It’s serious reading, but if the progress of civil rights and equal education interests you, this article from The Atlantic is a must. It focuses on Tuscaloosa, Ala., as an example of the resegregation of Southern schools, a trend helped immeasurably by U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have hurried the end of court supervision of public school districts’ desegregation.
The end of court oversight; a less vigorous U.S. Justice Department; district gerrymandering; white flight. All the familiar elements have contributed to a new segregation in Tuscaloosa and across the South. Many white children attend schools with at least some black children. But there’s been a significant rise in “apartheid” schools, virtually all-black schools where the education, if measured by results and those clustered there, is anything but equal.
I was struck how often in this article I felt like you could substitute Little Rock for Tuscaloosa in the circumstances described. There’s even a Central High School, once an integration success story with shining academic achievements, now struggling mightily to survive. Little Rock Central is not at that low state yet, of course. But the forces here that aim to separate advantaged students from the less advantaged — including by charter schools and voucher ideas — inevitably will bring the same results here. Indeed, Central’s continued success is a sore point the school choice crowd hopes to eliminate with a new charter high school.
Was forced desegregation a bad idea? Can’t students do just as well or better in one-race settings? The research says otherwise. A striking passage from an immense article:
A 2014 study conducted by Rucker Johnson, a public-policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found desegregation’s impact on racial equality to be deep, wide, and long-lasting. Johnson examined data on a representative sample of 8,258 American adults born between 1945 and 1968, whom he followed through 2011. He found that black Americans who attended schools integrated by court order were more likely to graduate, go on to college, and earn a degree than black Americans who attended segregated schools. They made more money: five years of integrated schooling increased the earnings of black adults by 15 percent. They were significantly less likely to spend time in jail. They were healthier.
Notably, Rucker also found that black progress did not come at the expense of white Americans—white students in integrated schools did just as well academically as those in segregated schools. Other studies have found that attending integrated schools made white students more likely to later live in integrated neighborhoods and send their own children to racially diverse schools.
This reminds me of a story that appeared while I was away. It was news that Walton Family Founation money was funding scholarships and other help for graduates of the KIPP charter school in Helena to attend the University of Arkansas. KIPP does a great job educating children from motivated families who agree to follow the rigorous program (longer school year, parental involvement, etc.). Though targeting poor, minority students, KIPP gets a built-in advantage of a self-selected student body. Make no mistake. It has done great work in sending a high percentage of its graduates to college. But college completion rates have not matched initial enrollment. Indeed, reporting on renewal rates on Arkansas lottery scholarships from state Higher Education Department statistics, I noted not long ago that a greater percentage of state scholarship recipients from Barton, Marvell and Helena-West Helena since 2010 had retained scholarships than the number from KIPP who received them. KIPP draws students from those districts and they are often portrayed as educational backwaters from which KIPP students escape.
You might ask why the Waltons don’t send some help to the students going to college from the Helena-West Helena school district, every bit as likely to be economically stressed as those from its competitor KIPP, perhaps moreso. The answer is simple. The Waltons continue to put their thumbs on the scale for their “choice” agenda. They want to improve the college completion numbers for KIPP, not help Helena-West Helena.
It’s another example of who runs the UA these days. The Waltons’ big $300 million gift to UA was conditioned on setting up an education reform outfit, further subsidized by more Walton money in endowments for the faculty. You have to look hard for work from that unit that doesn’t favor charter schools over conventional public school districts, particularly those with strong teacher unions. So it’s hardly surprising the UA has set aside a pot of money for KIPP students, rather than for Barton, Marvell, Helena-West Helena or, god forbid, Little Rock. In Little Rock, the Walton money is supporting establishment of a West Little Rock charter middle school to cream still more economically advantaged students from the Little Rock School District, now safe from any court oversight. In time, we’ll undoubtedly receive UA research findings that a school of middle- to upper-income students from west Little Rock has higher scores than those in apartheid middle schools in the inner city. Maybe Atlantic could write an article about it someday.
Related subject: Sen. Johnny Key’s effective work for Walton-financed choice initiatives such as a huge increase in state payments to home schoolers, along with his benevolent oversight of UA money matters, contribute to my belief that Chancellor David Gearhart’s choice of Key to be the UA’s new lobbyist is a mere formality. Key was a leader, too, in the Walton-backed legislative effort to end racial barriers to public school district transfers in Arkansas. In time, this law will inevitably create apartheid schools in several places in Arkansas.