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.
Jack D’Aurora writes for considerthisbyjd.com
To subscribe to this blog, use the subscribe box at http://www.considerthisbyjd.com.