Monday, November 02, 2009

"You have raised up the giant, and we are asleep no more."

In the world of educational policy, there are few near-indisputable claims to be made about what makes a good school, or how to better the outcomes of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds One of them, however, is that children from poorer backgrounds do far better academically when they attend schools with children from wealthier stations. James S. Coleman's 1966 massive study--commissioned by the Office of Civil Rights--of equal educational opportunities of black and white student, in addition to finding that socioeconomic status was the most determinative factor in student achievement (rather than school or curriculum quality, which somewhat ironically spurred a conservative backlash against Johnson era programs that aimed to uplift poor children through increased federal aid to schools), found that poorer (ie. black) children did markedly better when integrated in school with middle class (ie white) children. 

Forty years later, Coleman's claim about the benefits of economic diversity remain intact.  Earlier this year, the sociologist (and former student of Coleman's) Gerald Grant published a book on the Raleigh, NC school system.  Grant argued that the city's policies of consolidating the city schools with suburban schools, and busing students both ways across town, have almost achieved the county's goal of having no school with greater than 40% of children eligible for free or reduced price lunches.  More importantly, Grant found, in accomplishing economic integration the county has some of the best schools in the country.  A child from a poor background in Raleigh has a far greater chance of succeeding academically than in just about any city in the United States.

As a longtime fan of the 1966 Coleman Report, I was thrilled to learn about the Raleigh case.  But as any student of American social history knows, you can always count on the rhetoric of "neighborhood schools" to disappoint.  

The Wake County school board election last month saw the Raleigh plan take a beating, as the claims of diversity once again lost out to the claims of "community" and "neighborhood."  In other words: Bad news.  

The state's NAACP leader promises to fight any attempts to end Raleigh's commitment to diversity and low-income student achievement.  Here's hoping they win.  Given the Supreme Court's long-string of appalling decisions (the latest one two years ago) regarding the ability of local school districts to carry out the law of the land--you know, that whole Brown v. Board decision--it would be heartbreaking were the courts, or the people for that matter, to strike down Raleigh's bold attempt at achieving educational equality.  

2 Comments:

Blogger to scranton said...

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11:35 PM  
Blogger scantron said...

I can't speak to the statistics, but thanks for linking to the Slate slideshow. That picture of the woman and child falling out of the apartment building is incredible, and much more harrowing than any of the 9-11 "tower jumper" photos I saw at the time, if only because of the close proximity.

It was interesting to see the "Soiling of Old Glory" photo used for a Socialist Workers Party presidential poster. The candidate who received (relatively) so many votes that go-round was Peter Camejo, who ran with Nader in 04 and whose recent death was much remarked upon out here in the Bay Area.

11:38 PM  

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