Tag: desegregation

The Legacies of Education’s Past Before Us

The Rosenwald School Next Door: The legacies of America’s Original Sin run through American public education — and often leave their marks on the nation’s physical landscape even in plain sight….

The Rosenwald School Next Door: The legacies of America’s Original Sin run through American public education — and often leave their marks on the nation’s physical landscape even in plain sight. Your editor and his family sees one each day, as we drive from our home in Bowie to church, passing a humble building on Church and Old Stage Roads surrounded by an old Masonic lodge and trees on what is left of an old farm.

These days, the building is a duplex, a home for those who live in it. But from 1927 to 1952, it was one of many schools funded by the Rosenwald Fund which helped fund schools for Black children in rural communities where Jim Crow-controlled districts were unwilling to serve them with adequate classrooms.

There’s a long history of education on this site. The first school for Black children on this acre of what was then called Collington was built in 1875, a decade after the end of the Civil War. As with so many schools of the time, it was a simple one-room building that often served as many Black children as possible in spite of opposition from White men and women still upset by the end of slavery and the loss of the Confederacy during the civil war.

The first Collington Colored School did its job as well as its could as did the teachers who worked within it. But by 1927, the building was no longer adequate for the job. Even with a declining population of Black people in Maryland and Prince George’s County, many of whom fled to New York City and Philadelphia to escape from Jim Crow, there were still plenty of children in the area who needed to go to school. So the local parents-teachers organization (which, like many of those serving Black people, was separate from a National PTA that tolerated segregation), began agitating for a new schoolhouse.

Photo courtesy of Fisk University.

Being a Jim Crow district in a Jim Crow state, Prince George’s County Public Schools was of no mood to build a new schoolhouse for the Black kids in its care. So the Rosenwald Fund, established a decade earlier by the president of Sears, Roebuck & Co., at the behest of Booker T. Washington to build schools for Black children, stepped in to help. In 1927, thanks to Rosenwald and the Black families in the community, this building was constructed, west of the old school (which has since disappeared into history). For the next 25 years, Black children in the are attended the school, getting as much of an education as allowed by a district uninterested in doing anything for them.

The Collington school would be one of the 5,000 school buildings the Rosenwald Fund would help construct between 1917 and 1931. It would do a lot of good. As Daniel Aaronson and Bhashkar Mazumder  of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago determined in a 2011 study, the construction of the schools contributed to Black children gaining an additional year of education compared to peers who had no access to school. Along with programs such as the Jeannes Fund, which recruited Black men and women to teach in those schools, the Rosenwald Fund reduced achievement gaps between Black and White children and help more African American attain high school diplomas and even college degrees. All of this despite the obstacles erected by White men and women who thought Black children didn’t deserve opportunities for better lives.

As for the Collington Colored School? It would operate until 1952, two years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that official segregation was illegal. that year, the Prince George’s County district shut down the school even though it wouldn’t desegregate its schools until two decades later, because it was too small to operate. This fate befell many of the other segregated Black schools built since the end of the Civil War. The old schoolhouse on Church and Old Stage was then sold to the Roman Catholic archdiocese and its Holy Family parish, which them used it to provide religious instruction to the Black children in its pews.

By the end of the 1960s, the building was sold again to Richard Spriggs, who converted the building into a duplex and whose family still owns it. Despite Bowie transforming from a place for the White landed gentry and their horses to a bedroom suburb of Washington, D.C., home to the wealthiest African Americans in the wealthiest Black county in America, the old schoolhouse still remains, one of many Rosenwald Schools still around, though without any historic medallion to signify its past.

As we fight to transform American public education as well as end the policies and practices that damage far too many Black and other minority children, we have to also remember that the dark past isn’t so long ago. In fact, the problems of the past and the solutions for the future can be seen right in front of us, often on little roads that we pass by on the way to fighting the present and shaping the future.

Another Way to Help Improve Civics Education: These pages have devoted part of the past few months to addressing how reformers and others can transform history and civics education so that all of our children gain comprehensive knowledge of the good, bad and ugly of our nation’s past as well as help build a better nation. One way can be seen in a high school in Fairfax County, where the Street Law program is teaching children about the workings of Congress and the nation’s municipal governments.

There in that school, a group of corporate lawyers take time with a class discussing how bills become laws and how celebrities such as talk show host Stephen Colbert participate in shaping how the nation addresses issues such as immigration reform. The high schoolers, in turn, bring up their own experiences in learning the consequences of laws. This includes a move by officials in Falls Church to end a special meal tax that was used to finance the traditional district’s sports activities.

Few in the school reform movement know about organizations such as Street Law and ThinkLaw, which use real-life examples to help kids think through issues in society. Even fewer realize their value. Street Law, in particular, runs annual professional development seminars that help teachers understand the inner workings of the federal judiciary as well as providing mock court sessions and other lessons for children from poor and minority backgrounds. Between 1995 and 2015, Street Law has given high-quality civics education to 300,000 of our youth, while ThinkLaw, run by Teach For America Colin Seale, works in charter and district schools in Nevada, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

But it takes money and bodies to provide more lessons to more children. Street Law, in particular, does this with the help of corporations and law firms donating pro bono time as well as cash. It will take even more money and bodies to expand what these organizations do. This is something the school reform movement and the organizations within it can do if those complaining about the quality of civics and history education wanted to help.

They can start by calling up Street Law and ThinkLaw to learn how they can help out. If they want to know more, they can call up one of Street Law’s past honorees, former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, or chat up Seale himself. And since some of the leading lights in the movement are Yale Law School graduates and have experience crafting and filing civil torts, they can also take some time out and reach out to these groups to lend a hand. Take the opportunity and become part of the solution.

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Why Desegregation Must Be Secondary to Systemic Reform


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Among the dominant themes in education this year is the debate over the importance of integration and desegregation in school reform. From the Gary Orfield-Richard Kahlenberg crowd launching rhetorical volleys…

The battle to improve education for blacks, minorities and the poor remains the same. But we can’t fight it with the same approaches. (Photo courtesy of Salon)

Among the dominant themes in education this year is the debate over the importance of integration and desegregation in school reform. From the Gary Orfield-Richard Kahlenberg crowd launching rhetorical volleys against charter schools, to the battle between old-school civil rights groups and President Barack Obama, the question of whether education has swung too far from a goal of assuring that blacks, whites and Latinos sit together in classrooms and lunchrooms has become as much a discussion as Race to the Top and the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Certainly the question mostly arises from the battles over who will shape the reform of American public education (teachers unions and their allies versus school reformers) and how (charter schools versus magnet schools; competitive reform programs versus additional funding). But, as Education Next points out through its interview with Steve Rifkin and Susan Eaton, there is also whether or not we should continue to hold on to a noble ideal. For those who are dedicated to desegregation above all else, as Easton is, integrating all of society offers “untapped potential” to make society more diverse, add richness to our individual and collective social thinking, and even improve economic and social progress for all. After all, it is what civil rights activists of the 1960s always wanted. Right?

Not exactly. The ideals of the civil rights movement weren’t so much about bringing all children of different races and creeds together in order to promote a more-harmonious world. It may have been an ideal to which Martin Luther King may have appealed in order to win support from whites (and he clearly believed it himself). But for the rest of the movement (think Thurgood Marshall, Whitney Young and Malcolm X),  it wasn’t the goal. For civil rights activists, the primary mission was to allow for blacks and other minorities to be full members of the economic and social mainstream — that thing called equal opportunity under the law. This included improving the quality of education for black and minority children, who were segregated — both physically and fiscally — from what was then considered high-quality schools. They were tired of black students sitting in wretched school buildings, being unable to attend the best school near their homes, and not having up-to-date textbooks from which to study.

Desegregation and integration became the accepted means of achieving this goal for two reasons: The first being the realization that blacks wouldn’t achieve it immediately through the fiscal means (equal funding of schools) simply because segregationist whites controlled school boards and other political mechanisms. The second being that they thought that the way blacks would gain a better education (and greater entree into society) by merely rubbing shoulders with white kids and attending their schools.

Certainly integration achieved some good by helping middle class blacks gain greater access to society; but they, like their white middle class schoolmates, were already guaranteed some level of it. But it didn’t do much for poor blacks or Latinos (or even for poor whites). These kids were already treated as afterthoughts by teachers in traditional public school classrooms in their neighborhoods; desegregation merely guaranteed that they would get desultory instruction and curricula in more-diverse classes.

Meanwhile minority neighborhoods suffered the consequences. Although there were some high-quality schools in those neighborhoods before desegregation, most of them were of the abysmal quality that led to Brown in the first place. Desegregation could have led to those schools getting what would have been for the time high-quality teachers and better school leadership if the civil rights leaders and school administrators were willing to do the work. This didn’t happen. Instead, the combination of busing, suburban flight, poor school district leadership and the economic malaise that took hold after the Great Society era led to these schools falling further into academic failure status (and that’s when they weren’t shut down altogether). As a result, minority neighborhoods — especially ones home to poor blacks — fell into wretched disrepair.

What civil rights leaders of the first generation (and the second-generation old-school activists who succeeded them and now head up the NAACP and other groups today) didn’t understand was that the segregation wasn’t the only cause of low quality of education for blacks in American public education — and not even the biggest culprit. The real problem was systemic: A public education system in which most teachers weren’t trained by ed schools to work with poor and minority children; the use of ability-tracking to segment students deemed worthy of college preparatory education from those (namely minorities, immigrants and the poor) considered too cognitively inferior for such work; and the comprehensive high school (which further exacerbated the effects of ability tracking); the concept of zoned schooling, which prevents parents from exercising choice (and exacerbates racial, ethnic and income-based segregation). These issues were easy to miss in part because of the lack of good data on school performance, and the reality that even for poor blacks, the lack of a high-quality education had less to do with precluding them from middle class-paying work than racial bigotry in the rest of society.

By the 1970s, these problems were exacerbated thanks to the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The contracts they structured with districts (along with their successful lobbying efforts at the state level), gave veteran instructors wide berth in picking their teaching assignments; longtime teachers who didn’t want to work with the poorest children or those from racial minorities they may have deemed unteachable, could easily avoid them by selecting the more-middle class (and less racially- and economically-diverse) schools. Magnet schools, because they are often selective, require kids to be on the right ability track (and support from gatekeepers) to get into them, and warehouse high-quality teachers from the rest of the school district, could never solve these problems.

Within the past 40 years, we have figured out most of the systemic problems and their underlying causes. Solving them requires a far different approach than simply integrating school populations (or simply increasing school funding, as the equity lawsuit crowd would prefer). The approach must be different: The traditional system of teacher compensation and seniority-based benefits must be changed in order to bring high quality teachers to schools serving poor and minority communities; charter schools and other school choice options must be expanded in order to provide every parent with a range of high-quality options to serve their children; families must also be given their proper role as kings and consumers in education decision-making; college preparatory curricula must be the floor — and not the ceiling — in every school throughout the nation in order to assure children that they will be prepared for the future.

The high levels of racial, ethnic and income segregation won’t cease in urban communities until school systems are of the high quality all parents — middle class and poor alike — demand. In suburban communities, segregation won’t stop until you make inter-district school choice — allowing parents to send their children anywhere they choose — a reality. This means opening the doors to school choice (as well as confronting suburban parents fast and hard about their prejudices). Old-school civil rights activists and their colleagues in the Orfield-Kahlenberg crowd must realize this — and also acknowledge that they are reinterpreting civil rights history in ways that were never so.

Additionally, most minority parents have no interest in it. Since many of them were part of the very desegregation efforts of the past four decades, they recognize, as onetime busing supporter Charles Ogletree did, that integration is “a false promise”. As taxpayers, they have as much right as their wealthier counterparts to expect high-quality schools in their neighborhoods. More importantly, what is the point of a harmonious society when half of the population is poorly educated, likely to end up in prison, and will fall onto the welfare line? A nation in which a broad set of its population remains poor, uneducated and ghettoized will not remain harmonious for long.

Meanwhile the problems of race and ethnicity currently bubbling up these days — including the complex debate over Arizona’s immigration enforcement law — stem from problems that have long been part of the American political and social landscape. Immigration has been a lightning rod since 1882 when Congress passed the first round of immigration restrictions in order to stop Chinese migrants from coming to our shores. Racial and ethnic discrimination has been part of the American fabric for centuries longer. Education can help foster more-diverse mindsets; but it will take more than schools to deal with these deep-seeded legacies. Social integration can happen in other contexts (and already does); this will continue to happen as America becomes a majority-minority country. And what it means to be American isn’t defined by schools anyway; that’s why we have civic holidays such as Independence Day and rituals such as the Pledge of Allegiance.

This isn’t to say that desegregation and school reform cannot coexist. If anything, school choice could foster more diversity by opening opportunities for parents to send their children to schools anywhere they see fit, be it a traditional public school in the neighborhood, a magnet in another district, a local charter or even the Catholic diocesan school in the next neighborhood. School reformers — especially those working in the big cities and in the Beltway — also cannot forget about the importance of desegregation and integration. Expanding the minds and horizons of children is also important to their academic and social success; the lack of middle-class background knowledge, for example, may be the reason why many minorities perform poorly on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the gatekeeper for college entrance. Working with organizations and cultural institutions to enrich their experiences (and broaden the perspectives of reformers themselves) is important to do and should be done.

But for the poorest parents and for minority families — whose options are often limited to the worst that American public education offers — they’ve seen desegregation and want something a lot better: Great schools for their kids and opportunities to learn in order to fully be a part of the American mainstream. And as committed as I am to a color-blind society, both in principle and in my own life, this middle-class black man can hardly disagree.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment.

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Read: Tuesday Morning Teacher Edition


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What’s happening in the dropout nation: – The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board sniffs at the Ford Foundation’s school initiative. Given the foundation’s history of getting itself — and the…

Rarely seen: Black male teacher such as Brandon George. Also under that list: Teachers with strong subject-matter competency. More of both needed.

Rarely seen: Black male teacher such as Brandon George. Also under that list: Teachers with strong subject-matter competency. More of both needed.

What’s happening in the dropout nation:

– The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board sniffs at the Ford Foundation’s school initiative. Given the foundation’s history of getting itself — and the entire philanthropic sector — in trouble in the school philanthropy arena, it may be best for Ford to stick to something more traditional.

Gotham Schools reports that New York State’s Education Commissioner and Board of Regents Chancellor wants to allow for the use of student test data in measuring teacher performance during the first two years of their careers before they attain tenure. This is essentially a revival of a law passed two years ago during the first year of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s tenure that was kibboshed a year later by the legislature and Gov. David Paterson last year at the behest of the state’s AFT affiliate. Nice idea. At least one study suggests that the teacher performance remains constant before and after tenure. But until tenure is eliminated and school districts actually take time to assess teachers, the proposal is rather meaningless. After all, some of the research so far also shows that teacher performance declines after they reach tenure.

– So far, this week, neither Kevin Carey nor Checker Finn have taken potshots at each other over whether stimulus funds should be used for saving teacher jobs. Unfortunately, neither side is focusing on the real problem: How to improve the quality of teaching in America’s schools. The stimulus debate, like the money, will eventually go away. The  impediments to improving teacher quality —  including woeful training at the ed school level, state policymaking that blocks effective performance management, poor selection of aspiring teachers who are both competent in their subjects and care about the children they teach, human capital policies that encourage teacher absenteeism, and lack of diversity in the teacher ranks — will still remain. It’s time for both of them to go back to their laudable work.

– Maureen Downey takes a look at the Florida ACLU suit and former Sunshine State governor Jeb Bush’s response. Hint: Another example of what happens when education statistics(accurate, maybe) and education statistics (unreliable, definitely) collide in public policy debates.

– The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Brooke Dollens Terry takes a look at teacher quality in the Lone Star State. She isn’t impressed.

– EdSector’s Erin Dillon peruses Teachers College’s report touting desegregation. She not only finds that it lacks rigor, but it uses a “strawman” of free-market school reforms that doesn’t define which form (in the form of charter schools and other school choice measures) at the heart of their discussion. Ultimately, argues Dillon, the need is to ultimately improve the quality of education in every neighborhood in order to achieve true equity between majority-black , majority-Latino and majority white schools.

– The Boston Globe wants Massachusetts legislators to raise the dropout age to 18. Fine. Hopefully, the Globe editorial board will hold state officials accountable for improving curricula, teacher quality and opportunities for engaging students and parents as equal partners with teachers and principals. Increasing the dropout age alone won’t solve much of anything.

Jay Mathews joins Andy Smarick in advocating for shutting down dropout factories and other poor-performing schools.

– Sara Carr’s fascinating series about school choice in New Orleans offers a point I have been making for some time: School reformers must now focus on developing systems for giving parents the information and guidance they need to make decisions. This means improving the quality and delivery of school data — or simply put, let a thousand SchoolMatches bloom — and fostering grassroots organizations that can help parents make decisions.

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