The founder of the trailblazing Crossroads and New Roads schools in Santa Monica grapples with a report which concludes that more students now attend de facto segregated schools than before Brown v. Board of Ed.
The June 21, 2006, issue of Education Week presented two depressing and seemingly related articles. The first, a front-page article headlined “Race Report’s Influence Felt 40 Years Later,” revisited the 1966 U.S. Office of Education’s mammoth 737-page study “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” now known as the Coleman Report. Its major finding was that “Black children started out school trailing behind their white counterparts and essentially never caught up…. What mattered more,” writes Debra Viader, “in determining children’s academic success was their family background and, of course, the economic deprivations of those families.” The study also found that white schools were better equipped, that white schools had teachers who themselves scored higher in various tests, and that black students did better in schools that were predominantly middle-class than they did in lower-class schools.
The Coleman Report was published 1966, and now, 40 years later, it is still profoundly relevant. Recent studies confirm the basic, not-so-surprising findings that uneven playing fields still yield inequities.
The second EdWeek article, on the back cover page, was titled “Helping Children Move From Bad Schools to Good Ones.” In this piece, author Richard D. Kahlenberg cites several studies which, in fact, confirm aspects of the Coleman Report. One recent study from Florida found “that middle-class schools are 22 times more likely to be consistently high-performing than are high poverty schools.”
Kahlenberg also notes that the No Child Left Behind Act’s attempt to enable students to transfer from low-performing (bad) schools to higher-performing (good) ones has been a dismal failure. For example, of the 3.3 million students in Title I schools eligible to transfer in the 2003-04 year only, 31,500 (less than 1%) did so. Why? For one reason: the “good” schools dont want these students and find ways to refuse to take them in.
The depressing items here are many:
1. There has been little progress since 1966 in integrating our society. In fact, there are now more students attending de facto segregated schools than before Brown v. Board of Education;
2. Young black children are sacrificed on the altar of segregated neighborhoods and schools;
3. The best the Department of Education seems to offer is an ineffectual plan of allowing some children to leave sinking ships.
But what of the passengers remaining on the ships? What about not only repairing but streamlining the ships until we can find it in our hearts and budgets to create a truly integrated society?
I do not believe that we can afford to simply write off generation after generation of impoverished children and families and not pay a terrible social price. And, of course, we are paying that price today. We have virtually abandoned inner-city schools to the neighborhood morasses they face, and yet we still expect the schools to succeed—when we would never expect our middle- or upper-class schools to have to deal with such problems on their own. I speak of unemployment, drugs, gangs, crime, lack of medical care, lack of decent housing—none of these are problems created by schools, but they damage inner-city schools and make success for the children almost impossible. Schools are the repository of those social ills, not the creators.
So, “allowing” 1% of the children to transfer into “good” schools is hardly a solution. It is, instead, a cynical and mean-spirited deflection from real solutions.
Paul Cummins is executive director of the New Visions Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to catalyze change in American public education.
Cummins co-founded Crossroads School (Santa Monica, Calif.) in 1971, the Crossroads Community Foundation in 1991 and New Roads School in 1995, and was a co-creator in launching Camino Neuvo Charter Academy.
Cummins holds degrees from Stanford (BA), Harvard (MAT) and the University of Southern California (MA, PhD), and he taught English at Harvard School and the Oakwood School in California as well as at UCLA.
He is the author of several books, including “Proceed With Passion: Engaging Students in Meaningful Education” (Red Hen Press, 2004).