Thursday, October 06, 2005

Why Segregation Matters: Poverty & Educational Inequality

Wanted to let you know about this report. It’s a good companion to the Kozol and Berliner pieces that I've posted on this blog. Also, I've been getting a lot of spam but I think that all of this has been fixed.

Personally, I've been thinking a lot lately about poverty and race with the Katrina disaster and the re-integration and continuing segregation of New Orleans' schools. Segregation as an issue probably has more currency now than pre-Katrina and the authoritative source(s) on this is the work put out by the Harvard Civil Rights Project. You can download this full report and many other excellent ones at the HCRP website.

I'll be looking to post pieces of that sort.


January 16, 2005

By Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee

Dropouts in America

On December 7, 2004, CRP published a new book entitled Dropouts in America: Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis. This book provides information essential to stemming the dangerously large numbers of students--
disproportionately poor and minority--who flee our nation's schools before obtaining high school diplomas.

Much of the discussion about school reform in the U.S. in the past two decades has been about racial inequality. President Bush has promised that the No Child Left Behind Act and the forthcoming expansion of high stakes testing to high schools can end the “soft racism of low expectations.” Yet a disproportionate number of the schools being officially labeled as persistent failures and facing sanctions under this program are segregated minority schools. Large city school systems are engaged in massive efforts to break large segregated high poverty high schools into small schools, hoping that it will create a setting better able to reduce inequality, while others claim that market forces operating through charter schools and private schools could end racial inequalities even though both of these are even more segregated than public schools and there is no convincing evidence for either of these claims. More and more of the still standing court orders and plans for desegregated schools are being terminated or challenged in court, and the leaders of the small number of high achieving segregated schools in each big city or state are celebrated. The existence of these schools is being used to claim that we can have general educational success within the existing context of deepening segregation. Clearly the basic assumption is that separate schools can be made equal and that we need not worry about the abandonment of the movement for integration whose history was celebrated so extensively last year on the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision even as the schools continued to resegregate. There has been a continuous pattern of deepening segregation for black and Latino students now since the 1980s.

What if this basic assumption is wrong? What if the Supreme Court was correct a half century ago in its conclusion that segregated schools were “inherently unequal”? What if Martin Luther King’s many statements about how segregation harms both the segregator and the segregated, drastically limits opportunity, and does not provide the basis for building a successful interracial society are correct? What if the Supreme Court’s sweeping conclusion in the 2003 University of Michigan case that there is compelling evidence that diversity improves the education of all students is true and applies with even greater force to public schools?

If, however, it is wrong to assume that segregation is irrelevant and policies that ignore that fact simply punish the victims of segregation because they fail to take into account many of the causes of the inequality, then current policy is being built on the foundation that it cannot produce the desired results and may even compound the existing inequalities. We believe this to be true. Segregated schools are unequal and there is very little evidence of any success in creating “separate but equal” outcomes on a large scale.

One of the common misconceptions over the issue of resegregation of schools is that many people treat it as simply a change in the skin color of the students in a school. If skin color were not systematically linked to other forms of inequality, it would, of course, be of little significance for educational policy. Unfortunately that is not and never has been the nature of our society. Socioeconomic segregation is a stubborn, multidimensional and deeply important cause of educational inequality. U.S. schools are now 41 percent nonwhite and the great majority of the nonwhite students attend schools which now show substantial segregation. Levels of segregation for black and Latino students have been steadily increasing since the l980s, as we have shown in a series of reports. Achievement scores are strongly linked to school racial composition and so is the presence of highly qualified and experienced teachers. The nation’s shockingly high dropout problem is squarely concentrated in heavily minority high schools in big cities. The high level of poverty among children, together with many housing policies and practices which excludes poor people from most communities, mean that students in inner city schools face isolation not only from the white community but also from middle class schools. Minority children are far more likely than whites to grow up in persistent poverty. Since few whites have direct experience with concentrated poverty schools, it is very important to examine research about its effects.

Evidence of the Multidimensional Nature of Segregation in Education

Race is deeply and systematically linked to many forms of inequality in background, treatment, expectations and opportunities. From an educational perspective, perhaps the most important of those linkages is with the level of concentrated poverty in a school. These differences start at an early age. A comprehensive federal study of children across the country entering kindergarten shows very large differences in the acquisition of skills invaluable for school success long before the children ever enter a schoolhouse. Schools where almost all of the students come with these problems obviously face very different challenges than schools where some of the kindergarteners come better prepared.

Our study of metro Boston shows a strong relationship between segregation by race and poverty and teacher quality, test scores and dropout rates. In the entire metro region, 97 percent of the schools with less than a tenth white students face concentrated poverty compared to 1 percent of the schools with less than a tenth minority students. These differences were strongly related to the results on the high stakes MCAS state examinations.

The nation’s dropout problem is concentrated in segregated high poverty schools. In our new book, Dropouts in America, we report that half of the nation’s African American and Latino students are dropping out of high school. The most severe problems are in segregated high poverty schools. For the high school class of 2002 almost a third of the high schools that were more than 50 percent minority graduated less than half of their class. Among schools that were 90 percent or more white, only one school in fifty had this kind of record. Half of the majority-minority schools had dropout rates over 40 percent as did two-thirds of the schools with less than a tenth white students. Nationally the gap in graduation rates between districts with high and low proportions of low income students was 18.4 percent in 2001, even higher than the gap between majority white and majority-minority districts.

Richard Rothstein’s important 2004 book, Class and Schools, reviews a wide array of studies that have shown for decades strong links between individual poverty, school poverty, race and educational inequality. Studies show that poverty is strongly related to everything from the child’s physical development to the family’s ability to stay in a neighborhood long enough so that a school might have an effect on the student. His analysis suggests that we tend to provide weaker education in highly impoverished schools and that the major claims about successful reforms in these schools are wrong. He argues that it is unrealistic to expect to change schools in any deep way without dealing with some of the issues that arise with poverty.

Further, a major 2005 report from the University of North Carolina explored the increasing concentration of poverty in metropolitan Charlotte following the end of desegregation. By the 2004-2005 school year, more than a fifth of the metropolitan district’s schools had poverty levels over 75 percent. Many studies over four decades have found a strong relationship between concentrated school poverty and low achievement. The study found that between 2003 and 2004 the largest achievement test score gains were reported by low income students attending middle income schools. These students gained 10 points on the test compared to just 4 points for similarly low income students in high poverty schools; 82 percent of poor children in middle class schools were at grade level compared to 64 percent of poor children in concentrated poverty schools. The high poverty schools were performing much worse than schools in nearby Wake County (metro Raleigh) which had socio-economic desegregation to end poverty concentrations.

High poverty schools also tend to have a less stable and less qualified teaching staff. A 2004 U.S. Department of Education report showed that in schools where “at least 75 percent of the students were low-income, there were three times as many uncertified or out-of-field teachers in both English and science…” Teachers tend to become more effective with experience, and building an effective team in a school takes years of collaboration. In Charlotte’s highest poverty schools, almost a third of the teachers left each year. The North Carolina study recommended that the school district limit the number of high poverty schools and use districting and choice policies to create economically diverse schools.

A 2004 study by researchers at the University of Miami and the University of South Florida explored the relationship between segregation, integration and success of students in passing the state’s demanding high stakes tests. Florida is one of the states that achieved the greatest increase in desegregation in the l970s and has been losing those gains ever since. After controlling for other possible factors such as expenditures, poverty levels, teaching quality, class size, and mobility of students, the study showed that segregation was clearly related to lower pass rates on the state test for black students in racially isolated schools and that black students in integrated schools did about as well as the rare black students in overwhelmingly white schools. The authors concluded that segregated schools can be viewed as institutions of concentrated disadvantage and that policies “that attempt to resolve the achievement gap by funding equity or classroom size changes” would probably fail if the segregation issue were not addressed.

These and many other inequalities do not mean that racial or socioeconomic integration is a magic bullet that can cure all the inequalities rooted in the broader society, but they clearly suggest that it is foolish to ignore the damage of segregation and to accept policy changes that may make it worse. Those who argue that because there are segregated schools that succeed we need not worry about segregation are engaged in a fallacy of using exceptions to the rule to prove a relationship.

Martin Luther King understood the nature of racial inequality and campaigned against segregation, discrimination and poverty. Dr. King died more than a third of a century ago and with his death the civil rights movement lost its central voice and focus and faced a strengthening movement toward preservation of the status quo. With the passage of time and changing political leadership we have seen sweeping policy reversals, rising segregation, especially in the South and West, and a loss of understanding of the reasons for Dr. King’s crusades against racial separation. Certainly there was nothing about Dr. King that held that black institutions were bad—he was the proud pastor of an overwhelmingly black church of great influence and power and a proud graduate of the preeminent black college for men, Morehouse in Atlanta. Segregation was evil in his mind not because of skin color but because it almost always led to unequal opportunities, given the realities of American society, and because it produced both ignorance and damaging racial stereotypes in the minds of both the segregated and the segregators. Segregation was a basic structure that subordinated and limited opportunities for nonwhite children. Dr. King advocated not only plans that brought minority children into previously segregated white schools but much deeper transformations in which segregated schools became truly integrated with equal treatment and respect for all groups of students.

Segregation was never just a black-white problem, never just a Southern problem, or never just a racial problem, but in the initial struggle in the South of the mid-twentieth century that was clearly the focus. By the time Dr. King organized his last movement, the Poor Peoples Campaign, his approach was clearly multiracial, with a deepening emphasis on poverty as well as racial discrimination. Speaking ten days before he died, King spoke of his conviction that it was “absolutely necessary now to deal massively and militantly with the economic problem…. So the grave problem facing us is the problem of economic deprivation, with the syndrome of bad housing and poor education and improper health facilities all surrounding this basic problem.” Had he not been assassinated shortly before that movement came to Washington, perhaps the link between racial and economic isolation would be better understood as would the profound impact of double segregation (often triple segregation for immigrant children who are also isolated by language in their schools.)

The civil rights movement was never about sitting next to whites, it was about equalizing opportunity. If high poverty schools are systematically unequal and segregated minority schools are almost always high poverty schools, it is much easier to understand both the consequences of segregation and the conditions that create the possibility of substantial gains in desegregated classes. At a time when the racial achievement gaps remain substantial and desegregation orders are being challenged, it is particularly important to understand the pattern that is developing and to think seriously about how to address it.

This report examines the changing nature of segregation and integration in a society that has now become far more profoundly multiracial than it was in the past and explores some of the connections between segregation by race, segregation by poverty, and unequal opportunity. It has several basic goals—to help people understand some of the mechanisms of educational inequality by looking at segregation of schools and students by poverty, discussing the massive research literature showing the ways in which high poverty schools are systematically unequal, and then exploring the racial consequences of the fact that concentrated poverty schools have a vastly larger impact on black and Latino students than on their white and Asian counterparts. Another basic goal of the paper is to show how different relationships between race and poverty in differing parts of a nation in rapid demographic transition challenges the traditional black-white description of segregation. Unlike our earlier studies, this one gives central attention to the issue of segregation by poverty and shows how it relates to racial inequality.

To view the COMPLETE REPORT and study conducted by The Civil Rights Project go to:

Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality (in PDF Format)

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