Friday, January 16, 2009

Not Done Yet

I've been saying ever since Barack Obama was elected president that just because America has elected a black man to be president doesn't mean that all racial issues have magically been solved. It's not that simple. Now, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California has issued a report saying that they agree with me. (Well, my point at least.)

According to the report, public schools are more segregated now than at any point since the civil rights movement. In some ways, that's pretty shocking. I mean, we'd like to think that we've made some progress over the last half century. On the other hand, it's not really that surprising.

I would posit here that the operative factor in play is not race, but rather poverty. The way our public schools are structured (for the most part) is in residential zones whereby kids go to the school near where they live. Given that neighborhoods tend to be economically homogenous (think the Upper East Side's median income versus that in the South Bronx) it's not surprise that the schools are likewise divided along economic lines. Given that race and poverty tend to track together, it's no surprise that the schools are racially divided.

So what are we going to do about it?

Usually, I try to have some answers, but on this one I'm a little stumped. I would say that trying to racially/economically balance schools doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me (think bussing or a totally unzoned school system) because I don't think it gets at the underlying issues. This is one of those examples of a school issue that affects and is affects by all sorts of things outside of the school. And unfortunately, I don't know what the answer is. What I do know is that until we figure it out and get the system working so that upward mobility is more than a catchphrase from another era, the problems we're talking about now are only going to get worse.

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