Race to the Top should help desegregate schools
The Justice Department Tuesday announced that a rural Mississippi county was being ordered by a federal judge to stop segregating its schools. The judge said that the Walthall County school system was grouping African American students into all-black classrooms and illegally allowing white students to transfer to the county’s only majority-white school.
Good for the Justice Department. The 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools led to more than 25 years of such efforts. But the de facto resegregation of American schools has been underway for more than 20 years now, and federal officials, Democrat and Republican, have pretty much ignored it until now.
President Obama recently promised to marshal more resources to drag into court school systems that have ignored civil rights laws and allowed schools to resegregate. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan said recently that he is increasing enforcement of civil rights laws in schools and colleges and will announce steps he is taking soon.
But it seems fair to ask why Obama and Duncan did not try to further this goal when they had the chance with their Race to the Top competition?
The $3 billion Race to the Top is a contest in which states compete for funds by promising to reform schools with initiatives favored by Duncan. In the first round, Tennessee and Delaware beat out 14 other finalists. Some of those initiatives include expanding expanding charter schools and linking teacher merit pay to student test scores.
Jim Horn, who teaches at Cambridge College in Cambridge, Mass., noted in an Answer Sheet guest post recently that “no points (0.00) are offered in Race to the Top to incentivize potential grantees toward novel or innovative solutions to the accelerating re-segregation of American schools.”
Furthermore, some of the efforts supported by Duncan, including an expansion of charter schools, have been shown to be part of the resegregation problem.
Gary Orfield, now the head of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, who warned back in the 1990s that desegregated schools were becoming resegregated, released a report in February saying that charter schools were a key factor in the phenomenon.
Nearly 3 out of 4 black students in charters were in “intensely segregated” schools with student populations that are at least 90 percent minority -- twice the rate of non-charter public schools, the report said.
The Civil Rights Project issued a report in 2008 that showed the opposite for public magnet schools, saying that a significant share of magnet school programs “has a clear policy favoring integration and that those with such policies had better outcomes.”
Today, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers, almost half of America’s black students and nearly two-fifths of Latino students attend high schools that they label “dropout factories.”
It isn’t enough for the Justice Department to fight this battle. The Education Department should use Race to the Top to help this effort.
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| April 13, 2010; 5:51 PM ET
Categories: Race to the Top | Tags: Justice Department, Mississippi school and desegregate, Race to the Top, court and Mississippi school, court order and desegregate and school, federa court and desegregation, resegregation of schools
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