Equity in education is attached to the hip of integration

Today, May 17,  is the 57th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education. The promise then was that segregation in our nation’s public schools would no longer be tolerated— that in fact, such practices were unconstitutional, that in public education “separate is not equal.” Though the court’s decision was unanimous, response to it was not. At the time there was a great deal of push back including the experiences of the Little Rock Nine in 1957, the actual shutting down of public schools in Arkansas and Virginia the following school year, busing protests.

In 2011, our nation’s public schools are more segregated than ever. This is due in part to the court’s slow dismantling of Brown. Several Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s have forced schools to drop race as a criteria in school assignments. In 2007, a Supreme Court decision limited Seattle and Louisville school districts in their implementation of desegregation policies.

Jonathan Kozol in his “Still Separate, Still Unequal” shared the following 2002-2003 statistics: 87% of public-school enrollment in Chicago was black or Hispanic; less than 10% of students in the schools were white. 94% of children were black or Hispanic in Washington DC; less than 5 percent were white. In St. Louis, 82% of the student population was black or Hispanic in St. Louis; 79% in Philadelphia and Cleveland; 84% in LA; 96% in Detroit; 89% in Baltimore. In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

In a UCLA Civil Rights study (2009), it was reported that nearly 40% of latinos and blacks attend schools that are over 90% latino and black. 57 to 59% of these schools are identified as high poverty schools.

Jon Becker in his “Still Separate, Still Unequal(?) (Final Thoughts)” stated that: ——

—Nearly three out of every four African American students in the U.S. attend a school that is majority-minority.

—One out of every six African-American children in the United States now attends a school where less than one percent of the population is white.

—In 1998, African-American students were 59% more likely to be identified as emotionally disturbed than Caucasian students.

—As of 2007, in the state of Virginia, African-American students were 54% more likely to be identified as disabled than other students.

—African-American and Latina/o students are less than half as likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented educational classes and programs as Caucasian students.

—While Internet access in schools and classrooms is consistently good and equitable, access to computers generally is slightly inversely related to the percentage of students of color in schools.

The frequency with which African-American students use computers in schools is at least as high, if not higher, than other students. However, African-American students are much more likely to use computers to practice or drill on math facts than White students.

“There are no significant state or federal programs and little private philanthropy addressing policy to either produce better integrated schools with more racial and economic diversity or to train teachers and students about ways to more effectively run impoverished multiracial schools,” wrote Gary Orfield, the 2009 UCLA study’s author.

And it is ultimately zip codes which determine the quality of the education any student will receive. Still relying mainly on property taxes, schools in wealthier neighborhoods have access to the most resources, including the best teachers lured by the higher pay offered there. Though money cannot buy everything, until there is equity, until the playing field is leveled, disparity in educational experience and consequences from that experience (or lack thereof) will never be erased. Just recently two mothers (one in Ohio and one in Connecticut) have been convicted as felons because they enrolled their children in schools outside their “district” in an attempt to provide them a better education. Is anyone else as outraged as I that one’s street address is the criteria that can determine the quality and worth of one’s education?

It has been 57 years since the Brown decision—almost my entire lifetime. Before 1990, when integration was at its highest, the achievement gap between black and white children actually narrowed. As the courts began to dismantle Brown, these gaps widened once again.

We have distracted ourselves with the data of high stakes testing, not with any comprehensive understanding of  learning and of “separate is not equal.” We concentrate on test scores not integration. While many schizophrenically laud and disparage teachers, we are in denial about the broad responsibility for educational equity. We have misunderstood our commitment to equal protection. Equity in education is attached to the hip of integration.

Why is this so difficult for us to solve? What is preventing us from providing equity for all children regarding education? What possible advantage exists in the resegregating of our schools? What advantage exists in the inequitable distribution of and access to resources?

Celebrating the intention of Brown is wonderful. Enforcing this intention on the ground is quite another.

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One Response to Equity in education is attached to the hip of integration

  1. Wonderful post. This is such a massive topic, but I will address one point. You mentioned Seattle and the changes that occurred in ’07. I was born and raised in Seattle and left a decade ago, but heard there was a change to the law (thought from the voters–not my city anymore). There was never any segregation within the public schools during my parents’ generation (’50s/’60s) unlike some Northern cities with the restricted neighborhoods, but the schools were very diverse due to the layout of the city’s neighborhoods which all ran into each other.

    With the White Flight, things changed and busing was put into effect at some point and the schools became diverse again (as you alluded to), but I worked for the District in the ’90s in bilingual education and had minority kids traveling nearly 2 hours by bus to go to a school in a Caucasian neighborhood to even things out. While I primarily got stuck in the public schools in the ‘burbs growing up in the ’80s (terrible!), most of my friends attended the Seattle public schools and same story–the minorities were bused to the better, Caucasian neighborhoods and the Caucasians were bused to the inner city–which had very good schools, one of which my father had attended.

    The busing issue in Seattle was not very popular, especially with certain members of the School Board who wanted it gone, but it worked from a diversity standpoint, even though the inner city schools are still very good (last I heard). Well, Seattle is a unique and well-educated city, so nothing like a discussion on segregated Chicago, where my family came from. What to do? It seems like a lost cause as far as diversity goes. If money is put into the inner city schools like in Seattle, then the achievement rates, drop-out rates, etc. aren’t as huge a problem. Btw, I read many J. Kozol books in my day–appreciate the mention. My career was in non-profit program admin. (primarily with at-risk youth within public housing), although I dabbled in social work, education, community organizing, and whatnot.

    Thanks again for posting on this (think I wrote a post back)! Needed a good read right now…
    A :-)

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