From Charlottesville, Virginia to Vista, California, glad to see that school segregation is getting media attention. And though the details might be different, the stories are familiar: attendance battle zones, magnet/gifted programs and classroom-level segregation, and the work of parents upholding this system…
This NYT and ProPublica piece looks at Charlottesville schools where “white students make up 40% of the enrollment, and African-American students about a third. But white children are about four times as likely to be in Charlottesville’s gifted program, while black students are almost five times as likely to be suspended from school…. Since 2005, the academic gulf between white and black students in Charlottesville has widened in nearly all subjects”
But shining light on the problem has proven difficult… “Over the decades, school board members have often brushed aside findings of racial inequality in Charlottesville schools, including a 2004 audit — commissioned by the district’s first African-American superintendent — that blamed inadequate leadership and a history of racism for the persistent underachievement of its black students.”
Yes, it’s racism. But let’s not just blame The System and turn away with the whattya-gonna-do?-shrug. The System is US. “Kathy Galvin, a PARENT who is now a City Council member, responded to the audit in an internal memo to the school board, urging the board to reject the racial bias findings, which she called “unnecessary and in fact harmful,” and implored members to focus on improving “our educational system for the benefit of all children.” PARENTS are part of The System. Ms. Galvin is part of The System. And while she can employ the “all kids” kind of equality rhetoric, the consequences are real… and devastating.
Drawing school boundaries is steeped in racial organizing and often face great resistance. “In 2003, a group of predominantly black families asked to send 20 of their children to… one of the historically white schools that had once closed rather than integrate…. But white parents “freaked,” said Dede Smith, then a board member…. [A PTO-generated letter read that] “we will NOT accept redistricting when it is done, as in this situation, sloppily and hurriedly and in a way which negatively impacts the quality of education for all students involved.” Again, the ALL CHILDREN framing.
And another part of The System we know too well is the internal “white flight” of gifted programs. “As white enrollment in the city’s schools contracted over the years, the program tripled in size, according to an analysis by a University of Virginia researcher, largely benefiting the white families who remained…. To black families, segregation had returned by another name…. [says] Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor at UVA and a member of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, whose children attend Charlottesville schools, “I have always been of the opinion that this type of internal segregation is the way to keep white people in the public schools. This is a way that white supremacy undergirds the public school system.”
And it isn’t just gifted … Even diplomas are not equal.“About three decades ago, Virginia established a two-tier diploma track in which districts award “standard” or “advanced” diplomas based on a student’s coursework… Three years ago, the state superintendent of public instruction proposed moving to a single-diploma system, but backed off when parents complained”
Parents want to preserve their white/privilege-segregated school boundaries and deliberately organize their efforts. Parents (can we assume here that it was mostly white/privileged parents?!) want the tiered diplomas and make a lot of noise about it. Parents (can we assume here that it was mostly white/privileged parents?!) want the gifted programs and vote-with-their-enrollment, leaving the district if they don’t get it.
Keeping white people in the schools by offering ‘more’ to some is part of The System. Our choices, behaviors, actions are The System.
A story out of Vista, CA looks at the effect of magnet schools… despite their origination as tools for desegregation, magnets “can actually fuel racial isolation… an island of privilege.”
One of the interesting things in this story is the (brief) discussion of how magnet schools are “increasingly focused on innovation”. We’ve talked about this before and surely will again and again… but WHEN WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT INTEGRATION, (or even just desegregation*), WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT INTEGRATION. When we focus on all the GreatThings a school has to offer, (STEM/Dual Language/WhateverCoolProgram), we often (always?) do so at the expense of integration. If the mission of magnet schools is integration, we must prioritize it. Integration must matter more than the IB or arts offerings.
And… we have to also be very careful about how we talk about things like “parent involvement.” In this piece, the reporter was discussing how magnets tend to attract whiter and more affluent students because “they have parents who are very engaged… taking the time to apply.” This calls in the long, familiar, and terrible narrative of which parents “care” about education AND what “caring about education” looks like. A post for another day but something to think about in these kinds of throwaway lines we hear. #theairwebreathe.
*desegregation is the movement of bodies. meaningful integration is something altogether more important.
As we talk about the choices that white parents make for their kids in Charlottesville and Vista and most places in between, we must be cognizant of the different realities facing parents of color. We talk a lot about why Integrated Schools is largely a white &/or privileged parents group; in part this is specifically because he work of disrupting school segregation can not be on the backs of families of color. Period.
“It is all well and good,” says Saratu Ghartey, ”to say that you will send your kid to a majority low-income, low-scoring school because you believe in public schools, and you are not a snob, but the STAKES ARE HIGHER FOR BLACK KIDS. Disparities in academic achievement begin early for black children, and they persist.” (emphasis added)
- Join us for the next Integrated Schools Book Club (we are really REALLY excited to talk about this book)! Meeting on November 13, we are discussing Margaret Hagerman’s new book WHITE KIDS: Growing up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America. (click here to register AND get a nice discount on the purchase of the book!)
- our Parent-to-Parent program is off to a great start! If you’re interested in talking with a parent who has made the choice to send their kid(s) to an integrating school OR if you are a parent whose kid(s) attend an integrating school and are willing to talk with a new-to-this parent, join now!
- for those of you who don’t loathe Facebook, our community group is an active discussion space; we’d love for you to join us!