On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
This week marks the sixtieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown-versus-Board of Education. The court ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional. By the 1970s, many schools were integrated. But over the last twenty years, judges have released hundreds of schools from desegregation orders. Now many African-American children attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. And civil rights lawyers say black and hispanic students are disadvantaged in other ways – such as being disproportionately suspended. In the next hour we’ll discuss racial integration and equal opportunity in public schools today.
- David Armor professor emeritus, School of Public Policy, George Mason University
- Jesse Register director, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
- Catherine Lhamon assistant secretary, Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education
- Dennis Parker director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program
How Have Schools In Your Neighborhood Changed Since Brown v. Board of Education?
Listeners weighed in on a poll that asked about the profile of their local school systems.
The majority of those that responded said their schools were dominated by single races–and families from middle or upper class backgrounds.
Sixty Years After Brown v. Board of Education, What Do Schools Look Like In Your Neighborhood?
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She still has a cold and hopes to be back here next week. The 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. By the 1970s, many schools were integrated.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSBut now racial segregation of schools is at levels not seen in four decades. With me in the studio to talk about racial equality in public schools today is Catherine Lhamon -- she's the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education -- and David Armor, law professor at George Mason University.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSJoining us by phone at the National Archives, Dennis Parker with the American Civil Liberties Union. And joining us by phone from Nashville, Tenn., Jesse Register with the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Welcome to you all. Thank you so much for being with us.
MS. CATHERINE LHAMONThank you. It's good to be here.
MR. DAVID ARMORThank you.
MR. DENNIS PARKERGood morning.
ROBERTS...we welcome your calls and your comments. 1-800-433-8850 is always our number. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us messages through Facebook or Twitter. Dennis Parker, 60 years after Brown, as I mentioned, there are some statistics that say that schools have been resegregating and that, in some ways, situations, in terms of integration of the races, is actually deteriorating. Give us your take on that.
PARKERI think that's right. I think, first of all, in the North...
PARKER...where you didn't have the school desegregation cases at those schools...
ROBERTSI'm not hearing him.
PARKERI'm sorry. Can you hear me? Hello?
ROBERTSDennis Parker? Are you hearing him?
ARMORI hear him.
LHAMONI hear him.
ROBERTSI'm sorry. Catherine Lhamon, why don't you give us your take? And we'll get back to Dennis.
LHAMONI think I'll pick up where Dennis was leading off, that we have seen intense re-segregation around the country in ways that are deeply disturbing both in the southern states that had originally had segregation by law as well as around the country. And when I say that we're seeing this intense resegregation, what I'm talking about is schools that are more and more racially isolated, regardless of whether there is a law that requires them to separate students by race or not.
LHAMONSo we don't see the same kind of segregation that we saw in 1954 when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided. But it's a very disturbing trend for our students all over the country, that we are seeing so many more students who are attending racially-isolated schools.
ROBERTSAnd, David Armor, there are people who argue that the court orders didn't work and that in fact the courts were right to release schools from some of their obligations. What's your take on this situation?
ARMORLet me just comment on the kind of resegregation that goes on because it's very different than what we had in the...
ARMOR...early part of this 19th -- or 20th century, which was de jure segregation by law. School children had to go to separate schools, so the Supreme Court -- the Brown decision was about getting rid of that. That's not been controversial, at least in recent years. The kind of segregation taking place today is really not based upon any state law.
ARMORIt's really based upon the private decisions of individuals to live different places coupled with the traditional neighborhood or geographic-type school zoning. So it's a very different kind. The question of whether -- how disturbing it should be, I think, depends on your view of just what kind of gains we have educationally from schools that are completely desegregated versus those that are predominantly one race.
ROBERTSJesse Register, at the Nashville schools, you have been trying an innovative approach to prevent resegregation, the kind that Catherine was talking about. And give us a sense of your strategy and how you have tried to manage it in this new world.
MR. JESSE REGISTERIt's my plan that our Board of Education unanimously adopted a little over a year ago. We're a very diverse school system. Our children speak 140 languages from 135 different countries in the world. We don't have a majority race. We have a -- we're an urban system. We have a relatively high percentage of economically-disadvantaged children.
MR. JESSE REGISTERAnd our plan is to recognize the value of diversity. We value diverse goals here. We think it's an advantage for our children to attend diverse schools where different cultures are represented, different languages are represented, and different socioeconomic status.
ROBERTSBut given the fact that you have court orders that have limited tools for school districts -- you have residential segregation that David Armor was talking about -- what's been your strategy to try to create an integrated environment?
REGISTERWell, we -- our diverse -- we have a series of task forces that work in our school system, and we really considered the impact on diversity in all the decision making that we make, where we locate new schools. We're a growing district. We're growing about 1,500 students a year, every year, and we're building new schools.
REGISTERSo we consider diversity and the impact on diversity when we locate schools, how we locate them, what people assignment planning looks like, and how staffing works. So every part of our decision making is to support a diverse student enrollment in all of our schools.
ROBERTSI gather also...
REGISTER(unintelligible) and we're very particular about following the law. It's a very different approach but I think one that's of great value to our children and our community.
ROBERTSWhat is the role of magnate and charter schools in the Nashville plan?
REGISTERTo promote diversity. And one in four of our children, which is a very high percentage, one in four of our students attend some school of choice, whether it's a charter school or a magnate school or an open enrollment school. We're a district of 83,000 students, so that's a pretty high percentage of kids who are choosing to attend away from their zoned schools. In fact, our zone schools are pretty diverse also and our -- particularly our high schools that serve larger geographic areas than the neighborhood schools that we see in smaller elementary schools.
ROBERTSDennis Parker, let me bring you back in, and I apologize for the technical glitch earlier. But tell me your reaction to what's happening in Nashville. And is this a promising answer or one you have problems with?
PARKERNo. I think it's a very promising answer, and I'm glad that Nashville has taken these steps voluntarily. And I wish more school districts would recognize the importance of diversity in the schools and find ways to foster it. The unfortunate thing is, is, as you say, that it's more and more difficult for school districts to come up with voluntary plans. And that's something that they have to choose to do on their own. Most school districts are not doing what Nashville is doing, and I think that that's one of the reasons why we're seeing the increasing segregation.
PARKERThe other thing is I'd just like to quickly comment. I agree with Dr. Armor that there is no longer the problem of de jure segregation, but I think that it's incorrect to suggest that the existing housing segregation is solely the result of choice because, in fact, factors from private discrimination to a whole range of structural issues have led to the housing segregation which feeds segregation in our schools. And the most disturbing thing is that, sadly, resources and a whole range of other negative factors have attached themselves to schools with large populations of students of color. So...
PARKER...in terms of opportunity, there's still big differences.
ROBERTSI want to get into that issue in great depth, but I want to give Catherine Lhamon a chance to talk about the Nashville experiment. How promising from -- you see this -- the national patterns. Is this an aberration? Is this a promising idea? Are other systems able to learn and model from Nashville? What's your take?
LHAMONSure. Thanks so much. And as the superintendent knows, we actually have an open desegregation investigation pending in Nashville right now. So it's a little difficult for me to comment too much about what's happening in Nashville on the radio. But I am really encouraged by the steps that the superintendent describes and the effort that the district is making to try to achieve diversity in the schools.
LHAMONThis is obviously a district that has significant challenge. It has come out from under a desegregation order several years ago and is now taking steps to try to make sure that they deliver equal education opportunity to all of the students in the district, about which we are thrilled. And I hope very much that we can achieve that in all the schools in the district.
ROBERTSBut is it -- you see other cities as well. Is it a model that can work in other places or not? What do you think?
LHAMONWell, the desegregation model can absolutely work in every place all over the country. We absolutely can deliver high quality educational opportunity for every student in every school for the 49 million public school students we have in this country. And that should be the goal for all of us. And that should be -- it's an attainable goal. It should be something that each of is striving to achieve, and it is the birthright that each of our kids deserves and has been promised for the last 60 years.
ROBERTSBut there are practical issues. And what I'm asking...
LHAMONYou're absolutely right.
ROBERTS...you is, given the combination of court orders and the practical issue of white flight, I'm asking you whether this is a model that can help create the goals that you want, given the circumstances.
LHAMONWell, let me start by saying that there's no one model that works all over the country. The only absolute is that each of us should be trying and should be doing what we can to deliver for our kids. I have absolute confidence that we can deliver equal educational opportunity for all of our students and that we can deliver high quality schools that will welcome all students back.
LHAMONYou know, I hear your reference to white flight. But, frankly, lots of parents have elected to take their children out of the public schools and to look for other options. And, in fact, what we ought to be delivering is high quality public schools that work for all of our students in a non-segregated basis.
ROBERTSDavid Armor, your take on the Nashville experience.
ARMORNashville, I like many aspects of the plan. One of the critical features is that no student will be assigned to a school or denied their application to a school of choice based upon their race. That's a critical element because of the Supreme Court decisions in recent years.
ARMORBut that means that, for example, a very popular magnate that happens to be very attractive to African-American students and if that school wants to enroll or ends up enrolling 70 percent African-American, there really is no policy that can prevent that. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, in fact, if the parents of the students want to do that. But I think the overall goals, I don't have a problem with. The key feature is nobody's going to be mandatorily assigned based on their race.
ROBERTSWe're going to have to take a break here. But we're going to be back with your calls and your comments on this issue, on the 60th anniversary, Brown vs. Board of Education. What are the effects today? And we're going to continue with our experts in just a minute, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And we're focusing on the 60th anniversary of the Brown versus Board of Education decision. And this hour, on the current situation in terms of integration and the quality of public schools. And joining me here in the studio, Catherine Lhamon is the assistant secretary for civil rights at the Department of Education. And David Armor teaches public at George Mason University.
ROBERTSDennis Parker is on the phone with us from the American Civil Liberties Union. And Jesse Register from the Metropolitan National Public Schools. We have some lines open. Give us a call, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email. And, David Armor, I've read a lot of the things you've written and said about this.
ROBERTSAnd one of the concepts that struck me was you're saying a lot of what is facing school systems today is trying to balance mandatory rules, which have been very limited by court decisions against creating incentives, carets, voluntary programs that are more permissible in terms of the legal structure that aim toward that Catherine Lhamon was talking about. Talk about this balance.
ARMORWell, I think it's very important. Mandatory assignment was very controversial, even though it was required, you know, during the early eras. But it caused a lot of white flight. It made a lot of cities even worse off racially. For example, National is only 33 percent white. Now, how much of that was due to white flight in the early years, I don't know. But it makes it very difficult to try to create non-isolated schools when you have such a small minority of the majority group.
ARMORBut there are methods that have worked successfully, voluntarily. You're not -- it's not going to create schools that have uniform racial composition, you know, throughout the school system. But you can, through magnet schools and things like that, you can. If you want to pursue diversity, you can do it by voluntary methods, but it won't satisfy some people who want to see, you know, total diversity in all schools throughout the country.
ROBERTSAnd, Jesse Register, what's your reaction to David Armor's point?
REGISTERWell, I understand that. I think what's really important that we might not be recognizing here is the attitude that we bring to the issue. We -- I have a responsibility to -- we don't have a majority race in our school district and we're very international. We have many immigrants in our school system. I have a responsibility to my students, to those students and a responsibility to speak out in our community and to help develop a system of values in our community.
REGISTERWe want our community to be one that values and recognizes the resource, the value of a diverse community. It's the future of our county. When you look at the urban school systems in our country, it is our future and we need to learn how to be successful with all of our children. And we also need for them to learn how to exist in a diverse society. I had a school meeting the other night and we recognize the valedictorians and salutatorians from our high schools.
REGISTERWe have 17 high schools in our district. And it was a UN. It was a state of UN. We had children from all over the world. We had children of all races and all religions represented as valedictorians and salutatorians. And we feel that's a result of the fact that we value the relationships that are established. We value diverse schools and that we're promoting those. And I think we have the school systems, I think we have to take a lead in communities.
REGISTERHousing patterns, what public housing looks like. We have to be leaders and developing support systems for all of our people in our communities and to help our community understand the value of that. And I think Nashville gets that.
ROBERTSLet me expand on that point, first Dennis Parker, then Catherine. Why does this matter? I mean, is it just a question of number? Or is it really a question of quality education? And give me your take on that, Dennis.
PARKERI don't think you can separate the idea of quality education from diverse education. And I agree completely with Mr. Register when he's saying that we are living in a world that's increasingly diverse and we need to prepare students to live in that world. And I think that we need to recognize that frequently opportunity also goes along with diversity. That when you have schools that are -- have high poverty concentration or high racial ethnic isolation, then those are the schools that tend to be under-resourced.
PARKERSo I think we have to find a way to make sure that every kid gets what they need in terms of education, but also that they learn the lessons from diversity. This is something that just doesn't help children of color, it helps all students to be in these environments. And I appreciate the fact that Mr. Register's school district recognizes that and is preparing their children for the future.
REGISTERWe actually have an academic performance framework. And when we look at schools and when we measure them school by school in terms of diversity, we look at racial and ethnic diversity. But we also look at our English learner population, is that diverse? We look at children of special needs and we look at socioeconomic status. And we measure that against academic performance.
REGISTERAnd our goal is to see that we're diverse in all of those aspects in our schools, but also to see that academic performance does not suffer or actually improves because of that. I think it's a misconception that diverse schools cannot be academically successful. That's just wrong.
ROBERTSLet me bring you in, Catherine Lhamon, on this topic. Is it you -- do you agree with Dennis that there are practical, measurable implications here? It's not just a question of color. It's not just a question of numbers, but it's a question of resources, it's a question of the quality of education that students get in more diversified environments.
LHAMONI do, Steve. I strongly agree that the message in the Brown decision was that separate schools are inherently unequal and the reason the court found that separation is inherently unequal comes from the evidence that the lawyers presented about the value, that message of low value that black students were receiving from their schools when they were required to attend separate schools. We still see that message today in the schools that are racially segregated.
LHAMONThat in the schools where we don't offer our students the high quality educational opportunities that are available in other schools, we still have kids today, in the investigations that my office conducts, who are saying to us that a school that's not ready as a school that is for me and it's not a school that is available for white kids. And, you know, that ugly message from government to students about low expectations.
LHAMONAbout expecting that the students will not succeed in life, that they are not worth it to educate is absolutely, categorically the wrong message from the most fundamental relationship of person to government that we have. It's bad for us a society and it's directly counter to what the Supreme Court promised in Brown.
ROBERTSBut, David Armor, you studied this subject at great length. And for all of the very positive arguments that all three other panelists have been making, the fact is, as I quoted in the beginning, the numbers in fact are going in the opposite direction. Some of this has to do with housing pattern, some of it has to do with white families leaving the public school systems. If the benefits are so tangible, why are we seeing this reverse resegregation?
ARMORI really have to take issue with the previous speakers on the tangible benefits. The benefits of desegregation and diversity have been studied enormously, very, very extensively. There are some benefits on the educational side in terms of a student learning, student achievement. But the impact of diversity on that has really been minimal. And I think there's no question about that. So one can't say we have to have diverse schools or else we're not going to be able to have high achievement.
ARMORIt's just the evidence, it doesn't support that. The goals of diversity and the reason for it really have to do with social relations and interactions. And that's an important goal. But you can't let that take over and be the dominant factor when, in fact, you're trying to promote education. It is not the case that an all-black school, for example, cannot do well. We have a program called KIPP, it's a charter school program, in which it takes only minority students that are from high poverty areas.
ARMORThose schools have done marvelous. They brought their students up to national norms and yet they're all black. So the research doesn't support the statements that you have to have diversity to have quality education.
ROBERTSLet me give Catherine and Dennis a chance to respond to that.
LHAMONWell, sure. I actually think, Dr. Armor, that your points support the value of integration themselves, right? That social value is a key value in our schools. Our schools are designed to teach kids civic engagement and to keep kids involved and able to be fully participant in society. So that social value is in itself a intrinsic value of schools. But separately, we know concretely about what difference desegregation makes.
LHAMONWe know what difference the Brown decision makes in the lives of the human beings or in our schools. My mother attended racially segregated schools before and after Brown versus Board of Education was decided in Richmond, VA. But the power of the court's decision to say that it is unlawful for our government to require that she attend a segregated, separate, unequal school changed her life, changed my life, changed the life of my children and the generations that followed, the people who are young people when my mother as a child.
LHAMONI didn't attend racially segregated schools. My children don't attend racially segregated schools. And my life opportunities are dramatically different on the basis of the promise in Brown. So whether or not we could also have schools in which students can achieve is not the question. Of course, our kids can achieve wherever they are. But the message that we're sending to them about their lack of value and about who expect they will become is significant and is something that we have a responsibility not to perpetuate.
ARMORLet me say -- make a comment here about housing and demographic change. The fact of the matter is the demography is not in favor of creating diversity at the way in which I think it was desired many years ago. We have cities that are predominantly minority, even Nashville is a majority minority school district. You know, there are demographic realities that simply are -- we can't overcome.
ARMORWe certainly can pursue diversity to the extent possible but it can't -- it's not same overriding goal as in Brown, whose goal was to eliminate state sanction and state-imposed segregation. That's not what we're talking about here now.
LHAMONBut of course we can overcome those realities. Of course we can and we do. We do have districts that are, for example, the district in which I just completed an investigation. It was 23 percent black but it has a school that's 90 percent black, it's four high schools. That we can overcome. That we can change and we absolutely have to be committed to that kind of change.
ARMORYes, but Detroit is 90 percent black. I mean, what are you going to do about that? You can't overcome demography when whole regions become predominantly one race. That's happening in the southwest with Hispanic increases. We can certainly pursue it where it's possible and where it's voluntary. We can't pursue it where the demography has already created racial or ethnic isolation.
LHAMONBut of course we can pursue it, we must pursue it. And the systems don't operate in isolation. The places that are becoming mono race places are in part becoming that way because we don't have schools that are ready for the kids, because we don't have social systems.
ARMORWe're not going to bus kids or fly kids from one part of the country to another to attain a racially balanced school system. It's not feasible in many parts of this country.
LHAMONBut we can attain effective schools that are ready for all kids and people will come back and it will bring their kids to the schools when we are ready for them.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to read some emails and go to our callers here. We have many. Chris in Grand Rapids, MI asks, "What has been the impact of the creation of charter schools on integration?" You mentioned KIPP courses, one version of it. But, Jesse Register, perhaps you can come in on this since you're dealing with charter schools as part of the national picture.
REGISTERWhy, we have 18 charter schools now, 153 schools total. Our charter schools are more segregated as a whole than a lot of the same district schools, but that's a result of the initial legislation that created charter schools to serve only children from low performing schools. So we are actually asking all of our charter applications in our charter schools now to develop plans to implement our diversity plan in our school system. That's an expectation for us. And as we receive new charters, we have the same expectation of them that we place on the district.
ROBERTSDennis Parker, what's your view of the role of charter schools in this larger picture?
PARKERI think they're like any other school. They have the potential to drive not only educational quality but diversity. And the experience of something different in different places. We are in fact preparing to file a complaint with the Department of Education in a district which I can't name now but which -- in which charter schools have the result of further isolating students and of making it possible to leave a predominantly minority school district.
PARKERBut on the other hand, we believe that if you take diversity into consideration that these same schools can really help create diverse schools, much in the same way that magnet schools have been successful in creating that. And actually to go back to something Dr. Armor had mentioned in Hartford, CT, a case with which he is familiar.
PARKERIn a city that is 96 percent Latino and African America, we have started a program as a result of a lawsuit of both magnet schools and voluntary inter-district transfers that have placed more than 40 percent of the minority students in desegregated schools. So it is possible even when an individual district is racially isolated.
ROBERTSLet's -- let me read this email from Julie in Louisville, KY. "I think that some of re-segregation has occurred because bussing students for one hour to and from school is an issue for many parents. Communities have to change bussing programs cannot accomplish this." Catherine Lhamon?
LHAMONCertainly the history of bussing is a complicated one, right? Where...
PARKERAnd a very controversial one.
LHAMONComplicated and controversial. All too often the children who are riding the bus were low income children of color and that we didn't bear the burden equally of bussing period. But also we're not today in a time when bussing is a meaningful option for desegregation or any of that because of congressional changes and also because of court decision. So as much as I as a mom don't want to see my children riding a bus for long period of time and I'm sympathetic to that concern, that question doesn't drive the options that we have left today for ways to desegregate our schools on top of high quality opportunity for all of our kids.
ARMORWell, I think the fundamental issue is the parents, generally speaking, one of two things. Either to be able to go to a school that's closest to them, geographic assignment or to be able to choose a school. I mean, those are I think the two predominant feelings. And all the surveys that I've done in many communities throughout the nation. So the question is given that particular neighborhood preference or a choice school, then the question is how do you then create diversity with those two overriding opinions and feeling like that parent expressed?
ARMORIt's a challenge. You can get some, as Dennis Parker said, some minority children will transfer voluntarily into a white or suburban school, that's fine. But you can't force it. And you can only get so much desegregation out of those kind of voluntary...
ROBERTSThat's David Armor from George Mason University. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. We're going to be back with your phone calls on this subject, so please stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. And on the show today, we're continuing our discussion of the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education, landmark decision decided 60 years ago. David Armor, who teaches public policy at George Mason is with me. Catherine Lhamon, who is with the Department of Education, Dennis Parker, American Civil Liberties Union, and Jesse Register with the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.
ROBERTSWe also have been doing a poll. We appreciate those of you who have been joining on our website, drshow.org. And here's some of our responses. Fifty-five percent of you say that the majority of students at your school are mostly one race while only 10 percent of listeners say that several races comprise the majority of school student body. About 49 percent of listeners said teachers at those schools are mostly of one race. I'm wondering, Catherine, what do you think of those responses? Is that typical?
LHAMONThey sound pretty typical for where we are as a country right now. And I think that that's -- I appreciate the listeners' response and letting us know where they are. But the data itself is pretty consistent with what we collect when we have our every-other-year civil rights data collection, which looks at the equity health of all of our public schools around the country. And that data's pretty consistent.
ROBERTSAnd let me read an email from Jason who brings up an important point that I want -- been wanting to get to. "Would you ask your guests to comment on the racial segregation of classes within individual schools? It's been my experience, North Carolina, that even schools that have a relatively diverse student body, the composition of different quality classes are racially inequitable. Honors and advanced placement classes tend to be predominantly white."
ROBERTSThis is an issue I know you've been involved in, Catherine, at the Department of Education. I'm wondering, Dennis Parker, if you could respond to Jason in this question of resegregation within schools. Advanced placement is one issue, and, of course, there are others as well. But, please, respond to Jason.
PARKERAbsolutely. And much of our work is really dedicated to dealing what happens within the schools, regardless of the racial composition of the individual schools. Catherine mentioned the civil rights data collection, which the Department of Education does. And the one thing that I would urge everyone who's listening is to go on the website and check the schools. And I think you'll see that you have the ability to get information about who's taking calculus, who is taking algebra, who has advanced placement courses.
PARKERAnd significantly you also get a chance to look at the question of discipline, which is one area where we work extensively because we're seeing that children of color tend to be disciplined far more than white children, even though there's no evidence to suggest that those kids actually misbehave more than white kids. And we see them being suspended more. We see them being expelled more.
PARKERAnd, most frighteningly, we see them being referred to the police more. And we're concerned that this pattern of kids receiving severe discipline for things that 20 or 30 years ago would have been dealt with by a detention or a trip to the principal's office, the fact that that's happening more is an area of real concern for us. So we want to make sure that kids are graduating, that kids are taking the full scope of courses that they can, and that they are being permitted to stay in school to learn.
ROBERTSOn this issue of AP courses, Catherine Lhamon, I know you've been involved in a case recently settled in Alabama, Lee County...
ROBERTS...that refers exactly to this point.
LHAMONThat does. And thank you so much. So the investigation that we conducted in Lee County in Alabama revolved around a district that has four high schools, one of which is racially isolated with black students. And that high school, until three school years ago, had never offered any advanced placement courses, period. And then when they offered their first one three years ago, they offered it only online, so there was no teacher-student interaction at all.
LHAMONAnd the then-principal at the school had said that he believed that his students needed remedial education and that the kids wouldn't succeed if they had the high-rigor courses, which was contrary to the evidence, even in that district. The black students in the other three high schools in the district were taking and succeeding in high-rigor courses that were offered elsewhere. So, you know, we were obviously deeply concerned that the district has committed now not to do that anymore.
LHAMONThey're offering the courses now in all four high schools. But they've also gone back to kindergarten to figure out what it would take to create a pipeline of students who are prepared for and can succeed in high-rigor courses in all four schools in the district.
LHAMONBut, you know, it's a deep concern for us the way that schools today are involved in this kind of tracking but also, over the past 60 years, have been -- our desegregative efforts over the past 60 years have focused specifically on this question, of making sure that all of our kids in all of our schools are offered and able to be supported in high-rigor courses.
ROBERTSLet me turn to several callers here. And Paul in Concord, Vt., you've been waiting the longest. Thanks for your patience. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULHi. Thanks. You know, as I listen to this conversation, I often hearken back to Derek Bell who said Brown -- they made the wrong decision in Brown, and they -- we would have been better off today if they had focused on the equal rather than the separate. And, you know, I'm not at all opposed to the concept of integration and diversity.
PAULBut what I wanted to speak to is much of my work around race and racism involves getting people to understand that racism isn't something that people do by individual choices, although that's part of it, but racism is a system. And when we look at, for example --- I think this is what's mentioned earlier. When we look at the racial geography of the country, much of that was created by public policy decisions, particularly FHA between 1933 and 1964 of $120 billion in subsidized loans.
PAULAnd 98.6 percent of them went to whites. And so that built the suburbs. It created -- it generated wealth creation in white families and disadvantaged people of color. And there's a whole constellation of systemic impacts on -- both impacting negatively communities of color and impacting positively white communities. And until we can back up and take a systemic approach and look at this issue, we're not going to get very far.
ROBERTSPaul, thanks for you call. David Armor, you're a public policy expert. What are you -- how do you respond to this call?
ARMORThe housing issue is an important one. It has been litigated. Dennis Parker said earlier that we have to look more at the government's role in that. The government did have a role many years ago. But that has been litigated and studied. In Atlanta, Ga., I was part of a team of experts -- Cincinnati, Kansas City, Missouri -- where, in fact, we did studies of the factors that contributed to segregation.
ARMORWhile there's a small contribution of federal policies at that time, there's not a systematic explanation. Personal choice, economic factors are the main drivers of segregation in housing. And so far the Supreme Court and the Lower Court -- just the federal courts -- have not seen fit to order desegregation because of housing violations.
REGISTERSo I'd like to join in the conversation...
ROBERTSJust one second. I'll get to you in just one second 'cause Catherin Lhamon has to leave. I want to give you a final word, Catherine.
LHAMONThanks so much. I so appreciate this conversation. And it's critical for us as a country to be having these kinds of conversations. And I'm grateful that we had this faced today. Thank you.
ROBERTSWell, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show." Please go ahead, Mr. Register.
REGISTERSo public policy's really important. And I want to refer to a somewhat dated study now but one that has really had an impact on me, and that was a 2006 publication, "America's Perfect Storm." And it was a demographic study put on by ETS, and I'm sure the other participants know that study. And it pointed out that public policy decisions have a huge impact on the future of our country. And we need to understand that the future face of America's very diverse. And so I point to immigration laws now. We have a large immigrant population here.
REGISTERI have valedictorians and salutatorians who are not U.S. citizens who are graduating from high school and running into roadblocks. They cannot get in-state tuition in Tennessee. And we've got to understand that we have an obligation to educate our children. I think we also have an obligation to see that they have opportunities going forward. These children live in our country. They deserve the same rights as others. And we need to get our public policy straight.
ROBERTSThank you very much. Let's meet -- let me turn to Gordon in Rockford, Ill. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Gordon.
GORDONThank you, Steve. One of the things I find in the community where I'm at is that the community as a whole has sort of a bifurcated educational system. The very wealthy and well-to-do go to private schools, and the majority of the public education population is 70 percent low -- in a low or reduced federal lunch programs.
GORDONAnd what I find is that in the bifurcation of the society as a whole between the very wealthy and the very -- with all the rest of us, there seems to be a driving -- this is a driving engine behind greater inequality not only in terms of integration but in terms of quality of education. I find that in the private schools, students are being educated.
GORDONBut in the public schools, they're being trained. And this isn't because of the teachers. The teachers are doing as best they can. But I find that a lot of policy is driven by numbers and by business orientation rather than educational outcomes. And so I'm very concerned about the bifurcation and the culture as a whole having a reciprocal effect on the level of resegregation in the culture as a whole.
ROBERTSDennis Parker, your response there.
PARKERI agree 100 percent with that. And that's one reason why we're very concerned about the fact that economic isolation is one of the forms of segregation that's increasing. The New York Times recently had an article where they talked about the college graduation outcomes of students, depending on whether they come from higher socioeconomic classes or lower ones. And it's a dramatic difference.
PARKERAnd it's one of the reasons why we think it's important that to the extent possible that you have schools that reflect racial, ethnic, and economic diversity because one of the advantages -- and this is just realistic -- that the kids who are coming from the wealthier families are the ones who have the connections to get jobs and internships or to get information about colleges. And although, you know, kids in a school that consists solely of lower economic children can learn, they're still held back because they don't have the opportunity to make the connections, to learn from their classmates.
ROBERTSLet me ask you a follow-up to that because, in my reading on this subject, a lot comes back also to the question of resources. And a lot of studies have been done that kids of any race, from lower socioeconomic background, lack certain experiences -- they don't go to the museums, they don't go to the plays, they're not read to as often -- and that there are just a whole series of experience that more privileged kids are exposed to, which prepare them better for school success, and that one of the keys here is expending resources to help kids of any race that lack that background. What do you think of that research, Dennis?
PARKERI think that you do have to come up with an education system that meets the needs of each individual student that takes them where they're coming from and then tries to expose them to the richest educational experience that you can. You know, I think that there are clearly kids are coming to schools working at different levels. But the fact is that their backgrounds, their past are not guarantees of failure, that you can educate those kids. And you have to.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Armor, you wanted to get in on that question.
ARMORYeah. The achievement gap is something that education policy has devoted enormous amounts of research and different programs to resolve. There still is a serious achievement gap between white and minority children, at least Hispanic and black. That achievement gap starts before school. Your point is well taken. Families are different, minority families, low-income families, high-risk families.
ARMORWe're talking about not having the background, so that when they get to school, they're already a whole year behind. Trying to close that gap has been a very vexing problem. I mean, I wish we could have a -- snap our fingers and solve it. But we have not found a solution to it. And then, you know, some schools, some programs have worked well.
ARMORBut across the board, we've only been able to nibble at the edges of the achievement gap. And that's a reason why, by the way, that AP courses in high schools are going to be -- lack diversity 'cause we have an achievement gap that we can't get rid of yet. I hope we can someday. But there's going to be differential attendance at AP courses as long as there's an achievement gap.
ROBERTSLet me turn to Paul in Raleigh, N.C. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULHi. I'm Paul Enriquez from North Carolina. I thank you for taking my call. I think we cannot talk about the effects of Brown without talking about affirmative action in the 2007 parent-involved case. So affirmative action has tended to focus on higher education, but the gate to an education setting is, in many respects, more important.
PAULDiversity in early education can teach children to function in a pluralistic society. But, more importantly, it can provide a path to eradicate the need for controversial and polarizing preferential policies. If everyone starts with the same opportunities, then states would find it difficult to justify favorable discrimination on racial grounds. When I was a law student, I wrote a -- and published an article on this very issue.
PAULIf Brown led to the successful desegregation of American schools, it basically turned a blind eye on the issue in integration. The bottom line is you want to rid society of affirmative action. Then you must focus on diversity, integration, and qualitatively fungible K12 schools. It makes no difference if segregation has two faces, one (word?) and one de facto. So policymakers and lawmakers must make a conscientious effort to tackle this issue of integration if they wish to rid the country of affirmative action policies in the future. Thank you.
ROBERTSThank you, Paul. Dennis Parker.
PARKERI agree that we have to deal with all of the questions, the root causes. I think, you know, the good thing about the parents-involved case is it at least left the door open so that school districts can take measured steps to assure that their schools are diverse and desegregated. I'm hopeful that schools take advantage of that.
PARKERI think we have to address the structural systemic problems that the caller from Vermont raised. And I agree that to place restrictions on affirmative action when there are still existing limitations that are race-based and ethnicity-based and immigration status-based is itself fundamentally unfair.
ROBERTSYour reaction to that, David Armor?
ARMORWell, again, the issue of affirmative action and -- not quite the same thing, but the Supreme Court has ruled that racial neutrality is what is required once you are a unitary system and that that has prevented some districts from maintaining mandatory bussing programs based upon race. Personally, I agree with that court decision.
ARMORI think we have to move beyond government policies that distinguish every individual by their race and then make decisions about them. That doesn't prevent you from using other characteristics, however, like economic status. There's no constitutional problem. But, frankly, we cannot, at this point, have policies that assign children to schools or other decisions based upon their race in the absence of discrimination.
ROBERTSThat's going to have to be the last word. David Armor is a professor emeritus of sociology at George Mason University. Catherine Lhamon was with us. She had to leave early, but she's the assistant secretary of civil rights with the Department of Education. Dennis Parker is director of the American Civil Liberties Union's racial justice program. And Jesse Register is the director of Metropolitan Nashville's Public Schools. Thank you all for being with us. And thank you, our listeners, for spending an hour of your morning with us. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm. And have a good day.
Most Recent Shows
"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
French President Hollande meets with President Obama in Washington to seek additional U.S. support in the fight against ISIS in Syria, and NATO holds an emergency meeting over the downed Russian fighter jet: An update on international military strategy in Syria.
The latest research into the link between germs and mental illness -- and what we all need to know.