Improving the quality of schools for all students is today’s challenge, not integrating the enrollment, writes Juan Williams in the New York Times.
Desegregation does not speak to dropout rates that hover near 50 percent for black and Hispanic high school students. It does not equip society to address the so-called achievement gap between black and white students that mocks Brownâ€™s promise of equal educational opportunity.
In 1990, Williams asked Thurgood Marshall if he’d make a mistake in demanding integration rather than quality education when, as an NAACP lawyer, he’d argued Brown v. Board of Education.
His response was that seating black children next to white children in school had never been the point. It had been necessary only because all-white school boards were generously financing schools for white children while leaving black students in overcrowded, decrepit buildings with hand-me-down books and underpaid teachers. He had wanted black children to have the right to attend white schools as a point of leverage over the biased spending patterns of the segregationists who ran schools â€” both in the 17 states where racially separate schools were required by law and in other states where they were a matter of culture.
If black children had the right to be in schools with white children, Justice Marshall reasoned, then school board officials would have no choice but to equalize spending to protect the interests of their white children.
Many big-city school districts are run by black superintendents and mostly black school boards, Williams writes.
And today the argument that school reform should provide equal opportunity for children, or prepare them to live in a pluralistic society, is spent. The winning argument is that better schools are needed for all children â€” black, white, brown and every other hue â€” in order to foster a competitive workforce in a global economy.
You still hear a lot about diversity as an end in itself. I’ve seen too many schools in which a diverse mix of students enroll but segregate themselves socially and academically. Diversity is a plus only if students are learning together, not just walking past each other in the halls.
Update: “Diversity is great. Education is better,” writes Gregory Kane, a Baltimore Sun columnist.
Update 2: “Inadequate choice, lack of order, a shortage of good teachers and families who don’t make a priority of learning” are the real problems facing minority kids, Steve Chapman writes on Reason.