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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Is this equity? White liberals think it's 'racially enlightened' to lower standards

In Dream Town: Shaker Heights and the Quest for Racial Equity, Washington Post reporter Laura Meckler, a Shaker Heights native, writes about her home town's attempt to achieve racial integration and, now, "equity."

It's a "fascinating" look at the limits of good intentions, writes Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, writes on Liberal Patriot.

A very liberal suburb of Cleveland, Shaker Heights is majority white, while the school population is 43 percent of students are black, 41 percent white, eight percent multiracial, three percent Hispanic and three percent Asian.

Starting in the '50s, the community has supported integration. Elementary schools were integrated in 1970, with white and black students riding buses.

However, residents -- black as well as white -- tried to block low-income housing, writes Kahlenberg, the author of Excluded: How Snob Zoning, NIMBYism, and Class Bias Build the Walls We Don’t See.

The income gap between black and white residents has grown significantly, he writes. By 2020, "median white income had risen to nearly $140,000, while black median income had fallen to under $50,000 — 35 percent of what whites earned."

To school officials, however, achievement gaps are seen as signs of racial bias. Differences in family education and income have been ignored.

Until recently, schools were tracking students into five levels, far more than in most other districts. (My high school had five tracks for English in the '60s. I didn't know anyone in Level 4 or 5. I barely knew people in Level 3.) Top tracks were mostly white, in part because white parents were more likely to push their average kids into higher-level classes.

Superintendent David Glasner, who is white, called tracking "part of a system of institutional racism," Meckler reports. Middle schools ended ability grouping, and high schools limited it.

"Well-meaning white administrators" now "perversely see it as racially enlightened to challenge high academic standards," writes Kahlenberg.

. . . after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Eric Juli, the white principal of Shaker Heights High School adopted the “anti-racist” stance articulated by Ibram X. Kendi. Juli argued that the goal of school should not be mastering complex material and facts because “Algebra 2 doesn’t exist on Planet Earth outside of an American high school.” He “discouraged homework,” mandated that no student receive lower than a 45 percent score on assignments, “required teachers to allow students to make up any missing assignment without penalty,” and told teachers not to enforce the dress code rules that were on the books.

Teachers received training that focused more on “the moral urgency” of de-tracking than “the nuts and bolts” of teaching a mixed-ability group, Meckler writes.

Eighth graders who hadn't taken pre-algebra were assigned to Algebra I. She talked to a student who did 30 pages of reading each night for an honors 9th-grade class, but had little homework in the detracked 10th-grade class. Students read aloud in class.

Upper-middle class black people have been leaving Shaker Heights for other Cleveland suburbs, reports the New York Times. “I have a son who needs to be around serious learners," a parent said. "I needed him to be in that honors class.”

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