Archives for category: Segregation

Inda Schaenen is an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Normandy Middle School in Ferguson, Missouri. She writes in Education Week about how students were affected by the death of Michael Brown and how she as a teacher was affected.

School started nine days after the shooting.

“Even before the shooting and the dramatic aftermath broadcast around the world, our district was accustomed to being and bearing bad news. Normandy is a poor, predominantly African-American community beset by challenges in housing, employment, and access to social, emotional, and physical health care.

“In January 2013, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped the Normandy school system of its accreditation. The district consequently lost close to 25 percent of its students (and related education funding) to a transfer program that was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. Then, on July 1 of this year, the state board of education officially took over the Normandy district; meanwhile, the transfer program’s fate continues to play out in the state courts….

“I was assigned to teach 8th grade language arts; I now work in circumstances that daily, even hourly, challenge the most seasoned of the seasoned veterans. Middle school teaching is a new experience for me, and my learning curve is beyond steep; it’s a cliff. In rock-climbing terms, I am “crack climbing”-locating available seams, trying any grip, using all of who I am to gain purchase during my ascent. I am working 18 hours a day.”

The tragedy is the background and often in the foreground of school.

She writes:

“Will I be able to make what happens in my classroom so compelling that these children will feel it’s worth their time to come in and take a seat alongside the 32 others in my classroom?

“Now, factor in the shooting, followed by the protests, the looting, the hyper-militarized reaction to the protests and looting, and the local reaction to the reaction. Many of our students showed up at school traumatized; teachers, too. The granddaughter of one of my colleagues was related to Michael Brown. Another staff member was his great-aunt. In many ways, north St. Louis County is one community….

“Since Aug. 9, there is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids-like Michael Brown-who manage to navigate the system and graduate…..

“Over and over, I assure my students that I will not leave. That I am here for them. That principals and teachers are working together to figure out how to get our school right, or at least more right…..

Are we as a society willing to address the needs of these children, these communities? The answer seems to be no. We want them to have higher scores, and the state will punish their teachers if they don’t get higher scores. But we refuse to address or acknowledge the conditions in which they live, or our obligation to change them.”

Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, took his son on a visit to the Delta.

There they went to historical exhibits that were reminders if a brutal past. Reminders of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, racial subjugation, and resistance to oppression. You won’t read this in the textbooks.

The Chicago choice system works exactly as every choice system works: It segregates students by ability.

“But a new WBEZ analysis shows an unintended consequence of the choice system: students of different achievement levels are being sorted into separate high schools.

“WBEZ analyzed incoming test scores for freshmen from the fall of 2012, the most recent year data is available. That year, the district mandated that every high school give students an “EXPLORE” exam about a month into the school year.

“The 26,340 scores range from painfully low to perfect.

“WBEZ found few schools in the city enroll the full span of students. Instead, low-scoring students and high-scoring students in particular are attending completely different high schools. Other schools enroll a glut of average kids.”

And more:

“The findings raise some of the same long-running questions educators have debated about the academic and social implications of in-school tracking. But they also raise questions about whether the city’s school choice system is actually creating better schools, or whether it’s simply sorting certain students out and leaving the weakest learners in separate, struggling schools.

WBEZ’s analysis shows:

Serious brain drain. The city’s selective “test-in” high schools — among the best in the state — capture nearly all the top students in the school system. There were 104 kids who scored a perfect 25 on the EXPLORE exam. One hundred of them — 96 percent — enrolled in just six of the city’s 130 high schools (Northside, Whitney Young, Payton, Lane, Lincoln Park, and Jones). In fact, 80 percent of perfect scorers went to just three schools. Among the city’s top 2 percent of test takers (those scoring a 23, 24, or 25 on their exam), 87 percent are at those same six schools. Chicago has proposed creating an 11th selective enrollment high school, Barack Obama College Prep, to be located in the same area as the schools already attracting the city’s top performers.

“Clustering of low-performing students. Fifteen percent of the city’s high schools are populated with vastly disproportionate numbers of low-performing students. More than 80 percent of incoming students at these schools score below the district average. The schools enroll 10 percent of all Chicago high school students.
Black students are most likely to be affected by sorting. WBEZ’s analysis shows African American students are doubly segregated, first by race, then by achievement. Of the 40 most academically narrow schools in Chicago, 34 of them are predominantly black. Even though just 40 percent of students in the public schools are African American, Chicago has black high schools for low achievers, black high schools for average kids, black test-in high schools for high achievers.
Within neighborhoods, more sorting. Schools within a particular community may appear to be attracting the same students demographically, but WBEZ finds significant sorting by achievement. Especially in neighborhoods on the South and West sides, the comprehensive neighborhood high school has become a repository for low performers; nearby charters or other new schools are attracting far greater percentages of above-average kids.”

Some reform.

Courtney Bowie is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. In this article, she describes the ACLU’s efforts to stop discrimination against students with disabilities in Wisconsin’s voucher program. Privatization, she says, is promoting segregation and rolling back decades of legal advances for students of color and students with disabilities.


In Wisconsin and elsewhere, voucher supporters have fought efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee their voucher programs.


Bowie writes:


There are now over 20 states and the District of Columbia that use public funds to subsidize private school enrollment, whether it’s a tax credit for parents of students attending private schools or voucher programs, like the one in Wisconsin, that give a student a taxpayer-funded voucher worth a certain amount to pay private school tuition. These programs are touted as giving poor students, often in so-called “failing districts,” the same “choice” that wealthy students have. In Wisconsin and Indiana, these programs are springing up statewide and in public school districts that are not failing. The argument that these programs are an escape from failing school districts is rapidly falling apart as more and more programs are statewide and aimed at decreasing the tuition costs of students’ families who already can afford private schools.


As these public subsidies for private schools expand throughout the country, the civil rights umbrella available to public school students is at risk of folding. In some states like Georgia and Alabama, private schools benefiting from voucher or tax credit programs were founded as segregation academies to thwart federal integration efforts. While the program in Milwaukee and its school district serve almost entirely students of color, as “school choice” spreads around the country, the stage is set for these programs to become even more exclusionary and segregated. If states and local communities permit this to continue, they will cement the public funding of separate schools for only select groups of students, which evidence shows will disproportionately exclude racial minorities, students with disabilities, religious minorities, and LGBT students. This flies in the face of what we have known for the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education — separate is not equal….


Voucher supporters in Wisconsin say Washington has declared war on them when it’s clear the Justice Department only wants to ensure school privatization doesn’t undermine the hard-fought gains of educational equity in the places most historically resistant to it. The only logical conclusion from this response is that voucher supporters fear oversight and want to continue to operate in a civil rights vacuum.


If that is their fear, then we know what the true purpose of Wisconsin’s voucher program is. It is to create segregated school systems, both in terms of race and in terms of disability. The result is a public school district deprived of the resources to educate its students and left with those most difficult to educate.


Stopping this from getting even worse would be a war worth fighting.





[I am reposting this because the original post earlier today seems to have disappeared.]

Sixty years after the landmark Brown decision, school segregation is on the rise. The nation marks the anniversary of the decision every ten years but neglects its promise to end racial segregation. One of the most egregious examples of malign neglect occurred recently in the Normandy school district in Missouri. That district had been a high-achieving all-white district in the 1950s. After years of white flight, the district became all-African-American. As its test scores fell, the state of Missouri put the district on provisional accreditation. Help was definitely not on the way. After 18 years of provisional accreditation, the state merged the struggling Normandy district with another struggling, all-black district that had been under state supervision for five years. After the merger, the new district was stripped of accreditation.

Dr. Stanton Lawrence, who wrote the post below, was appointed superintendent of the Normandy school district in 2008. At that time, it was the second lowest-performing district in the state of Missouri (98% African American students/94.5% poverty) and had been provisionally accredited for 15 years. Two years later, the State Board of Education merged Normandy with the only lower performing school district (100% African American students/98% poverty) in the state, Wellston School District and stripped Normandy of its accreditation two years later. Dr. Lawrence wrote me to say, “My understanding is that this has never happened anywhere else in the country. There was a much higher performing district adjoining Wellston, but there would have been an atomic explosion if the African American students had been sent to University City School District.” The new district, like the old one, will be nearly 100% African American.

Stanton Lawrence asks in this post, “Has the Brown v. Board of Education Decision Been Institutionally Annulled?” He describes the actions of the state of Missouri as “punitive disparity.” Did any civil rights organization sue the state of Missouri? No. Did the U.S. Department of Education intervene? No. Did Secretary of Education Arne Duncan use his bully pulpit to demand desegregation and support for the children in the Normandy School District? No. The children in this district were essentially written off by the state of Missouri, and no one cares. Where is the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, and Students Matter? Why aren’t the billionaires saving these children?

Stanton Lawrence writes:

On May 17, 1954, the United State Supreme Court handed down its historic decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, lawsuit. This landmark ruling stipulated that “de jure” segregation, racial separation that is required by law, could no longer exist in public schools. Further, the high court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. The reluctance of many southern school districts to enforce this new law resulted in many school districts receiving federal desegregation court orders mandating that they desegregate their schools. In recent years, despite Brown v. Board, many of these school districts have once again become more segregated than they were prior to 1965.

Nearly fifty-eight and one-half years later, on September 18, 2012, the Missouri State Board of Education decided to reclassify the Normandy School District as unaccredited. On its face, there was nothing unusual about the decision. The school district had been provisionally accredited for nearly eighteen years, and the dismal academic performance of its students was largely to blame. One could certainly make a strong case that the time had arrived for the state board of education to take meaningful action and send a clear message that a change was imperative if Normandy students were indeed deserving of a high quality educational experience.

But what was kept strangely quiet during the two hours of deliberations preceding the Missouri State Board of Education’s vote was the fact that only two years earlier, this same Board decided to merge a failed school district into the Normandy School District. That fact was never mentioned even once, almost as though it had never happened. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had exercised oversight of the Wellston School District for five years. When the state determined that there was insufficient progress in Wellston, they decided to lapse the school district and merge it into the similarly struggling Normandy School District.

Again, the decision would have been considered unremarkable, however, with a couple of critical exceptions. Every student in the Wellston School District was African American, and ninety-eight percent of those students received free or reduced price lunch, the federal threshold for determining poverty. In fact, Wellston was the only school district in the state of Missouri that was 100% African-American. Ninety-eight percent of Normandy’s students were African-American, and ninety-four and one-half percent of those students were from impoverished families. In essence, both communities were experiencing concentrated poverty and racial segregation. Was this decision made to effectively segregate the students in both school districts?

Not surprisingly, a trend line of longitudinal academic data of all school districts in the state of Missouri, when juxtaposed on a trend line reflecting the percentage of African American students from impoverished families in each school district, offers some distressing reflections. There is a near perfect match which reflects that the school districts with the highest percentage of impoverished African American students were performing least well on the state assessment. One can easily make a relatively compelling argument that the state could have easily projected that the Normandy-Wellston merger would, in essence, be disastrous from the outset and that it would not turn out well for any of the students involved.

The decision of the Missouri State Board of Education becomes problematic at best when one considers that no state board of education in any state has ever made a decision to attach two failing school districts (both characterized by concentrated poverty) as a remedy for poor performance. Routinely, such a decision would involve merging the failed school district with one that is performing quite well academically and, at the same time, a school district that is fiscally viable. A fitting example is the recent merger of the North Forest Independent School District (Texas) into the Houston Independent School District. In September, 2013, the Houston system received the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education, which implies that it is the best urban school district in the nation. It would have been nearly impossible for the poor academic performance of 5,500 students from North Forest to adversely impact the progress of Houston’s 203,000 students.

In essence, what has occurred is indeed a disturbing political precedent. In the 1950s, Normandy School District was one of the preeminent school districts in the state of Missouri. Concentrated poverty was not on the horizon, and not one African American learner attended school in the district. However, the white flight trend that occurred in the seventies in suburban communities across the country signaled dramatic residential shifts in the racial makeup of the school district. Normandy alumni who graduated prior to the 1950s have an extremely difficult time identifying with the circumstances that prevail in the district today. A front page headline in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 5, 2013 proclaimed in two inch-high letters, Normandy High: The Most Dangerous School in the Area. The school reform of punitive disparity in the form of the Missouri State Board of Education proclaimed that the Normandy School District would be closed, effective June 30, 2014.

In this article, veteran journalist Dale Mezzacappa reviews the tumult in Philadelphia and interviews people who have known the issues for 20 years or more. Given the high poverty in the district and the state’s neglect, not much has changed for the better.

Mezzacappa says there are more choices than ever. But the district is in terrible trouble:

“The state took over the District’s governance. Charter schools proliferated. Dozens of neighborhood schools were closed, including such landmarks as the 99-year-old Germantown High.

“Despite the state takeover, the District’s financial condition has only become more desperate.

“State and federal pressure to intervene in schools with consistently subpar performance mounted; standardized testing became the major driver of school rankings. “

“All these changes have happened within larger shifts – demographic, political, social, and economic. Philadelphia has become the country’s most impoverished big city, with 13 percent of residents – an astonishing 200,000 people – living in deep poverty, or on less than $9,700 for a household of three.”

“As income and wealth inequality have worsened, the dividing lines in this region by race and income are starker than ever. Philadelphia school enrollment is mostly Black and Hispanic and low-income, while the surrounding districts are mostly White and middle- or high-income. Spending gaps between wealthier and poorer districts have never been bigger. Philadelphia schools struggle harder to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty – all while the District’s funding base has crumbled.”

Now charters and district schools compete for limited funds. Schools are stripped to bare essentials.

Read what the veterans say.

Lots of reform. Not much progress.

The Chicago Teachers Union reacts to the Vergara decision in California. Here is the key quote:

“If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.”

CTU Statement on California Tenure Decision

It must be nice to be a wealthy tech mogul like David Welch. When you want to “prove” a theory, you just go get someone else’s kids to be the guinea pigs. When you want to “prove” a theory, you conveniently omit the most relevant and direct causes of harm. Such was the case in this week’s California lawsuit decision against tenure for teachers. Fortunately, our Constitution and legal system have clear protections for speech and structured processes for appeal so that we non-billionaires have an opportunity to air the facts.

Teacher laws vary from state to state, and so the ruling in California is not automatically a blueprint for changes in states like Illinois. Despite a recent law that makes tenure much more difficult to acquire in Illinois, the myth that tenure equals a permanent job persists. In fact, teacher tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. Tenure provides protection from capricious dismissal and a process for improving unsatisfactory practice, but as in any job, teachers can be dismissed for serious misconduct. Further, as we have seen in California and Illinois, persistent budget “crises” stemming from insufficient revenue generation have decimated the teaching profession.

Contrary to popular belief, the school boards routinely dismiss teachers. Deep budget cuts have savaged the teaching corps, either through probationary teacher non-renewals or tenured teacher lay-offs. Fully half of all teachers leave the profession within their first five years, either because of the difficulty of the work or job insecurity. And for those who do stay, lay-offs are a constant threat, even to the most highly decorated, talented, and dedicated teachers. One Chicago Public School teacher was laid-off three times in a little more than a year. A holder of National Board Certification, the highest certification a teacher can have, he left the profession because of the tumult, and his students at multiple South Side high schools lost out on the opportunity to work with a highly qualified and dedicated public servant. Far from “obtaining and retaining permanent employment”, in the words of Judge Rolf Treu, tenure provided my colleague with no long-term job protection.

Judge Treu also misinterpreted the real causes of discrimination against low-income students of color. Teacher tenure does not cause low student achievement. Rather, the root causes of differences in student performance have to do with structural differences in schools. Omitted from his decision are the impacts of concentrated poverty, intense segregation, skeletal budgets, and so-called “disruptive innovation” that have been at the heart of urban school districts for decades. Scripted curricula, overuse and misuse of standardized testing, school closures and school turnarounds, and the calculated deprivation of resources are the real reasons low-income students of color face discrimination. So-called reformers like David Welch and Arne Duncan push those policies. In other words, the new “reform” status quo has made worse the problem it purports to fix.

If we really want to improve public education, let’s provide all children the financial and social resources that children in David Welch’s home of Atherton, CA, the most expensive zip code in the US, have. Then we need to let teachers, the real experts in curriculum and instruction, do their work without fear that they could lose their jobs at any time for any reason.

Ira Shor describes our complex sustem, based on race, class, income:

“Teachers count only if their students count. To count in this society, kids have to come from affluent families; the teachers of those affluent kids are paid more and generally treated better. The vast majority of students in k-12 pub schls don’t count b/c they are poor, working-class, or lower middle-class, many not white, many first-generation immigrants. They need small classes and veteran teachers and lots of good food and warm clothes in winter and eye exams; we know what they get instead. The kids that count go to private schls and to pub schls in affluent suburbs. The teachers there are paid more b/c the families of the kids are richer. For the most part, these teachers are also treated with more regard. The private k-12 schls do NOT require their teachers to come out of teacher ed programs or to meet state certification requirements; they can pick and choose among many applicants. Some teacher ed programs are truly excellent despite this class-based hierarchy, despite being under-funded and over-regulated. Other teacher ed programs function as mediocre pipelines to mediocre school systems. The situation is fragmented b/c there are really 6-8 school systems in America–private independents, private religious, private special ed, public affluent, public working class, public poor, privatized charters, etc. Then, there is internal tracking in all schools which further separate elite segments from the general student group. It’s useful to clarify which sector of “American education” we are talking back b/c class and race differences affect schools so much.(Ted Sizer said 30 years ago, “Tell me the income of your students’ parents and I will describe to you your school.”) As long as poverty and inequality rule, schools for the bottom 80% will treat their kids and teachers largely with disregard and disinvestment.”

A few people who remember the world that preceded the Brown decision felt inspired to write about it. This is by Sue M. Legg of Florida. She is a retired faculty member from The University of Florida “who used to run the ‘dreaded’ statewide assessments for the Florida DOE back in the days before everyone in every grade seems to be tested everyday.”

Sue Legg writes:

“Reflections on Segregation”

Two years after the 1954 Brown decision, I graduated from Richmond High School in California. You know, Richmond High of Coach Carter fame, but that was later.

In the Richmond of 1956, segregation was in some ways, a non-issue. Richmond had been a small company town with a little over 20,000 people in 1942. The port then became a center for ship building in WWII. By 1944, the city had over 100,000 people of every description. People came from the dust bowl, from small southern towns, from everywhere to find jobs in the ship yards. The federal government built miles of barracks and families moved in.

Children from those families hit schools which were totally unprepared. Double sessions were required; schools could not be built fast enough. The Richmond High class of 1956 had 1,000 graduates. After all, it was the only high school in town. We were tracked into different programs, but the college bound were accepted at the nearby University of California, Berkeley if they achieved a B average in the required courses. We were told on arrival that half of us would likely not make it through, but most of us did.

After graduating from Berkeley, I taught in Richmond, and things were different. New schools had been built outside of town. Richmond High had been split into three schools, one for blacks and two for whites. Residential segregation ensured school segregation. Even today Richmond High makes news across the country as it struggles to solve its social and educational problems.

In 1966, I moved to Gainesville, Florida and saw the struggle for desegregation first hand. The town was in an uproar over bussing; riots broke out. Lines were painted in one school to separate the races. A group of women, black teachers and white faculty wives, formed the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights. Those of us involved found ways to make peace in the community.

Over time the district has shifted zone lines, bussed white children to formerly black schools and vice versa, and created magnet schools. We have maintained a reasonable racial/socio economic balance in most schools. We have taxed ourselves to provide what the state fails to provide. Housing is more integrated, but areas with declining populations are a challenge.

They are surrounded by private religious and charter schools. None of these schools has enough money to serve the students well because they are all too small. Yet, that seems to be their appeal, and the district has no control over these unnecessary schools that the legislature promotes.

Parents of low income minority children are getting the short end of the stick yet again. School choice is not improving learning. If we are to stop the slide, we need to offer parents the best choice, not the easy choice. We found a way 50 years ago. We can do it again.”

Sue Legg

I posted this on my trip home from the hospital earlier today. I made a mistake and hit “publish” before I wrote the post. Here is the post that was supposed to accompany the title!

In a speech to the Education Writers Association, Arne Duncan said that racial isolation has gotten worse in the past two decades, including (one assumes) during his own tenure in office.

An article in Education Daily by Frank Wolfe (sorry, don’t have the link) says:

“While the Education Department has promoted a number of programs and measures to improve the achievement of disadvantaged students, the singularly thorny problem of racially isolated schools has remained and has worsened, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged on Tuesday.
“While [Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 107 LRP 36247 (1954)] struck down de jure segregation as unconstitutional, de facto school seg- regation has worsened in many respects in the last two decades,” Duncan told the Education Writers Association national seminar in Nashville. “Since 1991, all regions of the nation have experienced an increase in the percentage of black students who attend highly segregated schools, where 90 percent or more of students are students of color. Here in the South, more than a third of black students attend such racially isolated schools. In the Northeast, more than 50 percent do.”

What? Who should be held accountable for this backsliding on our nation’s commitment to equality of educational opportunity (not separate but equal)?

The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has powerful enforcement powers. What are they doing about this retrograde trend? Are they demanding that charter schools reach out and seek integrated enrollments? What have they done in Chicago and Néw York City, both highly segregated urban school districts. What have they done about the proliferation of all-black vouchers? Why has Duncan been so forceful in advocating on behalf of racially segregated charter schools? When will he be held accountable for his failure to do anything to promote racial integration? How has he used the considerable powers of his office to make a difference?

The Department of Education responded to questions by Education Daily, defending its record.

“Six decades after Brown, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is vigorously working to steer America away from racial isolation,” ED said in a statement in response to questions from Education Daily®. “When we find examples of race segregation and discrimination, we put a stop to it. We negotiate settlements with districts to bring them into compliance with our civil rights laws. We carry a huge hammer. Any district that refuses to work with us faces the prospect of our withholding federal funds. Once those agreements have been signed, we closely monitor their implementation — sometimes for years. We issue guidance to schools on their responsibilities to ensure racial equality. We provide grass roots technical assistance at our regional OCR offices around the country. The goal that drives our work is simple — to promote excellence in education that’s colorblind and equal for all.”

Here is an example of empty bureaucratic blather. The US Department of Education has not played a forceful or effective role. If it had, segregation would not be worsening. Why don’t they just apologize and say, “We have really fallen down on the job. Our boss wants more charter schools, even though they are more segregated than the surrounding district. He likes to go to all-black schools and celebrate their success. Actually we have been sitting on our hands where racial integration is concerned, just like the last Bush administration. Frankly, racial integration is not on our radar screen these days. We can’t afford to offend the charter lobby. Sorry, our hands are tied.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 110,568 other followers