Tuesday, May 20, 2014

BROWN V. BOARD OF ED AND THE DEAD END DIVERSITY AGENDA


The 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education has renewed interest in the persistent lack of diversity and achievement gaps in public school populations.

Claims are often made that cite lack of diversity as the cause of low achievement among underperforming groups.  A couple days ago I read this refrain again in an Ed  Source article by the ED of the California School Board Association. A topic of much research for a number of decades, there remains scant evidence to positively correlate diversity and  achievement.  US Supreme Court decisions have noted the inherent racism implicit in the notion that education is precluded by lack of diversity - that is,  it is a fundamentally racist idea that students of color won't learn sufficiently unless they are in multiracial classroom settings, assuming  that other instructional resources are equal (and that's a large assumption).

Yet proponents of the SFUSD assignment system continue to maintain that increased diversity results in increased achievement regardless of the paucity of available data. Where is the requisite evidence to support public policy? Most data on the subject shows a persistence achievement gap both in more and less diversified  schools in SFUSD and elsewhere. This achievement gap  is partially the result of not watching the ball. We have policies and  board resolutions about any number of issues  but rarely about achievement,  Commissioner Haney's recent interest in hats and headwear at schools notwithstanding.
It goes without saying, diversity is a good unto itself as an integrated society is a cohesive nation. We don't need a proven link to improved student outcome for diversity to be part of assignment policy. At the same time efforts to end geographic segregation shouldn't divert us from the core purpose of education, which by all accounts is academic achievement. After all, the purpose of public schools is education. Integration came as a secondary purpose.

I understand that some might say  that schools should not be examples of segregation - that socialization is an equally important component of public education - that the schools should be the flowerbed of an integrated society.  I can't deny the truth in that. There's obviously a compelling reason for schools to be integrated, but schools should not spend their dollars on costly efforts at undoing the residential patterns that drive segregated schools,  then cite as the cause of academic failure the lack of integration when, at the same time, money is being diverted from instructional improvement for expensive assignment policies. The day to day task of education needs to proceed unfettered by policies that use vast amounts  of education dollars for purposes other than for raising achievement. The best way to integrate society is to raise the level of education among all segments of society and the best way to do that is to focus on achievement.
A majority of  school districts have ethnic communities separated geographically by neighborhood and diversifying schools requires engineering of demographics in ways that cause a great deal of family stress and public discontent. There is no clear answer for these problems as they represent a wide range of attitudes and situations, a fact borne out by years of failed diversity-first assignment systems and similar court-ordered policies. Some of those attitudes are prejudicial, no doubt,  and that's true among all subgroups. But should students be held hostage to ending racism before they can get an education? Should school districts hold up their diversity policies as the defining issue of public education when so many students are failing? 

Debate over these issues continues unabated with each side dug in due to the significance that education holds in family life.  But race relations holds an even higher station in public life and public figures hold more sway over policy in Sacramento than parents and children do over it at the dinner table. However, we can change educational attitudes more easily than racial attitudes. We should focus on the individual as all learning starts in the home. Our policies should focus on providing opportunity.
 
It is time to learn the lessons of the past,  to move the debate beyond the diversity-above-all-else agenda and to focus our efforts on achievement gains for all groups, especially those who need it the most. This is neither sanctioning a separate-but-equal policy or  rejecting diversity objectives in student assignment. It simply coming to the realization that cultural change is  gradual and educational needs are immediate. We need to assure that funding is matched to need and put our energies into doing the best for children in the society in which we live today. Race-based education politics have diverted our attentions from tackling the real challenges involved in creating schools which encourage  student participation and adoption of a positive educational outlook.  Right now in San Francisco diversity-driven policies are made in lieu of creating community schools, carving out more school time and tutoring and making retention of qualified teachers top priorities - reforms that are contrary to the union status-quo. 

SFUSD is an example of the dead end of diversity politics and policy.  Any one following the local scene has witnessed the monumental loss of human and monetary capital as a result of assignment system and the drain it has wrought on this district and its communities.  Decades into it we are now no less segregated than we were many years ago and our achievement gap continues to be the largest in the state. This is energy not spent on policies specifically aimed at increasing student effort, improving instructional quality and, in the end, graduating students with the best chance of succeeding in life and, hopefully, going to college.

The fight for racial equality in society at large should continue unabated and in the meantime while we should use our schools to their best advantage to deliver the kind of instructional experience in which student can succeed. This is the best chance for developing a truly integrated society.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don, I agree with you 100%. I've been critical of the lack of desire of some to integrate more, but really it doesn't prevent anyone from succeeding and Asian kids thrive at schools we hear are so disadvantaged, the children don't have equal opportunity. The board uses these as wedge issues to avoid discussion of teacher quality, parenting, behavioral differences between different ethnicities, al much more difficult issues. People don't like hard issues. It's easy to blame poverty. It's a bogeyman. It's troubling to see this done.

Don Krause said...

Well said.

AB said...

The CTIP1 admissions preference should have solved the diversity issue as it affords a select population (predominantly ethnic) the opportunity to effectively go to any school in the District. These CTIP1 students could be taking a significantly larger portion of the limited capacity at Top 15 Choice schools increasing the 'diversity' at these schools and forcing other students away from these schools, out of their neighborhoods and to the less desirable, and often lower performing schools, resulting in greater ethnic diversity at all impacted schools.

Proponents of the diversity agenda like to blame White, Asian and affluent students for not choosing non-neighborhood or lower ranked schools but they do not apply the same scrutiny to ask why African-American and Hispanic CTIP1 students predominantly choose to stick with under-performing neighborhood schools.

I would love to see hard numbers - my frame of reference is the SFUSD annual list of school choice assignment but I have not seen a specific detailed district wide report - and a survey to understand why. My theory is that it is, shockingly, difficult to traverse the City to go to school, and that all families by and large prefer and choose neighborhood schools.

I think everyone can agree that forced segregation is wrong and I would hope that everyone can agree that every child deserves a good education. Reports have shown the current admissions process has created less diversity. It would be nice to see the District go back to neighborhood schools and focus on its mandate to deliver a quality education to every child irrespective of race, socio-economic background, or home address.

Don Krause said...

AB,

Totally agree with your assessment. Even if transportation is a limiting factor in full utilization of the CTIP1 preference, there are plenty of higher performing schools that are located reasonable distances from the SE and the Western Addition. The point is that people generally do not want to go to schools far from home despite The BOE's intention to do everything they can to get them to.

And if you criticize their efforts they will say you're trying to prevent integration. Political change is a pretty hopeless situation here in SF.

Anonymous said...

Public school parents on the west side are the scapegoats. Bernal Heights is full of million dollar homes, but the residents have shown no willingness to build the local schools. In fact, some well heeled residents on the East Side use the lottery to go West (young man) even in the full knowledge the purpose of the lottery is integration and they'd add to that going to the local school and decrease it while hurting an equal income and closer resident by doing so. Truth is, those who have the ability to drive far daily by choice are not poor African Americans and Latinos, for the most part. The lottery just stresses everyone out.

Private schools are a much bigger problem in terms of integration, but nothing can be done about them. For instance, Cobb in Pacific Heights would be a Brown v. Topeka ideal (50/50 black/white) if embraced, yet is scorned by the residents a few blocks away in favor of Hamlin (under 4% black and Latino combined).

Anonymous said...

Why all the focus on percentages and races? Will schools be better if every school has the same composition?

Anonymous said...

Maybe. Society would be better. The beauty of Brown was that even with residential segregation, children would be integrated. I believe efforts to evade this, including white flight and private schools, delayed a balanced and equal society, diminished integration, etc. You'd have more multiracial marriages and people if people were comfortable with others in school, and more friendships across racial lines. There is some mix but it is along predictable lines, it's not anywhere near MLK's dream. We play the speech every February but parents who send their kids to Hamlin completely ignore the message and don't care. Same with Burke. Some private schools are very segregated.

However, you have to learn from a good student. There's too much pride, too much I was raised that way so I'll raise my kid that way, too much blindness. Kids can be in a mixed school and see great examples which could lead to success, and simply ignore them.

Don Krause said...

The use of the word segregation has changed in the contemporary setting. As it applies to public schools, it used to mean and legally refers to policies designed to specifically alter assignment patterns with the intention to prevent diversity. In SFUSD, any schools that don't reflect the overall diversity of the city are considered segregated. But in LAUSD schools are considered segregated even if they do reflect the diversity of the district. In both districts creating diversity is highly limited by the demographics, particularly low white public school participation.

I think AB is correct that the bulk of parents want their children to attend schools close to home. But here in SF that seems to apply mainly to underperforming groups. White and Asian families will commute to better schools. Hence, the CTIP 1 preference is not as effective as was envisioned and probably contributed to segregated schools in some areas where CTIP is utilized by Asians and whites who would otherwise diversify the local school. Part of the interest in commuting has to do with immersion and other alternative schools. If all schools offered similar programs interest in neighborhood schools would be higher. Currently only about 25% choose the neighborhood school.

AB said...

Interesting article in the Chronicle the other day regarding the failure of CTIP preference to diversify SFUSD schools: http://www.sfgate.com/default/article/Plan-s-goal-Get-S-F-families-into-neighborhood-5534708.php

While it is good that there is recognition of the failings in the current admissions/assignment process the hunt for more tools to force diversity is frustrating because it does not address nor attempt to solve the issues of under-performing schools and under-performing students.

You need look no further than the statement that African American and Latino families are less likely to participate in round one of the lottery to see that SFUSD is failing their students even before they start. It's not a diversity issue, it's a preparedness issue - SFUSD should focus on getting everyone into the system, informed and ready to learn.

Don Krause said...

Basically, Norton and Fewer are doing an about face. They berated our effort with Prop H to put neighborhood preference 2nd after sibling and now they want to do just that. Well, better late than never, but what a bunch of hypocrites. They made us out as a bunch of self-serving anti-diversity rich people and scared voters with falsehoods in their rebuttal to the measure. Obviously, now they are testing the winds, see they failure of CTIP and decided that their future in politics especially as it comes to a new supervisor for the Richmond depends upon changing positions on this issue. They disgust me.

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