Our review of a slippery concept: Connectivity is hard!
As our connectivity struggles continue, we'll review a current topic and do no more today. Our question:
How important is "resegregation," a topic which has come center stage in reviews of the Brown decision.
Yesterday, we discussed this topic on The Marc Steiner Show. Today, we'll discuss the question here, focusing on this recent piece by Slate's Jamelle Bouie.
Bouie tied his piece to the 60th anniversary of Brown. The headlines on it said this:
Still Separate and UnequalAre American public schools "becoming segregated once again?" It all depends on what you mean by a term like "segregation." Let's look at what Bouie said in the heart of his piece:
Why American schools are becoming segregated once again.
BOUIE (5/15/14): As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.”We don't know exactly what Hannah-Jones means in that first highlighted passage. Does she mean that 90 percent of black students in the South were "attending school with white children" at that historical juncture?
The problem today is that these gains are reversing. As the Civil Rights Project shows, minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.
We're not sure, but the question doesn't affect the manin point Bouie makes in that passage: "minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago."
That statement is basically true, no matter how you slice the data. That said, an important fact gets omitted here—the American student population has massively changed in the period under review.
In just the past twenty years, the student population has gone from roughly 70 percent white to roughly 50 percent white. It shouldn't be surprising if a higher percentage of kids attend majority-minoity schools under that changed circusmtance.
For what it's with, there's nothing automatically "wrong" with attending a majority-minorty school. We have a young relative who attends such a school, and she effusively loves it.
That said, we shouldn't discuss this general topic without noting the overall change in the student population. We have a lot more "minority students" than was once the case. Presumably, all the changes discussed in Bouie's piece are affected by that fact.
At any rate, it's true that many minority kids are attending majority-minority schools. As he continued, Bouie offered some statistics. We were struck by one comparison he offered, and by one term he used:
BOUIE (continuing directly): The average white student, for instance, attends a school that’s 73 percent white, 8 percent black, 12 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian-American. By contrast, the average black student attends a school that’s 49 percent black, 17 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian-American, and 28 percent white. And the average Latino student attends a school that’s 57 percent Latino, 11 percent black, 25 percent white, and 5 percent Asian-American.There are several ways to measure the degree of "segregation" (racial imbalance) in our public schools. Using one of the basic measures, Bouie notes that 35 percent of black kids attended schools which werE at least 90 percent minority in 1991. Today, he says the figure is 40 percent.
But this understates the extent to which minority students—and again blacks in particular—attend hyper-segregated schools. In 2011, more than 40 percent of black students attended schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That marks an increase over previous years. In 1991, just 35 percent of black students attended schools with such high levels of segregation.
We'll be honest—that strikes us as a fairly small change, given the overall change in student population we described above. You might want to black kids attending schools with more racial balance; we'd be inclined to agree about that. But the change which Bouie cites doesn't seem especially large, given the overall change in demographics.
Beyond that, we were struck by the use of the term "hyper-segregated" school. Here's why:
In 1954, a school which was 90 percent black and ten percent white would have had a different name; iit woukd have been called "integrated." Had that school been in the South, rioting would have occurred.
In those days, a school had to be entirely black just to be called "segregated." Today, if a school is 90 percent black, we call it hyper-segregated!
In such ways, we may perhaps gin up our language to keep old fights and movements alive. When we do this, we may sometimes distract ourselves from larger, current struggles.
As Bouie continued, he talked about changes in enrollment patterns in different regions. At this point, the time has come to talk about the real world:
BOUIE (continuing directly): Even more striking is the regional variation. While hyper-segregation has increased across the board, it comes after staggering declines in the South, the “border states”—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, i.e., former slaveholding states that never joined the Confederacy—the Midwest, and the West. In the Northeast, however, school segregation has increased, going from 42.7 percent in 1968 to 51.4 percent in 2011. Or, put another way, desegregation never happened in the schools of the urban North.In one sense, it's clearly true: "desegregation" of the type addressed by Brown didn't happen in the urban North. Brown was not an attempt to address the kinds of racial imbalance in schools which were caused by housing patterns. It addressed legal separation, in which kids were (for example) forbidden to attend their own neighborhood schools on the basis of race.
It's true! Many black kids in the North attend school with few white classmates, or with none at all. The reason for this may become clear when we considre the student demographics of these large public school systems in the Baltimore/Washington area.
Here are the relevant enrollment figures. Simply put, you can't produce racially balanaced schools in big school districts like these:
Baltimore City Public SchoolsYou can't produce racially balanced schools in big school districts like these.
Black students: 71,762
Hispanic students: 4,452
White students: 6,749
Prince George's County (Md.) Schools
Black students: 81,786
Hispanic students: 29,904
White students: 5,597
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS only)
Black students: 71 percent
Hispanic students: 15 percent
White students: 10 percent
We can call the schools in these districts "hyper-segregated" if we like. But children in these big school systems will be attending majority minority schools long into the future.
Children in our big urban districts will not be attending racially balanced schools any time soon. On balance, we would prefer that this wasn't the case.
But our schools will be unbalanced. To the extent that we ignore this fact or dream about better worlds, we tend to skip past a very large current problem:
How do we serve these hundreds of thousands of kids when they show up for the first day of school? Our question takes on added meaning as Bouie continues:
BOUIE (continuing directly): Today in New York, for instance, 64.6 percent of black students attend hyper-segregated schools. In New Jersey, it’s 48.5 percent and in Pennsylvania it’s 46 percent. They’re joined by Illinois (61.3 percent), Maryland (53.1 percent), and Michigan (50.4 percent). And these schools are distinctive in another way: More than half have poverty rates above 90 percent. By contrast, just 1.9 percent of schools serving whites and Asians are similarly impoverished.Making things worse, Bouis says that more than half these schools have poverty rates above 90 percent!
Bouie would like it better if our school enrollments looked different. On balance, we feel the same way. And without question, the challenges facing these big urban schools are magnified when we consider issues of income. Lots of kids in these schools come from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. How do we involve these kids in the culture of literacy? How do we serve them best?
Alas! When people focus on issues of "resegregation," they may tend to skip past such basic questions. Here's the problem:
Hundreds of thousands of deserving kids in big urban systems will be attending school next year. Inevitably, their schools will often be low-income, majority minority schools.
We can dream about racial balance as much as we like. But those schools will not be racially balanced any time soon. On the other hand, deserving kids will be in their seats:
What do we do to serve them? How do we serve them best?
One final point: We're fairly sure that Bouie's figure about poverty rates is wrong. Even after reviewing his cource, we'll guess he's talking about the percentage of kids who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. That isn't a measure of poverty.
We note that fact for a reason. Bouie took his lead in this piece from anti-resegregation scholars. These advocates may have the best intentions. But they also may tend to jack up their language and their data to heighten our sense of the plight they prefer to address.
We've taught in the Baltimore City Schools; our values are somewhat different. We want to know what those systems will be doing to serve their students next September.
They will be running majority minority schools with majority minority classrooms. Those classrooms will be full of American kids.
What will happen in those classrooms? In our view, it's shameful to see how very rarely that question gets discussed.