Aleppo, once, but perhaps not still, the largest city in Syria, is divided into one section occupied by President Assad’s government of Syria and another besieged section. Recently, Russian airplanes have been bombing the latter, causing deaths and immense suffering to children as well as adults. The story runs on the news, worldwide, every day. The United Nations and other entities are in nearly continuous session to consider what can be done.
Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin, is divided as starkly into two sections: one White, one non-White. According to one of a recent series of articles in The New York Times, schools in metropolitan Milwaukee “are as segregated now as they were in 1965. Nearly three in four black students attend schools where at least 90 percent of the students are not white . . . Only 15.7 percent of Milwaukee Public School students tested proficient in reading in 2013-14, and 20.3 percent in math . . . Nearly one out of every eight black men in Milwaukee County has served time behind bars . . . The black unemployment rate in Milwaukee County is 20 percent, nearly three times greater than for white people.”
That sounds familiar. Nearly three years ago, in a Dropout Nation essay, I compared Milwaukee to Mississippi. The bad news is that Mississippi came out better. Back then, I pointed out such data as:
- More than 40 percent of Black families with children in Milwaukee had incomes below the poverty line.
- The median household income of Black families in Milwaukee was $26,600. The poverty line for a family of four in Wisconsin was $23,550.
- Seventy percent of male Black students in Milwaukee scored at the Below Basic level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Grade 8 Reading examination. For most purposes that meant they couldn’t read.
- Of the 3,100 male Black students in grade 9 in the 2007-08 school year in Milwaukee, 1,300 made it to grade 12 by 2010-11 (42 percent).
- Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for Black people was 4,416 per 100,000, ten times the rate at which it imprisoned White people.
Some things have improved. The percentage of male Black eighth-graders in Milwaukee schools who can read at grade level has increased from three percent to four percent. At this rate, most Black male eighth-graders will be able to read at grade level by the year 2100, give or take a few years.
On the other hand, of the 2,506 Black male ninth-graders in the 2010-11 school year, 1,004 made it to senior year of high school by 2013-14 (a drop from 42 percent to 40 percent). At that rate, by the year 2100 no male Black students would be promoted from freshman to senior year.
The percentage of Black families with children with incomes below the poverty line has increased from 40 percent to 47 percent. The median household income for Black families in Milwaukee has declined to $24,967 (just above the current poverty line for a family of four of $24,300).
The Times article emphasized housing segregation, using as its human interest hook an affluent Black family to illustrate the ghettoization of Black families achieved by redlining of loans and White hostility. A nearly simultaneous Boston Globe op-ed focused on the way that now-Governor Scott Walker has manipulated mass transit to isolate Black residents of Milwaukee and increase Black unemployment. There is little or no access to mass transit for Black residents of Milwaukee and, as Lois Quinn and her colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, have demonstrated for years, driving while Black in the area is a gateway to mass incarceration.
Milwaukee is not Aleppo. County Sheriff Clarke is not President Assad. Governor Walker is not Putin. It is more banal than that. Black men in Milwaukee have faced incarceration and unemployment as normal events for many years now. Black families have been forced to live in restricted and deteriorating neighborhoods as a matter of routine. Black children have been forced into schools that do not educate them—for many years now. This goes on, year after year. It is normal. No conferences are called. Unless there is violence, as there was recently, occasioning the articles in the Times and the Globe, there are no headlines in the mainstream media.
When will something be done? What is to be done? Who is to do it?
Speaking of President Putin, about ten years ago he crushed a rebellion in the region of Chechnya, killing large numbers of people and leveling the city of Grozny, which was then rebuilt, sparing no expense. One can imagine Governor Walker sending uniformed forces into Milwaukee with Ferguson-style armored vehicles. One can imagine the Black neighborhoods of the city burning. However, one cannot imagine Governor Walker and his supporters subsequently rebuilding those neighborhoods, improving the schools, ending redlining and mass incarceration.
They have had plenty of time to do those things. It is quite evident that they like things the way they are.
A unique blend of natural and man-made resources and amenities give Rochester a quality of life that is second to none. Straddling the Genesee River between the Erie Canal and Lake Ontario, Rochester offers a natural beauty that is easily accessible by a network of parks, trails, boat launches and scenic overlooks. The city is divided into dozens of distinct neighborhoods and urban villages supported by an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants. Quality housing available at reasonable prices . . .
And so forth.
Rochester was once the Silicon Valley of the American Industrial Revolution; the city where technological invention took place and was applied to advanced products distributed around the world. Think of Kodak. Think of Xerox. And today we think of it as a city where “quality housing [is] available at reasonable prices,” where generation after generation of children are pushed through their schools years, uneducated, with little chance of entering adulthood “college and career ready.”
The results of recent New York State tests show that the district is not doing its job. The local newspaper, The Democrat and Chronicle, noted that “In Rochester, 7.2 percent of students were judged proficient in math and 6.7 percent were judged proficient in English, both the lowest marks among the Big Five,” the five largest school districts in New York State. The newspaper went on to report that the Rochester City School District results were also outliers among surrounding districts, where proficiency rates were as high as 73 percent and averaged seven or eight times that of Rochester.
The most sensitive indicator of the success of an education system is what it does for Black male students. If they are doing well, it is most likely that others will also be doing well. In Rochester, they are not doing well.
According to the New York State Education Department, at grade three, just 17 (three percent) of 653 male Black students tested were proficient (levels 3 and 4) in reading. Of these, none reached level 4. Six percent of 327 Hispanic males were proficient, only one reaching level 4.
The Rochester City School District has failed to teach 83 percent of the male Black third-graders in its care how to read as well as they should at that point and none to read as fluently as would lead later to success in school.
That is the record of early childhood education in Rochester. There is also now on record how little the district does for these children as they “progress” through the later grades. At grade eight, 12 (again, three percent) of 435 male Black students tested were proficient (levels 3 and 4) in reading. Of these, just one reached level 4. Five percent of 220 Hispanic males were proficient, none reaching level 4.
In other words, according to the tests given by the New York State Education Department, 97 percent of male Black students and 94 percent of male Hispanic students cannot read at grade level in grade 8, unchanged from grade 3 for Black students and showing declines for Hispanic students. Such is the value added by five years of schooling in Rochester.
These results can be compared to those for New York City, where 24 percent of male Black students and 25 percent of male Hispanic students scored proficient in grade 8 reading, or they can be compared to the statewide averages: 21 percent of male Black students and 24 percent of male Hispanic students reading at the proficient level in eighth grade.
One could speculate that if Rochester’s male Black students moved to New York City (preferably to eastern Queens, but whatever) eight times as many would learn to read at grade level, as would four times as many of the male Hispanics and twice as many of the male White. Note that such a move would be four times as effective for the Black as for the White students.
New York City is not a model school system for Black students, but, by comparison to Rochester’s, it is Phillips Exeter or Eton.
There are just shy of 700 male Black eighth graders in the Rochester schools. There are over 1100 male Black students in grade nine: more than half of those male Black eighth graders are held back. Fewer than half of those male Black eighth graders, 97 percent of whom have not been taught to read well, eventually graduate.
The graduation rate for male Black students in the Rochester City Schools for 2015 was 44 percent, of whom just 3 percent had Regents diplomas, as compared to the 8 percent statewide average for the group. If 97 percent of Rochester’s male Black students cannot read at grade level in grade 8, how is it that 44 percent are given diplomas? Or is it that only those receiving Regents diplomas are actually “career and college ready” and the other 41 percent have received pieces of embossed paper with which to join in the streets the 56 percent who did not graduate at all?
As Dropout Nation readers already know from my last analysis of Rochester’s schools, none of this is surprising. The district’s failure to provide high-quality education to any of its children, especially young black men, is one reason why 14 of its schools are now under state receivership (and 14 more may end up in that status).
But what about the college readiness of male Black Rochester high school graduates? This can be estimated from the records of the local colleges.
We might first look at Monroe Community College, the two-year postsecondary institution attended by high school graduates in the area who do not feel that they are ready for the university. The U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) counted 4,089 first-time students at Monroe Community College in fall 2012, 860 of whom were Black; 387 were Black men. Completers within 150 percent of normal time (2015) totaled 881; 62 of whom were Black. Twenty-two of those were men. Approximately seven percent of Black students enrolling in Monroe Community College and six percent of Black men graduated within 150 percent of normal time.
As noted, not all of those graduates attended Rochester city schools. Many may have come from the surrounding suburban districts, such as that of Greece, where the new Rochester Superintendent, Barbara Deane-Williams had been Superintendent. Shall we estimate that half of those 22 Black men graduating with Associates degrees from Monroe Community College had graduated from the Rochester City schools three years earlier? Eleven of the 690 who had been in grade 8 five (or six) years before that?
There are two research universities in Rochester. At the University of Rochester, we find that in 2010 there were 1,308 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 55 of whom were Black, 22 (two percent) of whom were Black men. In 2014, 1,076 undergraduates completed their degrees within 150 percent of normal time, 41 of whom were Black, 17 of whom were Black men. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, we find that in 2010 there were 2,606 first-time, undergraduate, degree-seeking students, 133 of whom were Black, 74 of whom were Black men. In 2014, 1,622 undergraduates completed their degrees within 150 percent of normal time, 78 of whom were Black, 42 of whom were Black men.
Some of these 116 Black men with local four-year college degrees may have attended Rochester City schools. How many? It is hard to tell, but as a matter of fact, the “Rochester Promise,” which gives generous support to graduates of Rochester schools for study at the University of Rochester awarded two scholarships this year. That is an improvement over previous years, in which no Rochester Promise scholarships were awarded. We know then that those two male Black students, of an eighth-grade class of 690, eventually received degrees from the University of Rochester. Perhaps as many did so from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Or maybe the number in each case was four. Eight?
Given these results, especially after test data released this July, the Rochester district boasted to the Democrat and Chronicle and other media outlets that: “We have increased investments in prekindergarten, special education, a new K-2 English curriculum developed by District teachers and many other services to help close that gap… Working together with our families and the community, the district is committed to accelerating achievement for Rochester students.”
All to the good. But the Rochester district has spent decades failing to educate the children whose parents have entrusted it with their futures. It has betrayed that trust. It is time, well past time, for the state to act.
The Democratic Party chose Philadelphia and the Republican Party chose Cleveland, for their respective conventions this year. We will hear much about the Constitution, American democracy and Benjamin Franklin from Philadelphia; much about making Cleveland great again, about the huge wall that will be built to protect it from Mexican invaders.
It is unlikely that we will hear much about income and wealth inequality in those cities, nor much about their school systems. The Economic Policy Institute tells us that the average income of the top one percent in the Philadelphia metropolitan area is $1.1 million; that of the rest of the population is $54,000. Cleveland is poorer at both ends of the income distribution. The top one percent of the Cleveland metropolitan area has an average income of only $895,000; the rest lives on an average of $44,000—again about 1/20th that of their richer neighbors, despite the comparatively modest incomes of the latter.
In Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, the rich are richer, with an average income of $959,000, and the poor are poorer, with an average income of $41,000. In Philadelphia County, the average income of the bottom 99 percent–that is, practically everyone, is $32,000, slightly under the Medicaid eligibility level for a family of four. Almost 40 percent of Black families with children under 18 years of age in Philadelphia County live in poverty. The average Black family in Cuyahoga County has an income of also $32,000; 44 percent of Black families with children in Cuyahoga County live in poverty.
In order for Cleveland to be great again, it will need a well-educated workforce. A good measure of educational achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ eighth grade reading test. If children cannot read well by then, they are unlikely to earn a meaningful high school diploma, unlikely to go to college, unlikely to earn an above average income, and, if they are Black males, very likely to spend time in prison. Unfortunately, four out of five White students in Cleveland are below grade level in eighth grade reading. Catastrophically, 92 percent of Black students in the city’s public schools cannot read at grade level when they reach eighth grade. This is obviously an emergency and we can anticipate a wonderful plan to emerge to make the Cleveland schools great again.
Which brings us to Philadelphia, cradle of the Constitution, home of the Liberty Bell, and so forth. Same thing: 74 percent of White students in grade eight cannot read proficiently, neither can 91 percent of Black students. Meanwhile the district itself is in total disarray, the result of decades of mismanagement at all levels and in all areas.
Just six percent of male Black eighth-grade students in Philadelphia can read at grade level, just seven percent in Cleveland. The central offices of their school districts no doubt know who they are. As for the rest, the local criminal justice systems are probably working out their hiring plans and jail accommodation budgets appropriately. They will, of course, have to take into account a deduction based on ProPublica’s analysis that Black teens are 21 times as likely as white teens to be shot and killed by police. After all, Cleveland is the home of Tamir Rice, whose murder at the hand of a cop has never been adjudicated, while Philadelphia has long had a reputation for brutal policing.
The choice of these cities as sites for their national conventions by our two great political parties is a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on these matters and remedy the problems that light will reveal. We hope the outcome will be measures to lessen income inequality, to improve the schools, to eliminate police shootings of Black children. We can always hope.
Marking the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown decision the Government Accounting Office has released a report on American public education. As befits a bean-counting agency, the report comes in the modest guise of a contribution to a technical accounting discussion, pointing out how “Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies…”, well, you get the picture.
But the report is more than an accounting exercise, as its title continues by stating that what its information can help agencies do is to “Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination.” In fact, the GAO found that “The percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing.” Sixty years after Brown America’s traditional public schools are resegregating.
The defendants in the Brown case argued that although their schools were segregated by race, the separate educational opportunities provided were equal, separate but equal, as they said, following the 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Brown, however, the Court found that “Segregation . . . deprive[s] [Black children] of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.” The Brown decision, relying on somewhat controversial research about the psychological effects of government-sanctioned segregation, concluded that its mere existence was damaging to Black students.
Now comes the GAO, with its analysis of “better information,” finding that America’s schools are not only in violation of Brown, they are increasingly in violation of Plessy as well. The educational opportunities offered by our schools where separate, and they are increasingly separate, are decidedly not equal.
Before we go any further, in the spirit of GAO, here’s a technical note: The categories used in the report are those of the U.S. Department of Education. There are the racial and ethnic categories—White, Black, Hispanic, Asian and Other—and the economic category defined by the eligibility of school children for free or reduced-price lunches. There are very serious problems with the racial and ethnic categories. “Asian,” in particular, is high problematic, throwing together people with Chinese ancestry with people of Sri Lankan descent; Filipinos and Iranians, and so forth. “Hispanics” can be of Cuban, Mexican, Dominican or Argentine derivation, for example, regardless of race. “Black” refers to people with sub-Saharan African ancestry (but not the very dark people from Kerala or indigenous Australians) and White is practically a residual category.
These seemingly technical difficulties are deeply implicated in America’s problems with race and racism. The absurdities of the Asian and Hispanic categories are irrelevant. The underlying point is that what matters in these United States is whether or not one is visibly and predominantly descended from enslaved Africans. If so, one is likely to find, for example, that police pay more attention to you than to others; that employers are less likely to give you a chance at a job and if they do they will pay you less than others, and that it will be difficult to find housing outside areas of concentrated poverty.
As for economic categorization, the White median household income is $57,400. The median income for Hispanic households is $42,700. The Black median household income is $35,500. As the income eligibility line for reduced-price meals for a family of four is $46,000, most Black school children are included in the group eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, as are the majority of Hispanic school children.
In other words, saying that a Black school child is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch is practically redundant.
But you plow with the mules that you’ve got, so here we go:
In addition to finding that American schools are resegregating, GAO found that schools that were over 75 percent Black or Hispanic AND the students of which were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch “offered fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses.” They are separate, but offer very unequal educational opportunities. White middle class students attend schools with more math, science and college preparatory courses, schools for Black and Hispanic students from impoverished families offer fewer.
Which brings us to the fine print of Appendix II of the report: “Students Enrolled in Advanced Placement Courses, by Race.”
Advanced Placement courses are the crown jewels of American education, qualifying students for college study and in many cases giving credit for basic college courses while still in high school. GAO divided high schools into four categories: Low-Poverty and 0 to 25 percent Black or Hispanic; High-Poverty and 75 to 100 percent Black or Hispanic; All Other Schools and the subset of schools 90 to 100 percent High Poverty and Black and Hispanic.
Let us look at the first and last of these groups: the privileged and the underprivileged. 24 percent of students in the middle class schools with low poverty rates and low Black and Hispanic enrollment enrolled in at least one AP course. These schools were 80 percent White, seven percent Asian, six percent Hispanic, and four percent Black. Within that group, 43 percent of Asian students and 24 percent of White students enrolled in at least one AP course, as compared to 17 percent of Hispanic and just 15 percent of Black students.
Now for the highly segregated schools serving students from impoverished families, schools with 90 percent poverty rates and 90 percent Black and Hispanic enrollment. These schools were 53 percent Black, 44 percent Hispanic, one percent White, and one percent Asian. Just 12 percent of students in those schools—half the proportion of the other group—enrolled in at least one AP course. 18 percent of Asian students in the high poverty schools and 14 percent of White students enrolled in at least one AP course, as compared to 14 percent of Hispanic and just 10 percent of Black students.
The chances that an Asian student in a school serving underprivileged students will enroll in an AP class are much less than half those that an Asian student in a middle class school. That for White students falls nearly in half, from 24 percent to 14 percent, for Hispanic students from 17 percent to 14 percent and for Black students the opportunity to take these gateway courses declines from 15 percent in a middle class school to 10 percent in a ghetto school.
Simply moving from a school high-poverty, highly segregated school to a low-poverty school with a student body more closely representative in racial and ethnic terms to the general population can double the opportunity to enroll in an AP course for all students. This doesn’t mean it always happens; we see this all the time with gifted and talented courses that are also often segregation by another name. At the same time, more opportunities means more opportunities for all.
As a note: It is striking that White students in schools reserved for underprivileged students enroll in AP courses at a rate slightly below that of Black students in middle class schools. Perhaps there is a tendency for administrators of schools with overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic student populations to practice within-school segregation.
GAO was also interested in the math courses offered by different categories of schools. It found, for example, that 79 percent of middle class schools offered 7th and 8th grade Algebra, while only 49 percent of high poverty with 75 percent to 100 percent Black and Hispanic enrollment schools did so. Similarly, 71 percent of middle class, but only 29 percent of the high poverty schools offered calculus. Interestingly, among the schools serving high poverty students, 75 percent or more of whom were Black or Hispanic, 30 percent of the traditional schools offered calculus, but only 17 percent of charter schools did so.
Some have argued that family, neighborhood and “cultural” factors determine a student’s educational achievement. The GAO, on the other hand, found that “schools that were highly isolated by poverty and race generally had fewer resources and disproportionately more disciplinary actions than other schools.” Students needing relatively more educational resources because of, say, family, neighborhood and “cultural” factors receive fewer, a situation aggravated by school discipline policies and actions that have been shown to be racially discriminatory.
In other words, the GAO has found that educational opportunity depends on where you live. Schools in middle class areas offer more AP, algebra and calculus courses and enroll much higher percentages of students in those courses than schools serving poor kids, of whatever race or ethnicity. As schools, and communities, become increasingly segregated, educational opportunities become increasingly unequal: more separate, less equal. Which is the consequence of a public education system that determines opportunity based on zip code, and not on what families, given high-quality data and choice regardless of income, decide to access.
We know how important college-preparatory education in advancing economic and social mobility, especially for Black, Latino, and children from poor households. That we continue segregating those children from those opportunities when it possible to provide it to them are the result of deliberate decisions to exclude them from better lives for themselves and their communities.
What is to be done? In accord with its mission, the GAO recommends that the departments of Education and Justice track data more closely and analyze it more comprehensibly. There are other things that should be done. State and local officials responsible for the disparities found by the GAO should remedy them—should remedy them as soon as possible before more Black and Latino children in high poverty schools have their future’s stolen from them.
How hard is the New York City government trying to increase inequality and inter-generational poverty? Very hard indeed and quite successfully, thank you.
They are doing this by means of the schools. They,” rather than “it,” because this situation is the result of decisions by individuals, decisions made everyday in dozens if not hundreds of meetings, expressed in hundreds, if not thousands, of documents. It is the responsibility of those individuals (you know who you are), not of abstractions like “institutional racism,” “budgetary constraints,” “and bureaucracy”. They may say they are not intentionally increasing inequality, but if, over time, their actions do so that effect is best understood as identical with the objective intention.
As you might recall, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that “Segregation . . . deprive[s] [Black children] of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.” The benefits in question, not to put too fine a point on it, are those of a good education: higher incomes, longer lives, a better start in life for themselves and their children.
There is a difference between families choosing schools that aren’t integrated of their own accord – charter schools, for instance – and being forced by traditional districts to attend schools that are deliberately segregated. But as we already know, most children and families do not choose the schools they attend, and have little political power within school districts to even have choice. Especially in New York City. Just 7.9 percent of children in New York attend charter schools; the rest are in the district. So when we talk about segregation in New York City, we are talking about what people who run the New York City Department of Education are doing to restrict opportunities for high-quality education to Black and Latino children.
In its new report, Brown at 62: School Segregation by Race, Poverty and State, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds that New York is the most segregated state for Black students, much more segregated than, for example, Mississippi. Two-thirds of the state’s Black students are in schools that are 90 percent of more non-White and non-Latino. This is astounding because black children account for just 18 percent of students in the Empire State, compared to 50 percent of students in Mississippi, where fewer than half of Black students are in those extremely segregated schools. Latino students in New York State are nearly as isolated from their White, non-Hispanic, peers, with 57 percent in extremely segregated schools. The Civil Rights Project report also points to the increasing economic segregation of Black and Latino students, nationally; today the average Black and Latino student attends a school where two-thirds of the students are from low-income families.
The Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project has also recently released a report, this bringing the issues for New York City into sharper focus. According to High School Graduation in New York City: Is Neighborhood Still Destiny?, there is a 34 percent disparity in high school graduation rates between the best- and worst-performing of the city’s 59 community districts. Or, to be specific: Ninety-five percent of the high school students graduate on time in the wealthy Manhattan Community Districts 1 and 2, where virtually no Black or Latino families live. In the nearly all-black and Latino neighborhoods of Brownsville and Ocean Hill in Brooklyn, and Morris Heights, Fordham South, and the ironically named Mount Hope in the Bronx, only 61 percent of high school students graduate on time.
Using hundreds of statistical indicators, the authors of this report find that there is a direct relationship between on-time high school graduation in New York City and family income and education levels. Rich kids with highly educated parents graduate on time; poor kids with poorly educated parents don’t. Children from economically impoverished families are doubly disadvantaged: poverty at home and inferior, less well-funded, schools down the street. “In Queens, for example, a poor school gets 29 percent less money than a wealthy school nearby,” according to U.S. Secretary of Education John King.
Admittedly, in some ways, New York City’s traditional public schools are better than they were two decades ago. But that’s not saying much. For black and Latino children, who went to schools that were worse than those in the rest of the city, that’s saying nothing at all.
This situation is aggravated, not alleviated, by the city’s secondary school choice program. Faced with a scarcity situation—not enough good schools—“the city,” that is, those people who make decisions for others, put in place a system that in the final analysis distributes those scarce good schools by parental income and education. Families, the SSRC report finds, choose high schools on the basis of discussions with their friends and neighbors. Because of the city’s segregation and the lack of high-quality data on school performance, poor families tend to get their information from other poor families, and miss out on getting into the best-performing schools that wealthier families learn about through their well-heeled social networks.
There is also the crucial matter is the “tax” on families required by the city’s secondary high school “choice” system. [It hardly deserves the name, actually.] It requires as much as a working week or two of family time to struggle through the required paperwork and other hoops. This is not anything like something an average family in the Bronx or central Brooklyn can afford. And as we know, access to good schools in New York City is grotesquely even more inequitable in regard to the city’s few “selective” high schools.
There are solutions to this problem. Here is one proposed by those who don’t want to anything: If “those children” simply had better educated, wealthier, parents and lived in neighborhoods with very good preschools, elementary and middle schools, they wouldn’t have a problem, would they?
Another solution would be to eliminate education scarcity. This includes making all New York City traditional public schools equally good, and making those in neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty more than equally good. How could that be done and who could do it? It has been done in some places, for example, in the United Kingdom and much of Europe through various national government policies. Canada has done this through its decentralized systems of traditional public schools and school choice. Montgomery County, Md., had some success doing this some years ago by more-effectively allocating resources – especially high-quality teachers. In some cases budget categories were reallocated: landscaping funding was reduced; early childhood education funding was increased. Outcomes were then closely examined and the resource mix adjusted.
Good schools for all children may be costly, but not nearly as costly, in a wider sense, than the present situation in New York City, with good schools only for those who can afford them.
The question mark is important. Genocide is a loaded term and the act of genocide can take many forms: the slow genocide of American Indians accomplished by thousands of local actions as well as by state power and disease; the comparatively recent genocide in Rwanda inflicted by neighbors with machetes; the classic genocide of the Shoah or Holocaust. The mass killings of young Black men in Chicago, largely accomplished by gunfire from other young Black men, would at first appear to be simply a matter for the criminal justice system of the state. On closer examination it can be seen as a matter of criminal activity by the state.
There were 480 homicides out of 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, as counted by the Chicago Tribune. Nearly all these victims were young men; the overwhelming majority were between the ages of 18 and 30. They shoot one another in the streets of the city, usually in the afternoon. Very few shooting victims are females, relatively few are men over 50. Fewer still are White.
The neighborhood ranking first among Chicago’s 77 community areas for violent crimes in 2015 was West Garfield Park. West Garfield Park has a per capita income of $10,951, much less than half of the city average of $27,148. Forty percent of the neighborhood’s households have incomes below the poverty level, more than double the city average. The rate of arrests for prostitution, another poverty indicator, is among the highest in the city. A quarter of the working age population is unemployed, 26 percent have no high school diploma. West Garfield Park is 96 percent Black.
If, for the sake of argument, we attribute each recorded violent crime in West Garfield Park to a different male between the ages of 18 and 64, we can estimate that about 14 percent of that group committed a violent crime in 2015. Of course, some of them committed more than one violent crime, and, on the other hand, few over the age of 45 did so. Fourteen percent will do as an indicator of the prevalence of young men committing violent crimes in West Garfield Park.
North Lawndale, the runner up in the rate of violent crime in Chicago, has similar socio-economic statistics. On the other hand, the neighborhoods with the lowest rates of violent crime have the opposite socio-economic data: per capita incomes many times the city average, poverty levels far below the city average, virtually no unemployment, no arrests for prostitution, few adults lacking high school diplomas and, generally, majority White, non-Hispanic, populations. (Just four percent of Lincoln Park adults, for example, lack a high school diploma, hardly any live in crowded housing, per capita income is between two and three times the city average and more than six times the average of West Garfield Park.)
Why do young Black men in West Garfield Park and similar Chicago neighborhoods shoot one another?
A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that two-thirds of those committing a firearm crime had themselves been victims of violence requiring an emergency room visit. For such young men, who were also unemployed and who, when in school, had qualified for the National Lunch Program, had a record of school discipline actions and had failed to graduate from high school, the percentage committing a firearm crime rose to 90 percent. Those study results, although useful, are merely descriptive. They do not tell us why young Black men are becoming the instruments of their own genocide. For this we can turn, for example, to the classic study, The Cost of Inequality by Judith and Peter Blau, who found that inequalities promote criminal violence.
Chicago has among the highest rates of income and wealth inequality in America. White median household income is twice that of Black median household income. Nearly half, 45 percent, of Black residents of the city have incomes below the poverty level; just 13 percent of the White residents live in poverty. Two-thirds of Black families in Chicago have incomes so low that their children qualify for the National Lunch Program. There is little economic mobility in Chicago neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Few Black children in Chicago, among those who live to adulthood, grow up to have incomes equal to that of their parents and most will have lower incomes than those of their parents. In addition, 93 percent of Chicago’s Black households have no net wealth, apart from equity in their own homes: they could not pay an unexpected medical bill—or bail—of a few hundred dollars without borrowing.
This leads to the question: Why are race-based inequalities so stark in Chicago and similar American cities? What are the causes of the vast racial inequities in the city? One is easily identified: The operations of the schools.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports concerning the crucial eighth grade level of basic skills achievement show that while the district’s schools have brought half (52 percent) of its male White, non-Hispanic, students to grade-level Proficiency in reading, they have only done so with eight percent of their male Black students. Nearly half of Chicago’s male Black students (3,700) do not graduate from high school. As in many other districts, the reforms of the last decade that improved literacy in the early grades haven’t been helpful in making kids college- and career-ready by high school.
A recent U.S. Department of Education study has found that even if they are given a high school diploma by their school, students who could not read at grade level in eighth grade cannot expect to succeed in college. Of the approximately 3,900 male Black high school graduates, therefore, only three or four hundred can be expected to go on to middle class careers. In other words, from the point of view of the male descendants of enslaved Africans, the Chicago school district fails in a key part of its mission 90 percent of the time.
If an institution fails more often than not to achieve its professed mission, it is reasonable to conclude that its actual mission is to achieve that result.
Compounding this failure, the Chicago school district added another risk factor by suspending or expelling approximately 13,000 male Black students in 2011-2012, the most recent date for which nationally certified statistics are available.
There were 2,986 recorded shooting victims in Chicago in 2015, nearly all of whom were Black males. 3,700 male Black students did not graduate from high school. 13,000 male Black students were suspended or expelled. These are the groups who, according to the CDC, are most likely to become themselves perpetrators of fire-arm crimes. And the shooters, themselves, are of course also victims.
The Chicago public schools do not educate male Black students for success in life. They prepare them for lives of violence. Generally, those lives are short.
What can be done to improve those Chicago schools “serving” Black children so that they learn to read and do math, graduate on-time and college and career ready?
The reform package is well-known: It starts with high quality early childhood education from age two and includes overhauling how we recruit and train teachers along with providing high-quality educational opportunities. Just within the district itself, this could mean a doubling of the instructional budget for schools in neighborhoods like West Garfield Park. Given that nearly half the funding available to the district presently might be said to have been wasted in the process of not educating Black children, a targeted doubling of support for the education of Chicago’s most vulnerable children might even be considered cost effective.
Beyond that, as more male Black students learn to read, are not chronically truant, are not suspended and expelled, do graduate from high school prepared for college and careers, fewer will go out into the streets in the late afternoon and shoot other young Black men. And how much would that be worth?