Friday, November 2, 2018

Failing Brown v. Board of Education

If you're not regularly exposed to the problem, you might think that finding the ways in which non-white non-wealthy students are shortchanged would require deep and nuanced research. As it turns out, finding the ways in which education fails to serve those students requires no more careful research than finding the nose on the front of your face.

The Journey For Justice Alliance is based in Chicago, but it's an alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in 24 cities across the country. They are working and organizing for community-driven alternatives to the privatization of and dismantling of public school systems. They're the folks behind the #WeChoose movement  (as in "we choose education equity, not the illusion of school choice." Look at their member groups and you'll find honest-to-goodness community grass roots organizations, not just one more astroturf group funded by Gates, Walton, et al. Their director, Jitu Brown, is one of the most powerful speakers for education and equity it has ever been my pleasure to hear.

Last spring they issued a report-- "Failing Brown v. Board"-- that looks at the gap between the schools that serve primarily wealthy white families and those that serve non-wealthy families of color. Their findings are not encouraging.

The fact is, public schools in Black and Latino communities are not “failing.” They have been failed. More accurately, these schools have been sabotaged for years by policy-makers who fail to fully fund them, by ideologues who choose to experiment with them, by “entrepreneurs” who choose to extract public taxpayer dollars from education systems for their own pockets.

The report also rejects the notion that money doesn't matter, or that somehow the children and their families are responsible. And they know what successful, fully-resourced schools look like

They offer a culturally relevant, engaging and challenging curriculum, smaller class sizes, more experienced teachers, wrap-around emotional and academic supports, a student-centered school climate and meaningful parent and community engagement. These are the hallmarks of what Journey for Justice calls sustainable community schools. 

J4J performed a fairly simple piece of research-- looking at course offerings in various schools across twelve cities. They acknowledge that such a comparison isn't perfect, that schools may offer courses that are never actually taught, that the course offering list doesn't tell you about the quality of those courses. But the findings are still pretty stark. Take just one specific example:

Here are some of the findings of the report:

In every single pairing, majority white schools offered both more academic subjects and more "enrichment" subjects in the arts than majority Black and/or Brown schools. Majority white schools offered more foreign languages, more high-level math options, more AP courses. The range of offerings in arts, music, dance and theater was far greater in majority white schools.

I would like to expand that paragraph, to layer on more so that it dominated this piece and commanded attention just by its largeness, but the gap between majority white schools and non-wealthy schools for students of color is just so stark that it defies expansion. It's bad. It's wrong. And other research backs up the findings of this report.

Charter fans are going to say, "See? That's why we need to build more charters, so we can get some of those children of color out of there," but why should those children have to sacrifice the other big benefit that majority white schools enjoy-- a school in their own community that they can attend with their neighbors? And why do we need a complicated  web of privatized schools to fix the problem. We know how to fix the problem, as witnessed by the fact that politicians and leaders have fixed the problem for each of the affluent majority white schools.

It's like you have twenty kids in a cafeteria, and ten sit down with a steak dinner and the other ten get bowls of cold oatmeal, and when someone complains about it, a bunch of folks pop up to propose some complex system by which one of the oatmeal kids will be sent out to a restaurant across town. No! Just get back out in the kitchen and use the same tools and supplies that you demonstrably already have to make steak dinners for the rest of the kids.

The report quotes NEA president Lily Eskelsen-Garcia saying, in part, "Until you can say every school looks like your best public school, we have not arrived."

Read the report, look at the actions that J4J calls for from federal, state and local authorities, and add your voice. We can do better than this. We must do better than this.


  1. Here in Indiana, they redid how schools were funded a while back so ALL schools outside of the Indy metro area became losers...voter referendums became a popular and necessary way to raise funds. Affluent communities will gladly accept paying more in taxes to benefit their children's educational opportunities, they can afford it. However, poorer (and older) communities cannot afford a tax increase thus vote against the referendums. A local (lower income) community did just that and electives were heavily slashed at the high school. The kids take the bare minimum requirements and then it's 2-3 study halls/day monitored by an aide making minimum wage.

  2. Oak Park River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois has claimed to be dedicated to equality and yet failed to the degree that there is a critical documentary about them. Some African American parents feel they have no choice but to enroll their kids in private schools. Do you know of any schools getting it right? Many people strive to move from Chicago to Oak Park primarily for the schools. And these people are scratching their heads.

    I'm scratching mine.

  3. "This" is one of the few schools offering hands-on, project based courses in two of the Project Lead the Way Pathways:
    Engineering, and
    Biomedical Science
    and as a third option, students can choose the
    Media Communications Pathway

    Project Lead the Way’s mission is to prepare students for the global economy and to partner with institutions like Wisconsin School of Engineering, keeping students on track with ever-changing technology.The basis for PLTW is rooted in an education philosophy that focuses on the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, also known as STEM.

    "This" is a STEAM school; Fine Arts studies are incorporated into our programing, as a bridge to all of these pathways.

    Course Offerings at "this" school also include:
    AP Studio Art
    AP Biology
    AP Chemistry
    AP English Language and Composition
    AP English Literature and Composition
    AP Human Geography
    AP Psychology
    AP US History
    AP U.S. Government & Politics

    Welcome to . . . Marshall HS, Milwaukee, WI

    1. Visionary curriculum. Is it addressing the inequality problem? I ask sincerely with no snark.

    2. It certainly contradicts the claim that Marshall students lack the academic opportunities provided by white schools.

  4. Part of my educational philosophy includes this premise--that while there will be schools that serve poor children, there should be no poor schools. Every child deserves access to a high quality public school education, no matter how poor the parents are. It is telling that in the United States, we tie the quality of a school's service to the ability of the parents to provide it. If we want to ever enable the least of us to be able to compete with the children of the well-to-do, then we must sever the connection between local property taxes and the funding of local public schools.

    I have seen the public schools in my area where the wealthy parents send their children to public schools. Their facilities rival the private schools where the wealthy send their children to private schools. Both sets of facilities are state-of-the-art, while the school in which I teach, once the only high school for African Americans in the state, languishes with a constant stench of raw sewage, the intensity of which varies with the weather. The tax base does not provide for regular maintenance, so we're having to wait for the bond issue to make funds available. If this situation occurred at a more well-funded school, the repairs would be made immediately. No one in the Central Office would dream of saying "You just have to wait until February" while the students and staff were breathing in fecal bacteria on a daily basis.

    No one wants to acknowledge that there are schools like ours in the United States. But I maintain that as long as there are, then we will never be great in the true sense of the word. In many countries around the world there are poor children who go to well-funded schools supported by a public that recognizes that all children deserve to go to a school that serves them as well as any other. How can we justify anything else unless we state openly that poor children just aren't worth the investment so we just won't make one.

  5. There's little argument from me that there's a huge disparity between middle-class, suburban schools and those schools located in poor urban areas. This reality is institutionally racist & begs for more equality. However, I would argue for more than equality. Surely, the long-term impact of enslavement, Jim Crow, legal segregation, job & housing discrimination, poverty & connected trauma and other structural, institutional and individual racism have had a severe detrimental impact on the ability of many Black students to achieve the skills they need to achieve similar results as their white counterparts. Going beyond equality, in some form of reparations for equity is absolutely necessary. I would argue for cutting urban, class-size in half, huge teacher salary increases to attract creative, culturally sensitive educators to urban areas, increased professional development, and incentives to create metropolitan school districts that are modeled after the Wake County, NC School District, where no school should have no more than 40% poverty-stricken students. This kind of macro-change, combined with more reparations for massive job-training, housing equity, & medical coverage would help to attack the unjust inequities that have resulted from an on-going history of U.S. white supremacy & racism.