Friday, February 18, 2011

New Segregation? Sorry, No.

This is the quality of thought you get from a newspaper education reporter today:

For more than 50 years, the notion that racially mixed schools are in the best interests of all students has been a basic underpinning of America's educational landscape.

Is that the lesson we're to draw from Brown v. Board of Education? No. The lesson from Brown is that children shouldn't be excluded from their neighborhood schools because of the color of their skin, that government shouldn't look at the color of a child's skin when assigning children to schools. Brown v. Board ended forced segregation. The 2007 US Supreme Court decision in the case of the Seattle and Louisville school districts was entirely consistent with Brown.

So what problem does our hopelessly lost education reporter see as a threat to diversity? Charter schools--for black students!

Is it a return to segregation? Is it legal?

Those are the questions being debated after Margaret Fortune, a former adviser to two California governors and a leader in education reform circles, successfully petitioned the Sacramento County Board of Education for five publicly funded charter schools aimed at closing the achievement gap for African American students.

Fortune said her objective is to serve the lowest-performing student subgroup in the region, and that group happens to be African American. Addressing their needs isn't segregation, she said, because parents can choose whether to send their children to her charter schools.

I support school choice, and I support Margaret Fortune. I've met her, worked with her, and written about her before, and she is a thoughtful, intelligent woman. (Full disclosure: I got my teaching credential through Project Pipeline, a program founded and run by her parents.) I have no reason not to trust Margaret's motives and abilities. In short, I think she's top notch.

For years, it's been common for public school systems to offer charters or academies tailored to specialized academic interests (think technology and health sciences) or educational approaches (Waldorf, for example.)

Fortune said her charters aren't really any different. The curriculum will be geared toward helping low-achieving students make the transition to a college-bound track.

Fortune said her program will employ strategies known to be effective with struggling students: school uniforms; longer school days, standards-based instruction, extensive professional development for teachers; and ongoing analysis of student data.

David DeLuz, president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, said the charters are about providing options for black students, not segregating them.

And kudos to Mr. DeLuz for recognizing that this isn't segregation. But shame on a local school board president who is as ignorant of history as is our intrepid newspaper reporter:

While some critics opposed the proliferation of charters in general, others expressed discomfort at an educational mission defined by race. Board President Harold Fong, the lone trustee to vote against the proposal, said he couldn't get past the feeling that Fortune was essentially creating segregated schools.

"To ask us to approve a school that is heavily segregated flies in the face of education policy handed down from the Supreme Court," he said. "To ask us to do this is wrong."

You, sir, are an idiot, and a disgrace to the district you oversee. Shame on you for being so dumb.

Here's what the county is telling Ms. Fortune:
By law, public charter schools, like traditional schools, have to be open to all students, regardless of race. As part of the conditions applied to the charter's approval, the County Office of Education is requiring Fortune to recruit a population that mirrors the county. Thirty-six percent of students in Sacramento County are white, 27 percent are Latino and 14 percent African American.

Sacramento County schools chief Dave Gordon said reflecting those numbers should be the goal, but it can't be required. "The idea is you can advertise and recruit and who comes is who comes," Gordon said. "Their obligation is to fairly recruit from all over."

How is she supposed to "recruit" 36% white students, etc? It's a silly stipulation that Gordon admits can't be required, yet he reminds Fortune that she must recruit fairly. I have no doubt Fortune will recruit students honestly and fairly. Geez, it's not like she's an unknown quantity around here.

After reading the linked article and coming face-to-face with the reality of the entrenched system, how can any right-thinking person not support school choice?

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