Educational inequality found through racial segregation in schools continues to plague our nation’s children. Though the efforts to improve the inequality found within our educational system has waned over the past several decades, the Supreme Court still remains correct in its standing that segregated schools are “inherently unequal”. However, segregation is not necessarily just mean by race, but also by socioeconomic means, or more simply stated: poverty.
I will focus on the research and study conducted by Gary Orfield and Chungmei Lee “Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality” released in January of this year (2005). This research is funded by and hosted on the Civil Rights Project website maintained by Harvard University. The site is committed to the “generating and synthesizing research on key civil rights and equal opportunity policies that have been neglected or overlooked.”*
This research was of particular interest to me, because insights were drawn from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, the school system in which I was educated. I remember the hubbub around racial desegregation and the “busing plan” to be implemented when I was in school. Suddenly children around the district weren’t necessarily assigned to the school right next door, and might have to suffer bus rides to and from school that were several hours long. I so clearly can recall the morning when I arrived at my upper-middle class predominantly white middle school to find “KKK” spray painted on the school walls, and learning later that week that my Biology partner was a proud card carrying member of the Ku Klux Klan himself.
This report finds that although we focus principally on racial inequality and unequal opportunity in education, this inequality also extends to poverty, or socioeconomic status. Nowadays, the fever to extend an equal opportunity education to every student regardless of race has lessened, and hope is waning in light of apparently ineffective “acts” (No Child Left Behind) and policies which give little reason to counter the ostensible “general educational success within the existing context of deepening segregation”.
To achieve true equality we must strive to look beyond only race in the continual desegregation of our schools, as inequalities in “background, treatment, expectations and opportunities” are tied to not just the color of the skin, but also where you come from and economic conditions. Better teachers go to “better” (or more privileged) schools, limiting opportunities. One study showed that in schools where more than 75% of the students were low-income there were more than three times the number of teachers in primary subjects, such as English and science, who were working “out of field” or without certification. Imagine the opportunity to reach your dream of becoming a scientist being hindered by the fact that your science teacher was just your gym teacher!
While school districts may have achieved desegregation by race, we certainly have not solved the problem of equality. As long as poverty concentrated schools underachieve, all those who historically were affected because of race, are now affected through their economic status. While I am not suggesting, as neither is this report of the findings, to cease the effort of racial desegregation in schools, but however to look deeper and open up the opportunities for true equality. We should look back at Dr. Martin Luther King who “understood the nature of racial inequality and campaigned against segregation, discrimination and poverty” in solving these issues, Dr. King advocated not only plans that brought minority children into previously segregated white schools but much deeper transformations in which segregated schools became truly integrated with equal treatment and respect for all groups of students.
A solution to this problem of continued racial inequality in education would be to focus on true equality in schools, with less of a concern on what race a person is. A balance needs to be struck through out the school system of quality teachers, amply funded schools, and an equilibrium that includes not only race, but socioeconomic conditions of evenly dispersed students.
The crucial point that one could walk away with after reading this short essay is not necessarily how to solve the issue, but to realize that so much effort has gone into desegregation without considering all the underlying issues and the repercussions of a short sited fix. I believe it is important to look beyond the obvious and consider “true” answers, not band-aids. Often people apply quick fixes that become the permanent solution and are never replaced. Next time a coalition is formed to solve a taxing problem let’s hope they look deep and think broad.
My source was the most credible I found perusing the internet for sites related to racial inequality. I actually found it last week and started writing this essayâ€¦ then I left off when I saw that the “next weeks” assignment was inequality in education! The information contained in the site is up-to-date and relevant. It is well maintained by a credible source as outlined in the opening of my essay. I feel like there was so much further in depth I could go with exploring this topic, there was so much information both in this research and additional research on the site. I think the best part about the site was how it was really well organized by subject, so if you went up to the global site you could quickly route yourself to the correct “bucket” of information.
- For more information, see the Civil Rights Project website (http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/) maintained by Harvard University, specifically the section on School Desegregation ( http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/research/deseg/deseg_gen.php).