Public Schools

Ending Segregation in Education: The Impossible Dream?


September 12, 2021; The Atlantic

We are struck by the timing of the newswire, coming as enrollment at Historically Black Universites and colleges (HBCUs) is surging.

In 1954, the final Court struck on the legal framework supporting the nation's racially segregated public education system. A legal court affirmed \”separate universities are inherently unequal,\” recognizing that keeping children in racial silos could never lead to equality and that the damage segregation causes would stick with them in their lifetimes.

Sixty years later, there's scant evidence we have made real progress to fight segregation from public education. Based on a UCLA Civil Rights Project study, \”school segregation remains very high for black students. It's also double segregation by both race and poverty. Nationwide, the typical black student has become in a school where almost two from every three classmates (64 percent) are low income, nearly double the level in schools of the typical white or Asian student.\” A just-released report through the Century Foundation tells us that Ny City's Universal Pre-K program was not able to create a built-in reality.

While overall pre-K enrollment is racially diverse, however, individual pre-K classrooms are more homogeneous. In two of all pre-K classrooms, more than 70 % of kids come from a single racial or ethnic group.

Few doubt the harm recognized by the Warren Court is real. Segregation punishes minority and low-income children for his or her lifetimes. A 2006 study through the National Bureau of Economics Research found \”robust evidence that the black-white test score gap is higher in additional segregated cities. Holding constant family background additional factors, a shift from the fully segregated to some completely integrated city closes about one-quarter from the raw black-white gap in SAT scores.\” A more recent study using test scores from 2009 -2021 by a Stanford University research team showed an identical pattern. One of the study's principals, Sean Reardon, saw the information as confirming \”racial segregation seems to result in an unequal distribution of resources that's disproportionately harming poor kids of color.\”

As a nation and a society, we still need a school system that provides equal chance of all children, but we seem unclear about whether we can actually build one. The failure to make substantial progress has led some educational policymakers to conclude that integrated schools can't be created by law or policy directive, that educational equality are only able to be performed when parents choose integrated options for their children. As Secretary of Education John King, Jr. recently told Atlantic reporter Alia Wong:

\”Instead of worrying about diversity, you should be embracing our diversity. We also have to understand as we look at some of the tensions round the country around problems with race and class-[that we want to] create school communities that are genuinely diverse.\”

But he has figured because of \”the racial confrontations tactics such as mandated busing or campus reassignment could cause he does not want to force anyone to attend a college they do not want to attend. He wants integration to occur on its own-almost as if it were a natural process.\”

Rather than support integration as a dependence on public education and push children into an integrated reality, government administrators aim to entice parents into choosing a built-in experience for his or her children. The policies they propose create \”magnet programs, dual-language schools, or district-wide choice, [all] strategies that will help draw middle-class white kids into high-poverty neighborhoods.\” They're counting on the truth that a parent's desire to give children the perfect education will overcome bias and fear to complete also coercive strategies cannot.

For Secretary King, trusting parents to do what's right is the best way forward.

It's extremely important that schools convey that: \”We're likely to be a place that celebrates diversity, that produces equitable opportunities within our building.\” It's thinking more holistically about how exactly we ensure every child is having a positive chance to learn.

Critics of the approach see this as wishful thinking instead of wise policy. For them, it's just a method to steer clear of the painful medicine required to cure a serious societal ill. Quoting Natalie Hopkinson, a black parent and journalist, \”White individuals will not enroll their kids in schools unless they're already [predominantly] white-White parents tend to send their kids to schools that they perceive as 'high status.' Therefore the segregation keeps repeating itself as long as you depend on choice in an effort to make the change.\”

Continuing to look for ways of make integration comfortable for white families could make political sense. But by taking your path means more kids of color by default will need to experience the real harm brought on by de facto segregated and unequal schools while waiting endlessly for change.

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