Throughout the last forty years, the United States has gone through an extremely turbulent period regarding the mixing of races in schools. Beginning with institutionalized integration measures in the 1970s, these four decades have led America back full-circle to embody the cliché, “History repeats itself.” Many people do not consider resegregation of education an issue, because in 2014, everyone in the United States is equal, right? There should be no difference in the quality of education of different types of students because of how warm and welcoming our country is to all types of people.
Studies have demonstrated that integration measures greatly benefit minority students and do not help or harm white students. Wow, looks like minority students must really just need white students to learn. Maybe these white students would radiate their talent and brilliance to all of the less gifted minority students just by being in the same classroom as them!
The problem is not that these groups are segregated; the problem is where the resources are thrown. Orfield argues that minority students do not need white kids around in order to excel, they need white kids around so that they too are given the same funding and quality of education that these generally high SES kids are receiving. When schools are comprised of very poor children, from immigrant or pure socio-economically oppressed backgrounds, there is less of a priority to allocate stronger resources to help raise the condition of these children. Rather they are given the bottom of the heap and the cycle repeats itself. The U.S. Department of Education indicates that high poverty and high minority students have about 35% of their courses, on average, taught by teachers who are not certified or have degrees in their major, compared to about 15% for low poverty and minority. Clearly, teachers who are considered “good teachers” and hired in schools that are “good schools” would generally have to be certified or have a major in their subject because this is what these schools “need”. When teachers are hired without these credentials, they are generally being paid less because they are at schools that didn’t have the resources to get better-qualified teachers.
Additionally, many high school students who were interviewed by Jonathan Kozol that came from these very segregated neighborhoods said that they felt like they were being hidden from the world and placed into this area all together because no one else really wanted them. He received letters from students about things that they did not have that they saw other schools had, like gardens and clean supplies. Being impressed since high school with a mark of inferiority has long-term effects on self-worth and ambition in the future, again creating a feedback loop that creates an atmosphere in which it becomes impossible to raise oneself out of. The oppressions becomes internal.
Around the time I met Alliyah in the school year 1997-1998, New York’s Board of Education spent about $8,000 yearly on the education of a third-grade child in a New York City public school. If you could have scooped Alliyah up out of the neighborhood where she was born and plunked her down in a fairly typical white suburb of New York, she would have received a public education worth about $12,000 a year. If you were to lift her up once more and set her down in one of the wealthiest white suburbs of New York, she would have received as much as $18,000 worth of public education every year and would likely have had a third-grade teacher paid approximately $30,000 more than her teacher in the Bronx was paid.
What is most appalling about this is that even though now, with the numbers higher than ever before, the same extreme discrepancy divides the two and nothing has been done to change it. Essayist Marina Warner wrote, “There are expensive children and there are cheap children” referring to how much is spent on each child’s education by the government, apparent very early in their academic lives. Through these figures, it becomes clear who the expensive children and the poor children are, and in most cases, their races could be accurately guessed.
With policies such as No Child Left Behind in place, the gap between academic performance in minority schools and white schools is increasing. For those unfamiliar with the policy, it allocates funding to public schools depending on that schools performance on standardized tests. When minority schools start off with less funding and more people who do not speak English, they generally perform worse on standardized tests than students in white schools with a lot of funding and barely anyone who was not raised speaking English. This leads to minority schools getting less money than they already were, and white schools getting even more than the excess they already had, maintaining the cycle of oppression.
In a recent essay on the current state of racism in America, author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes, “In America, there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person 10 times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look.” Just because the law says “No Child Left Behind” and just because Justice Earl Warren and his bench deemed segregation in schools unconstitutional, by no means does that guarantee such a reality. By creating a self-serving institution that only allocates resources to those who already have them, there can never be equality within the system. The only way to break from the feedback mechanism we’ve created for ourselves is to push to make inner city school, minority schools, and schools no one cares about the ones that make the front page. Not for shootings or pregnancies, but for spelling bees and science fairs.