Neither Black nor White
There is a big push now to try yet again to integrate schools. Evidently integration in public schools has been on the decline since the late 1990’s. School systems are once again trying to re-address the issue.
I am confused.
So, my African-American child gets to sit next to a white kid in school and somehow he gets smarter, learns better and my property values go up. On the other hand, the otherwise high achieving white kid next to mine starts to fall behind in her learning and her family’s property values go down. How does this happen? And as an African-American parent, I am really annoyed that my kid needs to go to school with white kids to get smarter.
Yet research tells us that when schools are racially integrated black kids do better in school. BUT, as any statistics 101 student will tell you correlation does not equal causation.
What are the independent and dependent variables in this equation? In the research race has been the independent variable. But the real question is what are the key factors in what makes a good school. I refuse to believe that it is simply racial composition. If that were true, all black schools would be bad and all white schools good and we know that is not true.
Good schools have some common components:
Safe and secure. Children who go to schools that are safe, both physically and emotionally, are open to learning because they are not putting energy into self-protection. The first human need is to be safe. Along with that need goes the need for food.
Clean and well stocked physical environment. Good schools are clean. Walls are free of graffiti, holes and visible patches. Classrooms have paper, books, writing tools and appropriate technology for all the kids.
Experienced, skilled and caring teachers. It is not enough for teachers to love the children. If a person does not love kids, he or she should leave the profession. Enough said on that point. But love won’t get you a job or into college. Teachers need multiple skills to teach kids with different learning styles to read, do math and engage in academic inquiry. They need experience to get these skills and good in-service training. Unfortunately, the way the unions have set up the system, once teachers get the experience they need to be good teachers, the union agreement allows folks with seniority to move to other “better” schools. How are the weaker schools going to get better with only the weaker less experienced teachers.
Support services and Activities. Counselors, art and music teachers and after school activities all make schools places that kids want to be and to help them find success whatever their interests.
And finally good schools have pushy parents. The fact is that public schools are ultimately funded, or not, by politicians. In a democracy politicians respond to getting re-elected. Pushy parents make demands. Politicians ignore those demands at their peril.
You will notice that none of the variables of what makes a good school is the race of the students. What is true is that many schools with mostly minority students lack most, or all, of the above variables. And perhaps, most importantly they lack pushy parents. So what to do.
If school officials really wanted to integrate schools, they would pour the first four ingredients into the mostly minority schools, even if there were no pushy parents. If they had the stomach for it, they could work to make a level playing field so that with the exception of pushy parents, all schools had a similar level of the first four variables, including experienced teachers.
I am betting that a well-kept school with good, experienced, caring teachers (and perhaps pushy teachers in the absence of pushy parents) would be every bit as attractive to the parents of minority kids as it is to the parents of currently majority white kids.
I can tell you one thing. If my kid, regardless of race, had a school with the traits described above, I wouldn’t care what color the other kids were.