On US Education: It’s the Socioeconomic Segregation, Stupid

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Common Dreams

On US Education: It’s the Socioeconomic Segregation, Stupid

In a piece for The Nation last week, Linda Darling-Hammond demolished most of the remaining chunks of any size within the crumbling structure of corporate education’'s most ironically-titled reform ever --No Child Left Behind. NCLB is now rubble, even though many unseen victims continue to be buried beneath its mammoth pile.

Darling-Hammond, who was recruited to get Team Obama up to speed on education issues following the 2008 election, entitled her piece, "Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?". It should be noted that as soon as Team Obama got a lay of the edu-land in early 2009, they dismissed Darling-Hammond and brought in corporate lackey, Arne Duncan, to serve as titular head of the Education Department while the corporate foundations run the show.

Now that I think about it, she might have more appropriately named her piece "Why are the White House and Congress Redlining Our Schools?”.
 

Just as red-lining was used for many years by the FHA to maintain racial purity and avoid ethnic mixing in housing, red-lining is a good description of what is going on today in urban public education to contain and isolate children of the poor in the new chain gang charter schools.  Thanks to requirements of NCLB, residents of urban areas who send their children to public schools with their sub-par testing results must contend with the federal label of failure and high risk, with public monies often withheld because the poor children in these schools cannot pass tests whose pass rates are directly correlated to family income. And as the teachers and principals in these schools have been blamed, then, for the student failure that poverty has assured, these red-lined schools are labeled, shut down, or reconstituted per the NCLB plan.


The public school buildings, then, are often handed to corporate foundations in sweetheart deals enabled by new charter-embracing laws (try Indiana where charter corporations can buy an empty school for a dollar). Add some corporate, tax-sheltered venture funds and, bingo, a new intensely-segregated charter is born, complete with cheaper marginally prepared teachers (20% cheaper nationally), a chain gang instructional model, total compliance and constant surveillance, zero tolerance, no excuses, and little oversight (see what can happen when institutional safeguards are dangerously absent). 
In moving beyond No Child Left Behind in ways that are humane, effective, and efficient, we must implement education policies that challenge economic inequality rather than increasing it, which will require an about-face for most politicians on both sides of the aisle of the corporate jet.

Standing to profit mightily from the urban containment and indoctrination model are growing numbers of self-serving and displaced Wall Street hacks, venture philanthropists, and hedge funders. In charge are the educational management organizations (EMOs) or the charter management organizations (CMOs), which often recruit as principals the former Teach for America Corps members who are schooled in the new corporate model of autocratic control of poor children, even down to the behavioral catechisms and the learned optimism strategies of the creepy positive psychologists with whom they consult.
 
In the process, then, of turning public schools into permanent corporate revenue streams, tax bills for the 1%ers get further reduced, the teachers unions are eviscerated, and the politicians collect from corporate coffers the unlimited funds they need to get re-elected and continue their support of corporate education reform. And the cycle is complete.

So Dr. Darling-Hammond, that is Why Congress AND the Whte House Are Redlining Our Schools.

In moving beyond No Child Left Behind in ways that are humane, effective, and efficient, we must implement education policies that challenge economic inequality rather than increasing it, which will require an about-face for most politicians on both sides of the aisle of the corporate jet.  One thing that schools can do in this regard is to take seriously the research by James Coleman, which has been ignored or misused since it was published in 1966, just one year after Congressional approval of the first ESEA in 1965.

Coleman’s findings are here summarized by Coleman scholar, Gerald Grant (2009):
Simply put, Coleman found that the achievement of both poor and rich children was depressed by attending a school where most children came from low-income families. More important to the goal of achieving equal educational opportunity, he found that the achievement of poor children was raised by attending a predominantly middle-class school, while the achievement of affluent children in the school was not harmed. This was true even if per-pupil expenditures were the same at both schools. No research over the past forty years has overturned Coleman’s finding . . . (p. 159). 

Coleman also found that the longer that poor black children were stuck in low SES schools, the lower their achievement moved in comparison to middle class children.

First up, we need to ditch federal charter school policy that actually calls for high poverty quotas of 60 percent minimum of poor children in order to win the federal grants for "successful"” charter expansion. If charter schools are going to continue at all, this kind of incentive for segregation is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done.  Charters or any other schools should, in fact, have a maximum of 40 percent low-income children, so that the social capital that James Coleman and hundreds of other scholars have shown to be so important in raising achievement can help to equalize the punishing effects of concentrated poverty.  Ending socioeconomic segregation, of course, is only a partial solution, but it is one that would signal that we are at least aware of the problem, rather than continuing to ignore the problem as our solutions increasingly resemble what came to be the scourge of eugenics a hundred years ago.

An earlier version of this article first appeared at Substance News.

Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.

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