Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Problem We All Live With - This American Life

This podcast from This American Life was both very interesting and sad. The overall theme of both parts of the podcast is that while there have been many attempts to try and "fix" underperforming schools and school districts across the country, most districts fail to do the one thing that Brown vs Board of Education was supposed to do in 1954: eliminate "separate but equal", and establish integration in schools. Both parts of the podcast explain that impoverished, underperforming districts continually try to "fix" their schools by using a variety of techniques: hire new teachers, increase after-school activities, re-design curriculums, etc. Indeed, we continually see this in Providence public schools. Several high schools here in the city are using outside consultants to redesign school instruction, organizations such as Teach For America and City Year have been brought in to try and assist schools across the city, and the state/city has spent large sums of money on teacher development over the past several years. The podcast speaker notes that underperforming school districts are trying to decrease the "achievement gap" that persists between white and minority students, but these attempts will never be successful. She argues that the only way to fix the ever present achievement gap is to integrate these school districts with wealthier, "whiter" ones. I agree with the speaker on this point. Numerous studies have shown that if you integrate lower-achieving, minority students with high achieving white ones, the minority students' academic achievement increases significantly. Still, I believe she was too dismissive when the superintendent of the normandy schools explains that he wants radical change. Integration is the utopia, but given societal constraints, it is important that these under-resourced schools do look for radical change because the old system is clearly failing.

Additionally, in Part I, a researcher focuses on an "accidental" integration that happened to some students from the Normandy school district in Missouri. After the Normandy school district became unaccredited, the state allowed students to attend another school district, Fall Hollow, that is 45 minutes away. Roughly 1000 students decided to switch from the failing school district to the more resourced, almost entirely white suburban district. The most disturbing part of this podcast is the recorded statements from the parents of Fall Hollow following this decision; many of the parents expressed their desire to leave the school district, their concerns of violence, and their concerns that the quality of their children's education was in jeopardy. Although I cannot argue whether these parents' concerns were entirely based on race, I can understand why many would be concerned. I do not have children of my own, but I hope that one day I can move to a town that has a strong academic reputation. Indeed, I feel that most parents, just like the parents who sent their kids to Fall Hollow from Normandy, would and do the same. It is easy to see why many parents would be concerned about over-crowding, or lack of resources (but I do think some of the concerns suggested were completely racist and absurd). So, if I do decide to send my kids to a private school or live in a wealthier neighborhood with great schools, am I only supporting a cycle of racism?

Another point that resonated with me came at the conclusion of Part II. One of the guests, a white woman, explains that white people "don't want to talk about school integration as a race issue". Instead, she argues that white people often center their arguments against school integration around issues of "poverty", "lack of funding", and "lack of resources". The speaker notes that opponents to school integration do not want to admit that this is a race issue, so they tiptoe around the issue using other excuses. While I do believe that racial prejudices are often sadly at play, I do not necessarily believe that opponents to school integration are simply opposed because of race. If there was a school that was comprised of 70-90% black and/or Latino students and the school was performing well (plenty of resources, high graduation rates, a history of graduates attending great colleges, etc), I do to believe that white parents would be opposed to sending their children to such a great school. Perhaps I have too positive of a look on this, but I like to believe that parents from predominantly Caucasian communities want their children to go to a good school. If that good school is comprised of predominantly minority students, I would be surprised if white parents would be so strongly opposed.

1 comment:

  1. I think the Magnet schools of CT were the answer to the last part of what you describing, yet, they have high executive media campaigns to sell these schools to the white parents, hoping for 25% integration. Another part of the story speaks to the same point, in Act 1 of part 2 "That the only way to make the schools better for non-white kids was to bring in white kids."