A generation of exurban white flight, combined with rapid gentrification of urban neighborhoods, has led to the de facto segregation of America's public schools once again, undoing much of the progress made since I went to school 20 years ago. A new report finds almost two-thirds of poor public schools are racially segregated, and the situation is rapidly getting worse.
A report released this week by the Government Accountability Office illuminated the extent to which school systems across the US are, once again, becoming more segregated. The report found that more than 60% of schools with high levels of poor students were racially segregated, which the report defined as being at least 75% black or Latino.
The study reviewed federal data from 2001 to 2014 and found 16% of all US schools were both racially segregated and poor, increasing from about 7,000 schools in 2001 to 15,089 by 2013 to 2014. Observers and advocates for school desegregation said the report should be a “huge warning sign” that needs to be addressed.
“There are many who believe in this country that we are operating on an even playing field,” said Jadine Johnson, staff attorney at the Massachusetts-based Opportunity to Learn Campaign.
“I think what this report revealed … is that the legacies of slavery in this country, the legacies of Jim Crow, are alive and active,” she said. “That did not go away with Brown v Board of Education.”
Compared to other schools, the GAO report found, segregated schools offered fewer college prep, science, and math classes to take, and a disproportionate number of students were either held back in ninth grade, suspended, or expelled.
So the number of poor, segregated schools in the US has doubled in 13 years. Certainly the Bush years (and the resulting Great Recession) has made things worse, but the Obama administration's awful Race to the Top program and its dependence on charter schools shares much of the blame for refusing to correct the problem (thanks again, Arne Duncan.)
Here's the worse news: it's going to Democrats winning Congress back in order to fix it.
Michigan congressman John Conyers was among several lawmakers who requested the report, which was released on the 62nd anniversary of Brown v Board of Education. Conyers and Virginia congressman Bobby Scott are pushing legislation that would amend Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and restore the rights of parents to file lawsuits against segregated school districts under claims of disparate impacts, which are based on ascertaining the discriminatory effect of a policy rather than ascertaining a discriminatory intent.
“This GAO report confirms what has long been feared and proves that current barriers against educational equality are eerily similar to those fought during the civil rights movement,” Conyers said in a statement. “There simply can be no excuse for allowing educational apartheid in the 21st century.”
Johnson said the loss of parents’ ability to file disparate impact cases was a “huge blow to the civil rights community”. Johnson has assisted in filing several Title VI complaints in recent years with the federal department of education – complaints that could have been filed in federal court under Conyers’ proposal.
“Us having that right could have potentially … slowed down the school closures crisis that’s happening today,” she said.
And yet educational apartheid is the stated political platform of the GOP at the federal level and in dozens of state GOP platforms as well. "We can't afford it!" is all we hear from the Republican party, who has decided that those people don't need or deserve education as a right, it's something we have to earn. States setting up us vs them education funding plans pitting rich exurban white school districts against large, poor black and Latino urban districts is a battle that the white kids win every time, and the rest of the black and Latino kids end up several grade levels behind even in the same district.
Making education a civil right again is the only way to fix this, and you will never have that happen as long as the GOP is in charge of making laws.