May 17th was the 62nd anniversary Brown v. Board of Education which begat more than a few retrospectives… and all of them ended with either the disheartening pronouncement that our schools are increasingly segregated now (like this or this or this) or with fears that Devos’s new choice regime will intensify the segregation (like this). (Last year, to “commemorate” the 61st anniversary, the Government Accountability Office released data showing that the number of high-poverty schools serving primarily black and brown students more than doubled between 2001 and 2014). And, in “tribute” to Brown (and, also choice), the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against the state of Mississippi for denying good schools to African-American students (the state’s five highest-performing school districts are predominantly white). Here separate is decidedly unequal (see this and this).
In a hopeful piece Amadou Diallo argues that 62 years after Brown, integration is still hard to do — but that doesn’t mean we oughtn’t try. He profiles a program many of us are familiar with: Hartford’s magnet schools. One of the stumbling blocks Diallo discusses is how difficult it is to convince white parents to opt in (even with butterfly vivariums!) and that without enough white kids, the magnets (and their funding) can just… go away. Similarly, Hartford students are allowed to attend wealthier schools in the suburbs, provided those districts opt in. And… you know how that can go. “It’s racism,” the Executive Director of the Hartford Office of School Choice says. “When you’re not creating any sanctions for those communities to perpetuate their own isolation and whiteness, that’s problematic.” Diallo still holds on to hope for these programs but also embraces the idea of “community schools” which offer solid academics and also more wraparound services that attend to issues of poverty. These are expensive programs but could provide the resources that students need in communities where integration is difficult.
My favorite retrospective, however, came from an interview with Ruby Bridges, the woman who, at age 6, was the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. Ms. Bridges-Hall says that the US is going in the wrong direction on school integration. “We have to come together,” she says “for that moral obligation to one another as human beings…We’ve got to go back to thinking morally and being responsible for one another — the whole village coming together for our children.”
This whole village idea is in direct opposition to school choice (an “essentially selfish” endeavor), says this opinion piece. Singer poses the “radical thought” that “loving my child does not mean I’m indifferent to yours.” He sends his daughter to a diverse public school because he wants her to live in a “society that treats people fairly, and where people of all types can come together and talk and reason and enjoy each other’s company.” Regardless of where you stand on the issue of charter schools and vouchers (and yes, yes, he is staunchly anti-charter and anti-voucher), this is a lovely and passionate piece.
Nate Bowling’s piece dispenses with charter fights and stays relentlessly focused on teaching. “As a nation, we’re nibbling around the edges with accountability measures and other reforms, but we’re ignoring the immutable core issue: much of white and wealthy America is perfectly happy with segregated schools and inequity in funding. We have the schools we have, because people who can afford better get better. And sadly, people who can’t afford better just get less — less experienced teachers, inadequate funding and inferior facilities.” Bowling’s article came out a year ago, but resurfaced recently and is worth a re-read (and he is definitely a teacherblogger to follow!)
One of the things we hear so often hear as a reason parents won’t choose integration is that they don’t want to subject their kids to “social engineering” or “social experimentation.” While these two terms are slightly different, they recall the same idea: that anything other than the status quo is a risk guided by some (authoritarian) machine. Justin Perry has a lot to say about this (and I had a little to say recently in response to an article about Chicago). Perry has little tolerance for those who can’t see that our nation has been built on social engineering; pulling no punches, he writes that is “important to distinguish people who are not in favor of social engineering from those who are not in favor of addressing the social engineering from which they have benefitted.” Damn. And yes.
Because school segregation is so linked with housing, we are excited to see people paying attention. Check out this deep dive into Seattle’s housing/school situation that ultimately argues for diversifying housing options in in single-family zones near public elementary. And here is yet another a report showing that, of the 16% of “persistently poor children” (those living more than half of their lives from birth to 17 years in poverty) who become successful (defined here as are consistently working/ in school, and not poor), manage to escape their circumstances because they grew up in less segregated cities, with less segregated neighborhoods and schools. This problem of segregated neighborhoods is why Jitu Brown argues, choice is a sham. This quote, in particular, stands out: “According to the United Nations, America currently ranks 17th in the world in education. But when you remove the results of children living in poverty, we jump to No. 2. It is obvious we know how to educate children. We simply refuse to educate the poor, the black and the brown.”
Much of the complicated issue of residential and school segregation was exhaustively covered in Ansley Erickson’s book Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and its Limits that we discussed at Book Club. If you were unable to attend, be sure to check out this fantastic review. Peter Piazza writes that one of his favorite arguments to make about policy is that concrete policy decisions are largely driven by popular narratives (regardless of how inaccurate they are), as opposed to some unbiased/objective analysis of what policy is best. … Two primary examples run through the book: “De facto” segregation and white flight, two stories that ultimately shaped policy despite the fact that they were only partially real – but certainly not the truths that should be building blocks for policy. And yes, they also “overshadow powerful yet marginalized stories” Piazza ends by nodding to today’s discourses – “that “we’ve come so far” since Brown (makes progress sound inevitable and overlooks the fact that schools have been resegregating for nearly 30 years), the notion that desegregation only benefits black or latino/a students, or popular reliance on test scores to select and rank schools” – and challenges us to push back on these narratives.
Though NYC is often in the school-segregation news, the American South has been, the UCLA Civil Rights Project says, “leading the way backward toward a failed system of segregation.” A report released this week (jointly with Center for Education and Civil Rights at Penn State), shows that Black and Latinx students in the South are increasingly “isolated in intensely segregated schools and are doubly segregated in schools serving low-income students.” Latinx students are even more likely to be segregated with more than 40 percent of Latino students in the South attending intensely segregated schools as of 2014.”
We have a long, long road back to Topeka, friends.
To end on a bit of a less-grim note, we were happy to see a mom in Brooklyn tackling the issue of segregated middle schools in NYC and, yes, being happy with her choice. She says (and we agree!) that integration is as much “much an act of resistance as any march or phone call to Congress,” This father, on the eve of his triplets high school graduation in Charlotte, reflects upon his family’s decision to enroll his three at an underutilized majority minority school with a poverty rate near 60% in kindergarten. “Many [people] expressed concern that my wife and I were sacrificing our children’s education for naive, if noble, ideals… As graduation nears I can emphatically say our white, privileged children did not lose anything by being in the minority for 13 years. Rather, [the diverse public schools] gave our children the world.”