‘Separate but equal’ still a bad idea

The Supreme Court got it right 61 years ago when it ruled that “separate but equal” schools weren’t feasible, education and civil-rights scholar Gary Orfield told an Indiana University audience last week.

“We don’t have a set of institutions that are separate but equal in our society,” he said. “We’ve never had separate but equal.”

But policymakers have spent the past 35 years ignoring that simple truth, he said. America largely abandoned its successful but brief attempt to desegregate public schools and turned instead to assuming that all schools should be effective and calling out those that aren’t.

“In the ‘80s, we had this decision that you could ignore race, you could ignore class and you could create equal schools by command – test and accountability and it will work,” he said. “But it ends up that all the schools we sanction are schools that have concentrations of poor and minority students.”

Orfield was the keynote speaker at IU’s Martha McCarthy Education Law and Policy Institute. He is a professor at UCLA and co-director of the Civil Rights Project, which over 20 years has produced hundreds of studies related to issues of educational equity.

Another thing that hasn’t worked, Orfield said: Relying solely on school choice to improve education. “Freedom of choice” was the approach Southern states adopted after Brown v. Board of Education. But schools remained profoundly segregated until federal authorities demanded change in the 1960s.

Continue reading

Advertisements

In America’s schools, desegregation is a dream deferred

Demand No. 3 of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was “desegregation of all school districts in 1963.” Fifty years later, we’re still waiting.

And when the nation marks the anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, will the pundits and newscasters even mention this failing? Don’t count on it.

Sure, there are no longer laws that mandate separate schools for blacks and whites. Those were overturned by Brown v. Board of Education, nine years before the march. But as the Civil Rights Project at UCLA has documented, U.S. schools are growing more segregated, not less.

The project’s most recent report, released last fall, showed that segregation of Latino students has increased, especially in the West; and segregation remains high for black students in much of the country, despite reduced racial isolation of neighborhoods.

“It is also double segregation by both race and poverty,” project director Gary Orfield and his fellow authors write. “Nationwide, the typical black student is now in a school where almost two out of every three classmates are low-income.”

Among the report’s most striking findings: 15 percent of black students and 14 percent of Latino students attend “apartheid schools,” where white students are less than 1 percent of the student body. (In Indiana the figure is 10.5 percent for black students).

And segregation matters. “The consensus of nearly 60 years of social science research on the harms of school segregation is clear: separate remains extremely unequal,” the report says. “Schools of concentrated poverty and segregated minority schools are strongly related to an array of factors that limit educational opportunities and outcomes.”

School choice may be making things worse. Continue reading