Archives for category: Segregation

Please sign up and join the discussion between Steve Suitts and me on Zoom on Wednesday September 16. We will be talking about Steve’s new book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement. You will be amazed to learn of the true history of school choice. It is definitely not the “civil rights issue of our time,” as Trump and DeVos claim.

Steve has been involved in civil rights work throughout his career. He was founding director of the Alabama Civil Liberties Union; executive director of the Southern Regional Council; and vice president of the Southern Education Foundation. He is also the author of a biography of Hugo Black, a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who played a large role in history.

You can sign up here.

Steve and I will talk for an hour, and then we will open the floor for your questions.

In this post, Thomas Ultican reviews Steve Suitts’ devastating new book about the origins of school choice.

Advocates of school choice like to claim economist Milton Friedman as their godfather but Suitts, who has spent his career working in civil rights activism, shows that the true originators of “freedom of choice” were Southern governors and legislatures who were determined to thwart the Brown decision of 1954. Suitts doesn’t ignore Friedman. He points out that his 1955 essay proposing freedom of choice proposed that in a choice system, there would be all-white schools, all-black schools, and mixed-race schools.

The segregationists loved Friedman’s ideas because it mirrored their own. They knew that in a free-choice regime, the status quo would be preserved by racism and intimidation.

So when you hear libertarians and right wingers talking about the glories of choice, think George Wallace. Think Bull Connor. Think James Eastland. Think White Citizens Councils. Read Steve Suitts’ book and be informed. Don’t be fooled by those who claim falsely that choice advances civil rights. It does not. It never has.

DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) is an organization founded by Wall Street hedge fund managers to support charter schools. They believe in privatization; they actively undermine public schools that belong to the community. They believe in high-stakes testing, and they strongly support evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students, although professional associations like the American Statistical Association does not. They love Teach for America, because they don’t like experienced professionals or teachers unions.

Their main function is to raise money for political candidates, which gives them immense leverage. Once a political candidate gets on the DFER recommended list, they can count on money flowing in from friends of DFER around the country. DFER does not have a large membership but it has a very rich following among hedge funders and venture capitalists.

In this publication, DFER tries to demonstrate that “school choice” is a Democratic idea. It lists the Democratic politicians who support charter schools. It trumpets the support of the late AFT leader Al Shanker for charter schools, but fails to mention that Shanker turned against charter schools as he saw them turn into a weapon of privatization to undermine public schools and teachers’ unions. Shanker was all for charters before they existed, but he recoiled when he saw what they were becoming. By 1994, he concluded that charter schools were no different than vouchers, and that both were intended to smash teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. PLEASE STOP CITING SHANKER AS A CHARTER SUPPORTER!

Charter schools today are 90% non-union. Real Democrats are not opposed to teachers’ unions.

Charter schools today are more segregated than real public schools. Real Democrats do not support racial segregation.

Everyone who thinks that charter schools are connected to Democratic Party ideals should read Steve Suitts’ powerful book “Undermining Brown,” which shows that the idea of school choice was created by Southern segregations who were fighting the Brown decision.

The DFER document fails to mention that charter schools enjoy the support of Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, ALEC, and every Republican governor. School choice diverts funding from genuine public schools. If DFER put out a publication of the governors and Senators and members of Congress who support charter schools, the Republicans would far outnumber the Democrats.

If, as DFER maintains, charters are “public schools,” why did so many of them apply for and receive millions from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, for which public schools were ineligible? Are they “public schools” or are they “small businesses” or “nonprofits” but not public schools?

The DFER report also fails to mention the staggering failure rate of charter schools. The document lauds the federal Charter School Program, created by the Clinton administration when there were few charter schools, but neglects to mention that about 35-40% of the new charters paid for by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening.

To be clear: School choice is not a Democratic Party idea, unless you mean the party of George Wallace and the Dixiecrats. School choice is beloved by libertarians who want to destroy public education (ALEC) and by Republicans who want to privatize public education (Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Jeb Bush).

Peter Greene read Steve Suitts’ book about the origins of the modern school choice movement—Overturning Brown— and highly recommends it.

Suitts demonstrates beyond doubt that the school choice movement was launched by southern segregationists to fight the Brown decision.

Standards were also used to sort students by race.

Greene writes:

These segregationists developed strategies and language that are strikingly familiar. Seven Southern states developed voucher programs, aimed mostly at creating three parallel systems of white, black and segregated schools. Various school choice programs were promoted without ever discussing segregation or even race, but by focusing on “freedom” and the necessity for parents to choose their own child’s educational setting. South Carolina’s governor argued that competition would help schools improve. Georgia enacted tuition tax credits, an early version of Betsy DeVos’s Education Freedom vouchers, in 1958. In 1964, a Mississippi defender of segregation stopped talking about “states’ rights” to segregate and started speaking out against the “monopoly” of “government schools.”

An early version of the standards movement, allowing states to sort students by supposed academic, behavior and cultural criteria, became a mechanism for maintaining segregation without actually talking about race, substituting rhetoric about “quality education.” An Alabama school leader explained, “Our primary interest is educating people basically of like learning capacities. We adopt a school system to meet their needs.” In other words, we’re not segregating the races; we’re just helping students find a school that best meets their needs. That was in 1972.

To find the roots of our current policies and the rebirth of segregation, read Undermining Brown.

Steve Suitts is a civil rights lawyer who has worked for the Southern Education Foundation for many years. His recent book Overturning Brown documents the segregationist history of the school choice movement.

He wrote recently that the Espinoza decision, which awards public money to religious schools, is another step in the Supreme Court’s reversal of the Brown decision.

In a case decided on the grounds of religious freedom, the US Supreme Court took another big step on June 30 in supporting religious discrimination in publicly financed schooling and, more broadly, in overturning Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark opinion that promised the end of racial segregation in public education.

The Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that the US Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom prohibits a state from excluding religious schools when it finances attendance in private schools. There should be no misunderstanding about what this case means in regard to religion: states are now free to finance private schools that discriminate against students on the basis of students’ religions.

As troubling as that holding is, the opinion also constitutes a major, often ignored long-term impact on school desegregation. Today most students attending private schools are in religious schools, and most religious schools are effectively segregated and exclusionary by race. For this reason, Espinoza constitutes a regrettable, and significant, decision in the Supreme Court’s long and certain movement over the last forty years to overturn the Brown decision…

Advocates of “school choice” claim they are advancing religious freedom, social justice, and civil rights when in fact, as I document in “Segregationists, Libertarians, and the Modern ‘School Choice’ Movement,” they echo the language and tactics used by southern segregationists in their efforts to evade school desegregation after Brown. It is there—in the history of the segregationists’ fight against Brown and in how the federal courts addressed their strategies—that the long-range impact of Espinoza becomes evident.

In the years following Brown, southern states passed dozens of bills to condemn and frustrate school desegregation. The overall strategy of massive resistance was based on two basic tactics. One was placing pupils in public schools according to what the segregationists claimed were children’s “ability to learn”—which they believed, but after Brown carefully avoiding saying, was inherently different due to race. The other was funding vouchers for private academies where segregationists were free to set up exclusionary admission standards.

Jan Resseger writes here to refute Trump and Betsy DeVos’s ridiculous claim that school choice is a “civil rights issue.” As she points out, charter schools and vouchers divert funding from the public schools that most children of color attend. School choice is responsible for budget cuts to public schools.

Privatized educational alternatives like charter schools and vouchers for private school tuition not only extract public funds needed in the public school system to serve 50 million American children, but they also undermine our rights as citizens and our children’s rights. Only in the public schools, which are governed democratically according to the law, can our society protect the rights of all children.

The late political philosopher, Benjamin Barber, warns about what we all lose when we try to privatize the public good: “Privatization is a kind of reverse social contract: it dissolves the bonds that tie us together into free communities and democratic republics. It puts us back in the state of nature where we possess a natural right to get whatever we can on our own, but at the same time lose any real ability to secure that to which we have a right. Private choices rest on individual power… personal skills… and personal luck. Public choices rest on civic rights and common responsibilities, and presume equal rights for all. Public liberty is what the power of common endeavor establishes, and hence presupposes that we have constituted ourselves as public citizens by opting into the social contract. With privatization, we are seduced back into the state of nature by the lure of private liberty and particular interest; but what we experience in the end is an environment in which the strong dominate the weak… the very dilemma which the original social contract was intended to address.” (Consumed, pp. 143-144)

What she does not mention is that the demand for school choice originated with Southern governors in response to the a Brown decision. From its origins, school choice was rooted in racism. Last year, Steve Suitts of the Southern Education Foundation wrote an important monograph about the origins of school choice. It was supposed to block civil rights, not advance them.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.

Civil rights groups are suing to block the use of charter schools to desegregate public schools in North Carolina.

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May 18, 2020

LAWSUIT CHALLENGES NORTH CAROLINA LAW ALLOWING BREAKAWAY, SEGREGATED CHARTER SCHOOLS

By Wendy Lecker

Parents and civil rights groups in North Carolina have sued the State challenging a law passed in 2018 authorizing predominately white, wealthy towns in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district to break away and form town-run, separate charter school districts that could exclude non-town residents. In the lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court on April 30, plaintiffs charge that the law violates North Carolina’s state constitutional guarantees of a uniform public school system and equal protection and will exacerbate persistent racial and socio-economic segregation in the county district.

The plaintiffs in the case, North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. State, are the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Branch of the NAACP and two parents with children in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. They are represented by Mark Dorosin, Elizabeth Haddix and Genevieve Bondaies Torres of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the law firm of Tin, Fulton, Walker and Owen, P.L.L.C.

History of School Segregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) has a long history of school segregation. The district was the subject of a major desegregation case in the 1960’s, Swann v. Charlotte–Mecklenburg Board of Education. In that case, in 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court placed CMS under federal supervision to ensure school desegregation. In 1999, white parents succeeded in ending the desegregation order, and CMS was removed from federal court oversight.

CMS then implemented a voluntary, “neighborhood” school assignment plan which, over time, resulted in school resegregation within the district. By 2010, CMS was almost as de facto segregated as it was before Swann was filed to end de jure segregation.

In 2016, the CMS school board developed a plan to increase diversity and reduce the number of schools with high concentrations of poor students. The plan met with strong opposition by elected officials and parents in the mostly white and affluent towns of Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, and Mint Hill – all towns within the CMS district.

The Charter Breakaway Law

Desegregation opponents pushed the introduction of HB 514 in 2017 in the North Carolina legislature. The bill would allow the towns of Matthews and Mint Hill to establish municipal, and predominately white, charter schools with admissions preferences that would authorize by law the exclusion of non-resident, low-income students and students of color.

In an effort to appease legislators supporting the bill, the CMS board drastically scaled back its desegregation plan, limiting its effect to only 5% of the district’s students.

At the same time HB 514 was introduced, a State legislative committee studied the viability of breaking up large school districts in the state. That report concluded, in 2018, that breaking up large districts would exacerbate disparities in resources between high- and low-wealth schools and would provide no educational benefit.

In reaction, desegregation opponents dug in their heels and amended the municipal charter legislation to include the CMS towns of Cornelius and Huntersville. The bill passed in June 2018, and because it was considered local legislation, it did not require the governor’s signature under North Carolina law. In vetoing companion legislation to allow teachers in the new charter school district to participate in the state retirement and insurance programs, Governor Roy Cooper made clear that “municipal charter schools set a dangerous precedent that could lead to taxpayer funded resegregation.”

A companion funding bill was passed to facilitate the municipal charters under HB 514 by allowing towns to spend local property taxes to fund charter schools without requiring a voter referendum, as previously required by North Carolina law.

The plaintiffs in the current lawsuit charge that these new laws will drain resources from CMS, increase segregation in CMS, create segregated town charter schools, and deny low-income, non-white students equal access to higher-funded schools.

The Role of Charter Schools in School Segregation

This lawsuit is the latest in an emerging trend of litigation under education guarantees in state constitutions challenging states’ use of charter schools to foster segregation. In 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court allowed a challenge to school segregation in Minneapolis-St. Paul to proceed to trial, noting that segregated schools cannot be “uniform” under that state’s constitution. Plaintiffs in that case charge that the formation of segregated charter schools in those cities and their exemption from desegregation plans play a major role in school segregation.

In February 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court granted Education Law Center’s petition to review the Commissioner of Education’s approval of the expansion of charter schools in Newark without evaluating the charters’ segregative impact on the district or their negative impact on the educational resources available to students in Newark district schools.

Given the growing body of research documenting the lasting negative effects of segregation on the academic and life outcomes of public school students and a history of lax or almost no regulation by states over their charter school programs, these lawsuits seek to hold states accountable to ensure charter schools authorized by their laws do not undermine or jeopardize students’ rights to education under state constitutions.

Wendy Lecker is a Senior Attorney at Education Law Center

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

This article appeared in the New York Times in 2017. It evaluated Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy in high school admission.

Mayor Bloomberg eliminated zoned high schools and instituted a policy of citywide choice. Students could apply to any high school in the city.

This was supposed to reduce racial segregation, but instead it increased it.

Bloomberg, who had sole control of the New York City school system, also increased the number of schools with selective admissions policies.

This too increased the segregation of schools.

Graduation rates are up, but graduation rates are always suspicious since they are easily manipulated and manufactured by devices such as “credit recovery.”

What is certain is that segregation has intensified.

Fourteen years into the system, black and Hispanic students are just as isolated in segregated high schools as they are in elementary schools — a situation that school choice was supposed to ease.

Within the system, there is a hierarchy of schools, each with different admissions requirements — a one-day high-stakes test, auditions, open houses. And getting into the best schools, where almost all students graduate and are ready to attend college, often requires top scores on the state’s annual math and English tests and a high grade point average.

Those admitted to these most successful schools remain disproportionately middle class and white or Asian, according to an in-depth analysis of acceptance data and graduation rates conducted for The New York Times by Measure of America, an arm of the Social Science Research Council. At the same time, low-income black or Hispanic children like the ones at Pelham Gardens are routinely shunted into schools with graduation rates 20 or more percentage points lower.

While top middle schools in a handful of districts groom children for competitive high schools that send graduates to the Ivy League, most middle schools, especially in the Bronx, funnel children to high schools that do not prepare them for college.

The roots of these divisions are tangled and complex. Students in competitive middle schools and gifted programs carry advantages into the application season, with better academic preparation and stronger test scores. Living in certain areas still comes with access to sought-after schools. And children across the city compete directly against one another regardless of their circumstances, without controls for factors like socioeconomic status.

Ultimately, there just are not enough good schools to go around. And so it is a system in which some children win and others lose because of factors beyond their control — like where they live and how much money their families have.

Choice does not solve the problem of scarcity. Instead of concentrating on increasing the number of good schools, Bloomberg focused on choice.

Each year, about 160 children from Pelham Gardens join the flood of 80,000 eighth graders applying for the city’s public high schools. The field on which they compete is enormous: They have to choose from 439 schools that are further broken up into 775 programs. One program may admit students based on where they live, while another program at the same school may admit only those with strong grades.

The sheer number of choices offers up great possibilities, but it can also make the system maddeningly complex, with so many requirements, open houses, deadlines and portfolios to keep track of. Yaslin Turbides helps middle schoolers apply through the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization in Brooklyn. She said that she and her colleagues called the application system “the beast.”

Rare is a 13-year-old equipped to handle the selection process alone.

The process can become like a second job for some parents as they arm themselves with folders, spreadsheets and consultants who earn hundreds of dollars an hour to guide them. But most families in the public school system have neither the flexibility nor the resources to match that arsenal.

Are Zillow and Realtors Contributing

to School Segregation?

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How do renters or buyers judge the quality of the schools zoned to their prospective homes?

Often it starts not with schools or teachers or students, but with the real estate industry.

Two recent pieces of investigative journalism call attention to a prominent flaw with this system: Realtors and real estate websites alike share assessments that downgrade schools that serve higher percentages of low-income and minority students, while also serving to maintain segregated housing patterns by steering Whites away from districts that serve students of color.

For a series of articles published earlier this month, the Newsday newspaper in Long Island paired testers of different ethnicities and races and had them seek similar homes from the same realtors.

The newspaper found that realtors repeatedly steered White buyers away from school districts enrolling higher percentages of minoritized residents, typically using veiled language. For example, they told White buyers that one community was an area to avoid “school district-wise” or “based on statistics.” Yet that district’s 90 percent Black and Hispanic high school boasted a 96 percent four-year graduation rate and above-average performance compared to the rest of the county.

In a study of the areas investigated by Newsday, NEPC Fellow Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University found that a one percent increase in Black/Hispanic enrollment corresponded with a 0.3 percent decrease in home values. In other words, a home worth $415,000 at the time of the study in 2010 would cost $50,000 more in a 30 percent Hispanic/Black district as compared to a 70 percent Hispanic/Black district.

Wells and her team compared two districts with similar housing stocks and socioeconomic backgrounds but different percentages of Black, Hispanic, and White residents. Although Wells said realtors discounted the quality of the schools of the majority Black/Hispanic area, her team found few differences when they actually visited and studied the district.

“There didn’t seem to be a huge difference at all in the curriculum and the quality of the teachers,” she told the newspaper. “So, they [real estate agents] do play an important role in steering people away from certain districts that are becoming more racially, ethnically diverse and less White, in particular.”

An internet-era wrinkle to these longstanding practices was documented and described last week in an article published in the education-focused news site Chalkbeat. The site’s analysis found that school ratings featured on popular real estate sites like Zillow and Realtor.com—ratings assigned by the non-profit corporation called GreatSchools—nudged buyers toward schools with higher percentages of White students by assigning lower ratings to schools with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students. This happened even when GreatSchools’ own evidence showed that these schools were doing a good job growing the scores of their students.

Specifically, although student’s test score growth is also considered, it’s worth a much smaller share of a school’s “grade” than proficiency, a factor that greatly penalizes schools serving students with fewer opportunities to learn due to societal inequalities outside the realm of the school.

More than that, the GreatSchools algorithm is overwhelmingly about these test scores, largely ignoring other factors of school quality. Rather than assessing the degree to which all students are provided opportunities to learn, test results tabulate outcomes that are profoundly influenced by the unequal opportunities and resources offered to White students versus students of color.

Alternative approaches are available, but they require us to truly and deeply learn about the school. Superficial measures like those used by GreatSchools and its real estate customers must be set aside. One example of such an alternative approach is NEPC’s Schools of Opportunityrecognition program for high schools, which uses a holistic assessment of school quality. The application and evaluation processes consider how these schools are broadening and enriching learning opportunities, creating and maintaining a healthy school culture, and implementing a variety of research-based approaches that close opportunity gaps.

Yet it is the GreatSchools ratings that are viewed by 150 million users of real estate software per year. And there’s evidence that it’s having an effect: A recent study found that property values in areas with a high GreatSchools rating increased by nearly $7,000 over three years, furthering the discriminatory real estate cycle that has always existed in the United States.

This newsletter is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu

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