Faking Multiracial Democracy? More Proposals for Educational Reform

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has laid out some new enforcement efforts by the federal government, to press school systems to improve and meet their civil rights obligations.
Little Rock Nine
Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Snodgrass
According to a New York Times story:

”For us, this is very much about working to meet the president’s goal, that by 2020 we will regain our status in the world as the number one producer of college graduates,” Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department, told The Associated Press. The department is expecting to conduct 38 compliance reviews around 40 different issues this year, she said.

In recent speeches Duncan has cited (quoted here) horrendous statistics like these, for a supposed “advanced democracy”:

A quarter of all students drop out before their graduation, and half of those come from 12 percent of the nation’s high schools. Those roughly 2,000 schools produce a majority of the dropouts among black and Latino students. Black students without disabilities are more than three times as likely to be expelled as white students, and those with disabilities more than twice as likely to be expelled or suspended — numbers which Duncan says testify to racial gaps that are ”hard to explain away by reference to the usual suspects.” Students from low-income families who graduate from high school scoring in the top testing quartile are no more likely to attend college than the lowest-scoring students from wealthy families.

This is 2010, right? Supposedly, this is to be more aggressive enforcement that under Bush:

”If the district has violated the civil rights laws and does not come into compliance with them, we could put conditions on existing grants,” Ali said.

But leading desegregation scholars like Gary Orfield have suggested that we need to wait and see if this is just more nice sounding rhetoric, or whether they mean business this time.

One educator on the Schools Matter blog (Dr. Jim Horn) had a much more critical take already on Duncan’s obviously meek efforts:

* If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would end the use of testing policies that punish, humiliate, and separate the poor and the brown and the disabled from the rest of society….
* If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would challenge the use of tracking inside schools to segregate, contain, and intellectually sterilize poor children who do poorly on tests that are now the only measure of what matters in a child’s school life….
* If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would be advocating for a humane and challenging whole curriculum for poor children, rather than years of basic reading and math that leave the neediest unprepared for work that requires thinking and for college;…
* If Duncan were serious about Civil Rights, he would actively support the development of hospitable and humane school environments, rather than the academic and behavioral lockdowns that now make schools look like low or even medium security penal institutions.

And he adds yet other actions too. While these stated enforcement steps by the Obama administration are likely to be more and better than for the Bush administration, they do not come anywhere close to meeting this latter reasonable list of actions. Welcome to our fake democracy once again in action, as much educational and other data still clearly show a still systemically racist nation.


  1. Will

    It seems like whenever it comes to children of color, providing them with quality education, among other things, is their lowest priority. I hear the words ‘budget cuts’ all the time in my area. Then what trips me out is the people act surprised when these children end up prison. Society simply could care less what happens to black children.

  2. Hillbilly

    I agree with you, Will. While going through my morning news sites I came across the decision in Kansas City to close almost half of its schools because of budgetary reasons and the declining enrollment. Many of these schools that will either be closed or consolidated “just so happen” to be in predominately black areas of the city.

    I guess going toward the justifications of closing so many schools and losing 700 of the 3,000 jobs in the school system, does it make sense to save $50 million if you can? Yes, but at what price to the children of the city? Does it make sense for a 5th grade student to go to school with a 12th grade student? I don’t see what real educational advantages closing these schools will have for the children as there will most likely be fewer classes offered in middle school and high school, which will shrink the ability for students to move in the decrepit tracking system and prepare for college.

    Also, I’m wondering if they’ve even examined why they had nearly 35,000 children in the school system in 1999-2000 and now only have 17,000. Why such a dramatic drop in 10 years? Who are these kids that are leaving the school system and why? Maybe if they start working toward understanding their students and their communities more, then MAYBE they can work towards a “multiracial democracy” like ole Duncan is trying to talk about.

  3. Shari Valentine

    I might add, if Duncan were serious about children’s rights to education and barriers to it, he would at least comment on the deplorable conditions and statistics for Native Americans in schooling,which by the way far outdistance the quoted numbers for blacks and latinos.
    Or maybe, he would just mention that the Bureau of Indian Affairs should allow tribes to spend their own money on these things. Wait, I forgot they can’t because the Bureau can’t find it and can’t manage it and won’t give it to them.

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