Denying In-State Tuition For DACA Students: AZ Follow-Up

In a previous post I discussed the predicament of DACA college students in Arizona. In 2006, Proposition 300 passed with the approval of a substantial 71.4 percent of the voters. Its goal was unequivocal: the denial of in-state tuition in Arizona public community colleges and universities to DACA students. As the State’s Attorney General explained it, Proposition 300 requires the

verification of immigration status of persons who are applying for state-funded services . . . [which include] in-state tuition and financial aid for college students.

In 2015, DACA students in Arizona were allowed to pay in-state tuition following a judge’s ruling that

DACA recipients were considered legally present in the U.S. and therefore qualify for state benefits.

However, Arizona’s State Attorney General appealed the decision and this month an appeals court ruled that the state had the right to enforce Proposition 300, thus depriving DACA students of access to in-state tuition. This court decision, in turn, was appealed and the Arizona Board of Regents voted to allow in-state tuition to remain in effect while the appeal is resolved. It was an encouraging development.

But a series of recent events augur rough times ahead for DACA students in Arizona and elsewhere in the US. The attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia as well as the Governor of Idaho asked the Trump administration to “phase out” the DACA program. Speaking for the group, arch-conservative Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the DACA program

confers lawful presence and work permits for nearly one million unlawfully present aliens in the U.S.

He added the following:

[T]he multi-state coalition that made the request . . . [is] prepared to pull a lawsuit challenging the deferred action program currently pending in district courts if the program is ended by Sept. 5. If not, he said the suit would expand to include DACA and remaining expanded DACA permits.

Recently members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to discuss the DACA program. Luis V. Gutierrez, the U.S. Representative for Illinois’s 4th congressional district, was at the meeting and evaluates its outcome as follows:

Secretary Kelly said . . . that the future of DACA is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America’s leading advocate against immigration, so Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence. . . I fear for anybody currently with DACA.

Gutierrez’s closing comments are sobering:

Trump, Sessions and Kelly want to take 800,000 DREAMers with DACA . . . who are registered with the government and in compliance with the law and make them into criminals, felons, and deportees in the next few months. Anyone with a conscience who thinks legal immigration is an integral part of who we are as a country just got called to action.

I prefer to close my posts on a hopeful note. I can’t do it today. Congressman Gutierrez said,

I think we have to prepare for the worst and get ready to fight mass deportation.

I believe that he is right.

Denying In-State Tuition for Arizona’s DACA Students

On December 7, 2006, Proposition 300 passed in Arizona with the approval of 71.4 percent of the voters. According to the state’s Attorney General,

The enacted measure requires verification of immigration status of persons who are applying for state-funded services . . . [which include] in-state tuition and financial aid for college students.

From the point of view of an Arizona state representative, the measure was necessary because “illegal” immigration was having catastrophic effects:

Arizona has been overwhelmed with illegal immigration and all the negative things that follow — crime, increased public service costs, especially education, and depression of our wages — and the federal government seems barely capable of doing much. . . . Denying the in-state tuition . . . deters illegal immigrants from coming here.

In 2015, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Arizona were allowed to pay in-state tuition following a judge’s ruling that

DACA recipients were considered legally present in the U.S. and therefore qualify for state benefits.

Arizona’s Attorney General appealed the decision and this month a federal appeals court ruled that

federal immigration law allows each state to decide on optional benefits for DACA recipients [and] Arizona law [i.e., Proposition 300] bars in-state tuition for anyone who doesn’t have a legal status.

The consequences for the education of Arizona’s DACA youth are substantial. For example, at the Maricopa Community Colleges that operate in the larger Phoenix area, the cost per credit hour is $86 for Arizona residents and $241 for non-residents. At Arizona State University the current undergraduate basic tuition is $10,792 for residents and $27,372 for non-residents.

Some students intend to persist. Belen Sisa a junior at Arizona State University who came from Argentina when she was six-years old, said “I can’t let this stop me. I’m so close to give up now.” Oscar Hernandez was brought from Mexico when he was 9-years old and has lived in Arizona ever since. He has one year left to get his degree but it may take him three years to finish if he has to pay out-of-state tuition but said that “he is determined to finish.” Their resolve is admirable, because they will unjustly confront new obstacles in the pursuit of their education.

Karina Ruiz, board president of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, a group that advocates for undocumented young children brought to the U.S. as children, criticized the state for taking away in-state tuition from DACA recipients. “This is all hate,” Ruiz said.

There is nothing else. There is no reason for the state to be fighting students that want to get educated. This is wrong.

It is difficult to disagree with her. What rational purpose would it serve to deprive the DACA students who have been in Arizona since they were very young of in-state tuition? How just is it? Doesn’t a state benefit from an educated citizenry? How will it discourage undocumented migration?

Arizona has a long history of white racism. In recent times the undocumented have become the target. This is the state where Sheriff Joe Arpaio, according to the U.S. Department of Justice,

Oversaw the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history.

Arpaio is currently on trial for allegedly

defying a federal judge’s orders that barred [him] from enforcing federal immigration law.

I wish I could be optimistic and hope for a quick solution. But with Donald Trump in the White House, racists in Arizona and elsewhere will find fertile ground for their odious plans.

“Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter”: Latest Racial Battle over Language

Once again America is embroiled in a racial shouting match. We cannot even agree on how to talk about our latest racial crisis: the seemingly daily police and vigilante killings of unarmed African Americans.

This language battle was evident last spring after a group of students expressed both their concern about racial incidents at the University of Connecticut and their solidarity with the growing Black Lives Matter movement by painting “Racism at Storrs” and “Black Lives Matter” on the opposite sides of the campus “Spirit Rock” designated for student expression.

UConn Spirit Rock

(Image source)

Unfortunately, it did not take long for someone to paint over the words racism and Black to express their view that there is no racism on campus and that only color-blind language that declares “All Lives Matter” is allowed there. That language battle is reminiscent of the one anti-racists won on the same campus in the mid-1990s over whether the word “White” would be allowed in the title of the White Racism course I have taught there ever since.

What was especially sad about the most recent UConn battle over words, some two decades later, was how many European Americans, both on and off campus, supported that All Lives Matter brush over as they refused to acknowledge the simple fact that African Americans, in particular, are facing what seems to be an epidemic of killings by European-American men, both in and out of uniform. Think about it. The legitimate concerns of African Americans were literally painted over!

Driven by racism-evasive politics, the whitewashing of this nation’s serious racial crisis has also been thrust onto the national presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was criticized for the same insensitivity by also framing the issue as one of All Lives Matter. Later, after declaring that “All Lives Matter,” Martin O’Malley–another candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president–was shouted down by African-American protestors who accused him of being indifferent to their racism-specific concern. And still more recently protestors went after Republican primary candidate Jeb Bush after he glibly denounced O’Malley’s apology as yet another example of “political correctness.”

Unfortunately, the emergence of the “All Lives Matter” slogan is much more than yet another example of color-blind ideology run amok. It officially marked the beginning of the white backlash against the Black Lives Movement that conservative media like Fox News and Republican presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Donald Trump increasingly use to fuel their racism-driven ratings and campaigns.

This is of course nothing new: words matter in both exposing American racism and in keeping it hidden. When European Americans refer to the nation’s race relations problem they typically use vague, obfuscating, and misdirecting terms like race, the race issue, and minorities where-as African Americans and other people of color are more likely to deploy words like racism and the racially oppressed. In my recently completed study of how the social sciences in the United States mirror the larger society’s racial language I document a constant battle between what I refer to as the linguistic racial accommodation enforced by the nation’s white power structure and the linguistic racial confrontation pushed forward, whenever they can, by the racially oppressed. I found that the use of racially accommodative language like framing the nation’s systemic racism problem as its “Negro problem” or of one of simply the prejudice of a few racially-bigoted outliers is the usual state of affairs and that only when there is a successful challenge to the racial status quo is the language of the racially oppressed forced into the national discourse.

That was certainly the case in the late 1960s after civil unrest broke out in scores of American cities when a presidential commission actually identified “white racism” as this nation’s major problem. Fast forward to not long ago, nearly a half century later, when in response to Black Lives Matter protests Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders–with the help of a recently hired African-American press secretary aligned with that movement– released the most explicit “racism and racial justice” presidential platform in American history. Sander’s platform outlines his position not only on the physical violence African Americans endure but also on the political, legal, and economic violence we face daily.

It remains to be seen how long our current racial language battle will last and what will come of it. But there is growing evidence that African Americans and other racially oppressed people will no longer allow our concerns about systemic racism to be painted over by not only conservatives but by racism-evasive progressives who attempt to promote their own legitimate concerns by whitewashing those that are specific to us. Hopefully while this battle continues it will fuel an honest discussion of one of this nation’s most important social problems; one which includes a large and robust conceptualization of systemic racism which enables us to move beyond specious debates like “who is a racist?” and whether, by some strange logic, a movement that insists that “black” lives matter in the face of what appears to be an open hunting season on African Americans by angry white men with guns somehow implies that “white” lives don’t.

Noel A. Cazenave is Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. His forthcoming book, Conceptualizing Racism: Breaking the Chains of Racially Accommodative Language, will be released in November. His current book project is tentatively titled, Killing African Americans: Police and Vigilante Violence as a Racial Control Mechanism.

Let Them Eat Cake: Racism and Public School Finance

As if public schools throughout the country do not have it bad enough, the economically upper crust have shed their demands to the masses in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, home of Louisiana State University. They effectively want out ! Specifically, the citizens of the upper middle and wealthy neighborhoods within the area are demanding not only their own town, but also a separation from the 42,000-pupil public education school system. This happens to be a system where “4 out of 10 families live in poverty.” If approved, the well to do will form their own public school district that is funded by property taxes collected from their sky-scraping valued homes. This shift would remove money from those economically poor children left to their own isolated devices within schools with already economic challenges. For those remaining, it has been estimated the move would decrease their total per-pupil spending from $9,635 to $ 8,870. The new and mostly all white school system would instead spend approximately $11,686 per-pupil.

Following the end of recent court-ordered desegregation judgments, citizens in states such as Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia have made similar efforts. These efforts were quoted as possibly having demoralizing effects on those occupying space on the outside of the golden circle of privilege. All of which is a result of a current public school apportionment system that relies heavy on local taxes to fund public education efforts.

The initiative to break away from school systems can be explained with oodles of meaningful terms within a contextual and complex landscape. And on the surface, they seem quite innocent and valid. For time sake, their argument can be summed up as, “We have failing schools blah, blah, we want to provide something better for our kids, blah, blah, and it’s not a racial matter, blah, blah.” But with the use of a critical white racial lens, one is able to see a rationale more depressing than that which is openly presented.

William Dean Howells, the great 19th century American social observer argued, “Inequality is as dear to the American heart as liberty itself.” I feel that nowhere is this more evident than in one of the country’s oldest institutions—public education. Albert Memmi stated that all systems in the U.S. had been designed to only benefit the ruling elite, while simultaneously denying those occupying the lower levels of the economic stratus and White constructed racial hierarchy.

In terms of education, many forget, or pretend to forget, our countries founding forefather, as well as those of education, not only viewed it as an intricate component needed to drive the succession and advancement of the U.S., but also a social tool to help maintain a dominant White Protestant culture. In its infancy, education was used to halt the possibilities of the influx of immigrants and newly freed Blacks from acquiring bona fide access to power and privilege. Therefore, the racial and cultural superiority over newly introduced racial groups such as Irish, Blacks, and Native Americans was reinforced within public education. This conscious need to ignore the needs of those seen as nonwhite was evident within their following historic treatment. Within U.S. history, many tactics have been utilized to deny Blacks from an adequate education. They consist of denying slaves opportunities, controlling curriculum and intent of post-antebellum schools (ex. Black colleges), to the means of legal segregation. School finance is simply an issue that many are unaware of as it relates to systemic oppression.

Legislative measures resulting from cases such as Brown v. Board of Education Topeka (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have attempted to eliminate many of the past overt oppressive and discriminatory measures witnessed historically in education. Today in public education, there still exists a divided two raced “world” that is maintained by an inequitable school funding system. The monetary disparity between wealthy and poor school (i.e., Have v. Have Nots) consist racially of mainly people of color and upper middle to wealthy Whites. The Texas Civil Rights Project in 2012 reported that within Austin Independent School District (AISD), inequitable funding was allowed. Further, “AISD was shown to allow and support the private subsidization of higher-income (or “higher-equity”) schools, sometimes by as much as $1,000/student more than the amount of funds that support students in lower-income (or “lower-equity”) schools.”

Thus, funds that should be provided to low SES schools are not happening. In California’s Orange County, Laguna Beach Unified in 2002 spent $7,411 per student in comparisons to Orange Unified, which spent $5, 632 per pupil. In addition to wealthy property and local taxes, many wealthy areas are able to provide private donations that play a significant role in district funding. This difference in available funding can allow for richer districts to pay for specialists, more teachers, and services for students, specifically special education students in need. Many of the schools funded by property and local taxes in poor areas are unable to keep pace.

This mode of financial targeting is nothing new to America. For instance, during post antebellum, many of the Black schools did not receive equal resources and funding. Through the use of historical data, it has been proven that race definitely influenced public school funding. In fact, funds were actually diverted from Black school to their counterparts.

The dynamics of race in conjunction with the current state of school financing will continue to hinder the academic and progress of Black students in public education if allowed uninterrupted. But this hindrance is nothing new to America. Hence, its foundation of governance and citizenship operate in a fashion that empowers Whites while maintaining a social hierarchy that targets people of color. The current financial disparity in school funding will continue until a new approach to the issue is taken within the judicial system. Or until we decide to no longer eat cake.

Ruby Bridges Reflects on Her Experience with Racism: Education Series

You’ve probably seen the Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We Live With,” which shows a 6-year-old Ruby Bridges on her first day of school as she walks through the doors to desegregate a New Orleans elementary school. Today, Ruby Bridges is all grown up and the painting is on loan to the Obama White House. Recently, Ms. Bridges had a chance to reflect on her experience as she visited the painting, and President Obama, at the White House:

Really powerful!

Microaggressions & Stereotype Threat: Education Series

Our prevailing mythology of meritocracy in the U.S. tells us that education is a path to achievement. To do provide that, we expect schools to be free from racism and provide an equal education to all.  Yet, there’s a significant amount of research that tells a different story.  The story the research tells is that students of color at all levels of education face “micro,” or individual level, racism on a regular basis.  Here, I’m going to take up just two of the myriad forms of individual-level racism documented in the literature: 1) microaggressions and 2) stereotype threat.

(Creative Commons License photo credit: y2bd )

Microaggressions. The term “microaggression” was originally coined by Chester M. Pierce in the 1970s to describe a form of individual-level racism.  Microaggressions are “…brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”  In Feagin and Sikes’ book, Living with Racism (1995) middle-class black respondents describe “the racial stare” they experience from whites when entering white-dominated areas.  I think of this as the quintessential microaggression.  It’s so small, it’s hard to call out, yet the message is clear: “you’re not welcome here.”

Microaggressions are not a thing of the past, unfortunately, but are oh so current.  There’s an interesting social media (Twitter/Tumblr) effort to document and recognize the pervasiveness of microaggressions across multiple forms of oppression.

What does microaggression in education look like? Here’s a very recent submission to microaggressions that gives you a sense of what this looks like in education:

On Friday morning, as I walked to the cafe between classes at my predominantly white university, the school appointed photographer offered me a free coffee if I agreed to play the role of the cheerful token black woman in a group of strangers, as though the university is not festering with racial tension.  May 2011, at a “liberal” university. Made me feel devalued and furious.

Historically white institutions (HWIs) such as the one described above can be especially difficult, hostile places for students of color.  Morgane Richardson, a 2008 graduate of Middlebury College, has launched an effort to Refuse the Silence about what elite liberal arts colleges are like for women of color.  In an interview with Ileana Jiménez, Richardson explains some of what she experienced in college that led her to become an activist:

“there were a series of events that led me to become a campus activist and a mentor to other women of color at Middlebury. During my first few weeks there, a few students from the Ultimate Frisbee team decided to throw a “Cowboys and Injuns” party. They sent out invitations over the phone to individuals saying, “if you come as an Injun, be prepared to drink fire water and sit in a corner, etc.” I was appalled. I couldn’t believe that my fellow classmates would put this event together, or that the campus allowed it. In the organizers’ defense, they did recognize their mistake and agreed to sit down with us and talk about the significance of their theme party.

About a month later, I came home to a swastika drawn on my door. My only friend on the floor, a man of color, had the word ‘Nigger’ written on his. When I brought it up, the college organized a discussion for students of color, but it was never addressed in a large forum.”

Young men of color also endure microaggressions in educational institutions.  In a recent study (2011) researchers at the University of Utah analyzed data from 661 black men about their experiences in college. Smith, Hung and Franklin found that experiences of racial microaggressions interact with increasing levels of education to heighten stress (Smith, Hung and Franklin, “Racial Battle Fatigue and the MisEducation of Black Men: Racial Microaggressions, Societal Problems, and Environmental Stress,” Journal of Negro Education (80)1, 63-82). Another and related form of individual-level racism in education is stereotype threat.

Graphing Calculator
(Creative Commons License photo credit: Scintt )

Stereotype Threat. The term “stereotype threat” was developed by Steele and Aronson (1995) .  Their research, mostly through a series of experiments with college students, found that when race was emphasized in pre-test instructions, black college freshmen and sophomores performed more poorly on standardized tests than white students when their race was emphasized. However, when race was not emphasized, black students performed better and equivalently with white students. Steele and Aronson’s research provide powerful evidence that performance in academic contexts can be harmed by the awareness that one’s behavior might be viewed through the lens of racial stereotypes. They speculate that the mechanisms behind stereotype threat for students include distraction, narrowed attention, anxiety, self-consciousness, withdrawal of effort, or even over effort might all be dynamics at play. Still, there remain some critiques of the research on stereotype threat (e.g., over reliance on college student samples, the distinction between “threat” and real discrimination) as well as some unresolved issues (e.g., mostly to do with measurement and operatlonalization of the term).

What’s interesting here is that researchers Steele and Aronson have launched a new site devoted to helping educators reduce stereotype threat. Just as performance on tasks can be hindered by stereotype, there are ways to reduce the threat.
Stereotype threat based on gender, for example, can be reduced either by ensuring women students that a test is gender-fair (e.g., Quinn & Spencer, 2001; Spencer, Steele, and Quinn, 1999).  It’s also been suggested that explicitly “nullifying the assumed diagnosticity of the test,” in other words, telling students that a given test “doesn’t show test innate ability” (Steele & Aronson, 1995). Overall, the evidence seems to suggest that simply addressing the racial fairness of a test can alleviate stereotype threat in any testing situation.

Meritocracy Myth. We want to believe that education is a mechanism for leveling the playing field for all children. The whole idea of the U.S. as an “open” society relies on an educational system that prepares all students to succeed with adequate skills.  Yet, while education is marred by racism – whether institutional or individual level – the notion of meritocracy is a myth.

Documentary “Brick by Brick” : Education Series

The documentary “Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story,” (2008), directed by Bill Kavanagh, highlights a struggle around race and education in Yonkers, New York. The film tells the story of federal US v. Yonkers, a less widely known story of integration than the storied Brown v. Board of Education case. The case challenged neighborhood and educational discrimination in important ways. This short clip (2:17) give you a sense of the film:

You can find more information about the film here.

Racism in K-12 Public Schools: Education Series

Racism starts early in education and it pervades K-12 public schools in the U.S.  Not surprisingly, this has a negative impact on children’s educational success. While some people think that racism in U.S. schools ended nearly 60 years ago with Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which held that “separate” schools for black and white children were inherently unequal, there’s a large body of research that demonstrates that racism persists in K-12 schools.  The primary mechanisms of racism in public grade schools are institutional and interpersonal.  Below, I’m taking up the issue of institutional racism in K-12 education.

Project365/Day 180
(Creative Commons License photo credit: sergis blog

Institutional Racism. The clever, sinister thing about institutional racism in education is that it operates relentlessly on its own, like a machine, even when people of good will want it to operate differently. Today, it has morphed from the old forms we’re used to seeing in civil rights documentaries and taken on many new forms that are no less pernicious. These are just a few of those new forms.

“No Child Left Behind” (NCLB): The Racism Built into High-Stakes Testing. When President Geo. W. Bush signed the legislation known as “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) into law, supporter said that  would improve the educational system by building in “accountability” through mandatory testing, especially for low-income students and students of color. The research suggests otherwise.

Walter Haney and his colleagues have demonstrated that high-stakes testing increases the number of dropouts. Since the early 1990s, when high-stakes testing started to become commonplace, graduation rates have steadily fallen (Haney, W., Madaus, G., Abrams, L., Wheelock, A., Miao, J., & Gruia, I., “The education pipeline in the United States, 1970-2000.” Chestnut Hill, MA: Center for the Study of Testing, Evaluation, and Educational Policy, Boston College, 2004).

In 1990-91, graduation rates were 77%; ten years later, in 2000-01, they had fallen to 67%.  Needless to say, in our increasingly credentialed society those without the basic credential of a high school diploma are at a severe disadvantage in the job market.  For some, not finishing high school the first step along a pathway to the carceral system, what some have called the “school to prison pipeline.”

Haney and his colleagues also found that three times as many students “disappear” between grades nine and ten as they did 30 years ago, due to retention policies. A study by Sharon Nichols and colleagues takes this a step further. She demonstrates that the more pressure a state exerts on accountability, the less likely it is that students will progress to 12th grade (Nichols, S.L., Glass, G.V., & Berliner, D.C.  “High-stakes testing and student achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act”. Tempe, AZ: Education Policy Research Unit, 2005).

A disproportionate number of students leaving school are African-American, Latina/o and Native American. Gary Orfield and colleagues’ analysis finds that only around 50% of the nation’s black, Native American, and Latina students graduate, and for males the numbers are even lower (Orfield, et al., 2004, “Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis” Cambridge, MA: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Contributors: Advocates for Children of New York, The Civil Society Institute).

Orfield makes a convincing case that NCLB give states an incentive to push out disproportionately African American, Latina/o and Native American students in order to increase average test scores for schools. For example, Steve Orel in Birmingham, Alabama, was fired for reporting that the Birmingham schools had “administratively withdrawn” 522 students in an effort to boost overall test scores.  The students were overwhelmingly African-American. None of them dropped out of school voluntarily.

Tracking. One result of high-stakes testing is to “track” (or, group) students into “ability groups.” In other words, once a student does poorly on a high-stakes, standardized test, those test scores are then used to determine which groups they’ll be placed in for future classes.  Tracking students into lower-level classes inevitably influences teacher expectations about those students, which in turn, affects how students perform.  Many researchers have documented the over-representation of African-Americans and Latinas/os in lower-level classes, such as special education, and their under-representation in the higher-level classes, such as those which are college prep courses.

A growing number of scholars are pointing to the relevance of white privilege and racism for understanding, and dismantling, the tracking system.  (Blanchett, Wanda J. “Disproportionate Representation of African American Students in Special Education:Acknowledging the Role of White Privilege and Racism,” Educational Researcher, Vol. 35, No. 6, pp. 24–28, 2006; Solomon, R. P., et al., “The discourse of denial: how white teacher candidates construct race, racism and ‘white privilege,'” [pdf] Race, Ethnicity and Education, Vol.8, No. 2, July 2005, 147-169).

Underfunding Majority Black and Brown Schools. One of the key forms of racism in K-12 schools has to do with the funding scheme for education in the U.S.  In most areas of the country, public schools are funded through property taxes. What that means is that in richer neighborhoods, where property values – and taxes – are higher, the schools in that area get more resources. It sets up a self-perpetuating cycle where those with means move into wealthier areas to escape the bad schools in the poorer neighborhoods. In cities like New York and Chicago, it means that when people have children, lots and lots of them move out of the cities – and the poorly funded public school system – to wealthier suburban neighborhoods so that they can send their kids to better public schools in the suburbs. This sort of pattern doesn’t map precisely onto race – some whites stay behind and send their kids to underfunded, urban schools; and, an increasing number of African American and Latino families find a way out to the suburbs.  But the overall pattern of educational funding in the U.S. is driven by white flight to predominantly whiter-and-whiter suburbs, so that those parents can send their kids to better (and whiter) schools.

The net result of this pattern is that we have a de facto racially segregated K-12 school system that is more segregated today than it was forty years ago. And, this racial segregation is a strongly implicated in the low educational outcomes for African American, Latina/o and Native American students.

What That Looks Like. So, what does it look like when a school is “under resourced” ?  Here’s a glimpse from one school in California:

  • Students cannot take textbooks home for homework in any core subject because their teachers have enough textbooks for use in class only. For example, a social studies teacher who teaches five separate social studies classes during one day has only one class set of social studies textbooks, so all five classes must share the same set of books. 
  • The school is infested with vermin and roaches and students routinely see mice in their classrooms. One dead rodent has remained, decomposing, in a corner in the gymnasium since the beginning of the school year.
  • The school library is rarely open, has no librarian, and has not recently been updated. The latest version of the encyclopedia in the library was published in approximately 1988.
  • Classrooms do not have computers. Computer instruction and research skills are not, therefore, part of Luther Burbank students’ regular instruction in their core courses.
  • The school no longer offers any art classes for budgetary reasons. Without the art instruction, children have limited opportunities to learn space, volume, and linear logic concepts.
  • Two of the three bathrooms at the school are locked all day, every day. The third bathroom is locked during lunch and other periods during the school day, so there are times during school when no bathroom at all is available for students to use. Students have urinated or defecated on themselves at school because they could not get into an unlocked bathroom. Other students have left school altogether to go home to use the restroom. When the bathrooms are not locked, they often lack toilet paper, soap, and paper towels, and the toilets frequently are clogged and overflowing.
  • Paint peels off walls in many classrooms and there is graffiti on classroom and other school walls. Ceiling tiles are missing and cracked in the school gym, and school children are afraid to play basketball and other games in the gym because they worry that more ceiling tiles will fall on them during their games.
  • The school has no air conditioning. On hot days classroom temperatures climb into the 90s. The school heating system does not work well. In winter, children often wear coats, hats, and gloves during class to keep warm.
  • Eleven of the 35 teachers at the school have not yet obtained full, non-emergency teaching credentials, and 17 of the 35 teachers only began teaching in the last year.

Legal Remedies. Just as in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, today lawyers committed to civil rights and social justice are doing good work to stop this kind of institutional racism. One of the most noteworthy cases in recent years is The Williams Case in California (the examples listed above are based on this case). In 2000, nearly 100 plaintiffs filed as a class action lawsuit in  Eliezer Williams, et al., vs. State of California, et al. (Williams) in San Francisco County Superior Court. The plaintiffs were San Francisco County students, who sued the State of California and state education agencies, including the California Department of Education (CDE), claiming that the agencies failed to provide then – and all K-12 public school students –  with equal access to instructional materials, safe and decent school facilities, and qualified teachers.  The case was settled in 2004.  The result was that the state of California allocated $138 million in additional funding in order to bring these schools up to the standards of their wealthier (and whiter) counter parts.

There is good news and bad news here.  The good news is that solutions are possible.  The bad news is that these are hard to achieve and can take years to realize.   Further good news is that there’s plenty of work to be done on this issue for enterprising social activists that want to make real change happen.  For aspiring young scholars and activists, I can’t think of a more important area than tackling the persistent institutional racism that plagues our K-12 educational system.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue the series with more about the interpersonal (micro-level” as we sociologists like to say) racism in K-12 education.

Race, Racism & Education: A Week-Long Series

This week, we begin a series of posts about race, racism and education. We’ll be taking a look at some of the latest research and news about these issues at all levels of education, primarily focused on the U.S.

Access to a good quality educational can make a real, material difference between success and just barely surviving, that’s why education has long been at the forefront of civil rights struggles in this country. Jumping off the discussion is Prof. Anita Tijerina Rivella, from 2009, deftly weaving her own experience into the broader issues of Latinas/os and the educational pipeline (9:30):

Rivella does a terrific job here of unpacking some of the myths and stereotypes that black and brown people are somehow less interested in, or motivated in, education than white (or Asian) people.

In fact, research by Behnke, Piercy, and Diversi (“Educational and Occupational Aspirations of Latino Youth and their Parents,” Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences[pdf], (February, 2004), Vol. 26, No.4, 16-35) suggests that Latino families do have high educational aspirations. Yet, youth are often pushed out of the pipeline to achieving those goals by barriers including language barriers, a lack of understanding about how pathways through educational systems work and racism.

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~ Through the rest of the week, we’ll explore other aspects of race, racism and education. Do send me any references, citations or video clips of your own work or someone else’s and I’ll do my best to include it.

Response to University Race Quotas Row in Brazil

The BBC news has a report about pressure to end redressive racial quotas in Brazil.   To understand this controversy, it is important to know something about the context of skin color in Brazil.

The color hierarchy in Brazilian society is obvious. With few exceptions, the Brazilian middle class and above is white. Go to any nice restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, for example, where about half of that city’s population is black or mixed-race, and you will be hard-pressed to find a nonwhite person that is not on the staff.

Racial discrimination accounts for much of this inequality. The scholarly evidence is very clear. On average, blacks and people of mixed-racial background earn less than half of what whites earn and poverty or class simply cannot explain the difference. There is lots of evidence by economists and sociologists showing that race differences in income persist even when class origins, levels of education, region, and several other variables are held constant. And that does not even consider the fact that racism affects educational level and class origins in the first place!

Most of the Brazilian population now supports racial quotas though there is strong opposition from sectors of the middle class. Opponents to quotas contend that they are an extreme policy for redressing Brazil’s huge racial inequalities. However, they do not offer viable alternatives. At best, they call for class-based policies, particularly improvements in public education. Waiting for better public schools to overcome these gross inequalities in Brazilian society might help but real change is likely to take generations even if sufficient political will could be mustered. Educational spending exemplifies the gross distortions that would need to be overcome. The Brazilian government spends about 20 times per student in the public university, which is dominated by whites, compared to public K-12, where nonwhites are disproportionately represented.

Finally, the argument about uncertainty in racial classification is overblown in Brazil. A small percentage of the Brazilian population might straddle the white/nonwhite distinction since race is based strictly on appearance in Brazil but for the vast majority, there is no doubt. The presence of some ambiguity shouldn’t be used to invalidate these policies, which are finally putting a dent in Brazil’s severe racial pyramid. Interestingly, Brazil’s anti-quota media has dug very deeply to find a handful of these cases.

~ Edward Telles is a professor of sociology at Princeton University. He is the author of the award-winning book, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil.

[NB from the admin: We’re delighted to welcome a new guest blogger to Racism Review.]