Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's 2011. Are we still OK with school segregation?

Louisiana marker
 "If we had a school that was, like, 80 percent high-poverty, the public would see the challenges, the need to make it successful. ... Right now, we have diluted the problem, so we can ignore it." -- John Tedesco, Wake County, N.C. school board
School choice is a mixed bag. On the progressive side, it has meant more options for parents, students and teachers--a building block for democratic education  It's a way to give kids more reasons to come to school every day besides compulsory education laws. Choice was also a major component of the early small schools movement, which created smaller learning communities--schools of choice-- both within and outside of neighborhood schools as a way of tapping into students' interests, talents, and life possibilities.

But the language of school reform, including school reform itself, has always been contested territory. School choice was the battle cry of southern segregationists during the battles that followed in the wake of the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. The court overturned the separate-but-equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and  required schools to eliminate segregation "with all deliberate speed". Christian and other private Seg academies became the schools of choice for thousands of families running from mandated de-seg and a fear of the collapse of institutionalized white supremacy. The struggle was mirrored in the school busing battles in Boston in the '70s.

Today, school choice is the new battle cry of the new south segregationists in Wake County, N.C.  It has also become synonymous with charter schools, which for all intents and purposes, have been captured by corporate school reformers and private operating companies and taken out of the hands of educators and parents. The reformers hav created a new and profitable campaign of fear of  "failing public schools" which in reality is fear of the other, with a major Hollywood film, Waiting for Superman, as its signature statement.  It's not that there aren't plenty of "failed" or broken and resource-starved schools,  But the word failure certainly doesn't characterize public education in general and has in fact, become a racially loaded code word.

The result of this campaign has been the re-creation of a two-tier system of education, one that is even more segregated, both racially and economically, separate and unequal. Equity and diversity issues are now pitted against the issue of school quality.

Along these lines, Nancy Flanagan has written a fine piece on her Teacher in a Strange Land blog ("We're Fine with Segregation--As Long as We Have Charter Schools!").

Writes Flanagan:
Aren't we supposed to be chugging along toward a more equitable society? Are we comfortable promoting non-diverse charters that concentrate students of poverty into clusters to be educated?
Also see Choice Without Equity: Charter School Segregation, a study out of UCLA which contends that the growth of charter schools has fostered school segregation nationally, especially for African-American students.


  1. Links for those who have been following this charter-reseg. relationship in New Orleans:

  2. Yes, this doesn't mean that all charter schools are racially segregated. But charters as a whole are certainly trending that way.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.