"Separate, but Equal" in 2011

"Overall, a third of all black and Latino children sit every day in classrooms that are 90 to 100 percent black and Latino."

This is one of the most powerful statistics included in Dana Goldstein's excellent MLK Day post on segregated schools. My first three years of teaching I did not have a single student who was not black or brown. This year I have a few students of Southeast Asian descent, so I suppose this could qualify for diversity, but it doesn't change the statistic above.

The continuation of segregation in America's schools is one of this nation's greatest embarrassments, and greatest disservices to the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights fight in general. Unfortunately, this fact is largely left out of discussions on education reform. I don't find this terribly surprising. I wouldn't expect the right-wing to mention segregation for any reason, and the left is too busy trying to use pro-market sounding language to sell any and all social reforms. Still, with another anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday behind us, I think it's sad that the civil rights argument has been airbrushed out of the education reform debate.

Yes, it's true our schools are being outperformed by Finland and China and numerous nations in between. Yes, it's true our nation's future economic well being depends on having a well educated work force. These facts and similar arguments for education reform are legitimate and may be the best way to sell education reform to centrists, libertarians or whomever. But I think it makes for a rather soulless call to action.

I would never try to imagine what Dr. King would say about education reform today. But the fact that millions of the country's poorest children are attending modern day versions of schools that are "separate, but equal," is an injustice he would surely speak out against. In his stead, it's up to today's policymakers and educators to make a strident call for the cause of a quality education for every child, regardless of race, color or creed.


jonathan said…
Having your kid pawned off on a Teach for America instead of having a real teacher is another aspect of "separate but equal"

Stable schools should not be a privilege of some, and just a dream for others. Having schools repeatedly shut and reopened is not an equal process; it only occurs in certain places, to certain people.

And comprehensive high schools for middle class New York, indistiguishible mini-school in the Bronx and Brooklyn, that's more separate (and not equal).

ruben_b said…
I understand your frustration with TFA's 2 year and done model, but correct me if I'm wrong, 1st year teachers are almost universally ineffective compared to teachers with 3+ years of experience. Putting the neediest children in the classrooms of inexperienced teachers is one of the fundamental causes of the achievement gap, which is why it's so important to reward effective teachers who work in the hardest to staff schools.
jonathan said…
I am not frustrated with TfA's model. I recognize it for the planned disruption that it is.

You asked to be corrected (though I am not sure why). You are wrong. Poor kids in poor neighborhoods start with fewer resources, are less likely to grow up surrounded by books, often speak a non-standard variety of English, etc, etc.

The word you choose (and I recognize that it is not your creation) "ineffective," reflects the culture that prepares kids for tests instead of teaching them. It is a word I choose not to use. The test prep industry cheats poor kids daily. Test prep may be "effectively" delivered by short term temps (eg, TfA), but it leaves our kids starved for education.

None of this would have been accepted in the suburban system where I grew up. Why should Bronx kids face it?

Your last sentence is a complete non-sequitor. Even were you correct about "ineffective teachers" and "achievement gaps" (and I do hope you rethink your test-prep infused language and the ideas behind it), the contention would not support the conclusion.

Were I not so annoyed with the stale catch-phrases, I might feel embarrassed for you.

ruben_b said…
I reject the characterization that TfA is a "planned disruption". When TfA was started there was a real shortage of teachers in the hardest to staff schools. For better or worse, TfA put teachers in classrooms that needed them.

As for your correction, I think you misread my comment. I'm well aware of the many disadvantages poor kids in poor neighborhoods have. But what I was referring to was the effectiveness (sorry, but I don't know what other word to use here) of 1st year teachers. It is my understanding that 1st year teachers, whether alternatively certified or coming from traditional pathways, are all markedly less capable (hope that's a suitable replacement for effective) than teachers with 3 or more years of experience. My point being that while the departure of any teacher after only 2 years is a major problem, it's unfair to say that a 1st year TFAer is any worse than a 1st year teacher from a traditional program.

Finally, a note on "effectiveness": I agree that semantics are important. But I disagree with your definition of effectiveness as the ability to administer test prep. As you know, I abhor test prep, but I still don't use that as a measure of my effectiveness. The only measure of effectiveness for me is are my kids moving. If the state tests are one measure of that, fine, but I also know that it's going to be the E-CLAS and running records I perform that allow me to judge my effectiveness.

I think it's really unfair to characterize TFAers as test prep temps. I don't know enough TFAers to generalize, but I can speak anecdotally from my experience with my Teaching Fellows cohort that although we weren't coming from a traditional certification program, we resoundly rejected any philosophy that embraced "teaching to the test." We know that this is not true learning, and this is not the way to help poor children genuinely catch up to their privileged peers. At the same time, in the two schools I've taught I have seen many teachers bow to the pressure to teach to the test, but none of them were from TFA.

Popular Posts