Color in the Classroom

Louis C.K. (via Ta-Nehisi Coates) schools Leno on race relations.  Coates brings up an important point in his discussion: as easy as it is to look around in 2010 and feel satisfied with racial progress (not a wise attitude to take, but an easy one), it’s worth remembering that it really was not very long ago that the situation was very, very different — that many people alive today, and not all that old, can still recall a time when segregation was enshrined in law.  We have a tendency now to dismiss such issues as being somehow permanently in the past, even as they are arising again in education; it turns out that highly integrated classrooms are strongly correlated to a number of positive outcomes for students, in both social and academic achievement.  Most striking, and sorely underreported, is the fact that these outcomes are robust for students of all colors.  It’s not simply that black kids do better when they’re in a classroom with white kids (a commonly held belief that is itself based upon a deeply problematic set of some facts and many assumptions) — the reverse scenario is also true, and white students benefit from having black classmates.  It is truly a win-win situation.

It’s also hardly discussed in current reform movement.  Ta-Nehisi Coates offers, once again, some excellent insight into recent statements by reformist champion Michelle Rhee.    I particularly love this bit of diagnosis:

“The disdain for actual people dripping from that quote is sad.” 

…Obama has made great efforts to lead his presidency not by the blind ideology of his predecessor, but rather by data, evidence, and reason.  This is all well and good, but the fact remains that data provides no answers separate from human judgment.  Obama continues to pour money into charter schools, despite the fact that, when studied rigorously, a very small percentage outperform public schools, and vastly more charter schools do worse than the public schools — and this, in spite of the luxury of self-selecting their own student populations!  Despite the propaganda of the reform movement, most clearly articulated in the teacher-free-zone of Waiting for Superman, charter schools are plainly not a solution.  The good ones are worth investigating for ideas.  The rest should disappear, and we should not charge ahead with funding and charter expansion plans until we can discern the difference.

Reformers like Rhee have given very little quarter to the evidence showing charter schools to be, broadly, a poorer alternative to public education.  That’s the problem with data: it can be picked and chosen such that a narrow result seems to support an entire platform.  That’s why we need the judgment of actual people, and not just political actors, involved in these policy decisions.

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