schools are not doing well. But having “some” failures is quite a different claim than one indicting our entire public school system.” He writes about the “lower caste” that we have relegate our low-income students to, the use of “local control” to define school district boundaries, and the “apartheid-lite” American system of schools.
But yet!!!! At the solution-suggesting point in his article, Berliner says that the right question to ask is this: “What might work to produce higher achievement for low-income children attending schools that serve low-income families?”
!?!? How about NOT consigning low-income students to low-income schools? How about NOT concentrating poverty? How about NOT segregating students of color from white students? How about NOT asking that question?!
Berliner goes on to provide “equity solutions” to bring up achievement for poor, black and brown students like: summer school for poor kids, parent education programs, housing vouchers, after school programs, etc etc. All of these maintain separateness. How can someone this deep in the work, someone who has thought about these numbers and cited segregation as “apartheid-lite” not see integration as an answer?
But. *sigh.* Anyway. For those of us engaged in this work of integration and struggling to articulate it to friends and fellow-parents… we can think about and talk about how this FAILING SCHOOLS Narrative is (a) false for white kids (and especially wealthy/wealthish white kids) and (b) racist, inaccurate, incomplete, and profiteery.