Monday, August 15, 2016

Peter Cunningham's reform apologia: 'Fighting segregation and poverty too expensive'.

White ladies' signs read: "We want equal & segregated schools"
Peter Cunningham's latest apologia for school segregation, in U.S. News & World Report, is basically a defense of current reform policies that have been shown to re-segregate schools. It represents more than just the opinion of a lone education gadfly. Cunningham is paid millions to speak for some of the most powerful and wealthiest among those who influence national ed policy.

It's run up the flag pole at a time when corporate-style "reform" has come under attack from civil rights groups and teacher unions, and appear to be losing their cachet, even within the Democratic Party establishment.

Cunningham tries to come off as a tormented soul, torn between his personal and "pragmatic" side, the latter arguing that ending poverty and integration are just too "politically difficult and financially expensive" and therefore, instead of spending hundreds of billions more to reduce poverty and reduce segregation, we should just "double down on our efforts to improve schools."

At a recent DFER-sponsored forum at the DNC, Cunningham laid out his anti-deseg line in an obvious attempt to influence Clinton's education agenda. He answered a question about school integration this way:
"Maybe the fight's not worth it. It's a good thing; we all think integration is good. But it's been a long fight, we've had middling success. At the same time, we have lots and lots of schools filled with kids of one race, one background, that are doing great. 
There nothing original in Cunningham's comments. If they strike you as a throwback to Plessy v. Ferguson and the separate-but-equal doctrine, you're definitely on to something. As we learned back then, when it comes to schooling, separate is never equal. Following the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, the difficulty and protracted nature of the struggle against de facto segregation and poverty has caused some to throw in the towel.

Cunningham is basically echoing the call of his boss at the D.O.E., former Sec. of Education Arne Duncan. It was he who tried to put the kibosh on a Justice Dept. civil right suit against the state of Louisiana, which would have blocked expansion of the state's school voucher system.

When asked about the suit being pushed by his fellow cabinet member, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Duncan said he was opposed to "forced integration," echoing the language of the old southern segregationists. The suit was then dropped, to the applause of segregationists.

Current battles are going on in states like N.C. where privately-run charter schools are being used to promote re-segregation and evade civil right law. The Voting Rights Act itself has been dismembered by a conservative-led Supreme Court in 2013. And now, the new K-12 Education law, ESSA, has shifted much more authority back to the states and away from federal oversight, setting the stage for even more school deseg efforts.

It's in this context then, that Cunningham's "pragmatic" call to abandon the cause of school desegregation is all the more pernicious.


  1. Does Cunningham identify any military intervention as too costly, or burdensome? Was baling out Wall Street overly expensive? What is the moral justification for children growing up in poverty in the midst of unfathomable opulence enjoyed by the 1%? I have elementary students in Newark who do not have crayons at home. Cunningham's line of reasoning brings shame on all of us.

    Abigail Shure

  2. Sold to the highest bidder.

  3. Cunningham must be scripting Janice Jackson. She's the once who said that segregation wasn't a CPS issue.

  4. The soft bigotry of low expectations (tut tut, we can't spend that much money on THEM...) rises from the ashes, reborn as Cunningham's apologist diversion from the abject failure of the reform methodology. How predictable that a statement like this, that enviously hides in the shadow of Trumps barely ambiguous hate speech is now deemed acceptable as a denial, a complete reversal of the early sales pitches of the reformers who claimed, in the same manner as Trump, that only they and they alone could close the race gap and improve the educational outcomes of children of color, thereby ending poverty. Cunningham is as amoral and unethical as it is possible to be, having absolutely no regard for anything other than his own wealth and ambition as he vies for ever higher placement among the court jesters and spokesmodels of reform.


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