Separate and Unequal Still: The Plight of American Schools

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28 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Anecdote time:

    I went to school in Westchester County from 8th Grade to 11th Grade. (Don’t get too excited. I didn’t live in Pound Ridge, Bedford, or Bedford Hills. We lived in Mount Kisco which is where “the help” tended to live.)

    Anyway, the demographics of the school today (without naming names) is 65% White, 23% Hispanic, 5% black, 2% Asian, and so on. (Sadly, I can’t find the demographics of the school in 1989. Probably shave 10% off the Hispanic demographic and split it between the Black demographic and the White one, if memory serves.)

    Lily white? Eh. I’ll leave that up as an exercise to the reader.

    The more interesting thing is that there were 3 “tracks”. “Basic”, “Regents”, and “Honors”.

    “Regents” and “Honors” were lily white.

    If you looked at my classes, you’d have thought that I went to a segregated school. (Well, except for gym.)

    The black kids were in the Basic classes. The Hispanic ones were in the “ESL” courses on the second floor all the way down at the end of the building where… I think it was called “C Wing”… had the foreign language classrooms. Regents and Honors students took the courses on the first floor.

    All that to say, even a well-funded school can achieve segregation with a 30% diverse student body.

    It’s easy to talk about the demographics of the school. What about the demographics of the classes themselves?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

      This is true. You also need to integrate the classes. There have been lots of essays I read about ending honors tracks and also ending the really smart kid schools in large urban cities. NYC’s top high schools tend to be filled with striving immigrant kids. They went from being largely Jewish to overwhemlingly Asian. Stuy High School is 72 percent Asian and 20 something percent white according to wikipedia.

      I imagine that other top public schools are equally Asian in NYC. A quick google shows that Brooklyn tech is 60 percent Asian and 20 percent white. LaGuardia (Performing Arts) is pretty diverse with 46 percent white, 19 percent Asian, 19 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent African-American.

      My town on Long Island was over 50 percent Jewish, 25-30 percent Asian, with most of the remainder being Italian and/or Irish Catholic. The number of African-American and Hispanic students was probably under 30 for all four grades. Though Long Island tends to be more socio-economically diverse than Westchester and the towns are split more on ethnic-religious lines. Anti-Semitic taunts were not uncommon when my town played sports against other schools.

      Interestingly, the demographics of my town might be switching to be more and more Asian and less Jewish. The town is still pretty Jewish but seems to be going through their own version of the Silicon Valley problem where white parents complain about how Asian parents want more math and science and not enough art and humanities:

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        There have been lots of essays I read about ending honors tracks and also ending the really smart kid schools in large urban cities.

        This ain’t never gonna happen.

        I’m almost willing to say that it never, ever should.

        We want outliers. We want more of them.

        What we don’t want is squishing the outliers who exist in other parts of the culture.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:

          I know people who grew up pretty poor and received wonderful private school educations because some benefactor thought they were special enough to get scholarships and funding. The issue is that these programs tend to help the few instead of the many.

          There is also the question about how many people are truly outliers. I think there is evidence that shows you can mix honors kids with the rest and everything is okay.

          So why should there be a few high schools in an area that get all the good teachers and the teachers can just be teachers but teachers every where else need to be social worker-teacher superheros in ways that produce quick burn out.

          Though I do agree that the special admissions high schools are not going away because they have reputations for being “safe places to be smart” in the cities. This is not about genius levels of smart though.Report

          • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            I think there is evidence that shows you can mix honors kids with the rest and everything is okay.

            I would like to see that evidence. It seems fairly obvious to me that if you have classes where students have a wide range of cognitive abilities, you’re necessarily going to either teach too slowly for the high-cognitive students and have them graduate learning less than they could, or leave the low-IQ students in the dust.Report

            • Damon in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Agreed. You never compete with people below your ability if you want to improve. You compete with people above you.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              But the question is, how should the classroom thermostat be set?

              (Lest this be seen strictly as a silly remark, which it admittedly mostly is, seems to me the same basic principle holds – for any resource utilized communally, like a teacher/textbook or a thermostat, they are going to have to be “set” at a level which is invariably too high for some, and too low for others).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      My school system K-12 was 50% black by the time I graduated and at or about 50% students of color throughout my tenure. When I was in MS, HS students staged a “walk out” to protest institutional racism (their words) in the class tracking system The result was an end of testing. The different tracks became considerably more integrated. My mom (a former teacher in the district who still had friends teaching; my sister and bro were in HS during the changeover) insists the quality of the honors/AP track went down. I can’t speak to that. But I can say the fact that I had classmates and friends who were Black and brown and all stripes of Asian and Jewish and Sikh and Muslim and Baptist and non-Native English speakers and first generation and immigrants and wealthy and on free lunch was so incredibly valuable to me as both a student and a person.

      Then again, my town was the first to voluntarily desegregate district wide in the nation so despite not being perfect, we had a unique commitment to diversity.Report

  2. LeeEsq says:

    Desegregation is a giant stumbling block. There are lots of reasons why it is obviously correct from a liberal point of view. Scientific evidence suggests that it does do some good. A lot of people still oppose integration for a variety of reasons. The standard liberal response is that all of these people are racist but I don’t think that is true or even if it is true, politically helpful because you still need the political support of a lot of white people to pull of integration schemes. Calling the people whose support you need terrible monsters is not a good political strategy.

    A lot of the opposition to integration has to do with the fear that your kids are going to get corrupted in some vague or not so vague way by the other children. In more homogenous countries, class rather than race becomes the issue and upper or middle class parents think that their kids will no longer follow the correct standards but end up in a life of decadent partying without proper work ethics. The fear is completely irrational but people tend to be deeply irrational when it comes to their children. Another issue is that integration often seems as an imposition from an outside force and few people who like this even if the outside imposition is just and necessary. It is sort of reverse gentrification. In the poor areas that became wealthy through young, hip and wealthy people moving in there is a similar degree of distrust.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:


      Evidence suggests that it does a ton of good and none of the bad stuff that people fear happens. The corrupting stuff sounds racist in effect if not intent and you can hear it in the story.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        The corrupting stuff is racist and classicist. Evidence on integration shows that it does a lot of good. The evidence of the positive effects of integration are somewhat irrelevant to actually implementing integration. To get integration, you need agreement from both the white majority and the people of color minority unless you want to use a lot of force.Report

      • Notme in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Does a ton of good for whom? Those being bused in or those that have to endure it?Report

        • InMD in reply to Notme says:

          That’s a good question and what makes th e issue hard. It’s easy to argue for something when it isn’t you and your family making the sacrifice (or at least facing uncertainty).Report

          • LWA in reply to InMD says:

            The answer becomes apparent when you explore what the “sacrifice” is, and why it is painful, and why only a few should be forced to endure it while others escape.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to LWA says:

              Can’t we just use goats like in the old days?Report

            • InMD in reply to LWA says:

              What if the sacrifice is sending your children to a much more violent school and/or staying in a much more violent county? That was the experience my family and many others had in the late 80s through 90s just outside of DC.

              My point isn’t that de facto segregation is good or even that it’s not racist (the roots of it absolutely are). My point is only that some of the concerns that make it hard to undo are legitimate (as opposed to those that aren’t such as not wanting your kid going to school with people of a different race).Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to InMD says:


                When I was originally looking up the demographics for the NYC Magnet Schools, I found an essay on Huff Post called “Bronx Science: A Safeplace to be Smart”. The article was written by a guy who was in high school during the late 70s or early 1980s, also known as the really bad years in NYC.

                I suspect that this is why the magnet schools will always exist. People don’t want to send their kids to schools with bad reputations or places they perceive as being violent. There was the same thing in the town hall in the TAL video. People wondered if the white high school would get metal detectors and security guards. Spoiler: The school did not.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw we were very nerdy and on the socially awkward side as teenagers. We were really lucky to a public high school were we did. Bullying or worse would be a daily related otherwise.

                Parents want their kids to be safe. Most of us would agree that a parent that callously exposes their kid’s to physical danger for the sake of a better world is a bad parent. Wanting kids not to be exposed to bullying or worse at school is natural.Report

              • InMD in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                The result in the county I grew up in was that virtually all white college bound students ended up in one of two magnet programs, going to private or parochial school, or moving (I went to a very blue collar parochial school then my family moved over the county line once they could afford it).

                I will say that my experience was not the result of a policy decision to integrate poorer black students from dc into a predominantly middle class white county but was the result of development policies. Maybe it would go better if it was done more purposefully but I think a lot of similar dynamics would be in play.Report

              • LWA in reply to InMD says:

                So when the pain is “those schools are violent”, the answer becomes:

                A. Find ways to make the school less violent;
                B. Detach and isolate ourselves.

                Of course social problems don’t have magic solutions or silver bullets as “A” would suggest.
                But IMO, “B” is even worse, in that in its worst cases, results in the collapse of the entire society into feudal fiefdoms.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to LWA says:

                Other people should definitely keep their kids in the violent schools.

                I hope you understand that I’m going to move my kids to the not violent one, though.Report

              • InMD in reply to LWA says:

                In theory I agree, A is better but its also a tall order. Reality tends to be what Jay bird said. Even if I disagree with the decision to select B in principle I find it hard to argue against it for any individual family.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to InMD says:

            We kinda argued this way back when.

            I’m still irritated that the story kinda elided the fact that the growth in the so-called “apartheid schools” in the South was bringing the South to the levels found in the rest of the country.

            San Francisco? Check these stories out.

            From the latter story: Since 2010, the year before the current policy went into effect, the number of San Francisco’s 115 public schools dominated by one race has climbed significantly. Six in 10 have simple majorities of one racial group. In almost one-fourth, 60 percent or more of the students belong to one racial group, which administrators say makes them “racially isolated.” That described 28 schools in 2013–2014, up from 23 in 2010–2011, according to the district.

            (Which pretty much confirms that my story above means that I was, in fact, going to a “racially isolated” school.)

            Would it be silly of me to say that San Francisco is the most liberal city in the country? (Should I say “progressive” instead of liberal? Should I just hedge and say “one of the top five”?)

            This is happening in one of the top five most liberal/progressive cities in the country.

            I’m now wondering where we would be looking for exemplary schools that could make us say “There. We want to model our schools on This City Right Here.”Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Notme says:

          Desegregation does good for those who are in lower performing schools while doing nothing to the grades or performances of those in higher-performing schools.Report