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.