Bouie survives the real stats: In her lengthy report, “Segregation Now...,” Nikole Hannah-Jones focused on the alleged “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa’s public schools.
She said this “resegregation” is occurring all over the country, especially in the South.
Are American schools being “resegregated?” Early in her report, Hannah-Jones offered this deeply flawed statistical comparison:
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.Alas! Hannah-Jones was comparing apples to kumquats there, as we explained in our previous post. In fact, as of 2011, only 34 percent of black students in the South were attending schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities.
Over the previous 39 years, the number had risen nine points.
You may think that number—34 percent—is much too high. But it isn’t 53 percent, and the increase in question has coincided with a large rise in the percentage of “racial minorities” in American public schools.
Alas! Hannah-Jones had her thumb on the scale in that passage. In that way, she created a sense of alarm.
Here's where things get intriguing:
About one month later, Jamelle Bouie discussed the same general topic in Slate. Unlike Hannah-Jones, Bouie used apples-to-apples statistics.
Bouie's comparison was perfectly valid. In this passage, he described the percentage of black kids “across the country” who attend that same type of school:
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.”Can we talk? Using consistent statistics, Bouie reports a rather small increase in the number of black students attending such schools across the country. (He referred to them as “hyper-segregated schools.”)
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.
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.
In twenty years, the figure had gone from 35 percent to 40 percent—not a gigantic jump.
(As noted, this occurred during an era when the percentage of minority kids in American school substantially increased. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Grade 4 student population was 72 percent white in 1992, but only 52 percent white in 2011.)
You might think that percentage—40 percent—is way too high. You might prefer that no black child should ever attend a school with large numbers of other black kids.
(For years, we taught in Baltimore schools with all “black kids.” Our conclusion? “Black kids” are excellent kids. So are other kids.)
You might think that percentage is too high. There are obvious reasons for preferring racial balance in our public schools.
But that really wasn’t a giant increase, especially over a twenty-year period during which the percentage of white kids had decreased so much. In her own report, Hannah-Jones had offered a highly misleading comparison, thereby creating alarm.
Here’s what we found interesting in Bouie’s report: Even though he reported a rather small increase, he still acted like “resegregation” was coming on quite fast!
His basic claim was true—“minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.” But as we look at Bouie’s numbers, the change seems much smaller than you might have thought from reading Hannah-Jones.
Despite this fact, Bouie spread the same sense of alarm. Many of us liberals/progressives simply love these racial alarms, especially when they let us use language from the civil rights years.
On balance, we’d prefer to see racially balanced schools too. Given the demographics in our biggest school systems, that remains the impossible dream. But as a general matter, we like it when that happens too.
That said, the problem of our achievement gaps seems much larger, at least to us, than the problem posed by “resegregation.” This is especially true since the latter problem basically can’t be solved.
The achievement gaps are a giant problem. On the whole, the “segregation” problem simply can’t be fixed.
But so what? Within the current liberal world, we love to talk about racial injustice of the traditional kind. We enjoy heading to Alabama, where we like to pretend that Governor Wallace is still in the schoolhouse door.
This is what we don’t like to do—we don’t like talking about the gaps, which are very large and deeply punishing. We seem to have no idea how to address the gaps, and we have no plan to discuss them.
Our view? Low-income kids badly need our help, and we’re off playing the clown.
Hannah-Jones offered misleading numbers. Bouie used the actual data, but he maintained the same tribal cry.
For the most part, racial imbalance in schools can’t be fixed. What is our plan for the gaps?