How housing policies led to segregated schools

Richard Rothstein has long been the go-to scholar for journalists writing about segregated schools. In books like “Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right” and “Class and Schools,” he sounded the alarm about the harm done by segregating children by race and socioeconomic status.

Recently the Economic Policy Institute research associate has turned his attention to the forces that caused much of that school segregation. He blames government policies that created racially segregated neighborhoods through much of the 20th century.

Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein

“I contend we do not have de facto segregation in this country,” he said Friday at a Public Policy and International Affairs conference at Indiana University. “Every metropolitan area in this country has been segregated purposefully by public policy.”

Two strands of federal policy created and maintained segregated housing, including in neighborhoods that had previously been integrated, he said. One was construction of separate public housing for whites and blacks. The other was promotion of whites-only subdivisions.

Segregation also was protected with restrictive deed covenants that prohibited the buyer of a home from subsequently selling it to a non-white family. For decades, Rothstein said, government officials and university legal departments used their clout to enforce those restrictions.

Today, public housing is generally associated with crowded projects in cities. But the first public housing was built for middle-class white families who had trouble finding decent housing in the Great Depression, Rothstein said. Later, segregated public housing for blacks was built to accommodate factory and shipyard workers who migrated to cities during World War II. Continue reading

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Study finds Indy charter schools increased segregation

Critics of charter schools have long worried that they engage in “creaming,” attracting the best students and most engaged parents and leaving neighborhood public schools the rest. But a more serious question is whether charter schools have contributed to the re-segregation of schools by race.

A study of Indianapolis charter schools suggests that, in some cases, they have.

The study, conducted by Johns Hopkins University education professor Marc Stein and published last summer in the American Journal of Education, found that charter-school choice in Indy led to “higher degrees of racial isolation and less diversity” than in the public schools the students were leaving.

African-American students were more likely to enroll in charter schools with a higher concentration of black students than the neighborhood schools they left; and white students more likely to enroll in schools with a higher percentage of white enrollment.

The average white student in the analytic sample chose a charter school that enrolled 13.9 percentage points more white students and 13.1 percentage points fewer black students than their previously enrolled school. Concomitantly, black students chose to enroll in charters with enrollments that were 9.2 percent more black and 5.6 percent less white than their former schools.

As a result, charter schools were becoming more racially isolated. In 2008-09, only one charter school in the study met the city desegregation target of having its enrollment of black students within 15 percentage points of Indianapolis Public Schools. When the charter schools opened, five met the target.

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Still the problem we live with

Look at Will Counts’ iconic photo of a white mob taunting Elizabeth Eckford, a black teenager who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.

Then listen to audio of the white parents expressing their alarm about black students coming to their local school in 2013, included in Nicole Hannah-Jones’ remarkable piece on school segregation that aired last week on “This American Life.”

Not much difference, is there?

The hour-long radio story tells what happened when the mostly black, mostly poor Normandy School District lost its accreditation. Under Missouri Law, Normandy students could transfer to the high-achieving Francis Howell district across town.

About one-fourth of the Normandy students opted to move, surprising school officials who thought the inconvenience would deter them. But the Francis Howell parents had no say in the matter, and they aired their displeasure at a town hall meeting. (The audio starts at 23:20 on the broadcast).

These are middle-class suburbanites in 2013, not poor Southerners in 1957. They don’t use the N-word, and they insist their concerns aren’t about race. But the coded language they use – and the boisterous cheers that greet the most over-the-top statements – belie that claim.

“My question is, when a child who is coming from an underperforming school comes into a math class at Francis Howell, how will they possibly cope?” one parent asks. “Once Normandy comes here, will that lower our accreditation?”

Another wonders why Francis Howell parents won’t get to vote down accepting Normandy students like residents were able to reject an expansion of public transit. And yet another insists Francis Howell will need metal detectors and drug-sniffing dogs to protect her children from the Normandy invaders.

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Brown v. Board of Education at 60: ‘Separate but equal’ lives on

Comic and civil rights activist Dick Gregory used to tweak northern liberal hypocrisy on race with a routine that went something like this: “In the South, they don’t care how close I get, as long as I don’t get too big. In the North, they don’t care how big I get, as long as I don’t get too close.”

It’s an appropriate thought as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation of schools. We can congratulate ourselves on the fact that minorities have made substantial legal and economic progress. But in our schools, white children and children of color – and rich kids and poor kids – still don’t get too close.

After a few years of progress, schools across America have become more segregated, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA and the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford have documented. Schools in the South have re-segregated; but the most flagrant racial separation is in New York.

As Richard Rothstein at the Economic Policy Institute has shown, school integration worked for the short time we tried it. But we abandoned the idea for compensatory education: “separate but equal” redux.

Schools that are mostly white, black or Hispanic are the norm in most of America, Lesli A. Maxwell reports in Education Week. It’s rare for a white child to attend a school where more than 25 percent of the students are nonwhite. But Maxwell also notes that schools are segregated by wealth. She quotes Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Sylvester James Jr.: “Access to high-quality education is tied just as hard, and just as fast, to poverty and socioeconomics as it was to race.” Continue reading

Charter schools and segregation

The folks who want to open a Waldorf-inspired school in Bloomington are back, this time with a plan that sounds a bit more secular than what they laid out the first time around.

They’ve asked the Indiana Charter School Board to approve a charter for what they’re now calling The Green School. The board will have a public hearing on the proposal Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Public Library. Comments can be emailed until April 8 to charter-applications@icsb.in.gov.

The Green School charter application describes a school that will emphasize environmental sustainability and social justice with an “arts-infused” curriculum on the model of Waldorf schools, created a century ago by Rudolf Steiner. It will be a school “that meets the needs of the whole child: head, hands and heart.” Sort of a new-age 4-H club without the H for health – although that’s in the plan too: There will be crafts with beeswax crayons and natural paints and healthy cafeteria meals from the local co-op.

Initially calling their proposal the Green Meadows School, the organizers applied last year to Ball State University but withdrew that application. They have now dropped many of the explicit references to “spiritual” values and practices that made the first plan sound sectarian. But the Indiana Charter School Board should still look critically at whether a school whose curriculum is “informed” by Steiner can claim to be nonreligious.

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Don’t let schools be an excuse for not fixing poverty

It’s a mystery. Why are people who call themselves education reformers comfortable with the status quo when it comes to poverty and economic inequality? Why are they OK with social circumstances that are convenient for adults but aren’t good for children?

Why can’t we talk about poverty and the challenges it presents for schools without being charged with excusing failure? As Adam VanOsdol of Indiana Education Insight noted recently: “Anyone raising the poverty issue these days gets accused of letting schools off the hook. These allegations stand in the way of serious form.”

Folks in the reform community like to say schools are the solution to poverty. Certainly good schools are part of what’s needed. But to suggest schools by themselves can solve the problem is naïve. And to suggest there’s nothing we can do is just giving up.

Just for a start, we could:

  • Raise the minimum wage.
  • Quit passing laws to weaken unions.
  • Create a fairer tax system.
  • Fund safety-net programs like food stamps, housing and unemployment.
  • Ensure people have access to health care.

And, yes, we could take on the shameful segregation of America’s education system Continue reading

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