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Friday, August 3, 2018

News Roundup: Focus on school discipline, part 2

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.


Last week, I wrote about recent research on racial disparities in school discipline. In a continuation of that post, I wanted to write about how themes from the research - unconscious bias, for example - affect real students/families in very real ways, as seen in a few recent stories.


Antwon Rose Protest (Source: Katelyn Sykes)

As mentioned in part 1, these stories have been overshadowed by other news. But they are too important to go unnoticed. One covers an extrajudicial student discipline system that I had never heard of. The other is a recent version of a story that we hear all the time. Among several disturbing similarities, in both stories, Black and Latinx students are denied due process in ways that are deeply morally troubling.

Recently, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Riverside County Probation Department in California for its Youth Accountability Team (YAT). The YAT was ostensibly designed as a program to intervene with so-called “pre-delinquent” or “delinquent” youth before they got into more serious trouble. However, it functions in the opposite fashion, basically “funnelling [students] into the criminal justice system.”

One of the plaintiffs, Andrew, was using an orange for a hacky-sack game with his friends at school when the orange bounced through the legs of a school resource officer. Andrew was handcuffed and taken to the principal’s office where they searched his backpack and found marijuana.

Andrew was then given this option: sign a contract to be part of the YAT or go to juvenile court. No lawyer was present. He signed the contract.

Andrew’s case is one of many. Specifically, YAT functions in 17 school districts in the county and “from 2005 to 2016, 12,971 youths were under a YAT contract, 25 percent of whom were accused of a noncriminal offense.”

Unsurprisingly: “Black students were 2.5 times and Latinx students were 1.5 times more likely than white students” to be caught in the YAT dragnet. Students got into the YAT system for things like “talking back to teachers, earning poor grades, being late to class, or ‘pulling the race card.’”

What happens then? YAT contracts give law enforcement officials basically unrestricted access to student information, including school records and counseling reports. The contracts require regular drug tests and meetings with probation officers, over and above what a court would likely recommend given the infraction. Probation officers could even visit student homes, and one officer was even quoted saying “We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wire taps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.” That’s a real quote.

Even worse: “law enforcement officials keep detailed information about YAT participants long after they’re done with the program, which can be used against them later.”

The lawsuit (full text) is asking that the court prohibit the use of the YAT system under situations of coercion and without students fully understanding their legal rights. I’ll track any updates.

Then, there’s the story of Antwon Rose, a 17 year-old Black teenager who was recently shot and killed while running away, unarmed, from a police officer. There have been big protests about this in East Pittsburgh, but I’m not sure it’s gotten nearly enough attention in national news. The story itself is far too big to summarize in this post, but the links here have a lot of background.


Antwon Rose (Source: Huffington Post)

What I want to focus on is the connection to Antwon’s experiences at school. This Huffington Post article reports that “a long shadow of police brutality followed Antwon Rose’s childhood.” Specifically, the very school that Antwon went to was already named in a lawsuit from 2017, charging that it fostered “a culture of abuse at the hands of high school administrators, security members and school resource officers.” Reflecting on Antwon’s killing, a protester (and graduate of that same school) was quoted as saying: “When you think about where Antwon went to school...he saw his friends getting beat up by these cops and how the justice system works against their abusers. Would that not inform your interaction with police officers?” 

He continued: “In this present-day culture ― a culture where Antwon exists, where Tamir Rice exists ― to expect a black child to go into school and feel safe with officers who are armed … that’s violence against them.”

There is severe disregard for this issue at the federal level and things have been getting worse. ProPublica recently reported that more than 1,200 civil rights probes from the Obama administration have been shut down by Betsy DeVos. Many of these deal with school discipline issues. Ken Marcus was recently confirmed as the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights under DeVos. As you can see in this letter from civil rights groups, things are unlikely to improve under his leadership. 

So what can be done? ProPublica is, in part, stepping into the void left by the DOE - you can use this “share your story” website to let them know about civil rights violations at a school. They may follow up with investigative journalism, in place of actual investigation from law enforcement arms of the federal government. 

And the power of attention and communication can't be ignored. Amidst the maelstrom of terrible news, it’s important to stay on top of the big stories that don’t get big coverage, to talk about these with friends, to get people fired up about it, so that we can make progress in the small places where that is possible and, hopefully, open up spaces for more progress in the future. 



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Minnesota Supreme Court's decision in the Cruz-Guzman school desegregation case: summary and key takeaways

Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in a landmark state desegregation case. The decision is a major victory for the plaintiffs, civil rights advocates, and opponents of school segregation. While the lawsuit is still ongoing, the court's decision has eliminated a major legal obstacle facing the plaintiffs, and strengthened their case going forward.

Although the issues before the supreme court were narrow, the court's language strongly suggests that it is willing to embrace the active elimination of segregation in Minnesota schools. Its decision may also have major implications for charter schools, and may spell trouble for another lawsuit seeking to eliminate teacher tenure in Minnesota.

These developments will be discussed below. But first, some background on the case.

The lawsuit, Cruz-Guzman v. State of Minnesota, was filed in late 2015 by a group of Minneapolis parents seeking statewide school desegregation. The plaintiffs argued that Minnesota schools are highly segregated, and that any segregated system of schools was "inherently inadequate," in violation of the state constitution.

The plaintiffs' claim relies on the "Education Clause" of the state constitution, which instructs the state legislature to create a system of schools that is both "general and uniform" and "thorough and efficient." In a previous ruling, the state supreme court had found that this language created both a legislative duty to provide a system of adequate education, and an individualized fundamental right to an education.

The Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs also made more traditional desegregation claims, arguing that schools had been intentionally segregated, violating students' constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

Importantly, the lawsuit did not seek a specific remedy. Instead, it only asked that the state recognize and eliminate the constitutional violation -- i.e., that the state find a way to eliminate segregation in its schools.

Although the lawsuit was filed only against the state, not any individual school or school district, a group of charter schools intervened after filing. The charter schools sought a declaratory judgement that they were not bound by the state's desegregation rules, and asserted that, as schools of choice, they by definition could not be segregated.

After initial motions to dismiss, the district court allowed most of the plaintiffs' claims to advance. However, before the trial began, the state appealed, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals threw out the case.

In doing so, it relied on a single, simple ground: it held that the plaintiffs' Education Clause claims were a political question more appropriate for the legislature, and therefore "nonjusticiable." In other words, the Court of Appeals said that the Education Clause's fundamental right to an adequate education was unenforceable in court, at least as it related to school segregation.

Today, after a second appeal, the state supreme court reversed that decision. It decided that enforcing the Education Clause is indeed the obligation of the courts, and that Cruz-Guzman plaintiffs could proceed.

Standing alone, this decision would constitute a major victory for civil rights advocates, giving them their day in court, so that they can make the case that Minnesota school segregation is severe, worsening, and corrosive to educational opportunity. But in addition to the court's main holding, there are several noteworthy passages which should please the plaintiffs and their supporters around the country.

The Court Endorses the Unconstitutionality of Segregation

Perhaps the weightiest statement made by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Cruz-Guzman is found in footnote 6. Despite appearing in a footnote, this passage has dramatic implications for the case. It reads as follows:
The dissent concedes that a claim of segregated schools is justiciable, but maintains that appellants’ claims are not “traditional” segregation claims and therefore the claims are not justiciable.  It is self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not “general,” “uniform,” “thorough,” or “efficient.”  Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1.  Regardless of whether the context is a “traditional” segregation claim or a different type of claim, courts are well equipped to decide whether a school system is segregated, and have made such determinations since Brown, 347 U.S. at 495.  
This constitutes a remarkably clear endorsement of the idea that segregated education is incompatible with the Minnesota Constitution.

In particular, the holding that it is "self-evident that a segregated system of public schools is not 'general,' 'uniform,' 'thorough,' or 'efficient," has major consequences for the resolution of Cruz-Guzman.

The first implication of this passage is that the plaintiffs' evidentiary burden is much lower than was previously assumed. Thus far, the plaintiffs have operated under the assumption that, to prove their Education Clause claims, they would have to prove two distinct facts:
  1. That Minnesota schools are segregated; and
  2. That segregated schools are inherently inadequate, and therefore violative of the Education Clause.
But in this footnote, the court dismisses all talk of "adequacy." Instead, it states that it is "self-evident" that segregated school cannot satisfy the constitutional requirements. In other words, the fact that segregation violates the Minnesota Education Clause is simply presumed. As a result, it appears that plaintiffs no longer need to focus on demonstrating the negative effects of segregation; instead, they only need to focus on proving that it exists.

As an aside, this statement also undermines an important argument of the charter school intervenors. The charter schools had hoped to make the case that segregation in charters schools did not result in an inferior, inadequate education. This footnote suggests that that claim is no longer available to them -- it leaves no room to assert that Minnesota schools can be constitutionally segregated.

The second implication of footnote 6 is that the plaintiffs do not have to prove that segregation has been created intentionally. Although the court does not explicitly mention intent, it implies that the mere fact of existing segregation would create a system that is not general and uniform.

Citations to Rose v. Council for Better Education

The court sends a second signal with an evocative citation to a landmark education law case.

In Rose v. Council for Better Education, the Kentucky Supreme Court held the state's entire school system unconstitutional, ruling that it did not meet the requirements of the state constitution. This was the first major state "school adequacy" lawsuit, touching off a national wave of state-level school litigation.

The Kentucky court famously required sweeping changes to the state's educational system in order to conform to state constitutional requirements. It wrote"[t]he children of the poor and the children of the rich, the children who live in the poor districts and the children who live in the rich districts must be given the same opportunity and access to an adequate education." It also devised six broad evaluative factors to determine whether schools were adequate.

Over time, some state courts have developed a more negative view of the Rose decision. In particular, judges have seemed concerned that Rose-like reasoning would obligate courts to conduct open-ended interventions in the education system -- a role some feel is more properly left to the legislature.

But in today's decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court expressed no such skittishness about Rose, citing the case without reservation:
We will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area.  The judiciary is well equipped to assess whether constitutional requirements have been met and whether appellants’ fundamental right to an adequate education has been violated.  See, e.g., Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc., 790 S.W.2d 186, 212–13 (Ky. 1989); Pauley, 255 S.E.2d at 877–78.  Although the Legislature plays a crucial role in education, it is ultimately the judiciary’s responsibility to determine what our constitution requires and whether the Legislature has fulfilled its constitutional duty.
Not only does the Minnesota court embrace Rose's conclusion that the courts are ultimately responsible for delivering constitutional rights, it also suggests that it shares Rose's broad-minded approach to solutions. In particular, the opening line in the passage above is unambiguous: "We will not shy away from our proper role to provide remedies for violations of fundamental rights merely because education is a complex area." This is not the language of a court that is preparing to take a laissez-faire, soft-touch approach to an ongoing constitutional violation. Instead, it is the language of a court that seems prepared to intervene vigorously to vindicate the rights of Minnesota schoolchildren.

Discussion of "Copious Data" Showing Segregation

The merits of the plaintiffs' segregation claims were not before the court in this decision, and it did not weigh in directly on those claims. However, while laying out the history of the case, the court did include language that suggests it had found the plaintiffs' presentation of data and social science evidence to be compelling:
The complaint contains copious data demonstrating a “high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status” in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools.  The public schools in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that appellants’ children and other school-age children attend are “disproportionately comprised of students of color and students living in poverty, as compared with a number of neighboring and surrounding schools and districts.”  These segregated and “hyper-segregated” schools have significantly worse academic outcomes in comparison with neighboring schools and suburban school districts in measures such as graduation rates; pass rates for state-mandated Basic Standards Tests; and proficiency rates in math, science, and reading.  Appellants describe these racially and socioeconomically segregated schools as “separate and unequal” from “neighboring and surrounding whiter and more affluent suburban schools” and detail the extensive harms of racial and socioeconomic segregation.  
This passage is not dispositive, of course; no trial has been held, no experts have testified, and the defendants have not responded to these claims. But most of the plaintiffs' statistical evidence is effectively unrebuttable -- straightforward statistics on changing school populations, sourced to the state's own data. In other words, if the court finds this evidence to be compelling, the defendants have a hard road ahead if they intend to change its mind.

The Court Distinguishes Cruz-Guzman from Other Adequacy Claims

Throughout its short life, the Cruz-Guzman lawsuit has been dogged by parallel claims in a superficially similar case, which was filed shortly afterwards. That case, Forslund v. Minnesota, mimics the famous Vergara lawsuit in California, and attacks Minnesota's teacher tenure law as unconstitutional.

The Forslund case, like Cruz-Guzman, relied on the state Education Clause. It claimed that many Minnesota students were receiving an inadequate education. It then argued that, because some research shows teacher labor protections and other educational regulations are correlated with reduced academic performance, those laws had to be overturned so students' right to an adequate education could be vindicated.

Because they both rely on the same constitutional provision, Forslund and Cruz-Guzman have frequently been tied together. Critics asserted that Forslund showed the dangers of allowing parents to bring Education Clause claims. If Forslund succeeded, critics claimed, any statute, rule, or policy that eroded academic performance could also be attacked as unconstitutional, reducing judges to a perfunctory policymaking role.

The two cases also tracked each other through the courts. After the Forslund case was roundly defeated in district court, it was thrown out by an appellate panel, which justified its decision by citing Cruz-Guzman and the alleged nonjusticiability of the Education Clause.  

Ironically, despite this shared history, Forslund's plaintiffs were frequently antagonistic to the desegregation plaintiffs of Cruz-Guzman. They filed an amicus brief to the supreme court in Cruz-Guzman, but did not argue that the court should allow the desegregation case to proceed. Instead, the Forslund plaintiffs only maintained that that their own claims were distinguishable and should survive. 

However, the supreme court today adopted an alternative frame, which favors Cruz-Guzman and disfavors Forslund:
Providing a remedy for Education Clause violations does not necessarily require the judiciary to exercise the powers of the Legislature.  Appellants stress that their complaint “does not actually ask the court to institute any specific policy.”  Rather, their prayer for relief asks the district court to find, adjudge, and decree that the State has engaged in the claimed constitutional violations.  (emphasis added)
In other words, Cruz-Guzman can continue because it only asks the court to declare that existing Minnesota segregation is unconstitutional, and does not seek any specific remedy. It identifies a violation of a fundamental right, but it does not seek to use the courts to implement a preferred package of policies.

The same cannot be said of Forslund. The latter case is broad and vague about the identified violation, citing, somewhat generically, lower test scores and academic performance. But it is very precise about the remedy it seeks: a specific change to a particular law. The language of the supreme court suggests that while Cruz-Guzman's claim is justiciable, Forslund may be asking the court to engage in an inappropriate exercise of legislative power.

No Exceptions for Charters

Since nearly the very beginning of the Cruz-Guzman case, charter schools, as third-party intervenors, have asserted that they are not bound by the same desegregation rules that bind traditional Minnesota schools. They have argued that state law exempts them from most desegregation requirements, that they cannot be segregated by definition, and that any government interest in segregation must be weighed by the equally important consideration of parental choice.

Today's decision makes no mention of any of these assertions. While the substance of the charter schools' claims was not before the court, the decision's use of sweeping, broad language is still suggestive -- for instance, the declaration in footnote 6 that it is "self-evident" that segregation violates the constitution. There is little to indicate that the supreme court is considering carving off a constitutional exception for charter schools, or otherwise permitting them to self-segregate in the name of parental choice or some other principle.

School Desegregation Research Roundup: Focus on school discipline, part I

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There have been major stories recently regarding school diversity (among other things!), including the Trump Administration’s reversal of Obama-era guidance on Affirmative Action. In the Trump era, and by design, just about every day brings a deluge of stories that are often as consequential as they are morally shocking. In that constant wave of big stories, others get lost, though these are often just as important and troubling. I want to focus on one of those overlooked topics: racial disparities in school discipline.


(Source: Alliance4EdJustice)

So far this summer, there’s already been at least four important studies released about school discipline, as well as several appalling news stories -- including yet another police shooting that has not gotten nearly enough attention. There was a bit too much for one post, so I split it into two parts – this one focuses on the research and an upcoming post will look at the news stories.

Of the studies here, two primarily focus on unconscious bias, and two look at the effects of exclusionary discipline. In the interest of space, I’ve kept the summaries brief. As always, I encourage a full read. Here’s what I found most compelling:

Unconscious Bias
  • This study, published a few weeks ago, looks at aspiring teachers’ reactions to student facial expressions. Researchers showed them 20 pictures of Black and White students faces, and they watched 4 videos of Black and White student misbehavior. They found that “misbehaviors were perceived as more hostile for Black than White boys” and that a similar “anger bias exists toward Black females.”
    • “While black girls make up about 80 percent of the city schools’ female student body, they accounted for 95 percent of suspensions.”
    • “While approximately 33 percent of female youth in Maryland are black, they represent 65 percent of the female placements at the Department of Juvenile Services.”
  • In Baltimore, discipline disparities are exacerbated by the fact that the city’s school district is the only one in Maryland that actually has its own police force. It’s important to note that there’s both a personal/educational cost to the individuals who are suspended (more about that below) as well as a larger social cost. The Baltimore Sun article notes that when Black girls speak up about things that bother them, they are “labeled as aggressive rather than encouraged to be activists.” And society loses out on the benefit of their activism.
Exclusionary Discipline
  • This study comes from Minnesota, and looks at students’ experiences of exclusionary discipline (e.g., suspensions and expulsions). It’s rare in the school discipline literature in that it relies on interviews with actual students as its primary source of data. And it includes a lot of great recommendations, such as helping students feel “valued, welcomed and connected.” In interviews for the report, “young people discussed feeling undervalued at school, noting that racism and other forms of negative labeling (being known as a troublemaker) from school personnel were often drivers of treatment that led to those feelings.”
  • Published in the highly respected American Journal of Education, this study looked at whether there is a causal relationship between suspensions and negative academic outcomes. In other words, do suspensions make academic performance worse? And it found that they do. Chalkbeat has a great summary. In short:
    • The study included about 70,000 NYC high school students between 2005-2011, and it compared each student to her/himself before and after suspension.
    • The researchers concluded that the suspensions themselves made it less likely that students would pass their math and English classes and more likely that students would dropout.
    • One caveat: after the time period of the study, NYC changed its school discipline policies to reduce suspensions. So this research can’t tell us whether those policies had a positive effect on student outcomes.
I should note there have been some sources of hope here – such as a new Ohio bill aims to bar suspensions for K-3 students. 

For some issues in the school diversity universe, the relationship between structural racism and student outcomes can be complex, and difficult to see immediately. But racial bias in school discipline is different. Factors like unconscious personal bias and structural racism are directly observable in the numbers. Again -- in Baltimore, Black girls make up 80 percent of the female student population, yet account for 95 percent of the suspensions. All but 5 percent!

Likewise, solutions to racial inequality can also be complex, but in the case of discipline disparities, it should be straightforward. Several of the studies above recommend that instead of relying on police and/or exclusionary discipline, schools should hire more counselors and student support personnel. It’s exactly like the students say in the photo above – this is from the Alliance4EdJustice, a coalition of youth organizers who work for the liberation of youth of color. In the photo, students are standing before the federal Department of Education, holding signs that read “Counselors Not Cops” and wearing shirts that say “End the School to Prison Pipeline.” There’s an enormous social cost to ignoring/disregarding these kinds of changes. Next week, I’ll look at how that social cost is evident in several recent news stories that are, in my opinion, as morally appalling as others that attract national headlines.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Our comments on the Minneapolis Draft 2040 Plan

The city of Minneapolis is currently in the middle of its comprehensive planning process, and yesterday closed the comment period on the first draft of its plan, entitled the 2040 Plan.

Those comments are available here.

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity submitted a set of comments on this plan. The comments applaud the Minneapolis's stated aim of reversing historical inequality and segregation. They note that, in order to successfully eliminate the legacy of discrimination, and guarantee a prosperous future for all residents, the city must confront a threefold challenge. It must:

  • Improve access to exclusive, prosperous neighborhoods, ensuring that their opportunities are not only available to the white and affluent.
  • Protect diverse neighborhoods, preserving their racial and economic integration and preventing any decline towards poverty and segregation.
  • Revitalize segregated neighborhoods, finding ways to increase neighborhood investment, and eliminating discriminatory policies that continue to concentration of poverty in those areas.

The full comments contain a discussion of several aspects of housing policy. First, they lay out the binding legal fair housing obligations that must govern Minneapolis's policy decisions. Second, they discuss the so-called "fourplex plan," and how it can potentially contribute to greater housing affordability and integration. Third, it criticizes the 2040 Plan for only discussing segregation in terms of racial exclusion and never addressing the problem of racial confinement. Unfortunately, Minneapolis has a long history of using housing policy and other policy mechanisms to concentrate families of color in a limited set of impoverished neighborhoods with little educational or economic opportunity.

The comments also include an appendix with a set of tables demonstrating the unequal distribution of population subgroups and housing types across the city. 



Thursday, June 28, 2018

School Desegregation Research Roundup: Secession in Memphis-Shelby County, and the meaning of local control

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

This post is about a great piece of recent research on school resegregation. I want to talk about the content of the article itself as well as the value, more generally, of research that relies on interviews and media analysis to understand the current moment with regards to race and schooling. I think this kind of research can tell us a lot about how things have changed, how things have stayed the same, and about how we might make progress in the future.

Research that measures school resegregation numerically or statistically has made its way deep into public discussion. Many - even mainstream - media outlets cite research findings that schools in some parts of the country are as segregated as they were in the 1960s, for example. And that’s great. 

Meanwhile, research that’s more qualitative (e.g., interviews and observations) is yet to approach this kind of impact. (See this piece for a much better, more holistic definition of qualitative research than I have the space for here.)  While statistical/quantitative studies can be relatively straightforward, it can be harder to describe the purpose of qualitative research for those who aren’t already on board. Qualitative research doesn’t “measure” as much as it documents lived experience or illuminates important aspects of the cultural context around the numbers. That can be harder to put into a quick headline. Perhaps as a result, it’s less common to find discussion of qualitative research in this field, which brings me to the specific piece I want to review here.

The article -- The Disintegration of Memphis-Shelby County, Tennessee -- looks at an extremely important (and currently unfolding) issue: school district secession. It was published in one of the most highly regarded education research journals by three very well-known researchers in this field - Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Sarah Diem, and Erica Frankenberg.

The background on Memphis-Shelby County is complicated, but here’s the most important thing to know: school district boundaries changed three times in three consecutive years. In 2012, Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools were two separate districts. Then, they merged to one large district in 2013. And, then, in 2014, the district splintered, as six small towns seceded to form their own districts. As in many other places, the seceding towns were whiter and wealthier than the district they left behind. There’s more detail in the article itself as well as here, here, and here for those who want to read more.

The article focuses on the 2014 secessions and asks: how did this happen? How did political figures justify the decision to secede? The researchers interviewed people who were involved in the decision or who were affected by it, including members of the county’s transition planning commission as well as school board members, school administrators, other education researchers and activists.

The main rationale? Local control. This is maybe not surprising, but striking nonetheless: “Every white political leader representing the new municipal districts mentioned local control of public schools as the central rationale for secession.”

Their findings dig into the concept of local control, identifying the reasons that it has so much salience. Here are just a few selected findings:

  • They argue that the 2013 merger with Memphis aroused in white suburban leaders a kind of “resentment and fear related to resources, political power, and increased racial contact.” Part of this was that suburban leaders did not want to share resources or political decision making with city leaders. In the article, for example, one white leader is quoted as saying “we’re the ones that have the resources and therefore we have to bail the city out. We’re always having to bail the city out.”  
  • Black leaders were more likely than white leaders to say that the secessions were motivated by race. In the words of one of the black leaders who was interviewed as part of the study: “A statement like, I don’t want the people who run the Memphis City Schools to be running my schools isn’t the same as I don’t want black people running my schools, but it is the same.” 
In discussing the relevance of their findings, the authors connect the themes in the Memphis-Shelby County case to larger issues in school district secession. Here are perhaps two of the most salient topics:
  • Colorblind language. The authors observe that “local control, in short, became a favorable way to discuss the preservation and accumulation of resource advantages that mapped on to existing racial cleavages.” Of course, we saw exactly the same thing last week, in a North Carolina law that allows white towns essentially to secede (or, really, to wall themselves off) from Charlotte city schools. And we see similar language used all the time by Secretary DeVos.
  • Education as an individualized benefit. Importantly, the authors locate the local control argument “within a larger structure of reconceptualizing education as an individual good that allows individuals seeking local control for their communities to make decisions that impact many other communities beyond their own.” So here’s another important theme that we see over and over again in school resegregation: the idea that quality education is a limited resource that must be approached - by parents, lawmakers, etc. - as zero-sum competition. As an alternative, the authors note that “the Brown decision laid out broad social goals for public education, including its fundamental importance for democracy and citizenship.”
These are just samples. There’s much more in the piece, including race-conscious research and policy recommendations that I don't have the space to summarize here. One of the authors also took to Twitter to summarize the piece. In all, it's new research that thoroughly demonstrates that arguments about local control are really arguments about race -- that the boundaries of what counts as “local” are racialized (e.g., not “the city”) and that the feeling of needing “control” itself is racialized (e.g., control over the continued accumulation of resources for white communities, or control over access to what is viewed as a limited, individualized, competitive resource). 

To advance policy, you have to make an argument of some kind, and it’s no longer acceptable to make an argument for secession that is explicitly about race. So instead, secession advocates have to use coded language. This research defines that coded language in detail and provides the insight necessary not only to puncture holes in today’s prevailing arguments but to promote better arguments - and specific policy strategies - for a race-conscious approach to public education. I hope this will catch on in the public discussion as much as startling statistics about how far we’ve regressed already have.  

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup: HB514 and Resegregation in North Carolina

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

In the last update, I wrote about a promising school integration lawsuit in New Jersey. This week, the news is not as good: On Wednesday, North Carolina passed a law#HB514 – that will allow 4 majority white suburbs of Charlotte to secede from the countywide Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Although secession efforts have been common across the country recently, this one is unique for at least two reasons.

First, other places have sought to secede by splintering smaller public school districts off from a larger/more diverse district (e.g., Gardendale, AL, Memphis-Shelby County, TN). However, the NC law uses charter schools as the vehicle for secession. It authorizes charters specifically in 4 suburbs, allows them to limit enrollment in these schools to municipal residents. The graph below shows the suburbs and their racial compositions.



(CMS schools are on the left and the 4 suburbs are on the right; credit: Justin Parmenter)

Second, one barrier to secession via charter school is that there are more restrictions on the use of property tax revenue for things like school building construction. But the NC bill takes care of that by including a provision that allows town governments to indeed use public funds for charter schools the way they would for traditional public schools. Previously, only county governments or the state had the power to spend money this way.

However, proponents of the bill claim that it has nothing to do with race:



“How is this an issue of race?” I’ll attempt to answer the question by taking a broad look at the history of segregation, integration and then re-segregation in Charlotte and its schools.

To start, we have to look way back at the turn of the century, because events then still resonate today.

This great piece in the Atlantic notes that segregation in Charlotte (as in so many other places) had to be invented. Between the end of the Civil War and 1899 (when NC passed its first Jim Crow law), “black and white people lived next to each other in Southern cities, creating what the historian Tom Hanchett describes as a ‘salt-and-pepper’ pattern.” Wealthy political elites were concerned about a growing political alliance between low-income blacks and whites, so they encouraged residential segregation as a way to, well, divide them.

We see similar efforts if we zoom ahead to NC’s resistance to Brown v. Board. In the immediate aftermath of Brown, NC voters overwhelmingly supported the Pearsall Plan, which “allowed districts to shutter schools that became integrated, and provided state-funded vouchers to allow white students to flee integrated schools.”

But 1969 ushered in a new and uniquely successful era of school integration in Charlotte. That year, the Pearsall Plan was declared unconstitutional in Godwin v. Johnson County Board of Education. And, famously, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, a federal district court approved busing as a remedy for school segregation. Swann was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1971, and Charlotte quickly became a model for integration across the country. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools began busing on September 9, 1970, with 525 buses across the countywide school district. It was enormously successful:


  • During this time, many NC cities and towns merged forming countywide school districts. This article cites a NC-based policy analyst who reflects that “In North Carolina, consolidation was the way forward on integration,” adding that “there was no other way.”
  • By the 1980’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg become one of the most racially integrated school districts in America.
  • A Charlotte Observer editorial wrote that Charlotte’s “proudest achievement of the past 20 years is not the city’s impressive new skyline or its strong, growing economy. Its proudest achievement is its fully integrated schools.”
  • And, being from Boston, I found this particularly touching– after the virulent response to busing in Boston, students from CMS “invited students from Boston to come down South, to see that integration could be done peacefully, to the benefit of all students.”

Nearly 30 years after busing began in Charlotte, school integration received a devastating blow. A white parent filed suit against the city, claiming that his daughter had been denied admission to a local magnet school because of her race. In that case – Capacchione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg – a federal judge ruled that the segregated “dual system” in the Swann case was no longer in existence. In a haunting piece of foreboding, the deciding judge wrote that “racial imbalances existing in schools today are no longer vestiges of the dual system; and that it is unlikely that the school board will return to an intentionally-segregative system.” That decision was later upheld in an appeals court. Busing ended, and resegregation accelerated rapidly. A recent report found that Charlotte-Mecklenburg is by far the most racially segregated district in the state. To achieve racial balance today, more than half of the students in CMS would have to be reassigned to different schools.

The effects have been stark. There are a lot of resources for those who want to dig into the data. Here are a few points that I found most compelling:

  • In a study of America’s 50 largest cities, Charlotte ranked 49th in economic mobility for poor children. A separate study, published by Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, found the same, noting that “If you are born poor in Charlotte, you are likely to stay that way.” These reports look at income, but of course race and income are highly correlated. 
  • And we shouldn’t lose sight of how school segregation ripples through virtually all aspects of social life. This fantastic piece by Clint Smith connects school segregation to the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott and the protests that followed his death. Smith notes “In Charlotte, the chances of black males coming into contact with the criminal-justice system increased with the resegregation of their high schools.” There’s a lot in his piece that can’t be summarized her -- I highly recommend a full read.
As you know, the story does not end here. In 2017, NC lawmakers took aim at consolidated districts. Last year, the legislature passed a bill (despite considerable Democratic dissent) that authorized a committee to decide whether consolidated districts should be allowed to splinter. That committee had its first meeting in February of 2018, initiating a process that, in part, led to Wednesday’s enactment of HB514.


It is significant that the bill seeks to break up countywide districts. As noted earlier, consolidation was viewed as the only way to pursue integration. Indeed, counties that splintered before HB514 have become more segregated afterwards.

And it is also significant that the bill uses charters as the vehicle for secession. As noted here by Jeff Bryant, “In North Carolina, there’s little doubt parents use charters to segregate.” And, more specifically, as avenues for wealthy, white students to leave traditional public schools. When charter schools were originally approved in North Carolina, they were required to “reasonably reflect the racial and ethnic composition” of their home district. However, in 2013, the bar was lowered to require only that charter schools “make efforts” to reflect the demographic makeup of their communities. Duke University recently looked at charter schools in North Carolina, and the results are pretty straightforward:

  • Over the last 15 years, the proportion of white students in NC public schools has decreased, while the proportion of white students in NC charter schools has increased.
  • In traditional public schools, only 30% of students attend schools that are “highly segregated.” Meanwhile, at NC charter schools, more than 2/3rds of students attend “highly segregated” schools. This article has a map of the demographic breakdown of Charlotte schools in 2015.
I just don’t see how this bill could be separated from the history here. After Brown, there were pitched debates about things like school district boundaries and the use of public funds (at the time, it was vouchers) to finance white flight. Although the specific policy mechanisms are different, the debate today still centers around similar core issues. However, proponents want us to believe that HB514 is somehow disconnected from the history outlined above, claiming that the law is about things like local control or choice -- definitely not about race. Could anyone believe this?

It brings me back to this quote from Clint Smith’s piece, referenced above. What he says is relevant not only for major stories like HB514, but for all the many and much smaller ways that we choose to ignore race in education policy and practice: 
When we operate as if the past is irrelevant, and propose ostensibly race-neutral policies in a deeply racialized world, we inevitably create social institutions that perpetuate that social stratification.

Friday, June 1, 2018

School Desegregation News Roundup: Spotlight on New Jersey

The Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity is pleased to feature the School Desegregation News Roundup: periodic updates and reflections on educational desegregation and related issues, provided by Peter Piazza, an education policy researcher based in Massachusetts. Updates are crossposted on his site, available here.  

There was major news out of New Jersey last week: civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against the state for laws that codify school segregation. This post is a very quick summary of the case for and then an attempt to put the lawsuit in the larger context of the decades-long push and pull for racial justice in New Jersey public schools.

A brief summary: New Jersey is the 6th most segregated state for Black students and 7th for Latinx students. In response, the Latino Action Network and the New Jersey NAACP filed suit on the 64th anniversary of Brown last week. The suit is specifically focused on state laws that (a) require students to live in the town where they attend school (for traditional public schools) and (b) require that charter schools give preference to students who live in their home districts. The plaintiffs argue that residency requirements (or, for charters, preferences) essentially guarantee schools will be segregated, given housing segregation across New Jersey’s many small towns. If these laws are struck down, the state’s ed commissioner and governor would have three months to come up with remedies. Plaintiffs have considerable reason for hope: New Jersey’s constitution actually prohibits segregation of any person “in the public schools, because of religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.” And New Jersey courts have also ruled against so-called de facto segregation, which is much harder to legally challenge at the federal level.

For a more detailed summary, I recommend checking out the always-great Ed Law Prof Blog. With this suit, New Jersey joins a similar case in Minnesota as civil rights advocates pursue integration through state courts amidst an inhospitable federal environment (one that will likely be made worse by judicial nominees who refuse to endorse Brown and who just recently moved closer to Senate confirmation).

In the past, New Jersey courts have been at the forefront of educational equity. Famously, the Abbott v. Burke case ordered significant funding increases to under-resourced school districts across the state. There were many iterations and re-litigations of Abbott (outlined nicely here), but its initial decision came in 1988. Between Abbott and this new case, you can see a microcosm of the larger struggle for educational/racial justice.

Some of this struggle was the subject of a great discussion of this on a recent episode of the Have You Heard podcast. The main takeaways from that discussion:
  • A new book by Domingo Morel, called Takeover, uncovers an interesting historical symmetry in New Jersey ed policy: that the state’s takeover of Newark public schools (one of the earliest takeovers in any state) directly followed the state supreme court’s initial ruling in Abbott. 
  • Morel’s book aims to understand why certain schools were taken over, while others were not. On the Have You Heard podcast, Morel argues that “if you don’t have plaintiffs winning court cases [for school funding] during this period, 1980-2000, you essentially don’t have any takeover laws.” In other words, once money was directed towards schools that serve Black students in Newark, state politicians implemented new policies to take control of that money away from Black local leaders. 
  •  This didn’t just happen in New Jersey. The podcast notes that, during the time period explored by Morel, 18 states won cases for school funding and 14 of those passed state takeover laws, including my home state of Massachusetts. The four states that didn’t were among the whitest states in the country. 
  •  New Jersey and other states around the country also either had existing laws or created new laws that essentially blocked Black and Latinx from attending schools in other districts that were getting adequate funding, and which were not subject to state takeover. (These are the same policies that are the target of the current lawsuit.) In New Jersey and elsewhere, this persisted for decades while segregation increased, until new plaintiffs come along to secure access to adequately resourced schools for Black and Latinx students.
For me, it all illustrates a decades-long push and pull: all the work that goes into keeping non-white students in under-resourced schools and keeping white students in majority-white spaces. And, then all the complex legal activity and (frankly) bravery required to push back against that work. Here’s hoping for some success - it is long-deserved and it never should have been this complicated in the first place. I’ll post updates.