First of all, apologies for being away from this space for so long; I’ve been in a particularly busy period at the Prospect, live-blogging the presidential candidates’ forum at the SEIU meeting on Monday, and for the past week, working on a meaty piece about No Child Left Behind’s failure to confront racial and economic segregation in shools. Here’s an excerpt:
Most fundamentally, NCLB ignored a key underlying sociological problem — segregation — that contributes to the achievement gap. We’ve known for a long time that separate cannot be equal, but as NCLB’s supporters well understood, it is doubtful the bill would have passed had it imposed on privileged white people any substantive responsibility for the achievement of minority students. When George W. Bush introduced NCLB during a 2000 campaign address to the NAACP, he said, "No child in America should be segregated by low expectations." But he didn’t mention segregation inside brick-and-mortar school buildings, the kind caused by state school district lines cutting off rich people from poor people, or by highways separating black neighborhoods from white.
Parts of the piece were inspired by a truly excellent book that surfaced in TAP’s offices, The Children in Room E4, by Susan Eaton. An education Ph.D. and experienced journalist, Eaton spent a year in Hartford, CT observing how poor black and Latino children learn in a segregated elementary school. Her findings are dire: Although the students Eaton gets to know have a loving, skilled classroom teacher, they are held back by a stifling curriculum and an almost total lack of understanding of the social world beyond their ghetto neighborhood. Alongside her classroom observations, Eaton tells the story of Sheff v. O’Neill, the Connecticutt Supreme Court case that ruled the state was negligent in providing minority kids an integrated, quality education. The ruling was a major civil rights victory. But then the governor, state legislature, and local districts did….next to nothing to change the system.
I’m hoping to write a lot more about education policy; it’s something that has fascinated me and gotten me riled up for a long time — probably my whole life — in part due to being raised by two adamantly pro-public education parents, one of whom worked in New York public schools his entire career. I took some education courses in college, but I want to read more, so book recommendations in comments would be greatly appreciated!