This is a blog about something that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Something that’s perceived to be an old ghost, of a distant and worse time, yet it animates our education policy discussions today in complicated unseen ways and affects students’ educational experiences in deeply negative ways. In an age supposedly dominated by data, this is something whose solution has strong support in the research. A solution that offers enough promise for America’s educational and social future that, at the very least, we should be talking about it more.
Because school segregation is very real now. It affects a lot of people (all of us, really) and all signs indicate that school resegregation is only going to continue to get worse in the upcoming years. Maybe much worse. Released in April 2016, a report from the Government Accountability Office found that:
- High poverty (>75% of students on free/reduced price lunch) and high minority (>75% black or Hispanic) schools increased from 9% of all US public K-12 schools in the 2000-01 school year to 16% of all schools in the 2013-14 school year. So, high-poverty/high-minority schools more than doubled in a span of 13 years, from 7,000 total schools to more than 15,000 (pg. 10).
- Of course, the number of students attending these schools increased as well, from 4.1 million in ’00-’01 to 8.4 million in ’13-’14 (pg. 12). That’s 8.4 million people in extremely challenging learning environments, in a country that can offer them so much more. If those students made up their own state, it would rank 12th in population – 12th! – just behind New Jersey (approx. 8.7 million people) and ahead of Virginia (approx. 8 million). It would be a national crisis, and I guess I don’t understand how it’s any different if the same number of people are just spread out across the country.
- Schools with these characteristics offered lower percentages of challenging coursework in math, science, Advanced Placement (of all kinds), and Gifted and Talented Education programs (pgs. 17-21).
- Schools with these characteristics held back, suspended and expelled their students at alarmingly high rates. Although they represented only 12% of the total school population, students in these schools accounted for 16% of all expulsions and 22% of all out-of-school suspensions (pgs. 22-26).
62 years after Brown v. Board of Education, we still have a long, long way to go and the GAO report is one of a number of sources illustrating that schools are resegregating. And, it may not be the best measure of how bad things have gotten. The report focuses on a 75% cutoff and only briefly notes that schools with a 90% poverty rate and 90% black or Hispanic students increased by 143%, now encompassing just under 3 million people, roughly equal to the entire population of Mississippi (pg. 16). The coursework disparities noted above were of course even more pronounced in these schools.
In a cruel twist of history, this all somehow precedes a week that itself symbolizes American resegregation – on Monday, celebrating perhaps our country’s greatest advocate for racial and social justice and then, on Friday, inaugurating as president our greatest modern threat to it.
Many have asked themselves how to respond productively to the social justice challenges that are coming from the Trump Administration. This blog is one, albeit small, answer for me. We now have a president who got there, in large part, by regularly stoking racial resentment, and whose election was hailed by white supremacists. Even going exclusively off his cabinet picks, I am not hopeful that his administration will do much of anything to make America great for the non-white or the non-wealthy. For me, the Trump election is a dark backdrop that brings out the bright social value/purpose of school integration – something with considerable promise (and proven effectiveness!) for addressing economic and racial division. Like Thurgood Marshall wrote in his dissenting opinion in 1974’s Milliken v. Bradley case, “unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”
And, there’s a profound educational purpose as well – in the education policy debate, we’ve been talking about racial inequity/gaps for a long time, yet we are largely overlooking one of the most effective vehicles for ending it. Of course, I know there’s a complicated and very tense history to explore here. I know it arouses a lot of very strong emotions, but there are too many reasons not to at least talk about it more openly. In each post, I’ll pick a new source or topic and explore what it might mean for school integration today. I hope you’ll join me.