A report about public school "segregation!"

TUESDAY, MARCH 28, 2017

The way our team writes about race:
Within the American experience, race was invented a long time ago by people with a brutal agenda.

Today, no one has embraces the concept of race quite the way We do Over Here. We liberals love the idea that different kinds of people live in this country—that everybody has a "race," and that We get to say what it is.

Over Here in the liberal world, we tend to have a very hard time reasoning about this topic. Our brutal history may make this tendency understandable. It doesn't make it helpful.

To what extent does reason flee when we write about "race?" Consider the latest application of the concept of public school "segregation" as it appears in a lengthy report in the Baltimore Sun.

Long story short:

Liz Bowie and Erica Green have been writing a series for the Sun, Bridging the Divide. Bowie is a veteran education reporter for the Sun. Green, who had been at the Sun seven years, recently decamped to the New York Times.

The first report in the series appeared on March 19. Running some 5600 words, it dealt with a recent attempt to "redraw boundary lines for 11 schools in the Catonsville (Maryland) area...to relieve overcrowding."

These eleven schools are part of the Baltimore County Public Schools. (Baltimore County is a large suburban county encircling the bulk of Baltimore City.)

According to Bowie and Green, the redistricting provided an opportunity to achieve greater racial balance in some of the affected schools. But parent groups were unable to agree on any such plan. In the end, a modest plan emerged, with modest effects on the overcrowding.

To read the whole report, you can just click here. We'd have to say the report, which is very long, is rather poorly written.

Information about the eleven schools is scant. As best we can tell, only six of the schools are even named. Enrollment data are provided for only a few of the schools.

That said, we were struck by the report's familiar application of the concept of "segregation." The term appears throughout the report, though it's never precisely defined.

It's never entirely clear what Bowie and Green mean by that highly fraught term, which trails a great deal of ugly history behind it. But in the passage shown below, we learn an important fact about Baltimore County—and we see the term "segregation" being applied in a familiar, remarkable way:
BOWIE AND GREEN (3/19/17): Changing demographics

Parents were debating school boundary lines as the county population was not only growing, but becoming more diverse. Twenty-five years ago, Baltimore County was 77 percent white. Today it's 43 percent white.

Still, segregation persists. In 1990, only one in 10 county schools had a student body that was more than half minority. The proportion has tripled to about one in three today,
according to the Maryland Equity Project analysis.

The typical white student in Baltimore County attends a school that is mostly white. The typical black student attends a school that is mostly black.

Students from low-income families are similarly segregated from students from wealthy families.
For starters, note the significant change in Baltimore County's population. In 1992, the county was 77 percent white. Today, the white population stands at 43 percent.

(This seems to be the overall population. Numbers for the county's student population might have been more relevant.)

Presumably, something like 43 percent of Baltimore County's students are white. "Still, segregation persists," the reporters murkily say, instantly firing our pseudo-liberal juices.

As they continue, they seem to suggest that a student is attending a "segregated" school if the school's student body is "more than half minority." Similar definitions of "segregation" have been floating around in liberal circles for some time, largely emerging from work at UCLA—work which Bowie and Green cite at one point.

Presumably, we all can see the oddness of this (apparent) definition. Please note:

If someone waved a magic wand and made all Baltimore County schools match the county-wide demographic, then every school in the whole school system would be "segregated" under this apparent definition.

Every school would have a student body which was 43 percent white! Every school would be "more than half minority"—and this seems to be the reporters' definition of public school "segregation."

You might note another oddness about that puzzling passage. Bowie and Green seem surprised by the fact that the number of schools which are more than half minority has increased over the years.

All things being equal, this was plainly likely to happen as the county's population becomes more heavily non-white. Their puzzlement seems to stem from their peculiar definition of "segregation."

Presumably, you're thinking this can't be right; that can't be what they meant. We'll only say that such peculiar definitions of "segregation" have been common in contemporary pseudo-liberal writing about this topic.

Fairly clearly, Bowie and Green lament the fact that the redistricting of the eleven schools didn't produce a greater degree of racial balance. We don't denigrate that sentiment in any way.

All things being equal, we like to see kids who have been told that they're black attending school with kids who have been that they're white. We'd also like to see the culture stop telling kids, at every turn, that they belong to, or "have," a "race."

Until that happens, all things being equal, we'd prefer to see student bodies that "look [as much] like America" as possible. That said, we're asking you to notice how often our reason flees the scene when we try to discuss so-called race.

This report's apparent definition of segregation produces a lot of tribal excitement among us pseudo-liberals. It also makes little sense.

Behavior like this, which is quite widespread, tends to make The Others believe that we're basically nuts Over Here. Is it clear that The Others are wrong in that belief?

It isn't clear at all.

One of the mostly white schools: As noted above, Bowie and Green provide enrollment data for only a couple of schools. In the passage below, they refer to one of the schools which was said to be "made up of predominantly white families" in this somewhat peculiar report:
BOWIE AND GREEN: On the south side of Route 40 in Catonsville were four aging, crowded schools made up of predominantly white families whose PTAs had come together for years to fight for renovations and more space.

These parents from Westchester, Hillcrest, Westowne and Catonsville elementaries had in many cases paid a premium for their houses so they could ensure that their children were in some of the best schools in the county.

[...]

The parents' worries were not baseless. The highest-performing schools are usually those with the wealthiest families. The percentage of Hillcrest fifth-graders who passed state standardized tests in 2016 in English and math was double that at Johnnycake. And the Hillcrest families were wealthier.

Parents at Westowne said in interviews that their school was a model for integration. About half of its students were black and Latino, and 46 percent qualified for a free or reduced-price meal. But when the idea of moving half of Westowne's students out was floated as an option, parents fought back.
Parents at Westowne said their school was a model for integration? This whole passage strikes us as strange.

Earlier in the report, Westowne was described as a school "made up of predominantly white families." In this (substantially) later passage, we seem to learn that "about half" the kids at the school are either black or Hispanic.

Despite this unchallenged claim, the reporters still float language suggesting that the school may not be "integrated." This sort of thing routinely occurs when we liberals try or pretend to talk about so-called race.

Overall, despite its length, this was a murky report. That said, its puzzling use of the concept of "segregation" is quite common in modern pseudo-liberal writing about the public schools.

Over here in our liberal tents, we have a very hard time with the concept of race. We tend to reason very poorly where our favorite topic is involved.

Our histrionics aren't real helpful. We'd say the opposite is true.

21 comments:

  1. Just because something is written by an academic doesn't make it liberal.

    Our concept of race, as recently as the 1930s, encompassed nationality and ethnicity, so the Italians and Irish and Germans were different races.

    Los Angeles is one of the least segregated places in the US based on skin color because of its disregard socially for color lines. It is also populated by lots of liberals. Go figure!

    ReplyDelete
  2. 6:05, that's an excellent point. Just because someone is labeled an academic does not indicate liberal leanings. But:

    "According to Bowie and Green, the redistricting provided an opportunity to achieve greater racial balance in some of the affected schools."

    I would posit that it's usually liberals who are interested in such outcomes.

    And goddamn if Bob can't parse an article for it's flaws.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Were the Supreme court justices of the Earl Warren Court liberals because they decided that a segregated education was an inferior one because of the racial separation?

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  3. And now we get to definition of terms. Was the Earl Warren court composed of liberals? What, exactly, is a "liberal?"

    Things were quite a bit different back then, and leftist philosophy sometimes swings between the two poles of the major parties.

    In this day and age, liberal almost literally means anyone who's not a Republican. It's swung that far recently.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  5. I wish schools would worry more about how best to teach their students than about ethic distributions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. The two are not incompatible.
      2. Encountering diversity is part of education.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousMarch 29, 2017 at 10:58 AM - I disagree with #1. In a world of infinite resources, the two are not incompatible. But, in the real world, there are only so many administrators, teachers, and media. Time and effort spent focusing on ethnic distribution is not spent looking at effectiveness of teaching and learning.

      Regarding #2, I agree that diversity has some eeducational value, but IMHO much less value than reading, writing, math, science, history, etc.

      Delete
    3. Dave the Guitar PlayerMarch 29, 2017 at 12:30 PM

      DinC - You make a good point. However, you are ignoring the fact that, even within a school district, schools with high minority populations will tend to get less of those finite resources. As you know, proving that ethnic bias in the distribution of resources is notoriously difficult to prove, so assuring that all groups are equally affected by resource distribution decisions is an attempt to level the playing field. Without balance, you get into endless arguments about bias without an objective measure to resolve the issue.

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    4. When you read and write, you do it about something. When you do math, you count or measure something. Those pesky "word problems" are always math in a context. You cannot study history or social studies (anthropology, geography, sociology, humanities) without focusing on differences related to culture, which is diversity. Your narrow focus on diversity = race = skin color is preventing you from seeing the richness of humanity and how intrinsically intertwined it is with any attempt at education.

      Delete
  6. Today Kevin Drum is defending the right of so-called activists to fabricate fake news -- because journalism.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I find it fascinating indeed how, even in an article about race, the authors feel the need to use their coded language: 'more diverse' in place of 'less white.'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're pretty easy to fascinate, normie.

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    2. "Diversity" means chasing down the last white child.

      Delete
  8. Today reality handed The Daily Howler a major defeat by sentencing two of Chris Christie's team in Bridgegate. All along Bob Somerby chastised Rachel Maddow as unhinged, hysterical, irresponsible, etc. As the case slowly built, by retreated to "I suppose innocent people are never accused..." Yes Bob, and sometimes they are even convicted. But that's the only place left for you now, as Maddow got it right.

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  10. Via google, I discovered a Baltimore City Public Schools site:

    2016-17 Student demographics
    80.6 percent African American; 7.9 percent White; 9.4 percent Hispanic/Latino


    I suppose it's the common pattern: the city schools are mostly black; the suburan schools are mostly white. But, unlike many cities, the suburban areas are part of the same county as the city. That seems to make it easier to merge city and suburban students.

    ReplyDelete
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