School segregation more nuanced than understood

A study finding that the percentage of intensely segregated schools tripled between 1988 and 2016 is seized upon as evidence that prejudice exists (“ ‘Threatening the Future’: The High Stakes of Deepening School Segregation,” The New York Times, May 11).  But before jumping to conclusions about the reasons, it’s important to take a closer look at the issue.

Reformers maintain that court rulings that released school districts from desegregation orders are responsible.  There is certainly some truth to that belief.  But I think it overlooks a far more important reason.  Parents are concerned that their children will be hurt academically if they are forced to attend schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students who just so happen to be largely black and Hispanic.  Studies have called their fears unfounded, but they persist.  I don’t think it’s because of prejudice.  Instead, I think it’s because of concern over the academic deficits that these students bring to class through no fault of their own.

I don’t blame parents for wanting to get the best education for their own children.  In fact, ethicists have repeatedly pointed out that that duty to kin is No. 1.  I’m not saying that segregated schools are not disturbing.  Of course, they are.  But it’s wrong to attribute sinister reasons for their choice.  Let’s not forget that former President Obama sent his two daughters to a private school in Washington D.C. even though he was an outspoken supporter of school integration.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “School segregation more nuanced than understood”

  1. Completely agree — to the extent that public schools (neighborhood, charter, magnet) are racially segregated, it is almost entirely due to racially segregated housing patterns and to higher-SES parents wanting to send their kids to schools where most of the other kids are also from higher-SES families (so that there will be relatively little misbehavior and pro-academic-achievement peer pressure).

    Those arguing that racially-segregated schools reflect racial prejudice by local/state govts should produce statistics comparing per pupil spending in the white schools vs. in the black/Hispanic schools + should focus on the per pupil spending stats within a school system (or withing the governmental unit that funds the schools).

    The pre-Brown racial segregation in the schools — that the SCt struck down in rejecting the South’s separate-but-equal argument — was characterized by huge per pupil spending discrepancies, with the white schools spending much more per pupil than the black schools within the same school system.

    I’m pretty sure that per pupil spending stats today would show that school systems spend at least as much per pupil in the black/Hispanic schools as in the white schools within the same school system. Probably, in most school systems, the per pupil spending is higher in the black/Hispanic schools than in the white schools due to the extra $ (local, state, federal) that flows to the lower-SES schools.

    Of course, the very affluent suburban school systems will still usually spend more per pupil than neighboring inner-city schools systems, but that is not due to racial discrimination by the officials running either the suburban school system or the inner-city school system. Rather, it is due to the fact that the suburban taxpayers are willing and able to pay much higher school taxes than the inner-city taxpayers.

    Possibly/probably black/Hispanic students — on average — receive a lower percentage of the optimum per pupil funding than white students (due to the black/Hispanic students — on average — having more special needs that require higher per pupil funding and due to the black/Hispanic students — on average — being more likely to live in lower-SES areas/inner-cities where there is less tax $ available for the public schools). But, again, this is not due to racial discrimination on the part of the officials running the school systems.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: We spend more money and time trying to abolish segregation that is strictly de facto. Yet we assume that the problem is due to prejudice. This obsession has not improved matters and never will because parents of all races want the best education for their children.

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