Today’s New York Times published two full pages on the impact of desegregation in America’s schools. During the 70’s and 80’s, schools were integrated, especially in the south. Achievement scores rose and achievement gaps between black and white students fell. With the introduction of school choice in the 90’s, segregation increased. An attack on public schools began. Why?
As the U.S. reverted to the doctrine of separate but equal, it became obvious that low-income area schools were not equal. Equality in funding was a myth. Wealthy districts had better funding even if states required a minimum level of funds for each district. Better funding provides better opportunities.
Children with greater physical and mental needs cost more, and a higher proportion of them reside in low-income areas. Higher-income areas often resist paying for educating ‘those other children’. As a result, lower-cost private and charter schools are sold as the symbol for better schools even though they are not better; they just choose which students to accept.
The point of the article, ‘It was never about busing‘ is that we are substituting code words for racist policies. The word ‘Busing’ has become a bugaboo (an imaginary object of fear). Many white children were always bused but not to black schools. Advocates for neighborhood schools used these code words for segregated schools.
Vouchers are supposed to reduce costs by housing more schools in churches, but they aren’t required to meet state standards for teaching and learning, and they do increase segregation. Charters are designed to give lower-income parents an escape valve from the local schools struggling to meet the needs of all students. Nevertheless, charters that reflect double segregation of race and income cannot overcome their lack of access to the wider world.
Improved access to high-quality preschool programs is the current panacea. Yes, they initially help minority children succeed, but their academic gains fade as they enter segregated schools.
The author of the article, Nicole Hannah-Jones, concludes that busing did not fail, we did.