Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunday Meditation: Re-segregation

Jonathan Kozol writes about education, children, poverty and communities. In his powerful book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, he quotes from a report by Professor Gary Orfield of Harvard University's Civil Rights Project, regarding the impact of the re-segregation of America's public schools.

Food for thought.

"Desegregation did not fail. In spite of a very brief period of serious enforcement. . ., the desegregation era was a period in which minority high school graduates increased sharply and the racial test score gaps narrowed substantially until they began to widen again in the 1990s. . . In the two largest educational innovations of the past two decades--standards-based reform and school choice--the issue of racial segregation and its consequences has been ignored."

. . . .Racial isolation and the concentrated poverty of children in a public school go hand in hand. . . . Only 15 percent of the intensely segregated white schools in the nation have student populations in which more than half are poor enough to be receiving free meals or reduced price meals. "By contrast, a staggering 86 percent of intensely segregated black and Latino schools" have student enrollments in which more than half are poor by the same standards. A segregated inner-city school is "almost six times as likely" to be a school of concentrated poverty as is a school that has an overwhelmingly white population.


Anonymous said...

I grew up in the fifties and as far as I know there was no such thing as "free meals." I did not know anyone who needed them in spite of not being an affluent school. There might have been takers if it were offered, like if they build it they will come.

RC said...

All I can do is to comment on what I see. Larry, you bring up all of the most important issues and I wish more people would jump in and make comment. As I have said before, I live in Memphis. In fact I am almost a life long Memphian, and I love this city, problems and all. Help me understand how to deal with this problem. There is a school in Memphis that could be a case study of what you are talking about. When I moved back to Memphis in the mid-eighties Kirby High School was located in the country and was considered one of the most desirable schools to attend. People would move up economically and move to the more affluent Germantown to the east, but would find a way to get their children transfered back to Kirby. In the early ninties things started to change. An older more urban school was closed and the students were moved to Kirby. These kids for the most part were poorer, blacker, and rougher. The next thing that happened was the City of Memphis annexed th Kirby area, and then finally the neighborhood transitioned into a predominantly African-American neighborhood. The Kirby of today is a school full of violence and gross underacheivement. Most more affluient whites and blacks would never send their children to Kirby out of fear for the safety of their children. I used to work for a Christian private school and we had black children streaming into our school to get away from Kirby. My question is simple. Should children be forced to go to school in fear? I am convinced that many, if not most, people with school age children move because of their perception of the school their children will attend. I am open to learn.

Anonymous said...

I also can only report what I see. And what I've seen (36 years exp. in an urban district) is that curriculum and standards were watered down with desegregation in order to accomodate black students.

Case in point: I was schooled in the same district where I now teach. During the four years in which I was in college (1966-1970), much of the desegration in our district occurred. I returned to the district as a teacher and found that you couldn't score a 32 on a test anymore. The lowest grade was a 50. Where did that come from? And still today, if I have a student who shows up once in a six weeks, I am required to give him a 50.

There are many other examples I could give. My conclusion is that white leadership was afraid to maintain previous standards for fear of alienating the blacks, and black leadership was eager to show that black kids could perform in an integrated environment.

The results have been excruciatingly bad for our society. Our public schools are mere shadows of themselves, and we are producing a generation of illiterates who happen to have diplomas.

Larry James said...

RC and Anonymous, the problems are complex for certain. But for the sake of our limited space here, I would challenge you to investigate the amount spent per pupil on the low-performing schools that you describe here. Couple that finding with very high concentration of poverty in the "feeder neighborhoods" around the schools in question. Add to that the "white flight" to suburbs and private schools and the fact that members of low-income communities are seldom invited into the process and the picture is complete.

Students and parents must share in the responsibility for the end product of a school. But in the communities we are discussing here, nothing changes without a real commitment on the part of public institutions to raise expectations and commitments.

RC said...

Larry, Spending at Kirby is more today in real dollars than it was in it's heyday. That is a fact. There are students who go to that school everyday who are afraid for their safety. I cannot imagine a parent who had a choice allowing their child to be put in actual danger and it is actual and not perceived. I hurt for the caring poor parent who has no choice. It make me wonder about vouchers. The public schools in Memphis for the most part are just awful. My real question is in a free society how in the world do you stop white flight and in the case of Memphis there is a world of upwardly mobile black flight. I agree, it is a complex issue. The next time you are in Memphis. I would love to share a cup of coffee. Keep fighting for your passions.

Larry James said...

RC, thanks for that! I'll take you up on the offer of a cup of coffee!

Here in Dallas I expect the funding in real dollars is up across the district, but we find that there is great disparity in the amount spent in low performing schools as compared to high performing.

We also are in the midst of a major redesign in terms of school management practices and how resource utilization decisions are made.

We can do better. But we must focus real attention to the problem.

bbeth said...

I agree somewhat with anonymous. I graduated from a small AR school in 1973 which had only been integrated a couple of years. The standards for the school after integration were lowered without a doubt...and needlessly. The black school had been a good one and we had many black honor students who easily passed the watered down courses. That has all changed in the last 30 years and now honor students are few and far between. What was the purpose of lowering the bar for everyone?
But I don't think we can discount the role that drugs and the disintegration of the family has played on today's students either.
Until we once again have schools that want to educate the students(as individuals) rather than boast of high test scores I don't see much hope for our public schools. That policy has to come from somewhere higher up than our local school boards.

Larry James said...

bbeth, thanks for your comments.

I believe what you describe is clear evidence of institutional racism. When you take a look at funding levels, it becomes even clearer. Lowered expectations are a form of racism.

The comment about educating individuals, rather than teaching to testing requirements is actually an example of a policy that is coming from above and is imposed on local school districts. There is a way to cover the benchmark materials and at the same time make things applicable to individual students who can be inspired to learn. It will mean finding more funds to enable smaller class sizes and more expert teachers.

The collapse of families is often a product of poverty, the failure of social capital and, again, institutional racism expressed in places as different as public schools and criminal courts.