This article is a hard one to read. But I hope you’ll read it.
In “Resegregation in the American South,” Nikole Hannah-Jones tells the story of school segregation, desegregation, and resegregation in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
It focuses on the family of James Dent, an African American man who attended Tuscaloosa schools shortly after Brown v. Board of Education, when most southern schools clung to Jim Crow policies.
Ms. Hannah-Jones expertly juxtaposes the school experiences of Mr. Dent with those of his daughter, Melissa, who attended school at the height of court-ordered desegregation, and those of his granddaughter, D’Leisha, who currently attends a re-segregated high school.
The story is not pretty. And it’s sad.
I mean, we know the story. Desegregation was difficult to achieve in the South, but after the 1964 Civil Rights Act and more than a decade of court involvement, many communities integrated schools, which decreased the achievement gap and offered African Americans more access to college and the American dream.
Ms. Hannah-Jones cites a study by Rucker Johnson, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley:
A 2014 study conducted by Rucker Johnson, a public–policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found de-segregation’s impact on racial equality to be deep, wide, and long-lasting. Johnson examined data on a representative sample of 8,258 American adults born between 1945 and 1968, whom he followed through 2011. He found that black Americans who attended schools integrated by court order were more likely to graduate, go on to college, and earn a degree than black Americans who attended segregated schools. They made more money: five years of integrated schooling increased the earnings of black adults by 15 percent. They were significantly less likely to spend time in jail. They were healthier.
Unfortunately, over the past 15 years, and for a number of reasons, schools have re-segregated. The evidence demonstrates that this trend hurts African Americans tremendously. It certainly has affected the Dent family. While Melissa’s integrated education helped her attain a more secure economic standing than her father, the reverse is true for D’Leisha. A star student at a re-segregated high school, D’Leisha faces few college opportunities because of low ACT scores.
Reading this article got me thinking about a couple things. First: the effects of the small schools movement in the early 2000s. The thinking was that large schools led to anonymity, which led students, particularly kids of color, to fall through the cracks. I think that’s true, and I believe in small schools, and I taught at one for 12 years. But it may also be true that the movement, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, may have unwittingly exacerbated trends in school resegregation. After all, large comprehensive high schools may do a better job to promote racial diversity; then again, large schools have other significant problems.
The article also left me asking, Now what? We may know that integrated schools are better for students. But it doesn’t take a cynic to conclude that most Americans have largely given up. Ms. Hannah-Jones writes, “Polls show Americans embracing this promise (of integration) in the abstract, but that rarely translates into on-the-ground support for integration efforts.” Even the most liberal white parents are leery of sending their children to public schools.
It gets me to think whether the charter school movement also serves to make segregation more permanent. (I work for a charter school network and have taught in a charter school.) On the one hand, strong charter schools have done a great job educating kids of color, who otherwise would not receive a good education. That’s clear. But on the other hand, charters do little to promote an agenda of integration.
This is hard stuff.
Please read the article. It’s long, but it’s important. And then please tell me what you think in the comments. Thank you!