The Problem We All Still Live With*

Jul 26, 2010 by

We just keep finding new, more novel ways to keep doing this to the public schools.

Missed this study that the Golden Gophers’ Institute on Race and Poverty did of New Orleans public schools post-8/29/05…but not by much:

The University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race and Poverty (IRP) evaluated the success of the rebuilding efforts in a new study — “The State of Public Schools In Post-Katrina New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Equal Opportunity” — which found that the rebuilt public school system fails to adequately provide equal educational opportunity to all New Orleans students.

The study finds that the state-driven reorganization has created a “separate but unequal tiered system of schools” which sorts white students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective, high-performing schools, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty, low-performing schools.

The study also finds racial and economic segregation in the city and metropolitan area to be a continuing concern, still undermining the life chances and educational opportunities of low-income students and students of color. It documents that school choice in the form of charter schools does not by itself empower students of color to escape the negative consequences of segregation, especially when it leads them to racially-segregated, high-poverty, low-performing schools.

The detailed PDF is here, all ninety pages of it.  Some key conclusions:

  • Under policy recommendation #1, on pages 7 and 8: The charter school sector has been growing in a haphazard way in response to strong financial incentives and not because of their superior educational performance…There are also indications that the recent rapid growth in the charter sector cannot continue…Moreover, there are good reasons to believe that, in the long run, a fully charterized system is not sustainable.

The differences are not all that great between the performances of the traditional schools and the charters, but there are significant “tiered” differences between the OPSD schools, the BESE schools, and the RSD schools in the area…and “white students and a relatively small share of students of color” tend to be steered into the higher tiers of the OPSD and the BESE in New Orleans, while the majority of the low-income, nonwhite students go into the RSD.

These conclusions are not incredibly new…but they do come from studies of the schools in 2009.  I don’t think too many people will complain that they were done at a time when it was too early to tell how the “experiment” done on New Orleans public schools was working.  Bottom line: we’re coming up on the fifth anniversary of the Federal Flood next month, and we’re still experimenting on the area’s children.

I don’t know how seriously the current “system of schools” will take this study; the fact that the study notes that the charters are set to expand even further in the city is a good indication that the various public school entities will keep taking a Social Darwinian approach to public elementary and secondary education for a long time to come simply because it’s tough to stop a machine like that once it starts…and because funding for education is being eviscerated in this state in general.  The testing, testing, and more testing kicked up too many notches by No Child Left Behind’s policies doesn’t help matters much, either.  The region’s unwillingness to diversify its economy will ensure that a pool of the poor will be constantly stirring about aimlessly in its own brackish waters unless many things change for the better.

How long will it take us to see that a willful ignorance and suppression of diversity will be our undoing?  ‘Cause I want to be alive when it happens.  The way things are going, however…well, my optimism is a-fadin’ fast


*Title taken from The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell’s famous portrait of Ruby Bridges heading to William Frantz elementary.
All illustrations come from the Library of Congress’ exhibit on “Brown Vs. Board of Education at Fifty”.

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