When President Obama took office in January
2009, the UCLA's Civil Rights Project reported that segregation
patterns in public schools "were far worse in 2006 than in 1988.''
Eighteen months later, a new study has shown how much worse the patterns
supported by the Kellogg Foundation and the Harvard School of Public
Health, has published figures compiled by Northeastern University
researchers that found "gross levels of disparity.''
Mocking any rhetoric about democracy and
equal opportunity, the new study says children of color "continue to
attend very different schools than white children.'' That is a polite
way of saying we are reverting to what the Kerner Commission Report on
urban unrest found: "two societies, one black, one white -- separate and
In Chicago, the
average black student goes to a public school that is 74 percent black
while the average white student goes to a school that is 6 percent
black. Boston was among the 10 worst major metropolitan areas in its
ratios of segregation for African-American and Latino students, and
third for white students having the lowest exposure to fellow students
found that 43 percent of both Latino and African-American students
attend schools where the poverty rate is more than 80 percent. Only 4
percent of white students do. The report said, "issues of persistent
high racial/ethnic segregation and high exposure of minority children to
economic disadvantage at the school level remain largely unaddressed.''
is no surprise in these results. The drumbeat of resegregation data
has played to an indifferent nation since the 1990s. The world's
richest nation remains arrogantly comfortable with a system hurtling
backward toward a modern apartheid. Nothing need be done as long as
families of means, who are disproportionately white, can secure K-12
educations in the suburbs and private schools, or commandeer elite
public schools such as Boston Latin (which killed affirmative action
years ago under the threat of lawsuits).
most curious thing about the interval between the UCLA report and the
new one is the silence from the White House. This has led to growing
disenchantment from education experts. Richard Kahlenberg, senior
fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, said,
"There are school districts out there that haven't given up figuring out
legal ways to integrate their schools, but they're not getting any
support from Washington.''
Rights Project director Gary Orfield said, "Obama has hired good
people, but they're not getting the job done. They're not coming up with
imaginative proposals.'' Diversitydata.org
research analyst Nancy McArdle said, "We're not seeing the mobility
strategies at either the national, state, or local levels that could
break these patterns. Proven programs in Massachusetts, like Metco, keep
getting cut or level funded.''
does not take long to realize why there is no leadership yet from
Washington. Three years ago, the Supreme Court, in a bitterly divided
5-4 decision, threw out voluntary school integration plans in Seattle
and Louisville. The Bush administration, which actively sought to kill
affirmative action in education, jumped on the ruling and had the
Education Department issue a memorandum saying it "strongly encourages
the use of race-neutral methods for assigning students.''
memorandum made no mention of the opinion in that case of Justice
Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority. But he also said "the
problem of de facto resegregation in schooling'' may allow districts to
make a case for "avoiding racial isolation'' with narrowly-tailored
plans that include race as one component.
advocates hoped the Obama administration would have by now offered its
own, more helpful guidance on voluntary integration programs. In an
administration that feels that some racial issues are a third rail for
an African-American president, this has not happened. Obama's big
education speech this summer to the Urban League made no mention of
school resegregation. He talked plenty about his Race to the Top contest
to fight the achievement gap, but racial desegregation is not part of
that fight. Children of color continue to be exposed to disproportionate
disadvantages that make the gap almost impossible to close. Until Obama
publically connects the two, consider the issue "unaddressed.''