Tag Archives: James Madison High School

School Integration is More Than Counting Kids by Race …

The 14th Amendment, on its face, appears to remove all barriers to equality under the law for all Americans, emphasize all.

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 For almost a hundred years the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Afro-Americans were abrogated at the highest levels. Supreme Court decision after decision shredded the guarantees of the 14th Amendment (See Lawrence Goldstone, Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 2011). In Plessy v Ferguson (1896) the court held,

“The object of the [14th] Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”

 For decades as established by the stare decsis, (precedent), “separate but equal” was the law of the land.

Finally, in 1954 the Court reversed Plessy in a unanimous decision,

We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

 The first wave of school integration in New York City began in the early sixties, in a roiling decade; a growing civil rights movement, opposition to the war in Vietnam, a nascent teacher union movement and a Board of Education that began school integration initiatives, a school busing program primarily in the borough of Queens.

Parents and Taxpayers (PAT), a community organization, vigorously opposed school busing to promote school integration and Reverend Milton Galamison organized a school boycott to support school integration.  Eliza Shapiro, in the NY Times, recounts the history of school integration efforts. Two excellent examinations: Clarence Taylor, Knocking At Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools  (1997) and David Rogers, 110 Livingston Street (1969), Rogers examines the PAT movement in detail.

The Board of Education efforts to integrate schools was not a total failure.

James Madison High School was carefully selected as the first high school in south Brooklyn to be integrated in the early sixties, a swath of Afro-American neighborhoods were zoned to Madison – ten years later the school was 65% White/35% Black, and was hailed as a successfully integrated school, until December, 1973, when, as described by the media, a “race riot” erupted. The NYC Human Right Commission investigated the incident and issued a detailed report (unfortunately no longer online).

Read a detailed NY Times article here (“It was a good school to integrate”), recollections by a former Madison student here (“Prisoners of Class”) and a discussion in previous blog posts  here and here.

Over the ensuing half century the population of New York City became increasingly residents of color: Latinx, Afro-American and Asian.  Today the school system is fifteen percent white. Some neighborhoods became integrated, others became hyper-segregated.

Norm Fruchter and Chistina Mokhtar, “NYC School Segregation Then and Now: plus ca change …”  produced a well-researched deep drive into race in New York City schools, and, pulls no punches

… the central administration’s worst failure, in our view, was its refusal to intervene to improve school performance in hyper-segregated community school districts that consistently produced dismal student outcomes. From 1970 to 2002, the operative years of decentralization, only two of the eight chancellors who served for more than two years intervened to try to improve disastrous district-level academic outcomes, particularly in the hyper-segregated districts in which performance outcomes were often dismal. Although the central administrations were fully aware of the extent of incompetence, political corruption and inept instructional practices in those districts, only two chancellors mounted efforts to improve their consistent educational failure.

 I urge you to read the Fruchter-Mokhtar research.

District 15 (Brownstone Brooklyn), after many months of discussion, occasionally sharply differing opinions, approved a middle school blind choice integration plan that was implemented in September, with kudos and back-slapping.; as I’ve written, it is far too early to claim success.

What has not been written is how the cultures of the schools are adjusting to the new integrated student body.

In December, 1973, a “successfully integrated school,” James Madison High School erupted; a “good school to integrate” was a ticking time bomb. The NYC Commission on Human Rights conducted an analysis of school conditions and made a host of recommendations and the New York Times wrote a lengthy article that should be required  reading by the Department of Education and integration activists (“A Good School to Integrate.”)

Classes were segregated by perceived academic abilities, the student cafeteria, black tables and white tables, the cheerleaders all white, the boosters all black: two schools walking side by side, ignoring each other, one privileged and other disrespected. The NYC Human Right Commission Report hit hard, the Board, the principal and the senior staff rejected the recommendations within the Report. In the ten years since Madison was integrated White parents sought out other schools, Madison lost about a third of their enrollment.

Slowly, very slowly, with a changing of the guard in the school Madison recovered and once again is a desirable neighborhood school.

I fear that electieds and advocates will applaud and move on and the Madison experience will be replicated.

School integration is a process, it is far more than counting races by race.

 

Racial Isolation in Public Schools: While School Integration is a Worthy Goal Improving All Schools Must Be Our Primary Goal

In an editorial (“Racial Isolation in Public Schools) the NY Times writes,

New York’s schools are the most segregated in the nation, and the state needs remedies right away … Minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy.

The editorial board makes an incredibly bad assumption: that by moving minority children into primarily white, middle class schools the ills of generations of segregation and racism will be wiped away.

Kudos to Merryl Tisch and the members of the Board of Regents for not jumping onboard the simple solution bandwagon.

High poverty schools are plagued with problems beyond the classroom; at the December, 2014 Regents meeting the issue of “chronic absenteeism” was highlighted. The Center for New York City Affairs, in a recent report, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools,” spotlighted the insidious impact of children not attending school as part of a wider pattern,

Tisch and her colleagues have spent months crafting new English language learner regulations to both remove obstacles to better instructional strategies as well providing clearer guidance to school districts

The Times’ “solution,” is an example of deja vu, again,

… the state cannot just throw up its hands. It has a moral obligation to ensure that as many children as possible escape failing schools for ones that give them a fighting chance. And history has shown that districts can dramatically improve educational opportunities for minority children — and reduce racial isolation — with voluntary transfer plans and especially with high-quality magnet schools that attract middle-class families.

Running away from the problems of high poverty neighborhoods, running away from what the Center for NYC Affairs called “risk load,” running away from in increasing numbers of English language learners is foolhardy.

To blame inner city schools for the “problem” is just plain wrong, The Times claims that the “lack of teaching talent, course offerings and resources” can be cured by moving kids to whiter, middle class schools. If the inner city and suburban school swapped teachers student achievement would be unchanged. When kids enter kindergarten well behind middle class kids in all academic skills teaching and learning becomes “catchup” from day 1. The requirement of passing five Regents exams results in double periods of English and Mathematics, remedial and tutorial classes, the lack of course offerings is determined by the skill level of the students.

Fifty years ago New York City embarked upon an effort to integrate schools. James Madison High School, a high-achieving large high school in a lovely neighborhood of private homes was “integrated;” within a few years the school moved from all-white to 70% White and 30% Black. The new principal, Henry Hillson, was a shining light among high school principals, the UFT Chapter Leader, Chet Fulmer, sent his kids to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of a reverse busing program, and, although white, served as an elder in Milton Galamaison’s Siloam Church in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The young Madison staff members enthusiastically supported the “experiment” in school integration. The end of January staff development days focused on the “new” student body and “new” methods of instruction and integrating students within the building. The “old timers” were unenthusiastic about school integration, the school was “ruined,” the new young teachers, and I was one of them, were totally engaged in creating a new school, a new racially integrated school, a model for a new school system.

A decade later Madison was torn apart by student racial clashes,

SCHOOL IS CLOSED BY RACIAL CLASH
Outbreak at Madison High in Flatbush Involves 300 New Fights Threatened

White students at James Madison High School in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, armed with sticks, window poles, pipes, canes and chairs, attacked a group of black students there yesterday morning in a new outbreak of continuing racial tension at the school.

The riot was deeply disturbing, if racial integration stumbled at Madison, could it be expected to succeed anywhere? Madison had a socially liberal, welcoming staff; the school was located in a liberal community, what went wrong?

The NYC Human Rights Commission conducted an in depth study, spending weeks in the school interviewing scores of students, teachers, parents and community members. The report was prescient, forty years later we have failed to resolve the issues highlighted in the report. (A sobering read forty years later)

The 1974 report begins, “Even when integration has succeeded in becoming a major goal of education and urban planners, the means to attain this goal have seemed increasingly elusive” and goes on to admit, “In too many instances across the nation we have seen schools become integrated only to become resegregated … we know how to integrate …what we do not know is how to make integration work on a permanent basis.”

The commissioners praise the Madison staff, although they note the hostility of the old-timers.

The problem of integration, the Commission avers, goes well beyond the school,

“The relationship schools and neighborhoods is a close and reciprocal one but plans for integration almost never foresee the differences or strive to make the relationship between the newly integrated school and its neighborhood a healthy one.”

Perceptively, the report writes, “The Commission believes that the operative factor here is class, rather than race.” The better educated, liberal elements in the community supported the integration of the school, the more blue-collar, less educated elements in the community led the growing opposition, and, many of their children were involved in the physical confrontations.

While the school was technically integrated, classes in the school were largely segregated; classes were homogeneously organized, as were extra-curricular activities.

The report suggests 13 recommendations and admits “…little has been done anywhere in the country to develop practical strategies to cope with the daily challenges of integration to make integration work.”

In September, 1975 the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, 15,000 teachers were laid off and the city administration abandoned support for school integration.

Buffalo, as the Times editorial states, was deeply engaged in school integration,

As The Times reported in 1985, the city was viewed as a national model for racial integration; educators who wished to learn the lessons of Buffalo’s success flocked to the city from around the globe. Things went downhill in the 1990s, however, when court supervision ended and Buffalo experienced severe fiscal problems.

“Severe fiscal problems” escalated over the last twenty years, industry and population have fled, and white flight has turned Buffalo into an empty shell, a city without resources, a city surrounded by affluent suburbs, a city with a rapidly increasing school population of English language learners.

Just as the fiscal crisis of 1975 ended efforts to promote racial integration in New York City the collapse of the Buffalo economy turned Buffalo into a racially segregated, economically distressed city.

Inner city schools in St Louis, in Rochester, in Chicago, in city after city across the nation face the same issues. Working class union jobs are gone, jobs have scurried to Asia, and automation continues to shrink the work force. Charter schools have drained students with social capital out of neighborhood public schools, and, a closer look at charter schools is not encouraging; when you adjust for the absence of special education and English language learners in charter schools, when you adjust for the expulsion of “discipline problems;” charter schools are no better and in many instances lower achievers than public schools.

There are outliers, schools in poor neighborhoods that outperform neighboring schools; the answer is always school leadership and school staffs, not measured by a score on a principal-teacher evaluation, “measured” by the non-cognitive skills. School staffs that exhibit grit, persistence and humility, the same qualities that we find in successful students.

Black kids ask, “Why can’t we learn in schools with other black kids? Do we need white kids to learn?” The 1974 Commission report emphasizes the influence of class as well as the impact of race. Black families that move up the economic ladder are as likely to seek out better housing in lower crime neighborhoods as white families.

I was visiting classroom in an all-Black public high school in Harlem, a European History Advanced Placement class. The lesson was about the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the lesson was at the level of a lesson at the most prestigious schools in the city.

The race of the students in a school does not determine the level of instruction or the course offerings, the academic level of the students determines the direction of instruction.

While NYS law does not allow for the state taking over a school district, in the instance that a law was passed that allowed the state to take over the Roosevelt School District the results were not encouraging.

“Solutions” must include the community, the electeds, the union, the business and faith-based communities; all what we euphemistically call “the stakeholders.”

Unfortunately Governor Cuomo, rather than leading efforts to engage the Buffalo community has chosen a confrontational path, a path that will only drive the stakeholders further apart.

In the poorest county in the nation, McDowell County in West Virginia, the American Federation of Teachers, the West Virginia governor, the business community and fifty other organizations are organizing and working together.

All fights end, and it is essential that the current toxic climate between the governor and the educational community end, perhaps Chancellor Tisch and the Regents can take the lead.