In honor of Martin Luther King, I would like to revisit a post I did about public schools and race relations after I first started blogging. A democratic public school system has great potential to bring children of all colors and from every background together. This would ultimately create a better world. But in order to do this we need to have a plan and make a concerted effort to unite our children.
It has been two years since I wrote the following post, and I still see little in the way of progress for this togetherness to occur. Where in the new Every Student Achieves Act do we speak of ending the racial separation of children? What is being done to create rich diversity in our public schools?
Make no mistake, public policy and court rulings matter to this effort.
In 2010, the UCLA Civil Rights Project determined charter schools isolated students by race and class. Still, federal, state and local education agencies continue to fund charter schools that do not foster diversity.
Along with this, in 2007, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. I, school district racial assignment plans were discontinued. No longer did public schools have to consider diversity in public schools as the 1980s and 1990s.
Consider too, North Carolina, which through the past Civil Rights Movement, had become one of the most successfully diverse public school systems in the nation. Not only was segregation diminished in schools, but residential divisions were also diminished. How has that changed in North Carolina today? Please see Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now cited below.
Closing the achievement gap is only part of the equation, and closing the achievement gap does not mean rigid, segregated, militaristic curriculum for the poor.
Closing the achievement gap means providing for children of color, and the poorest among us, the kind of education we would give all children.
Acclaimed educator and founder of the small schools movement Deborah Meier says in regard to schools, What was good for the rich was best for the poor too—only more so.
It is with this in mind that I re-post my experience in a middle school during the mid-eighties, where real effort was made to bring children and families together.
It was not perfect, but at least it was an attempt. Where is the effort to bring children together now when it comes to America’s public schools?
Here is my old post written in 2013.
As an educator, I look at civil rights progress through the lens of a teacher, and I see little to be happy about when it comes to public schools and race relations. I think we’ve gone backwards. Which reform groups address this issue authentically? With all the “achievement gap” talk how are we pulling together as people—to help one another?
I am old enough to remember when efforts to pull the races together in our public schools meant something. Brown v. the Board of Education had teeth. In the 80s and 90s they had race counts. State and federal workers would actually visit the classroom. There were regulations. It mattered.
I recall the uproar when my middle school in Tallahassee was “rezoned,” turned from an almost all black school to “mixed.” We were lucky to have a sensitive PTA who understood students and education. Lovely moms and cool dads supported the teachers. They asked what we needed to help our students adjust. We were in it together.
Were there problems? Sure. I once entered the cafeteria and spotted only segregated student groups. What’s the point? I wondered. Sometimes there were fights—especially in the spring. White and black students would get hauled to the office to work it out. Looking back, even that meant something. Mediating disagreements can matter. It can matter in the long run.
The more we worked together, white, black, and brown, faculty and parents, changes occurred. Some were small, others big. It wasn’t perfect—but noticeably better. Before I moved away, I remember chaperoning a dance, surprised to see students mixing it up a bit. And then two fellows developed a friendship. The white student whose dad drove a Trailways bus became friends with the black student whose dad drove the Greyhound bus! They were smart young men and funny too—colorblind. They set the example and we all learned by watching.
Eventually, more and more white girls strolled down the hall with their black girlfriends, chomping gum and chattering about the boys. And black guys got together with white guys, gossiping about girls, and worrying more about the next football game than who wore which skin color. Not all parents were onboard, but it was those who were that made the difference.
After I moved away from my middle school I often thought about how it had changed for the better. Now? We still have poor black schools. And we have black charter schools and an increasing number of white charter schools. Hispanic schools exist too. Don’t forget religious charter schools and charter schools that leave out the disabled. Many in ALL races and ethnic groups embrace these separations. I wonder why. In all the testing, competition, leaving no children behind and racing to the top, there doesn’t seem to be any real coming together at all. But then I guess I’m still looking through the lens of a teacher…and who likes them anymore?
Frankenberg, Erica, Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, and Jia Wang. Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards. Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA. January 2010.
Ayscue, Jennifer and Brian Woodward. Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now. The Civil Rights Project. May 14, 2014. Available online as a PDF File.
Meier, Deborah. In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002), 142.
Susan DuFresne says
Thank you for writing this from the perspective of a teacher. I think teachers are liked more than we know, because the mainstream media only reports what reformers who control them want them to say. The real people that hold the power like teachers and want civil rights laws enforced, that I am sure of. Soon, America will be a country where the MINORITY is the MAJORITY. Do you think corporations have a strategy to control that majority?
You wrote: “I am old enough to remember when efforts to pull the races together in our public schools meant something. Brown v. the Board of Education had teeth. In the 80s and 90s they had race counts. State and federal workers would actually visit the classroom. There were regulations. It mattered.”
Aren’t those regulations still in place? Don’t they still matter? If so, why aren’t these regulations being enforced? Eric Holder is shifting the country’s position on the “War on Drugs”. Do you think that he might help shift the country’s position on corporate education reform and the racism it brings with it? Do you think he might start with enforcing Brown vs the Board of Education?
Susan DuFresne, Integrated Kindergarten Teacher [Special Education and General Education] in a Title 1 School, Co-Author of Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you Susan.
I appreciate your comment and I love your optimism!
I think you are absolutely right about the mainstream media…and about teachers. I was thinking about how teachers are portrayed in the media and by the reformers. At the local level I know you are right. Parents want good teachers and they resent how teachers are being treated. Near where I live there is a concerted effort to close schools, fire teachers and replace them with Teach for America…like a lot of other places. Most parents don’t like it.
As far as school integration, I believe, and check me on this, that the push to integrate schools like I observed in the 80s and 90s, was dealt a blow with the 2007 Supreme Court decision rejecting integration plans in Seattle and Louisville. http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2003766015_webrace28m.html. After that you quit hearing about school rezoning. But I might just not be in the know. If someone knows of schools being integrated in their communities NOW I would like to hear….
I’m not sure if counts are done in schools anymore. Perhaps they are done but why would it matter without integration? Why would charter schools, considered public due to public funds, be permitted? Do they have race counts? It doesn’t look like it.
Eric Holder–that is an interesting point. We always focus on Arne Duncan. Although the president loves charter schools.
John Nolan says
As long as the concept of “separate but equal” remains a myth, we will never come together as one.
These are OUR children and every child deserves the highest quality public education regardless of the color of their skin, their family situation, or their economic status.
Nancy Bailey says
I agree John, and thank you for posting. It is sad to see reforms that claim disadvantaged children (and public schools in general now) need tougher standards. I’m thinking of my favorite quote from educator Deborah Meier, “the best way to improve test scores was to do for all children even more of what we already did for wealthy children.”
In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization by Deborah Meier p.142
Virginia Terry says
So well put. Thank you! You made my day.
Nancy Bailey says
I’m glad, Virginia. Thank you for your comment!