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Segregation hasn’t gone away

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Segregation in education hasn’t gone away and is more alive than we might think. Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was shot by a police officer last year, provides an example of both segregation and racial tension. More about that in a minute.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, blacks had no access to white schools. What happened since is chronicled by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project in Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future. By 1964, one in 50 blacks attended a predominantly white school. Access continued to increase, and eventually 44% of black southern students attended majority-white schools.

Beginning in the 1990s, however, access to white schools began to decline. Pro Publica reports that from 1993 to 2011, the number of black children who attended schools where 90 percent or more of the students are minorities increased from 2.3 to 2.9 million. By 2011, only 23% of blacks were in white majority schools. The decline has continued, and one reason is that court injunctions were terminated in favor of school districts demonstrating they would desegregate on their own.

Let’s get back to Ferguson, which is served by the Normandy School District. Its 3500 children are predominately black and low-income. After being provisionally accredited for 15 years, Normandy was finally stripped of its accreditation in 2013 by the state board.

What happened afterwards is the subject of “The Problem We All Live With,” broadcast last July on “This American Life,” a public radio program. By state law, the Normandy students were free to attend school wherever they wanted, but Normandy was required to provide transportation to only one district, and it chose Francis Howell, a predominantly white district 30 miles away.

About 1000 Normandy students decided to transfer. The Francis Howell district parents held a town meeting in advance of their matriculation. The parents were not pleased with what was to happen. Here are some of their comments:

  • “So I’m hoping that their discipline records come with them, like their health records come with them.”
  • “I don’t care about everything else that falls by the wayside, because it will two to three years when we all move out of the district.”
  • “We are talking about violent behavior that is coming … I want to know where the metal detectors are going to be. And I want to know where your drug-sniffing dogs are going to be. … I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because that’s the issue.

But Normandy didn’t lose its accreditation because of violence but because of poor academic performance.

Why Normandy students were eager to leave is apparent from the observations of a Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who shadowed Cameron Hensley, a Normandy senior honor student.

AP English was held in the science lab because the AP English classroom smelled of mildew. Only one other student was in the class. The teacher, who was not certified to teach AP English, handed out a worksheet designed more for middle school students. Cameron and the other student finished it in five minutes, leaving 40 minutes with nothing to do.

Second period was jazz band, but there was no instructor, which wasn’t unusual according to Cameron. Third period was physics, with a permanent substitute teacher who hadn’t taught or prepared a lesson plan for some time. Fourth period was pre-calculus taught by a retired teacher who seemed to care and was actually teaching. After lunch, it was choir, followed by two periods of band. This was a typical day for Cameron. Remember, he was an honor student.

According to the Civil Rights Project, racial segregation is harmful because it is often associated with poverty. Where school populations exceed 80% blacks and Latinos, over three-quarters of the students are in schools with a 70% poverty rate. In comparison, only four percent of schools that are overwhelmingly white and Asian (a population of 10% or less of blacks and Latinos) have an 80% poverty rate.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, students in predominantly minority schools often have fewer educational resources and attend schools that are overcrowded, not well maintained and have inadequate science labs, auditoriums and athletic fields.

Segregation isn’t just about minorities. It concerns the nation as a whole. Whenever any segment of society is left behind, the entire union suffers, though that might be hard for some people to see.

What the parents in the Francis Howell school district had to say about the Normandy students wasn’t pretty, but their candid views show we have miles to go in eliminating racism. Perhaps we should be thankful the parents talked so bluntly about how they felt—racism and integration are hardly popular subjects—because we can’t remedy our education system unless we’re candid about the underlying issues.

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Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com

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Discussion

  1. Dave Houze  September 9, 2015

    Jack, you’re a great attorney but I’ve got to question your observations on your subject. The issue is not segregation, it is not racism. You are completely off track! The little example of a standard day at Normandy is not the result of either issue. I’d suggest you rethink this entire message. Your statistics say a lot. Why not develop reasonable observations from those numbers. But clearly the issue in Normandy, the issue in Ferguson is not a result of white and asian racism or desires for segregation. It’s more of common sense, more of avoidance of violence, more of motivated citizens.

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    • jdaurora@behallaw.com  September 9, 2015

      I’m delighted you feel I’m a great attorney and that you’re willing to say it in a public forum. That’s very good of you, Dave. Thank you.

      At the risk of having that accolade withdrawn, I have to disagree with you. First, let’s be specific about what we’re talking about. I agree that the standard day at Normandy may not be attributed to racism. Lots of other factors at play there.

      But what about the comments made by those parents from Francis Howell? Would they have made those statements had the Normandy kids been white?

      We may disagree, but who cares? I like that fact that you’re joining the conversation.

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  2. Jay Sumner  September 9, 2015

    You make some interesting points, but I’ve long felt that there is much more financial bias in our society than there is true racial bias. I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist; I just think ‘racism’ in a sweeping generalization is almost as big of an overstatement as the lack of financial bias is an omission.

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  3. Kevin  September 9, 2015

    Jack,
    Your blog pretended to be about segregation yet it encompassed so much more. Inadequate and unfair school funding, bussing, white flight, unequal opportunity, racial bias, etc. First let me state that my wife worked in the Columbus Public School (CPS) system for 23 years. Then take into consideration that all three of my kids spent their entire 13 years in Columbus Public Schools.

    First let’s talk about unfair funding. Upper Arlington, Dublin, Worthington, Westerville, etc. all have better facilities than Columbus Public Schools due to higher property values and the willingness and ability of upper income folks to pay higher taxes. The Ohio Supreme court rules the funding unconstitutional yet nothing changes. CPS actually has higher costs due to school choice (cross town bussing) and the higher basic needs students from lower income households.

    Now look at how CPS spends its funds. My wife might get a budget of $5,000 a year for books in an inner city school and $0 for a school in Clintonville or NW Columbus. The kids that are most likely to read books are left with less resources than those that habitually take books home and never return them.

    One of the schools my wife had was in a disadvantaged area near downtown. Many kids lived with aunts, grandparents or a single parent on assistance. These kids came to school unprepared and from homes where education wasn’t valued. Many teachers went way above the call of duty to help these kids out. Many were there because they wanted to be where the need was the greatest. Yet the teacher’s performance was evaluated by the kids test scores. If the kid’s scores didn’t improve then the staff could be “reconstituted”. How exactly is this government interference improving education?

    As parents, we chose to send our kids to public schools with the thought that the world is made of lots of different people and it’s good to have a multi-cultural experience. Yet my second grade son came home and asked me why the black kids tended to be more loud, disrespectful and more aggressive than the white kids. This wasn’t learned racial bias, it was observation of a difference by personal observation at a very young age. He did come to judge people individually and has friends of different races. Yet to say that there is no cultural difference between affluent whites and less affluent kids often in single parent households is wrong. So then why is it deemed to be bigotry when the proportion of African-Americans in jail exceeds the percentage of African-Americans in the general population? Why do minorities still get preferential treatment in college admissions and government set asides in construction, etc?

    Purposely creating school attendance boundaries based upon race to maintain mostly white or black schools is wrong. But forcing cash strapped inner city schools to foot the bill for busing kids across town is not only wrong but it doesn’t work. The inevitable white flight just leaves inner city schools with half empty school buildings filled with those that can’t afford or choose not to flee to the suburbs. There is simply nothing wrong with maintaining neighborhood schools with geographically logical boundaries.

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    • jdaurora@behallaw.com  September 10, 2015

      You have brought to light several issues, all of which illustrate just how complex the education problem is because of income, family structure, taxes, etc. What you have written is a great addition to my humble start. You’ve shown that every issue seems to produce a second and third issue. Thanks for adding to the conversation, Kevin.

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