SD News Roundup: Community organizing in Denver, two new books and some good news

The roundup this week covers a few (maybe) under-the-radar type stories, some of which have promising implications for the school integration movement. The first is a story about what appears (to me, at least) to be a relatively new community organizing group in the Denver area. Park Hill Neighbors for Equity in Education (here’s their twitter account) was founded by Laura Lefkowitz, a former DPS school board member, to develop solutions for segregation in Denver, which has increased steadily since the city was released from its court desegregation order in 1995. In case you are interested, this Denver Post article has a good overview of school segregation trends there, including the following:

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  • “55 percent of the district’s schools have concentrations of more than 90 percent minority populations.”
  • “Only 29 of the district’s 188 schools are considered integrated in the group’s report.”
  • “Just 36 percent of the 104 minority-concentrated schools met district expectations for performance in 2014, while 94 percent of the 31 white-majority schools met the same standards.”

Those numbers (and the graph here) come from a report developed by a group called A-Plus Denver. In the Denver Post article, Lefkowitz is quoted as saying “We’re tolerating some schools that would not have been tolerated in the past.”

In the previous news roundup, I wrote about the fantastic Vox story on school district attendance zones. That article references a new book – called Cycle of Segregation – that looks into the maps of segregation that we’ve internalized based on our understanding of the world around us, leading indeed to a cycle of reinforced segregation. The Vox story summarizes it this way: “white respondents had a blind spot for neighborhoods that were more diverse, even if they were majority white. Meanwhile, African Americans were less likely to know about far-flung suburbs.” Next City has a good summary of the research, PRRAC has an interview with the authors in its most recent newsletter, and last week, the Pacific Standard published an interview with the authors, where they say, in part:

  • “There is explicit discrimination, where people refuse to rent to you. But there’s also this issue of anticipated discrimination, which factors into the decision-making process. It’s not that discrimination doesn’t matter, but to some extent it matters even more profoundly than has been characterized.”
  • “Even if you develop affordable housing in a currently exclusive neighborhood, it you don’t address the social processes that lead people to sort themselves into those neighborhoods, it’s pointless. You have to address those social sorting processes as well.”

You may have heard about “I will not fear” on a Fresh Air episode last week, or on this KERA podcast. It is a memoir from Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine. She also recently published a book about her childhood that is aimed a younger readers, called “March Forward, Girl.” Beals, who has a Congressional Gold Medal, talked about what it was like when she was finally able to make it inside Central High School:

  • “Here I had to begin thinking about, how can I save my life during this class? Do I need to sit in the back or the front? Shall I sit where I can look at the soldier? Although, I could look at my soldier sometimes. He couldn’t come through. He might signal me to move over here, do this, do that. But the fact of the matter was that I was, you know, completely open to whatever happened.”

She was about 16 years old and the soldier that she refers to was one of several Airborne Division members who were assigned to help keep her safe.

And, this roundup includes MLK Day – I found a lot of good, short pieces that used the day to reflected on current state of school segregation (like this one), but this commentary from Errol Lewis had the most bite of anything I read. Reflecting on progressive leaders in NYC, he says:

  • “Today’s festival of liberal self-congratulation, in which members of New York’s establishment pat one another on the back, actually isn’t very King-like. To truly follow in the great man’s footsteps would mean summoning the courage to tackle the same issue he fought and died for — unraveling our city’s web of segregated housing and schools.”
  • “Honoring King would mean finally pressing for passage of a City Council bill, bottled up and ignored in past years, that would require boards of the city’s 300,000 cooperative apartments to abide by the fair-housing laws and provide applicants with the reason they were accepted or rejected.”

From there, it seems only fitting to end with a story from New York. Last week, the state’s Education Department announced that it will award $1.4 million in grants to support district plans for school integration. The department will also host “workshops to support the foundational understanding that integration is possible, beneficial to all students, and critical to achieving equity” and “will help leaders identify causes of segregation within their districts and identify and test potential solutions for integration, ensuring the strategies are tailored to the unique conditions in each district.” Good news is rare, and I will try to follow this as much as I can.

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