Why are our schools still so segregated?

At the end of the five-mile march to mark the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, a drumline led a spirited crowd onto the football field of Normandy High School. It was the school from which Mr. Brown graduated nine days before the African-American teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014. 

“Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?” his shocked and grieving mother asked reporters just hours after the shooting. “You know how many black men graduate? Not many.” This mother’s anguish stuck with Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, and prompted her to investigate conditions at Mr. Brown’s alma mater, which she described on the radio program “This American Life” ( 7/31). 


The student body at Normandy is 98 percent African-American, 74 percent low-income and has a four-year graduation rate of 53 percent (the state-wide graduation rate is 86 percent). The school was stripped of its accreditation in 2012 after failing to meet minimum state standards for over a decade. Across St. Louis County, according to Ms. Hannah-Jones, 44 percent of black children attend schools that lack full accreditation, compared with just 4 percent of whites. These statistics are damning, but hardly unique. Nearly any metropolitan area in the United States shows the same pattern: racially stratified housing, pockets of concentrated poverty and substandard public schools.

Each year billions of dollars are spent on efforts to turn around these failing schools. Well-intentioned disagreements over the merits of No Child Left Behind and Common Core and debates about magnet and charter schools show no signs of abating. And yet the one solution that has been proven to help minority students is not even on the table: integration.

Starting in the late 1960s, court-mandated desegregation efforts began to chip away at the achievement gap between black and white students, cutting it in half in just 17 years. Black students who attended integrated schools graduated from high school and college at higher rates and would go on to earn 25 percent more than peers who attended racially isolated schools.

Integration reached its peak in 1988, at which time 44 percent of black students in the South attended majority-white schools, according to the report “Brown at 60,” by U.C.L.A.’s Civil Rights Project. But a string of Supreme Court decisions since 1991 that rolled back federal desegregation orders, as well as a surge in the Hispanic student population, have given rise to a new wave of educational sorting. A report in 2012 found that 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students attend schools where the majority of the students are not white, schools where course offerings are slim, teachers are inexperienced and most students qualify for a free lunch. There are no quick solutions to this; segregation in schools cannot be understood or addressed without also tackling segregation in housing and concentrated poverty.

Those disturbed by the current state of affairs are tempted to do no more than call for a strong government response and then decry the political gridlock that makes such a response all but unimaginable. But Christians are called not just to condemn injustice but to share the burden with those who bear its weight. Catholic schools are rightly proud of their strong record of serving minority students in inner cities. What if these schools also reflected the diversity of their communities? In addition to taking full advantage of existing voucher programs (and supporting their expansion) to bring in low-income students, Catholic schools can do more to reach out to families who would otherwise be happy to send their kids to a high-quality public school.

Families have a role to play as well. Though at an earlier time busing was effective in some regions, it was largely a political and economic failure. That means where we choose to live matters. Segregation often results not from overt racism but from the millions of individual decisions of those who, quite understandably, “shop” for a good school district. What if more families crossed the lines of color and economic status in the belief that their children can be richer for their encounter with the other? What if parents with options looked beyond high test scores and demanded the classroom diversity that studies show equips students to succeed in college and beyond?

This fall, millions of children already disadvantaged by the burdens of poverty will return to failing schools. Only when the fate of black and brown and white students is intertwined can our country go beyond interminable reform battles and move on to build an education system that our children deserve and our democracy demands.

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Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 9 months ago
Why? Let's talk about white supremacy.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 9 months ago
State demographics (2011-2012) perhaps can also offer some insight. Texas has the top public high school graduation rate for Blacks (84%) and second highest for Hispanics (also 84%). Vermont is #1 for Hispanics (86%). A quick glance at the rankings shows several republican dominated states rank very high in public high school minority graduation rates.
Leonard Villa
2 years 9 months ago
Mr. Brown was shot by the police officer because he was involved in criminal behavior, he attacked the officer, and tried to get his gun. He had just robbed a convenience store. Was his school really the issue? You are silent about the elephant in the room: the disintegration of the family and the lack of fathers providing no role models or control for young males. This is the biggest contributor to poverty and crime. A little girl in Ferguson was just shot and killed doing her homework by a stray bullet. Zero media attention. Zero outrage about human life. Zero marches.She was in school. So until you, the media, and community leaders get real, things will continue as they are and people especially children will continue to suffer.
Patrick Eicker
2 years 9 months ago
OK, you go first. Oops.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 9 months ago
CDC perhaps ought to investigate what’s going on in conservative dominated states. In 2013, conservative dominated states had twice the firearm fatality rate of liberal dominated states. Teen and child death rates ran over 40% higher than in liberal dominated states.
E.Patrick Mosman
2 years 9 months ago
Unfortunately Catholic schools in many locations, both local parochial grade schools and religious run high schools are in free fall as closures mount for several reasons high costs, increasing need to provide tuition support and subsidies, lack of up-to-date technology/specialized extra-curricular activities and low enrollment of our own Catholic students. The question that needs answering is why are those predominate minority student public schools failing. Who is to blame for the education crisis? To start the court decision that gave students rights that ended discipline in the schools and in the classroom and the end of dress codes both for students and teachers Next universities and colleges that churned out teachers with degrees who had little or no knowledge of basic subjects they would teach. Next the unionization of teachers who worked by union rules. Finally the education gurus who deemed that learning should be fun not hard and there went memorization, followed by those who deemed that 'self-esteem' is more important than correct answers and those who now deem testing as the problem. And finally and probably the most important factor, the family or lack thereof, a very large body of poorly educated or uneducated parent(s} who are unable to help their children or are not involved in doing so.
E.Patrick Mosman
2 years 9 months ago
Further to my previous comment here is Doctor Ben Carson on public school education; "I grew up in neighborhoods most Americans were told to never drive through. I saw bullets, drugs and death in the same places I played tag and ball with my friends. Both of my older cousins died on the streets where I lived. I thought that was my destiny. But my mother didn't. She changed all of that. She saved my brother and me from being killed on those streets with nothing but a library card. My mother knew what the problems were and she shielded me and my brother from them. I can tell you she wasn't worried about Socialist senators from tiny rural states. "BlackLivesmatter" could learn from her to focus on the real sources of our hopelessness. This is where we should march: "Let’s head down to the board of education. Teaching is a tough job and thank God there was a teacher who convinced me that I was not dumb, but our schools are failing and we have no power to abandon them. The actions of rogue police officers take black lives one at a time. Our public school system has destroyed black lives not in the ones and twos, but in whole generations. The schools don’t teach and our children don’t learn. Too many public schools are controlled by teachers unions focused more on the convenience and compensation of adults rather than the education of children who started out far behind. Their failures don't kill as quickly, but they do kill as surely as a bullet." Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/08/24/blacklivesmatter-sanders-clinton-anger-column/32055507/ There is no mention of "integration". Why? The experience of inner-city Catholic schools and charter schools whose classrooms are full of minority children in uniforms, dedicated teachers and parent(s) and most important discipline.The students are taught and they learn in neighborhood schools, no need for busing or other disruptive practices, and should be the examples for all schools, especially the public schools.
Marcus Wagner
2 years 9 months ago
The missing piece in this editorial is that Catholic schools are overwhelming not unionized. As such, the pay for teachers is significantly lower in Catholic schools than it is in public schools. This is the reason why I oppose any and all vouchers - vouchers weaken teacher's unions when they're already under attack, a part of a very broad and constant attack against working people and organized labor in general. The Catholic Church as a universal institution is of course multicultural. However, Catholic schools in the United States as well as elsewhere are segregated because of the prohibitive expense of tuition and the segregation of our communities. More importantly, parishes themselves - the pews at mass are overwhelmingly segregated, at least in terms of latino, white, and black Catholics. This is a problem for the whole Church. The Kingdom of God is not segregated, so how are our parishes? The problem also isn't only racial segregation, but our parishes are also heavily segregated by class. Doing wrong in order to achieve a good end will not solve the problems of injustice. The injustice which leads to the segregation of schools, parishes, and communities will not be solved by politically supporting vouchers. It will only be deepened. The Church, baptism, the sacrament of Eucharist, this is the model we should expand to solve injustice, and vouchers do not fit this model if they harm the ability of working folks to resist unjust reductions in their wages, benefits, and political power.
E.Patrick Mosman
2 years 8 months ago
A previous comment discussed the failure of public schools to educate and the unionization of teachers who worked by union rules was one of the reasons. An example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rubber_Room Spending on public school education is at the highest level in most school districts today and the results do not support additional spending on unionized teachers. If the intent is to educate every youngster then taxpayers who now fund failing public schools should be should be allowed tax credits or vouchers to send their children to schools that actually educate their students.
Rodney david
2 years 4 months ago
Graham Birrell is a Senior Lecturer in the Department for Postgraduate Initial Teacher Education at CCCU and a member of the blog project team. Examcollection N10-006Graham is responsible for Primary History in the Faculty of Education and his research interests are in education policy.


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