(Note: Stan Litow, the IBM VP in charge of the Watson Teacher Mentor program clarifies, “no data mining …, says he’ll ‘write it in blood'”” and, a contest for teachers to select a name for the program)
The New School University and the Nation co-sponsored an intriguing event, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, acted as the moderator, Dana Goldstein, the author of the highly acclaimed Teachers Wars (Read NY Times review here ), Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education, Pedro Noguera, NYU and AFT President Randi Weingarten, mused about the future of public education.
The panel was a follow-up to the current issue of the Nation, “Saving Public Education.” Read the Nation articles here, they are excellent.
This is the sixtieth anniversary of Board v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that reversed Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the prior decision that confirmed “separate but equal.” There have been a number of events looking back over the sixty years since Brown and the arc of school desegregation. In the spring NYU hosted a two-day conference, “Brown at 60: Has Desegregation Stalled?”
A Report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA confirms the title of the conference.
Segregation for blacks is the highest in the Northeast, a region with extremely high district fragmentation.
Latinos are now significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.
Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.
Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.
Hayes asked the panel: Are we retreating to a pre-Brown era? Is “Separate but Equal” the new norm in our schools?
Noguera has spoken loudly and frequently criticizing New York City and national policies that foster racial isolation. In an interview prior to the “Brown at 60” event he explained his position,
Q: Many school districts have essentially re-segregated now that they’re no longer under court supervision. Is it time to reconsider legally mandated racial percentages to guarantee integration once again?
A: You need a comprehensive approach. You need to make sure that there’s affordable housing in many communities, and not just concentrate it into certain areas—which reinforces the segregation of schools. But then you also need things like magnet schools and other strategies to produce voluntary integration. We have learned that you can’t force people to participate in a desegregation effort, but you can do things to make it more attractive…
Q: Why are New York State schools the nation’s most segregated?
A: What New York did wrong is it did nothing. People attribute a lot of this to the idea of choice—that individuals are choosing where to live and where to put their kids in school. That’s not an accurate reading of history. We have a history in New York of legally sanctioned housing segregation—so that people of color, particularly blacks, were not allowed to move into certain areas. Those areas have stayed white. And that’s reflected in schools. By not taking those issues on through policy, New York State now finds itself singled out as among the most segregated in the country.
Panelist Zakiyah Ansari disagreed, to paraphrase, why do children of color have to attend a white school to get a good education? With equitable funding, a diverse staff and culturally relevant curriculum our kids can prosper. The panelists probably agree on almost everything, the almost, however, is significant, questions of race and class are the subtext of every conversation.
A few days later the Public Policy Institute at Hunter College hosted a discussion of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (2014) by Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter. (Read book summary here). Gerald Robinson, the former Commissioner of Education in Virginia and Florida was the commenter and David Steiner, the Dean of the Hunter School of Education was the moderator. Oddly the discussion was a continuation of the discussion at the New School.
Kahlenberg reminds us that the charter school concept began with Al Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker saw charter schools as incubators for new ideas, schools freed from school district regulations and union contracts that could experiment and share findings with public schools. In reality charter schools have been established to avoid union rules and create competition for public schools. Kahlenberg, in a book filled with sources for every assertion finds that charter schools at best are no better than public schools and in many occasions much worse. Sadly, there are only a few examples of schools that espouse the Al Shanker vision, schools with significant teacher voice and also that integrate children by race and class,
Kahlenberg backs up his assertion that children of color in integrated school setting are higher achievers. “Research suggests that students learn a great deal from their peers, and it is an advantage, on average, to have a strong core of middle-class peers for a variety of reasons.”
Low income students attending economically diverse schools benefit from the larger vocabularies, greater knowledge and more positive attitude toward learning found, on average, among middle and higher-income peers. It is an advantage to have classmates who are academically engaged and aspire to go to college. Peers in middle class schools are more likely to do homework, attend class regularly, and graduate – all of which have been found to influence the behavior of classmate.
The authors single out charters that both value teacher voice and have created student enrollment patterns that secure both racial and economic diversity, and, encourage the creation of charters that follow this pattern.
Gerald Robinson, the commenter, echoing Ansari, using an almost hip-hop lyric, pronounced, “Its place not race.” Kids are failing in inner city communities of color, that’s where we should place charter schools.
It is fascinating to me that Ansari and Robinson accept that we are living in a “separate but equal” world of schooling and we should move on and ignore the consequences of racial segregation. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor got is right in her fiery dissent in the Michigan affirmative action case.
And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?” regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”
Clearly, a post-racial America is far, far down the road.