Together and unequal

Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected “separate but equal,” Topeka schools are integrated, and students make friends of all races, reports the Washington Post. But student achievement is unequal.

On last year’s 10th-grade math test, nearly 60 percent of black students and 40 percent of Hispanics were rated “unsatisfactory.” Only 30 percent of white 10th-graders scored at that level. There were similar achievement gaps in reading and science.

. . . Much of the achievement gap can be explained by differences in socioeconomic status: White students at Topeka High tend to come from more affluent backgrounds than their minority counterparts. But some black teachers also bemoan the breakdown of the close-knit community that was part of the segregated school experience.

“We have achieved integration, but in the process we have lost a sense of community and social support,” said Topeka High Principal Clardy Vinson, who is black. “In the old days, black students had a built-in support system. They were in constant contact with people they could identify with — teachers, parents, pastors — who were working together to help them succeed. The achievement gap is the result of this support system not being in place.”

It was “not segregation as such that made black schools inferior,” writes Thomas Sowell, who frequently praises high-quality all-black schools.

In a previous column, Sowell calls the emphasis on discrimination a distraction.

The key fallacy underlying the civil rights vision was that all black economic lags were due to racial discrimination. That assumption has survived to this day, in the courts, in the media, in academia, and above all in politics.

No amount of factual evidence can make a dent in that assumption. This means that a now largely futile crusade against discrimination distracts attention from the urgent need to upgrade educational standards and job skills among blacks.

May 17 is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

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  1. As usual, Sowell is dead-on. We have the same thing here in northern Delaware — federally desgregated since ’78 (order since lifted, but feeder patterns remain as is) — black and white students have been together for over 25 years, yet there is a huge achievement gap. Prominent black community leaders put the bulk of the blame for this on — you guessed it — racism.

  2. I’ll know that the achievement gap is soon to close as soon as hip-hop starts praising good students and achievers in the legitimate world.
    Hip hop is the soul of black youth, and to understand the direction young blacks are headed, listen to hip hop lyrics.

  3. The charge of “racism” is an admission that the accuser has no intention of solving the problem. After all, racism has existed throughout human history, and will continue to exist (I guarantee) for the remainder of human history.

    The notion that revenge, retaliation and lawsuit will change things for blacks is, as Sowell states, nonsense. The notion that racism must cease to exist before blacks can solve their problems haunts all political discussion. As John McWhorter has repeatedly pointed out, this is also a complete admission of defeat.

  4. Walter Wallis says:

    But it was sure good for bus manufacturers and drivers.

  5. Is it possible that the truth lies somewhere in the middle…that the hostility some students experience from the more powerful people in their community turn them away from the “do good in school and prosper” values of middle class America to the “school is a waste of time, you should have fun” values of American commercialism? The perception that this society is fundamentally racist convinces some minority students that hard work will not be rewarded…so why bother.

    My experience with Ethiopian students (who were born in Africa) has been that they lack the sullen resentment many African-American students seem to feel towards the “establishment”. Recent immigrant students focus on their goals and are not distracted by the “injustices” that surround them. When racist incidents occur, they don’t generalize those attitudes and assign them to all whites. I’ve never heard them talk about how their ancestors were slaves or oppressed by white people…most seem happy to be here…then again, most have modest expectations.

  6. Somewhat on-topic: a Kansas judge has ordered all public schools be shut down until next year.

  7. “Much of the achievement gap can be explained by differences in socioeconomic status”

    … which relates to education. I look at the incredibly easy NAEP test questions and the incredibly bad test results and can only conclude that a whole lot of basic teaching and learning is done in the home, not at school. Questions about race only distract people from studying exactly what is (or is not) going on in schools each day.

  8. Walter Wallis says:

    I reckon the real problem in Kansas is not that the schools are underfunded, but that Kansas is over judged. I am begining to believe that all judges, at the end of 6 years service, should be thrown into an active volcano.

  9. What is not readily apparent here (at least in the eyes of the mainstream media) is that schools are also heavily segregated by another color – GREEN.

    Our current means of organizing and funding schools by school districts that receive funds via property taxes is why this situation exists.

    50+ years ago, if you happened to be white (an accident of birth), you had a decent shot at a good education. Today, if you happen to have parents who can afford a house in a “good” (wealthy) school district (another accident of birth), you have a decent shot at a good education. I know of parents who earn more than $100K a year who went bankrupt not because they bought sports cars, designer clothes and European vacations, but because they couldn’t keep up with the mortgage and the property taxes. All to make sure that the kids had a decent education.

    Wasn’t Brown v. Board of Education supposed to ensure that kids’ educational opportunities are not shackled by accidents of birth?

    Not many people even talk about this (after all, we’re an “equal opportunity” society) but maybe public education’s problems are indeed structural, and the situation I just described is an example of this?

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    Some of the worst school districts in the country- for example, DC- are among the highest in per-pupil spending. Try another theory.

  11. Bryce – You need to check

    and look at the statistics for different school districts. School funding comes from three main sources: federal, local, and state. The percentage from each source varies dramatically between school districts. Our state contributes about 58 percent to the urban areas and about 13 percent to the more affluent areas. There is also the same varitaion for federal funding. In the urban district, local taxes account for about 30 percent of the total and in the affluent districts, it is about 85 percent.

    There is still a difference in the total per-pupil amount of money in the two different school districts, but it is not as large as you might think, about 10 to 15 percent. These costs per pupil are also in the same ballpark as most of the private schools in our area. Some states have even gone to state-wide funding methods to try to equalize the funding even further. This equalization of funding has been going on for some time.

    It’s hard to see how the problems in public education are greatly affected by a lack of money. With the amount of money being spent on each pupil in our urban schools, we could send them to private schools.

  12. Bryce: No, Brown v. Board of Ed. was NOT “supposed to ensure that kids’ educational opportunities are not shackled by accidents of birth.” It barred schools from segregating students on the basis of race. Of course, that is an accident of birth, but one of the misperceptions of Brown is just what you did — extrapolation of it into things for which is was not intended.

    For example, was (is) busing a mandate of Brown? I don’t think so. Where I teach (northern Delaware) its 1978 busing plan was dubbed “the most draconian in the country” by then Associate Justice Wm. Rehnquist. A local fed. judge mandated that city students (blacks) be bused into the ‘burbs for 9 of 12 yrs., while ‘burb kids (whites) be bused into the city schools for 3 of the 12 yrs. This judge ignored the state legislature’s voluntary busing plan.

    A University Delaware professor acquaintance of mine wrote extensively on the northern Delaware busing plan, showing how it was an egregious example of judicial law-making and not true to Brown’s intentions. (This prof. has also written a book on Brown.)

    Now, in Delaware, we’re hearing that the racial testing gap is “not true to the intentions of Brown.” Or, “even though students are no longer physically segregated in different schools, they’re segregated within them,” b/c of the high number of blacks in spec. ed. and lower level classes in schools where tracking is used. It’s a conundrum. For example, my school draws from some of the most affluent areas of the state, and also from the city projects. We track. If we did not, to what level does the teacher teach? Right down the middle? To the highest level? Below grade level?

    Ideally, of course, small class and aides would allow more individual instruction. A pipe dream, though. Class sizes are reaching 35 and you can forget about any aides for special ed. students. That, and if tracking were ditched in my district, the suburban parents would raise holy hell and, I’d presume, quickly take over the school board at the next election and quickly reinstate it.

  13. Bryce,

    Just when did it become a crime to want a good education for your kids? Could it be that parents in affluent neighborhoods can afford another house because they recognize the value of education and are educated themsleves. Maybe they have stressed the importance of an education to their children and their children take it more seriously than the children of parents who don’t

  14. The fact that schools are different in affluent neighborhoods isn’t necessarily related to per-pupil funding. Affluent people tend to be smart people. Smart people have smart kids. Affluent people also know how to work with the system and they pass that along too. Smart, well-behaved kids make good schools.

    I’m talking about averages, here. It’s also true that you can have a lot of money and be pretty dumb; I don’t know how that happens but I’ve seen it. I’ve also seen smart people who were stuck in the inner city. Which means that every child has to have every opportunity, even if they live in very poor neighborhoods. When it comes to individuals, you don’t know what their potential is.

  15. As a nation, from all sources of funding, the United States spends 400 Billion a year on education, and our students rank 18th in the world in math, and dead last in science in the TIMSS, and over the last 20-40 years, real spending on education has increased 3 fold (accounting for inflation), and scores have held flat for the last 30 years on the NAEP.

    I’d like to recommend taxpayers file a class-action lawsuit against the fraud known as public education 🙂

  16. Bob Diethrich says:

    To Ivory:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you about African students and their attitudes versus the general trends in African American thinking.

    Most of my African students are very respectful and very hard working. Many of them have expressed contempt (in private) to me about the general hip-hop “‘tude” of their native born classmates. And I teach in a fairly up-scale school, God knows what its like in the cities!

    A good friend of a friend of mine is from Ghana and you should hear him talk about American Blacks, and his contempt for some of the prevailing beliefs. You want to hear the word “nigger” said with vitriol. Sam and a good many of the Africans I have met put the rednecks to shame. Sad to say!

  17. Mark Odell says:

    Bryce wrote: Wasn’t Brown v. Board of Education supposed to ensure that kids’ educational opportunities are not shackled by accidents of birth?

    Yes — it wasn’t.

  18. Bill,

    The real problem with our schools is they are a reflection of our society. If you think our society has improved in the last 30 years then I’d have to wonder where you’ve been living.

    Don’t forget politicians sticking their hands where they don’t belong and interfering with the work of the professional educators. NCLB is nothing but a huge federal mandate with a huge cost and hardly any money to implement it. Of course, the real cost will be paid 20 years from now when the children entering school today hit the workforce and all they know how to do is take a test.

  19. Steve LaBonne says:

    The claim that NCLB is a huge unfunded mandate is complete and utter nonsense. See
    The screaming is not really about “unfunded mandates” at all, it’s about the allergy of underperforming (or worse) school administrations to sunlight.


  1. DebWire says:

    Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary

    On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that segregation of public schools “solely on the basis of race” denied black children equal educational opportunity, even though “physical facilities and other ‘tangible…