Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Desegregation

I'm currently working towards getting my master's degree, and for one of my classes I had to read Shame of the Nation by Jonathan Kozol. In general, I didn't think it was the greatest of books. He makes some good points, blah blah blah, but I wasn't blown away. Kozol's argument essentially comes down to money, and I think that money is not the biggest thing.

However, it got me thinking about what the biggest thing actually is. And I think the biggest single policy we could adopt to fix urban education would be desegregation. I teach in a school that is 100% minority. There are literally no white children. Similarly, there are many schools in affluent parts of this country that have literally no black children. Kozol cites several statistics stating that the vast majority of black and hispanic children go to schools that are majority black and hispanic. Our schools are incredibly segregated.

We are living in a multiracial society with a black president and a relatively colorful congress, and yet black children and white children do not go to school together. Rather than focus on the newest "reform" agenda, the latest program, or the biggest expenditure, we should end the segregation of American schools. Diversity is a good thing, and we should create public education policies that encourage it in our schools. If that means busing students to different schools or providing incentives for children to go to different schools, then so be it. Our children would all benefit.

That's my two cents.


DCSands said...

To do that, we have to desegregate the city. The reason, say, Ballou or my school is 100% minority is because they exist in parts of the city that have been relegated to low-income, and therefore, generally minority, housing and conditions, due to architectural and infrastructural decisions made years ago (295?, ahem?)

Or we could get rid of the idea of the "neighborhood" school, and open up every school in the city to every student in the district.

lodesterre said...

To say that Kozol's answer to the problem of segregated schools and the disparities found there is money is to really oversimplify his book. He points out the differences between schools in NYC and Manhasset in what they spend per child (roughly $11,000 in NYC to $22,000 in Manhasset)to demonstrate how urban, mostly minority school systems do not have the same resources. He makes the argument, in many of his books, that ones place of birth in the United States should not determine the quality of ones education. More importantly in his book he makes the case against the testing culture that NCLB has created and the limited educational scope that is fostered by such testing - with science, social studies, art and music all falling to the wayside in the name of testing for math and reading.
I would recommend a deeper reading of his book if you have to write about it for a university class.

As for busing... I cannot believe that anyone can suggest we try that failed experiment again. Given all the talk of "choice" in our city in regards to schools, are you going to tell parents that their child will be bused, whether they like it or not, to SE or NE or NW in the name of desegregation? DCSands idea is more realistic albeit already covered in the out-of-boundary program.

Mr. Potter said...

I'm not claiming that ending segregation in our schools would be easy, nor should it be accomplished by simply "busing" kids around. A clearly articulated and very complicated plan would have to be created, and I'm thankful that it's not my job to create it. My point was that the single most important thing we could do to fix education in this country would be to end segregation in our schools. And if busing kids was part of the solution, then so be it.

To lodesterre, who wrote: "I would recommend a deeper reading of his book if you have to write about it for a university class." Don't be a jerk. You're responding to a two paragraph post on a blog, not a term paper. I'm aware of Kozol's more nuanced arguments. My point is that even if per pupil expenditures in DC were doubled, it would likely make little difference for our students. DCPS is a system of gross incompetence, and it will remain so until the schools are desegregated. Unfortunately, people in this country are just comfortable screwing over black kids.

Anonymous said...

The main issue is parents. If white children are getting screwed over, their parents will be in the school dealing with it. My brother teaches in a diverse school (about half white, large hispanic, sizable black) and whenever he has problem students, the white parents always come to deal with it.

If minority parents became more involved in school, then it wouldn't happen because they wouldn't stand for it.

lodesterre said...

The fact is you reduced Kozol's nuanced arguments to one simplistic argument - money. The per student expenditure is a everyone's favorite horse to beat. Most of that money goes to anything but the student, everyone knows this. As for "busing" (it is acceptable according to MW dictionary to spell it "busing" or "bussing"), what makes you think a failed policy will work the second time around?

I don't think there is any need to call me a jerk, by the way. My comment about a deeper reading was said respectfully, not as some snide comment. I have enjoyed your blog and, even when I have disagreed with you, with your comments on other blogs. I think we can have a good discussion without resorting to insults.

Mr. Potter said...

I agree that the majority of money spent on students doesn't go to the student, which is why I don't think that focusing on PPE is useful. Kozol definitely brings up a lot of great points in his book, but he keeps coming back to money. There's an appendix at the end of his book where he shows the PPE in several urban and suburban districts, and in every chapter he makes comments about how unequal funding has led to the problems he describes. I disagree that funding is really the issue (and it sounds like you do, too).

I think desegregating schools would be the biggest single thing we could do to begin to fix the problem. This isn't an argument Kozol explicitly makes in his book, but it's definitely there. The reason busing failed was because it wasn't aimed at true desegregation. And I don't think busing alone will work. (As an aside, I didn't put quotes around "busing" to be snotty... I was trying to separate my argument from the failed "busing" of the past. You spelled it the same way I did; I wasn't trying to be grammar police).

I appreciate that you enjoy my blog. I also feel that your comments on the blogs I've read have been insightful and intelligent, even if I didn't think they were necessary correct. I interpreted your comment about deeper reading as condescending and obnoxious. But regardless, we're both teachers and we're on the same side, so please accept my apology for being snarky.

Anonymous said...

Busing to desegregate schools, when neighborhoods were not, didn't work in Boston or in Maryland's PG County in the 70s. People can't be forced to live where they don't want to live. And children should attend schools near their homes. And ultimately, what's so hot about going to school with white kids, to put it bluntly. Why can't all black schools in areas that are all black not be excellent? Why do white kids have to go there to improve the quality of teaching and learning? And I don't want to hear any condescending comments like it's more complicated than that.

lodesterre said...

I appreciate your apology. I was not trying to be condescending but I understand how that could be taken that way.

Busing didn't work where I grew up either. I am of that generation. Parents get legitimately angry when they have invested the time and money in a neighborhood and the local school is part of that equation and then they are told that their child will go to this other school. They feel their choice has been usurped.

The other downside is this: In my hometown there was a local high school, 99% minority. It had great pride, an excellent football team, the best marching band in the state (won title after title) and good averages in terms of kids graduating and going on to college. Busing ended that school. You would hear one person after another from that neighborhood (I lived in that neighborhood) saying how their school was ruined by busing.

I still think Sands had a good suggestion, open up every school to every student. True choice. I think, also, that this was sort of an idea that Rhee had suggested - one that I liked - developing schools that spoke to different academic strengths - arts, science, etc. - giving parents and students a greater degree of choices within their district.

Mr. Potter said...

Anon and Lodesterre, I appreciate the problems associated with busing. I'm not arguing that busing is what we need to do. I'm saying that desegregating schools is what we need to do. If busing, in certain situations, makes the most sense, then maybe that should be part of the desegregation plan.

In theory, I agree that there is nothing magical about going to school with white kids. Anon, your question "Why can't all black schools in areas that are all black not be excellent?" is a great question. There's no reason that they can't. But the fact is that they aren't. We observe time and again that schools that are mostly minority perform less well than schools that are mostly white. Schools that are mostly minority tend to have less experienced teachers, fewer resources, and more examples of gross incompetence (Kozol's book abounds with these examples).

My argument for desegregating schools is not that the kids will perform better if there are some white kids around, but that the adults will perform better because they feel the expectations have been raised. As a system, DCPS is racist. As a system, we have two clearly different standards of education.

I don't think desegregation is the only way to close the achievement gap, but I think it could help more and more quickly than any other proposal I've heard of.

Glenn Watson said...

I did not spend a pile of money on a house near a good school so my two children could be bused away. I also do not like the idea of poorly behaved underachieving students from bad schools being bused in.

And if the city decides to redraw the lines to reach some sort of racial parity I will fight that with all my might.

Build magent schools if yoy must but do not throw well behaved studetns under the bus for the sake of desegregation.

IMO, Segregation is not even on the list of the main problems with schools and students. The main problem is poorly behaved students and screwed up curriculums that ask both too much and too little at the same time.

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