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« on: February 06, 2006, 04:33:28 PM »

by Bob Herbert
January 30, 2006

The times — as a fellow named Dylan sang more than 40 years ago — they are a-changin'.

This time it's not the emergence of the tie-dyed 60's and the flowering of the boomer generation. But the changes are at least as fundamental.

A generation from now non-Hispanic whites will make up less than 60 percent of the U.S. population, and by 2050 they will be just half. Nine out of 10 American students currently attend public schools. It is likely that within a decade fewer than half of the public school students will be white.

The dramatic changes in public school enrollment will not be a result of white flight, according to a new study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University: "It is because of a changing population structure created by differential birth rates and age structures and a largely nonwhite international flow of millions of immigrants. Since whites are older, marry at later ages, have smaller families and account for a small fraction of immigrants, these changes are almost certain to continue."

So, with these changes in mind, what's happening with the black and Latino students who already account for more than a third of the public school population, and who should be expected to play an increasingly important role in shaping American society?

Not much that is good.

When Bob Dylan first came on the scene, it was very possible for a young man or woman with energy and a dream and a high school diploma (or less) to actually build a decent life. That's pretty much over.

We are now in a time when a college education is a virtual prerequisite for achieving or maintaining a middle-class lifestyle. "Only the kids who get a postsecondary education are even keeping even in terms of income in their lives, and so forth," said Gary Orfield, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the Civil Rights Project. "The rest are falling behind, year by year. Only about a twelfth of the Latino kids and maybe a sixth of the black kids are getting college degrees. The rest of them aren't getting ready for anything that's going to have much of a future in the American economy."

One of the weirder things occurring in American education is the disappearance of kids — especially black and Hispanic kids — from high school. The San Antonio Express-News, reporting last March on a study by a local research association, said that "more than a third of Texas high school freshman students are disappearing from the system or otherwise failing to obtain a high school diploma in four years."

The Los Angeles Times, for a feature article that same month, interviewed a 17-year-old named Nancy Meza who had quickly made friends with dozens of classmates when she arrived at the Boyle Heights campus of Roosevelt High School. Four years later, as her senior class gathered for its graduation photo, only four of her friends were there. Nearly all of the others had dropped out.

"It really struck me today," said Nancy. "All of my friends are gone."

This is an underrecognized, underreported crisis in American life. Far from preparing kids for college, big-city high schools in neighborhoods with large numbers of poor, black and Latino youngsters are just hemorrhaging students. The kids are vanishing into a wilderness of ignorance. If the dropout rate were somehow reversed in a city like Los Angeles, there wouldn't be enough schools to accommodate the kids.

"The high dropout rate has been built into the regular order of school facilities in our big cities," said Professor Orfield. "They expect that the classes will just shrivel as the kids go through the grades."

Nationally, just two-thirds of all students — and only half of all blacks and Latinos — who enter ninth grade actually graduate with regular diplomas four years later.

This state of affairs in so many of the nation's high schools is potentially calamitous, not just for the students but for society as a whole. "It's really very sad what's going on," said Professor Orfield. "And there's been very little effort to reform it."

Youngsters who drop out of high school are much less likely to be regularly employed, or to escape poverty, even if they work full time. They are less likely to be married and less likely to have a decent home and a decent school for their kids. Their chances of ending up in prison — especially for the African-American and Latino boys — are much higher.

These kids will not be part of the cadre of new leadership for America in the 21st century. They will have a hard enough time just surviving.
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2006, 04:42:37 PM » Keep us Uneducated and docile

It's no secret that the US educational system doesn't do a very good job. Like clockwork, studies show that America's schoolkids lag behind their peers in pretty much every industrialized nation. We hear shocking statistics about the percentage of high-school seniors who can't find the US on an unmarked map of the world or who don't know who Abraham Lincoln was.

Fingers are pointed at various aspects of the schooling system—overcrowded classrooms, lack of funding, teachers who can't pass competency exams in their fields, etc. But these are just secondary problems. Even if they were cleared up, schools would still suck. Why? Because they were designed to.

How can I make such a bold statement? How do I know why America's public school system was designed the way it was (age-segregated, six to eight 50-minute classes in a row announced by Pavlovian bells, emphasis on rote memorization, lorded over by unquestionable authority figures, etc.)? Because the men who designed, funded, and implemented America's formal educational system in the late 1800s and early 1900s wrote about what they were doing.

Almost all of these books, articles, and reports are out of print and hard to obtain. Luckily for us, John Taylor Gatto tracked them down. Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of the Year three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. But he became disillusioned with schools—the way they enforce conformity, the way they kill the natural creativity, inquisitiveness, and love of learning that every little child has at the beginning. So he began to dig into terra incognita, the roots of America's educational system.

In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery about the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of education that was actually teaching children to read at advanced levels, to comprehend history, and, egads, to think for themselves. The committee's report stated, "We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes."

By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing a new form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to teach). The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897:

Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth.

In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood Cubberly—the future Dean of Education at Stanford—wrote that schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products...manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry."

The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board—which funded the creation of numerous public schools—issued a statement which read in part:

In our dreams...people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple...we will organize children...and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.

At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:

Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual.

In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also revealed:

The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places.... It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world.

Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these sentiments in a speech to businessmen:

We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the hive.'"

While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant Conant wrote that the change to a forced, rigid, potential-destroying educational system had been demanded by "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process."

In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately. We were to become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin slice of the population—mainly the children of the captains of industry and government—to rise to the level where they could continue running things.

This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day. Although the true reasons behind it aren't often publicly expressed, they're apparently still known within education circles. Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:

I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get them ready for the work world…that the children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs in the real world."
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« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2006, 04:54:16 PM »

by Elena Rutherfprd

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling, throwing wide the door to wholesale privatization of public education in the United States, Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities re-emerges as required reading for everyone concerned with urban schools and the meaning of citizenship. The 1991 classic presents a clear and principled argument in defense of inherent human value and democratic principles, against which are arrayed the enduring forces of racism, and corporatism in full rampage.

The urban educational landscape explored by Kozol in his two-year journey, beginning in 1988, is familiar to the contemporary reader. To an educator born, schooled and currently working in the inner city, Kozol's account feels almost painfully intimate. Yet, despite the horrors chronicled, the book serves as a call to action rather than despair.

Racial isolation was the norm in the 30 cities and neighborhoods Kozol visited, an enforced regime of deprivation and near-total societal rejection. Local particularities seem as only minor variations on the America-wide, systemic assault on dark and poor children.

Jim Crow in all but name

Educator-activist Kozol had not taught in the inner city since the mid-Sixties. He is struck by an over-arching reality: the ideal of classroom integration has been murdered and buried. "The struggle being waged today, where there is any struggle being waged at all," he wrote in 1991, "is closer to the one that was addressed in 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court accepted segregated institutions for black people, stipulating only that they must be equal to those open to white people." Kozol concludes that, "In public schooling, social policy has been turned back almost a hundred years."

Kenneth Clark, Thurgood Marshall and the rest of the NAACP-led team that triumphed in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, were aware that African American isolation in segregated classrooms facilitated systemic under-funding of Jim Crow schools. Integration would change that, they reasoned. As a number of civil rights veterans have subsequently admitted, they were unprepared for the waves of white northern parental flight and massive, all but uniform suburban resistance to equity in funding for the nonwhite student populations that remained in the cities.

When Kozol begins his journey, the first George Bush is President, integration is a fading ghost of a dream, and urban public education writhes in the throes of strangulation, as it remains, today. The language of apartheid had become, if anything, colder and more deeply threatening than the squeals of frenzied southern segregationists. Black lives are simply nor worth nurturing. Education of African American youth is not cost-efficient. The economic basis of white privilege cannot, must not, be tampered with. Any adjustment in the financing of urban schools requires an unacceptable suburban "sacrifice."

ocial justice as guiding principle

Kozol's contribution is to confront every corporate calculation with a demand for justice. He insists that human and citizenship rights outweigh preservation of a racial and economic status quo that, in the end, can only justify itself on the terms of raw power. He peels away the comfortable mask of suburban and boardroom civility, revealing a racism that knows no sectional address, but is thoroughly American. Kozol denies the enemy any moral cover for his brute depredation of urban youth.

In reality, racists have no special animus for Black youth - rather, they seek to isolate and dehumanize African Americans as a whole. The school population is, however, a captive responsibility of the state. In this arena the most lasting harm can be accomplished, but it is also within the bounds of public education that the essentials of citizenship rights may bemost vigorously championed in the full light of day and in the face of the national conscience - if such a thing exists. That is Kozol's mission.

Fully aware that the assault against racial minorities is a general one, Kozol's method is to begin each local investigation with the exterior lives of children, outside of the classroom.

Beginning with 98 percent black East St. Louis, Illinois, dubbed by the press "an inner city without an outer city," Kozol ranges to Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Camden, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and numerous other scenes of the same crimes. America presents a near-identical face at each point in its sprawling geography: Impoverished Blacks are hemmed into jurisdictional wastelands that are, in the words of a Chicago teacher, "utterly cut off" from the outside world. Without exception, per-pupil expenditure on inner city education is a fraction of the money spent on students in nearby suburbs which - again, without exception - refuse to share any of their abundant wealth.

If a national policy is not at work, then certainly a national understanding has been achieved to accomplish the same result. Urban school conditions are interchangeable: dilapidated physical plants, large classes, bare bones curricula - almost every system visited suffers from the same scarcity of toilet paper!

Kozol details the deficiencies in the children's classroom and exterior lives, anecdotally and statistically, every city and neighborhood in its turn. The effect is cumulative and maddening. "The systems and bureaucracies are different," says Kozol. "What is consistent is that all of them are serving children who are viewed as having little value to America."

Unceasing assaults on Black minors

The kids know that they are being eaten alive. They also understand that they are objects of hatred. An East St. Louis high school student is asked if race or money is to blame for conditions at his school. "Well," he tells the visitor, "the two things, race and money, go so close together - what's the difference? I live here, they live there, and they don't want me in their school."

A 14-year old girl: "We have a school in East St. Louis named for Dr. King. The school is full of sewer water and the doors are locked with chains. Every student in that school is black. It's like a terrible joke on history."

A Camden eleventh grader: "So long as there are no white children in our school, we're going to be cheated."

A Washington, D.C. fifth-grade girl offers a wish list for her school: "Buy doors for the toilet stalls in the girls' bathroom" and "make [the building] pretty. Way it is, I feel ashamed."

In Chicago, an elementary school principle explains the great fuss students and parents are making over the upcoming graduation ceremony for eighth graders. "For more than half our children," he says, "this is the last thing they will have to celebrate."

By some estimates, up to 10% of Chicago students drop out before high school. These casualties are never counted.

Chicago's statistics are typical of the cities Kozol examined. "[T]he city's dropout rate of nearly 50% is regarded by some people as a blessing," he wrote. "If over 200,000 of Chicago's total student population of 440,000 did not disappear during their secondary years, it is not clear who would teach them."

Such attrition is planned, in the sense that it is expected and factored into budgetary calculations. It is difficult to prove that students are programmed to fail, but it is crystal clear that failure is a central component of planning in every urban school system in the nation. When new classrooms and teacher hires are scheduled, no provision is made for that proportion of students whom everyone is certain will not return. Long range plans are based on extrapolations of high rates of failure. In this twisted sense, the problem of overcrowding represents an excess of success - while high dropout rates provide some breathing room.

Who benefits from Black children's misery?

Attrition does not tell the full tale. With 40% - 70% dropout rates, basic statistical principles indicate that there is little difference between those who remain in school and those who do not. Failure rates this high diminish the meaning of success to near-vanishing point. Neither group - dropouts or stick-it-outs - can be definitively said to have been better or worse served by the educational process. All of the students have been savagely assaulted; some remain on the rolls, while others disappear. To some degree, dropouts and graduates are interchangeable, as qualitatively indistinguishable from one another as living and dead soldiers in the wake of a chaotic battle.

Kozol cites one Chicago elementary school, 86% of whose students will never graduate from high school. No meaningful statistical conclusions can be drawn from such figures, except that children are being destroyed en masse. It is difficult to imagine that any useful knowledge could be gained by examining the graduating remnant to discover precisely what it was that got them - but not the others - through to the twelfth grade ceremony.

Students and parents at New Trier High, a particularly rich suburban Chicago school, whine that they are being asked to "sacrifice" for the sake of the inner city - as if they are not bound by any social compact with their Black fellow citizens. Kozol shows that they currently benefit from the Black misery. High urban dropout rates mean that "few [inner city students] will graduate from high school; fewer still will go to college; scarcely any will attend good colleges. There will be more space for children of New Trier as a consequence."

These students and their parents aren't aware of this connection between wealth and poverty. And they don't care to know.

The privatization scam

So-called public-private urban educational partnerships were coming into full bloom when Kozol published his book. He recognized the schemes as insidious sources of market justifications of inequality. "Investment strategies, according to [corporate] logic," said Kozol, "should be matched to the potential economic value of each person.

"Future service workers need a different and, presumably, a lower order of investment than the children destined to be corporate executives, physicians, lawyers, engineers. Future plumbers and future scientists require different schooling - maybe different schools. Segregated education is not necessarily so unattractive by this reasoning."

Kozol insists there be no compromise with justice. "Some of the help [corporations] give is certainly of use, although it is effectively the substitution of a form of charity, which can be withheld at any time, for the more permanent assurances of justice."

Kozol's 1991 answer to George Herbert Bush's tentative promotions of public treasury vouchers for private schools, applies equally to his far more aggressive son. "The White House, in advancing the agenda for a "choice" plan, rests its faith on market mechanisms. What reason have the black and very poor to lend their credence to a market system that has proved so obdurate and so resistant to their pleas at every turn."

Kozol's methodology allows us to view his student subjects' exterior worlds. That world tells the children and the reader everything that needs to be known about market forces in America.

It was the market that brought Blacks to East St. Louis in the industrial boom years, and later abandoned them there to be killed by toxic smoke, poisoned water and their own, desperate selves. The market, a captive of racism - or is it the reverse? - kept the cities on the Illinois bluffs above the Black town virtually all-white. The market, not Jim Crow, isolated East St. Louis, and cannot possibly save its children.

In New Jersey, the State Supreme Court, miraculously out of touch with prevailing corporate thought, has caused the distribution of billions of dollars to assure that historically victimized children in Black and brown school districts receive as a right an "efficient and thorough" education. Suburban claims to immunity from the consequences of the pain inflicted on the inner city were given no standing before the bench.

Across the river, a state court of appeals indicated, this summer, that New York City children are entitled only to enough money to buy a ninth or tenth grade education, which is presumably sufficient to obtain a low-level job, serve on a jury, and understand which way to vote. These grade levels also coincide with the heaviest high school drop out traffic.

Jonathan Kozol's book is as critical a resource now as when first printed. Inequality has been elevated to a kind of religion by the corporate representatives at the national helm. The battle for democracy and human standards of worth will be truly savage.
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« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2006, 05:13:00 PM »

Black kids begin school disadvantaged

Slavery was cradle to grave - without even the comfort of a cradle for Black children. After Emancipation, Jim Crow systematically perpetuated inferior Black status, relentlessly channeling Black youth to the lowest rungs of the social ladder through de jure and de facto school segregation.

In his classic 1991 book, "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools," Jonathan Kozol detailed the devastation wrought by enforced racial isolation of Black students, nationwide. Inequalities in funding of urban education have created an "educational caste system" that is all but indistinguishable from Jim Crow in its societal effects.

"These are innocent children, after all. They have done nothing wrong," wrote Kozol, the activist-educator. "They have committed no crime. They are too young to have offended us in any way at all."

This fall, the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute unveiled a study described as a "companion piece" to Kozol's landmark work. "Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School" illuminates the cumulative effects of inequalities among children from cradle to kindergarten. Co-authored by University of Michigan researchers Valerie E. Lee and David T. Burkam, the book weighs the baggage that children arrive with at the kindergarten door:

The inequalities facing children before they enter school are less publicized. We should expect schools to increase achievement for all students, regardless of race, income, class, and prior achievement. But it is unreasonable to expect schools to completely eliminate any large pre-existing inequalities soon after children first enter the education system, especially if those schools are under-funded and over-challenged.

This report shows that the inequalities of children's cognitive ability are substantial right from "the starting gate." Disadvantaged children start kindergarten with significantly lower cognitive skills than their more advantaged counterparts. These same disadvantaged children are then placed in low-resource schools, magnifying the initial inequality.

We  interviewed Dr. Burkam shortly after publication of the study.

bc: Could you explain how your book and Kozol's 1991 study differ?

Burkam: While Savage Inequalities is a book that focuses primarily on differences in the schools and what goes on in the schools, our book in a sense makes for an interesting companion volume to it, in that our study is not directly about schools as much as about the diversity of student backgrounds and abilities when kids first go to school. It is another piece of the educational puzzle.

bc: Kozol talks about how racial isolation makes it easier to discriminate against Black children.

Burkam: One of the topics that we devote a whole chapter to in the book is, which types of students go to which types of schools? We have a number of measures of school quality - 15 or 16 measures of school quality. Certainly, school quality is a controversial issue in its own right, and if you put ten people in a room, you'll probably get ten different ideas as to what constitutes a high quality school. Our interest was not necessarily in defining once and for all time what a high quality school is, but to investigate whether or not across a wide array of schools there is any evidence that minority students, disadvantaged students, are systematically going to lower quality schools. And of course, the answer is: Yes.

No matter how you measure school quality, these young children who in some ways need school the most, are systematically going to the lower, least quality schools. Now why is that? Well, it's very much the same issue that Jonathan Kozol brings up. Most students go to school in their own neighborhood. Because of the racial and class segregation in this country, schools are better in some places than they are in others.

The quest for equality

bc: You say, "Inequality is one of the key factors preventing education from serving this role as the Great Equalizer." Is that what education in the U.S. is supposed to do?

Burkam: While we have been talking about that for 100 years in this country, I'm not sure that everyone is in agreement that that's what schools should do. Certainly it is a belief of mine, and a belief of many of my colleagues. The very fact that we have used that phrase historically in this country - the Great Equalizer - presupposes that there is something that needs to be equalized. That is exactly what this book is all about: documenting those great differences, the great disparities that exist even before formal schooling begins.

My colleagues and I are very quick to talk of the importance of holding schools accountable for learning when schools are in session. But these are not disparities that you can attribute to schools, because the kids haven't even been to school, yet. So, if indeed schools are to have any hope of being the Great Equalizer, these are certainly the disparities, the differences, the gaps that schools will need to accommodate, that they will need to work against.

bc: You say that disadvantaged children start kindergarten with "significantly lower cognitive skills." First, explain what "cognitive skills" are.

Burkam: This particular data set that we are using, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of what they call the kindergarten cohort, is a new national data set collected by the National Center for Education Statistics. This is a national longitudinal data set of children who were in kindergarten in 1998 - nearly 20,000 children. This same group of children have been and will continue to be followed over the next number of years. They were looked at in the beginning of kindergarten, at the end of kindergarten, at the beginning of first grade, at the end of first grade, and they'll be looked at again at the end of the third grade and at the end of the fifth grade.

Keep in mind that these are kindergarteners. You don't just give a multiple-choice survey to kindergarten kids if you want to get a sense of their skills. You don't give a multiple-choice test to find out what they know, and what they do not know. Instead the National Center for Education Statistics invested a huge amount of money gathering early childhood specialists to develop one-on-one, untimed tests in mathematics, literacy and general knowledge. You can imagine the sheer energy and clock hours that are required to do this with 20,000 children around the country.

These are the skill measures that we have at the beginning of kindergarten.

In terms of literacy, we mean early reading, letter recognition, sound recognition skills. In mathematics, it's early skills having to do with quantity and amount comparison. These are pretty high quality tests.

Culture bias

bc:How concerned are you about cultural bias in the testing process?

Burkam: The people you want to talk to about that are the ETS [Education Testing Service] developers, because the actual tests themselves are not public domain. What little I have seen of them has been very impressive, in terms of pulling together a small army of early childhood experts to very carefully create developmentally appropriate questions that were not going to be particularly biased by culture, class and race differences. But that should always be a concern with any kind of testing.

bc:You write of schools sometimes "magnifying the initial disparities" among children. What do you mean by that?

Burkam: Chapter four of our book is all about looking at a wide array of measures of school quality and whether or not there is any evidence that minority children... are systematically going to schools of lower quality.

Call me again when we're done with the next study. This particular study is about the differences in cognitive skills at the beginning of kids' schooling, and the types of schools that those students go to. We are currently working on a study with the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) on these very questions. Many people have argued that, because of the different schools that the children go to, these differences [in cognitive skills at kindergarten] get smaller, larger, etc., over time. And we are currently working on a follow-up study with EPI on this very question: How do these disparities change over time? Do they get smaller during the school year? Do they get wider? That's part two. In that sense, the jury is out.

The study on which our book is based is called Inequality at the Starting Gate. We don't have a title for the next one, yet. Maybe something like, "Inequality, Two Laps In."

bc: It's one thing to evaluate the students at these intervals. But how should school performance be measured?

Burkam: There are at least three things that could happen during the years kids spend in school. Differences could remain the same throughout the schooling process, which would mean that schools aren't equalizing things, but they also are not further stratifying our young people.

Another possibility is that differences indeed shrink as children go through school. That would mean that schools are, indeed, the Great Equalizer. If that is the case, we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of praise that would be owing to our schools.

Possibility number three is that differences get wider. That obviously has troubling implications for schools; they aren't the Great Equalizer.

There are certainly schools that are doing a very good job, and there certainly are schools that have been shown to be particularly effective at educating low income, minority students. Ultimately, even if we say that on average, things get worse, or we find that on average, things stay the same, that convenient phrase "on average" hides a world of both sinners and saints. There are schools that are doing very good things.

bc:Will you be able to identify these schools?

Burkam: That's our hope: to identify the characteristics of schools that are doing a good job and... those that are not doing a good job. As a researcher, that's my goal. I am interested in understanding how schools can become the Great Equalizer. I am interested in the conditions under which schools can be effective at reducing these inequalities by race, by gender, by social class.

Sorting out race and class

Burkam: The study begins by looking at race differences and at class differences. Social class is measured by such things as parents' education, family income, parents' occupation. So this is a much broader class measure than simply poor versus rich.

From there we were interested in looking at the extent to which race and class differences could be explained by - or could be attributed to - other characteristics of the child's home environment, home experiences, activities before schooling began.

This is why we were interested in looking at a very long list of additional demographic information: age, whether or not English was spoken in the home - a large number of family structure home demographic issues; number of siblings, one-parent, two-parent households, residential mobility, things like that. We wanted to know about early childcare pre-school experiences, activities in the home, literacy activities, frequency of reading activities, TV-watching, etc. And whether or not any of these additional characteristics help us to understand race and class differences.

There is a theory out there that says much of what we think of as race and class differences are not really race and class per se. The question is: can we "explain away" race differences or class differences on the basis of these other characteristics, activities, conditions in the home?

bc: What did you find?

Burkam: In many ways we found that class differences were far more persistent and far more pervasive than race differences. In fact, to no great surprise to those of us that do this kind of work, we found that simple race differences - Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, etc. - as soon as you take social class into consideration, half of these differences often disappear. A substantial proportion of the Black-white gap in this country is really not an issue of race - it's an issue of the disparities that occur because of class differences. And because race and class are so intertwined in this country, it is easy to see differences of one form masking as differences in the other.

One of the big messages from this book is that, in many ways social class is probably a bigger problem than race - or certainly social class is a bigger problem than most of us are comfortable accepting.

We found that the moderately large Black-white differences in reading skills, reading achievement, at the beginning of kindergarten are completely gone, have been completely "explained away" (as we say in social science research) once you've included class, various child-at-home demographics, whether or not kids had pre-school, day care, etc. Once you've controlled for all those differences, there is no longer a Black-white difference in reading achievement.

Now, be careful about what that means. That doesn't mean that children you meet in the classroom don't exhibit differences.

The way we try to make sense of the world is to break the world up into small little bits and pieces, and try to say which little piece is important, considering which other little pieces we have around here. We certainly aren't suggesting that there aren't real differences that teachers face. Indeed, the reality of the data are that young African American children are coming in on average with lower skills than many of their white peers.

Social class differences are in part explained by the fact that, yes, more affluent homes read to their children more often, are far more likely to have been involved in center-based care, etc.

Single parent households

bc: Single parent households are disproportionately poor. But your study seems to conclude that single parent households do not seem to lead directly to Black-white disparities in early cognitive skills - that it's the class factor that accounts.

Burkam: Single parent households were not a major part of our study. Let me talk about the two different ways it comes up in the book.

We looked at the percentage of kindergarteners from single parent homes, both by class and by race. What we found is very sobering. Fifteen percent of America's kindergarteners who are white come from a single parent home. However, approximately 54 percent of our nation's Black kindergarteners come from a single parent home. (About 27 percent of Hispanic children are from single parent homes.)

This is a shocking statistical disparity between Blacks and whites.

bc: Your study also found that, quote, "48% of families in the lowest SES (socioeconomic status) quintile are headed by a single parent, compared to only 10% of families in the highest quintile." This just seems to be saying that Black kids from single households are clustered in the lower socio economic echelons. This shouldn't be surprising.

Burkam: Given that we define social class in this country by family income, on average somebody who comes from a one parent or one adult household is likely to encounter less household income than someone who comes from a two parent household.

Coming from a single parent household does lead to lower achievement. That said, the single parent phenomenon - although it is very prevalent in the African American community - does not seem itself to be tied directly to Black-white disparities. In other words, the Black-white disparity isn't made any smaller by taking into consideration the single parent status.

If you think of parents as yet another resource that kids have access to, this is another instance of young people who are disadvantaged by class who are also disadvantaged in terms of adult resources.

Looking for change

Burkam: As someone who is interested in changing the world through policy, I'm particularly interested in understanding characteristics and conditions that we can change, that we can make policy about in order to have an influence in the world. We can't change a person's gender and we can't change a person's race - truth be told, in many ways it's very difficult to change a person's social class. But we can change, for example, whether or not young children have access to high quality, center-based care. We can think carefully about other ways of promoting literacy activities in the home and the community where, regardless of race and class, children can benefit.

Even if you discover that kids from single parent households don't learn as much, we're not going to run out and assign everybody a partner as a way of remedying that situation. If we discover, however, that center-based care goes a long way towards increasing student skills upon entering kindergarten, well, sign me up for universal pre-school day care for our entire U.S. population.

There are things that one can change and things that one cannot. One clear piece of evidence coming out of this, is that we have consistent evidence that kids who went to center-based care are entering kindergarten with much higher skill levels than kids who did not. Access to center-based care is very much related to both race and class.

Caution on testing

bc: Is there a danger that your study will be used as a kind of crutch - that teachers, administrators and politicians will say: Look, these kids came in here damaged. What are we supposed to do about it?

Burkam: In this day and age of school accountability, it is important to keep in mind that simply looking at school average test scores as a measure of a school's effectiveness misses the point, that schools themselves have different student resources.

It does send up a red flag cautioning all of us to think long and hard about what ways we can use school achievement as a measure of school effectiveness - and what ways we cannot.

Here is a perfect example: What if we decided which schools were effective by testing their students on the first day of classes, like in kindergarten? You couldn't hold schools accountable for any differences at that age, because the schools haven't gotten to them, yet.

Instead, they say: we're going to test them at the fourth grade. But how much of the disparities that you see in the fourth grade are based on what students originally came in with, four years earlier? Have those original differences been added to or taken away during the course of four years of school.

A school could have low test scores, but even these low scores might be far higher than what they would have been had the schools not been effective.

Some conclusions of the EPI study:

There are substantial differences by race and ethnicity in children's test scores as they begin kindergarten. Before even entering kindergarten, the average cognitive score of grchildren in the highest SES (socioeconomic status) group are 60% above the scores of the lowest SES group. Moreover, average math achievement is 21% lower for black than for whites, and 19% lower for Hispanics.

Race and ethnicity are associated with SES. For example, 34% of black children and 29% of Hispanic children are in the lowest quintile of SES compared with only 9% of white children. Cognitive skills are much less closely related to race/ethnicity after accounting for SES. Even after taking race differences into account, however, children from different SES groups achieve at different levels.

Family structure and educational expectations have important associations with SES, race/ethnicity, and with young children's test scores, though their impacts on cognitive skills are much smaller than either race or SES.

Although 15% of white children live with only one parent, 54% of black and 27% of Hispanic children live in single-parent homes. Similarly, 48% of families in the lowest SES quintile are headed by a single parent, compared to only 10% of families in the highest quintile.

Socioeconomic status is quite strongly related to cognitive skills. Of the many categories of factors considered-including race/ethnicity, family educational expectations, access to quality child care, home reading, computer use, and television habits - SES accounts for more of the unique variation in cognitive scores than any other factor by far. Entering race/ethnic differences are substantially explained by these other factors; SES differences are reduced but remain sizeable.

Low-SES children begin school at kindergarten in systematically lower-quality elementary schools than their more advantaged counterparts. However school quality is defined - in terms of higher student achievement, more school resources, more qualified teachers, more positive teacher attitudes, better neighborhood or school conditions, private vs. public schools - the least advantaged U.S. children begin their formal schooling in consistently lower-quality schools. This reinforces the inequalities that develop even before children reach school age.
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« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2006, 05:18:06 PM »

Segregated Schools: Shame of The City
by Jonathan Kozol

     Stuyvesant High School is one of the most vivid symbols of the consequences of decades of systematic racism in the United States. Black and Hispanic children make up about 72 percent of the citywide enrollment in the New York City public schools. At Stuyvesant – the most prestigious public school in the city – they make up less than six percent of enrollment.

In fact, the percentage of Black kids who go to Stuyvesant has decreased dramatically in the last quarter century. Twenty-six years ago, Black students represented almost 13 percent of the student body at Stuyvesant; today they represent 2.7 percent.

I'm not implying that the administration at Stuyvesant is made up of racists – they must be remarkable people to run such a wonderful school. Black and Latino students do not have access to Stuyvesant because they have not been adequately prepared to compete with the other students applying for a limited number of spots. What the racial gap in admissions represents is the devastating end result of the failure to educate Black and Latino children effectively from the age of two and a half up to their 8th grade year. It is impossible to improve the inferior quality of the education that minority children receive without confronting the fact that they are attending increasingly segregated schools; separate is still unequal. Yet that is exactly what New York policymakers are trying to do. Until it begins to follow the lead of several smaller cities across the country, New York's school system will continue to fail to serve the majority of its students.

The Resegregation of America’s Schools

Segregation has returned to public education with a vengeance, as a result of years of federal policies that started in the early 1990s when the US Supreme Court and the local federal courts began to rip apart the legacy of the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation ruling, Brown v. Board of Education. The percentage of Black children who now go to integrated schools has dropped to its lowest level since 1968.

New York State is the most segregated state for Black and Latino children in America: seven out of eight Black and Latino kids here go to segregated schools. The majority of them go to schools where no more than two to four percent of the children are White. Only Illinois, Michigan, and California come close to this abysmal record. The level of segregation statewide is due largely to New York City, which is probably the country's most segregated city.

When it comes to residential integration and school integration, New York has an undeserved reputation for progressive values. For the last 40 years it has been one of the most regressive cities in America, in many ways unaffected by the Brown decision. The courts never tried to integrate New York, and the major media, including the New York Times, consistently opposed any drastic measures that would significantly integrate the city's system.

Bloomberg and Klein’s Education Reforms

The position of chancellor of New York City schools is an almost impossible job. I sometimes think that job was created so that one man or woman in New York could die for our sins every year. Like it or not, Chancellor Joel Klein's real job description is to mediate the separation of the races and put the best possible face on a flagrantly unequal system.

The Bloomberg administration's educational reforms have been centered on mayoral control of the schools. This probably gives the mayor and the chancellor better tools to approach the problems in the schools, and it is to their credit that they have used this power to get rid of the rote and drill, stimulus-response curriculum that was being used in failing schools across the city.

But we have wasted too much time in the last 20 years fiddling around with governance arrangements. The fact is that whether the school systems I visit are governed directly by the mayor, independently, or through an appointed school board or an elected one, virtually all cities face the same calamity: a devastating gulf in the quality of education offered to minority kids as opposed to White kids.

New York City and Small Schools

Alleged panaceas have been introduced repeatedly in every urban district since I first walked into a classroom in 1964. Every five years there's a "solution" to the problems of separate and unequal education – a solution that never addresses the problems of either separate or unequal.

The newest magic pill that is being advertised is small schools, and it is one that Bloomberg and Klein have bought into.

Small schools are usually less chaotic than big schools; they are sometimes more intimate and relaxed than big schools. But the small school concept, which no one is proposing for the schools in White suburban districts, is essentially an anti-riot strategy for segregated children, an anti-turbulence measure, a short-term solution to perceived chaos in large segregated schools. Small, segregated, and unequal schools are only an incremental improvement over large, segregated and unequal schools. They don't address the basic issues.

In fact, in New York City small schools are being used, intentionally or not, in ways that widen the racial divide. On the one hand, we're seeing small schools that cater to very artistic, upscale Greenwich Village families. These schools are overwhelmingly attractive to White people. On the other hand, we're seeing a proliferation of so-called small academies for Black and Latino students with names like Academy of Leadership, or the Academy of Business Enterprise. (In some other cities such schools are explicitly given names like the African American Academy). These schools tend to be even more segregated than larger ones.

At this point New York City, like many cities in America, is rolling out small schools as this year's trendy attempt to do an end run around inequality and segregation. It is not going to work on a significant basis. I predict that within ten years the entire small schools movement will collapse and be declared a failure.

Reforms That Address the Real Problem

Today, Bloomberg and Klein are trying their best to sweeten the pill of segregation rather than confronting it. But they have to confront it, and smaller cities have offered a model of how to do so.

The metropolitan New York City area is one of the most adamantly resistant sections of the nation, in which there has never been any serious attempt at voluntary integration programs between the city and the suburbs. This is in great contrast to St. Louis, Milwaukee, Boston, and several other cities, all of which have successful suburban integration programs for inner city children. While some of these programs were initially begun under court orders, others (Boston's, for example) are entirely voluntary and are supported by the parents of the suburbs because they believe that integrated schooling is of benefit to their own children.

In virtually all of the urban-suburban integration programs, the high school completion rate and graduation rate for Black students average 90 to 95 percent or better, and the overwhelming number of these Black kids go to college. There are waiting lists for all these programs; in St. Louis there are four applicants for every opening.

It is only about a fifteen minute ride from a typical, segregated Bronx neighborhood to one of the very first suburbs to the north of the Bronx – Bronxville, for example, one of the most affluent communities in the United States. It spends nearly $19,000 per pupil, compared to $11,600 in the Bronx. It has zero percent poverty in its public schools. Only one percent of its students are Black or Latino. It would be a very short ride for almost any Bronx child to go to school in Bronxville or any of the other suburbs immediately to the north.

The chancellor and the mayor ought to be advocating for cross-district integration with the 40 or 50 affluent suburban districts that immediately surround New York City. Admittedly, this step would take extraordinary political audacity.

If he wanted to take a really visionary stance, Mayor Bloomberg could also turn small schools from institutions that reinforce segregation into places that help break it down. He could provide incentives for small schools to be created with the explicit goal of bringing the poorest children and the richest children, Black, Latino, White and Asian children together in the same classrooms. If he were to take that step, and use the small school concept to achieve that goal, then he would have left behind a really decent legacy. He would have begun to make a serious dent in the intense racial isolation that continues to make New York the shame of the nation.
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